Showing posts from January, 2013

Return to the Source

There is a deep irony about reading Lanza del Vasto's 'Return to the Source' whilst on a day trip to Geneva. A committed disciple of Gandhi, he founded communities in France committed to non-violence and a minimalist use of the machine! Indeed the story I finished on, half way through, is of a harrowing pilgrimage on (bare) feet to celebrate Easter Mass - a walk of 48 miles whilst fasting in the Indian sun! This he does admit was a mite fanatical with the endurance dispersing from, rather than focusing the mind on, the dying and resurrecting Christ.

His emphasis on work as in itself meaningful, especially with one's hands, is a a salutary reminder and one that I receive each time I succumb to a 'ready meal', something around which my conscience does not sit well! 

I realised this is my favourite kind of book. It is a beautifully written memoir, a fact that anchors his intellectual and spiritual search in a deeply felt and personalised reality. The fact that it…

Down on the Farm, rather than on the Mountain top.

At my annual get together this weekend to consider the forthcoming year (at a Devon organic farm rather than on a Swiss mountain top), I went for a walk, yesterday afternoon, up to the top of one of Devon's beautifully, rounded small hills. It was like walking across the surface of a giant sponge, the ground was so saturated. I have never experienced anything like it. The patterns of our weather are changing and at every level thought and adaptation are necessary. Our hosts sheep, Gotlands, for example, can take the cold (being from Scandinavia) but not the dampness, ground wet to feet. Does our host hope for the best or cross-breed them or change them and what would answering each of those questions cost (and look like)?

While the ethereal mechanisms of global governance churn on after ever more belated remedial action on climate change, these real questions haunt each and every farmer, globally, and, lest we forget, on intelligently answering these questions, do all of our live…

Pursued by Buber

I cannot remember when I have lingered over a book more but Maurice Friedmann's intellectual biography of Martin Buber has continually detained me. This is partly because I am reminded and, as a result, need to think about many of Buber's texts that I have read and am struck by their continued topicality.

So, for example, I have reached the point in Buber's narrative when he arrives in Palestine to take up a position as a professor at the Hebrew University in 1938. He is both a refugee from Nazi persecution and a new entrant into a deeply felt project - that of building a Land that can be a home both for the Jewish people and for the Arab.

It is a project that to date has failed. Virtually every sentence in the text stands in judgement over both Jew and Arab in the current context. The choice between forging genuine community and settling into the antagonistic realties of political identity and conflict has been settled towards the latter, depressing, reality. Is Buber, y…

Day 21: failed resolution

I lasted seven more days than last year with my book buying 'fast'... but I succumbed to two.

The first is Thomas Merton and Buddhism from Fons Vitae excellent series on Merton's relationship with other traditions

It is a tragedy that Merton was killed when he was - in an accident on his first trip to Asia - because his deep intuitive grasp of Buddhism was on the threshold of being filled out through both encounter with key Buddhist scholars and practitioners and the proffered offering of serious practice. It is sometimes imagined by lovers of Merton, for whom his Catholicism is difficult, that he was on the threshold of shedding it and heading towards, for them, a more comfortable place, namely Buddhism. Nothing I think could be further from the truth but what was on offer was one of the most radical engagements of a Christian contemplative with the fruits of Buddhist un…

Zadok the Priest

I can think of no other piece of music whose reality belies its setting. A coronation anthem for a Hanoverian king becomes yet something other. The king is beautifully ambiguous, ostensibly King George, in reality, I suspect, in Handel's theological heart - Christ - the only King who can live forever in human hearts (if they accept him). 

Handel is a great testimony to the virtue of immigration - a German who became our, the United Kingdom's, greatest composer. An ability to assimilate whose virtues we periodically lose sight of.

The Rite at 100

My favourite Christmas present (sorry mother - my pullover is great but...) was a 100th anniversary collection of thirty eight recordings (over sixty years) of Stravinsky's seminal composition (and as an 'extra' the Violin concerto under the baton of the composer himself).

This was the first piece of music I genuinely 'heard' as a seventeen year old sitting in a musical appreciation class. I went and purchased the record (a recording regretfully not included in the anniversary set) and listened to it repeatedly (so much so that my father came into my brother's room, where in his absence, I was using his record player and gave me a £5 note to 'buy another record')! Thankfully it was not at a moment when I was 'dancing' to the recording, letting the music speak in every tendon of my being (in this case literally)! That would have been too embarrassing...

It is a difficult piece to think about as it is so bound up with an entrance into a previousl…

The strange habits of Rastafarian donkeys

No, I have no idea where that title came from either...

A surreal moment in my kitchen when the mind falls into neutral (while waiting upon the cauliflower cheese in the oven, hungry for dinner) and out pops an image...

However, I can see why Scottish bards would lie down in a darkened room and wait upon a boundary consciousness between sleep and waking and through which they would invite composition.

Here lies suggestiveness - and if you have an accompanying discipline of expression - something of poetry may emerge.

Undoubtedly my imagination is wholly undisciplined and I get the surreal rather than the over real (if you can forgive that coinage)! Poetry as the more than ordinarily real.

I could in a Jungian manner (as befits my past analytic encounter) play with the image.

I think I can only cope with donkeys...

For which I have a wholly positive resonance not least my beloved Eeyore with whom, in the Pooh pantheon, I am self-identified.

I was instantly reminded of the story about…

Mystical territories and necessary maps

'Meister Eckhart: Mystic as Theologian' by Robert K.C. Forman is a wholly admirable exploration of Eckhart as a 'leader of souls' and addresses the question: "Were I a friar or a nun under your tutelage, Meister Eckhart, what might I be expected to experience, and what significance would it have?"

Though it predates much contemporary discussion of the nature of medieval mysticism, it reads like a healthy rejoinder to that discussion.

The target of that discussion was the notion of 'mystical experience' and suggesting that it was a 'foreign', because modern, category of thinking to medieval writers. Medieval mystical writing is first and foremost theology and aimed at describing the nature of things as a whole. It is aimed at explicating how we come to understand anything at all through how we are and come to be in relationship to God. It does not dwell on 'discrete experiences' that any particular person might have that are different …

Shirkers and strivers and Mr Buber

Noticing the death last September of the notable Buber scholar and translator, Maurice Friedman, was a confirmation of my desire to re-engage with Buber.

The conversation began with reading of I and Thou and a brief book by Aubrey Hodes in the library at Heythrop, when I was a student.

I was captivated with his differentiation between responding to a thing or person as an end in themselves, hallowing them, or making use of a person or thing, as an instrument. Both are necessary but the latter must be enfolded in the former. Hallowing takes precedence and shapes
instrumentality. Hallowing of the person is the basis of a dialogue that allows each participant to stand present as fully themselves, in a mutual exchange, in which is grounded the potential of understanding and peace.

Buber was a remarkable writer capable of complete imaginative clarity (as in the Tales of the Hasidim) and the most minute painstakingly obscure writings (when trying to conform to a presumed German academic st…

The Devil and Pi

When I started cinema going - many years ago - you often saw two features, between which there was an interval (and indeed after an evening performance, they played the National Anthem)!

Today it so happened I accidentally re-created the experience.

At lunch I watched 'The Devil Rides Out' (which the postman had delivered this morning) then clambered onto my bicycle to go see 'The Life of Pi' (though not in 3D).

I cannot now recall what possessed me to buy a copy of this Hammer Studio classic (The Devil...) except I remember watching it, alone, late one night in my early teens, when I still felt a residual fear of the dark. I was suitably terrorised and went to bed with the Lord's Prayer on my lips and the sheets over my head, hoping the Devil would not notice me! I am reliably informed by one who might be expected to know (Gary Lachman) that Wheatley's rendering of Black Magic ritual and the White Magic (and religious) response to it are accurate (to the cumu…

Structural limits

For one of the twentieth century's most influential anthropologists, Claude Levi Strauss did precious little field work and none of it would count as immersion into a particular culture. He was a theorist in a nineteenth century manner - absorbing vast quantities of material in his library and weaving from it a set of idea laden expositions that became recognised, unhappily for Levi Strauss, under the collective rubric of 'structuralism'.

Having read Patrick Wilcken's exceptionally well-written and informative intellectual biography of Levi Strauss (Claude Levi Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory) that paints a vivid portrait of the man, his intellectual development and his context, I think I would remain hard pressed to say what 'structuralism' is (or possibly was). But, at heart, Levi Strauss did have a compelling core intuition that the human mind seeks order and that ordering (at one level) depends on binary thinking that focuses on the relationship (and d…

It All Turns on Affection

'It All Turns on Affection' is the Jefferson Lecture delivered by Wendell Berry in 2012. This is a lecture offered by the National Council for the Humanities and is described as "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."

In offering it to Wendell Berry, the NCH demonstrates that it has a sense of irony... at least...

The resulting essay sets out a vivid contrast between 'boomers' and 'stickers' in the unfolding narrative that is America. The former, dominant tradition, focuses on what is profitable, what can be extracted for maximum, current, monetary value. The latter, minority tradition, focuses on love of place and what might arise from affectionately subordinating oneself to the disciplines of living in a particular place.

The latter is the place of truth.