Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Every Life Is Different Because You Passed This Way and Touched History": Easter Meditation Points

Good Friday sets the stage for Easter: to complete the bouquet of meditative pieces I gathered for you on Good Friday, here's an Easter offering from things I've read over the years, notes jotted in my journals (with a common thread of reflecting on the word "life" and its manifold meanings):

Julia Esquivel, "Three Songs for My Mother," in Threatened with Resurrection, trans. Maria Elena Avecedo, et al. (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren, 1982):

They wanted to silence the voices of love, but the words of the resurrected, repeated in a thousand echoes on the infinite horizon, tirelessly hammered upon their minute brain.

Irish poet Eavan Boland, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time (NY: W.W. Norton, 1995), commenting on the revolutionary effects that follow when women are at last permitted to speak in their own voices:

It was what happens with any tradition when previously mute images within it come to awkward and vivid life, when the icons return to haunt the icon makers (pp. 196-7). 

Mary Gordon, Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels (NY: Pantheon, 2009):

The rich man’s sin is not only a failure to share his wealth, but equally important, a failure of attention. What he has done in his past life, where he is going after he leaves Lazarus, are of no concern to Jesus. He doesn’t seem like the worst person in the world: He’s not cruel or dishonest or hypocritical. He just doesn’t see (p. 26).   

Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, vol. 2 of The History of Sexuality (NY: Pantheon, 1985), trans. Robert Hurley:

There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all (pp. 8-9). 

Alan Jones, The Soul’s Journey: Exploring the Spiritual Life with Dante as Guide (San Francisco: Harper, 1995):

There is an irreducible "impossibility" to life that cannot be explained away and that can be rendered only in story form. Many people still believe that they get to know things by thinking. But we don’t know anything about the meaning of things and how they are connected by mere thought. Narratives connect (p. 59).

 Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible (NY: HarperCollins, 1999):

Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history . . . . Everyone is complicit (p. 538).

Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost (NY: HarperCollins, 2006):

To be alive is to have a story to tell. To be alive is precisely to be the hero, the center of a life story. When you can be nothing more than a minor character in somebody else’s tale, it means that you are truly dead (p. 434).

Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (NY: HarperCollins, 1992):

"Soul" is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance (p. 5).  

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 47.1:
For He brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another.

Henry David Thoreau, Maine Woods

Talk of mysteries!—Think of our life in nature, — Daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! The actual world! The common sense!  Contact!  Contact!  Who are we? Where are we? (p. 93).

Karen Armstrong, Spiral Staircase (NY: Random House, 2004):

The events of September 11 were a dark epiphany, a terrible revelation of what life is like if we do not recognize the sacredness of all human beings, even our enemies.  Maybe the only revelation we can hope for now is an experience of absence and emptiness.  We have seen too much religious certainty recently (p. 303).

Rumi, "Under the Hill," in The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, trans. Coleman Barks (NY: Harper, 2002):

The blessed grow externally old, and inwardly young. They live the resurrection. Why should they care about the plots, the hatred and heroism, of the world? Their deep core is the love of a soul guide. God lives there  (p. 162). 

The Cloud of Unknowing:

I implore, therefore, that you give yourself with a full desire to this meek stirring of love which is in your heart, and follow it. It will be your guide in this life and it will bring you happiness in the next. It is the substance of all good living, and without it no good work can be begun or ended.

Gregory of Nyssa, The Perfect Christian:

Here, in my judgment, we find Christian perfection: when we share in the realities behind the varied names which spell out the concrete meaning of the name "Christ," and when we bear witness to this power in our thought, speech, and way of life.

Erik Erikson, Dimensions of a New Identity (NY: Norton, 1974):

I must add that as a principle [generativity] corresponds to what in Hinduism is called the maintenance of the world, that middle period of the life cycle when existence permits you and demands you to consider death as peripheral and to balance its certainty with the only happiness that is lasting: to increase, by whatever is yours to give, the good will and the higher order in your sector of the world.  That, to me, can be the only adult meaning of that strange word happiness (p. 103).

Carol Gilligan, "Adolescent Development Reconsidered," in Gilligan et al., Mapping the Moral Domain (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988):

To see self-sufficiency as the hallmark of maturity conveys a view of adult life that is at odds with the human condition, a view that cannot sustain the kinds of long-term commitments and involvements with other people that are necessary for raising and educating a child or for citizenship in a democratic society (p. xii).   

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (NY: Random House, 1979):

Whitman was a maternal man — a person who cares for and protects life — and the hospitals afforded him a chance to live out his maternalism, his "manly tenderness" (p. 269). 

Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo from Antwerp, Feb. 1886: 

Vincent writes about how the last days of Turgenev and Daudet cut him to the heart—how they walked together "sensitive, delicate, intelligent like women." "Those fellows, they die the way women die. No fixed idea about God, no abstractions, always on the firm ground of life itself, and only attached to that. I repeat—like women who have loved much, hurt by life . . . ."

Fenton Johnson, Geography of the Heart (NY: Scribner, 1996):

At the American Hospital the nurses would not allow me to watch or help as they cleaned Larry after his death. I would not want to see him, they told me, in this state. And I acceded — did I have a choice? They had his body, on which I had no legal claim. While I waited I thought, I who have bathed his sores, wiped sweat from his forehead, embraced him in passion and in need; I who have in some small way risked my life to shepherd him to this death—I know his body as none of them know it; I want to know it once more, in the time of his death, but I’m denied this.  I am, after all, only his friend (p. 192). 

Mary Oliver, Winter Hours (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999):

This is called happiness. This is called: stay away from me with your inches, and your savings accounts, and your plums in a jar. Your definitive anything. And if life is so various, so shifting, what could we possibly say of death, that black leaf, that has in it any believable finality? (p. 78). 

Oscar Romero two weeks before his death, to the editor of the Mexican newspaper Excelsior:

I need to say that as a Christian I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador. 

The video is one I've shared before, I think, a quintessential Easter video (for me): Mercedes Sosa and Joan Baez singing Violeta Parra's beautiful poem "Gracias a la Vida" at a concert in Xanten, Germany, in June 1988. A happy Easter to all readers who keep such holy days, a happy Sunday to all of you.

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