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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

On kindness

The nuns had a retreat day a week or so ago on the theme of kindness. Now, in an enclosed order, kindness may be the most important virtue, stemming from forgiveness, that a person may bestow on others. Daily, we sin against each other merely out of our weaknesses and imperfections, not malice. One nun reminded me that the strong in spirit must always be kind to those who are weaker. Seeing myself mostly in the weak category, I realized that any strength I did have was solely from graces. Because I am so pitifully weak, I must rely on God for everything. Any strength I have is directly from trusting completely on Divine Providence alone. Some people hate me and others for this confidence. Seriously, I have met those who want me to be miserable in poverty. I am so sorry for radiating joy in need..not really...I am not sorry. Those in joy irritate the grasping and greedy, who want the joy but not the suffering. I may be on a day-to-day schedule in God's Hands, and I am joyful. To those who want me to be miserable I can only say, trust in God. The joy wells up and overcomes fear. But, this joy only comes with ridicule, criticism, false judgement and marginalization. The crabby ones want me to join in their unhappiness. Sorry, give me the mattress on the floor and a cheerful heart, give me kindness to those who hate and disdain me. You can have it all and have an empty heart. I shall be kind to those in darkness. And, believe me, those in darkness, hate the light.

For Sarah, Two


I said, Ah! what shall I write?
I enquired up and down.
(He’s tricked me before
with his manifold lurking-places.)
I looked for His symbol at the door.
I have looked for a long while
at the textures and contours.
I have run a hand over the trivial intersections.
I have journeyed among the dead forms
causation projects from pillar to pylon.
I have tired the eyes of the mind
regarding the colours and lights.
I have felt for His wounds
in nozzles and containers.
I have wondered for the automatic devices.
I have tested the inane patterns
without prejudice.
I have been on my guard
not to condemn the unfamiliar.
For it is easy to miss Him
at the turn of a civilisation.
I have watched the wheels go round in case I might see the
living creatures like the appearance of lamps, in case I might see
the Living God projected from the Machine. I have said to the
perfected steel, be my sister and for the glassy towers I thought I
felt some beginnings of His creature, but A,a,a, Domine Deus,
my hands found the glazed work unrefined and the terrible
crystal a stage-paste . . . Eia, Domine Deus.
David Jones, in The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments (1974)

The problem with artists since the Impressionists, is that artists have become increasingly separated from the classical training and from understanding the role of the intellect in art. Anti-intellectualism is the bane of Western Culture in 2013, bringing us to the gross relativistic attitude that art is merely the immediate expression of the particular artist, or, worse, propaganda.

The first was highlighted for me as long ago as 2002, when a radio interviewer sought out a young artist at the Toronto Art Expo (, who blatantly claimed that if she splashed or hit mud on a board one morning, as she felt like doing that, the piece was "art", as it was an emotional expression of who she was at that moment in time.

The radio interviewer was "gob-smacked" and I just laughed out loud, pointing out the relativistic  individualistic heresy to my son, who was standing in the kitchen waiting for pizza. The artist as prophet was dead in Toronto, and instead we heard the artist as arch-narcissist. Who cares who she felt one fine morning in Canada, if the result of her expression was not only ugly, but totally anti-intellectual?

OK, I shall get negative feedback on this one, as artists too often defend their private revelations as an expression of the zeitgeist.  I would hope that artists would lead us OUT of the zeitgeist into the world of transcendent Beauty and Truth, but I am an idealist.

So, the anti-intellectuals see art as almost the private interpretation of realities, when in reality, they may be only speaking to the few who are living only in their passions and on the emotional levels of existence, or worse, those who just do not give a d.... and want the latest painting of the most popular artist in their living rooms. "I have a ......." someone said to me recently. I was not impressed.

Anti-intellectualism kills real religion and real art, dead. Without engaging the brain, the rational, the logical and the analogical, one is doomed to boring repetitions of crayon drawings on the kindergarten walls of the world's schools.

You know this ALL STARTED with private interpretation of the Bible. Then, we had reader-response to great novels, and personal interpretations of poetry and essays, rather than studies of form and content.

Thank God for Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and my favourite, David Jones, for spotting the problems early and attempting to stem the tide of macpoetry. That they did not succeed is merely a symptom of the age of advertising, commercialism and the death of the religious spirit in art.

If an artist separates the spiritual and the historical, the cultural and the contextual from his art, he will fall into
schizophrenia, the breakdown of the connection between the real and the emotions, and for the artist, this is death. We have enough of this type of art, from the early 20th century on...we do not need more. We know what the problem is....

To be continued....

For Sarah, Part One

I promised a friend I would write on the Illative Sense in Newman with regard to my idea that poetry and other forms of art appeal directly to this sense. I am writing a longer piece on this and it was part of my dissertation which I have temporarily set aside until I get more funds to continue. Let me explain. For Newman, his Illative Sense is the part of the mind, or even the soul, which bridges the logical, ratio, ability to understand God and religious principles, especially absolute truths and commitment to that truth, or assent to that truth. He describes this ability, or sense as the leap of belief, when the rational part of us is incapable of fully apprehending basic truths about God. He does not believe that the rational ability of man can apprehend or define God, the great effort of Anselm and Aquinas, but rather that there is in us this bridge which leads to the "yes" of faith. I have been thinking for years that art and artists have this Illative Sense built into their psyches and into the process of art. Why do I think this? In the process of art, one works with the material of one's art. If it is painting, the tools, the paint, canvas or whatever and the creative process are necessary for the art to occur. But, in the aesthetic process, there is a mysterious interplay of personal inspiration, the very word indicating a movement of the spirit of a person, and the materials. And, in a true artist, not a commercial artist or a propagandist, the pursuit of Truth and Beauty allow the artist to enter a transformational  creative state, which is usually labelled the aesthetic sense.

However, there is something else happening here, which is the mysterious bridge between the soul and the mind of the artist, a bridge between the spiritual realities which the artist tries to absorb and concretely communicate and the spiritual sense. I think that Newman's Illative Sense may be part of this bridge. In other words, the very thing which leads us to a higher form of thinking, regarding religion, that part of being human which demands an absolute commitment to Truth and Beauty (and if an artist denies or departs from this he is a charlatan and fake), he is denying the real source of the inspiration. To be inspired is what the Greeks understood as the appropriation of the daemon, or the taking over of the soul by some mysterious muse or muses, who almost made the artist into a superman, a person who transcends his own self in order to create. This is called poesis and mimesis. Poesis properly only belongs to God, as it is creating ex nihilo and mimesis is the creating from the mirror of nature. We can only copy and our art works are a pale reflection of all Beauty and Truth. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, one of my favorite books, uses the term phronesis to mean practical wisdom. Some critics have seen this as prudence and others as merely wisdom. Prudence is the virtue we Catholics receive in Confirmation, if we really receive that sacrament in grace and is the application of the mind and soul of wisdom to ever day events and discernment. However, in the use of the rational mind, we make such leaps immediately or with due process of rationalization, but in areas of religious impetus, with what Newman calls the Illative Sense. The artist more than other people by nature, by gift and perhaps by temperament, uses his intellect with the added gifts of prudence and inspiration. I think this movement of the spirit and the Spirit may be either the same or overlap in the Illative Sense.

The movement of the artistic process must include a spiritual awareness which bridges the rational with the affirmation of belief. One who is an artist knows, just knows, when something is right and true about his art. If it is not true, one starts over again, working both with the material and the inspiration. But, the capacity to sense what is true, good and beautiful may rest in this Illative Sense, the same thing which brings one to accept a truth of the Church or an attribute of God with which one is struggling.

 To be continued... copyright 2013

Short post, serious thought

The TLM is a better Mass for the laity; because of the silence, it teaches meditation and contemplation. The NO, emphasizing the exterior, destroys this ability and keeps lay persons from appropriating adult levels of faith. One cannot enter into or follow the three stages of the interior life without cultivating silence and interior awareness

The Year of Faith.

I have been so caught up with life that I have not written a post on the excellent call to consider the true Faith and to ask for the gift of faith in this Year of Faith. Faith means many things to many people, and some people claim they do not have any faith, but all humans believe in something, even if it is not religious in content. One can believe in unseen realities told to us by scientists, politicians and even the medical community, believing without seeing or even understanding. This is an aspect of faith.

One can believe in one's own self and have confidence in unseen talents or abilities or even passions in the soul. One believes in one's friends. One believes in one's football team. In this Year, one can face the need for the adult appropriation of the Faith. At a certain age, it is the responsibility of each person to understand and believe in the faith because it is one's own and not belonging to either a parent or a priest. A priest in Ireland told me recently that the reason the Irish have lost their faith is that they stayed at a child-like faith level and did not read or study or pray into their maturity.

In this Year of Faith, please help those around you come to their own appropriation of the Faith through faith, hope and love.