Jesus Thoughts (20) : how to give thanks

Somewhere in his Adagia or other writings (you'll have to look it up) Wallace Stevens says that his (difficult) aim is to achieve "the normal".  What does he mean?  Well, perhaps he's thinking - or maybe I'm thinking - about the notion of "saving the appearances".  The idea of life as a continuum, a balanced wholeness.  Healthy, hale & whole is the ideal... the normal, the sane, the happy ending... the minor/major chord.

Plato (I think) has Socrates say somewhere that "the unexamined life is not worth living."  True enough; but what if at the end of our examination we come to the conclusion that the human capacity of analysis and detached objectivity is not equal to the task?  Not so much that we can't test for the truth : but that we lack the capacity to express it.  All our formulas come up short before the continuum of wholeness; our words don't do life justice.  Maybe only the glorious hymn of praise approaches what we want to say.

Yet our imperfect efforts are also natural, a part of the whole.  There is something stubborn in the heart which resists simplistic, reductive abstractions - explanations which demean their subject.  I think this is part of the artist's calling : to respond holistically to the Whole.  To make icons rather than arguments (even though these two often trade places).  The heart has its own hunches.  "The Spirit blows where it wills : and you hear the sound of it, but you know not where it comes from, or where it goes."  It seems like my own strange halting path through school and life has something to do with this inward struggle between holism and abstract knowledge.  Poets often stupidly romanticize their ignorance; yet there is an argument to be made for intuition and vision, for wholeness vs. intellectual deracination.  It's a balance with dangerous extremes at either end (Fascism, for example, was built on the cult of Romantic irrationalism).

We seek the normal, we seek peace, we seek reconciliation, we pursue happiness.  We dream of a continuum of ordinary life, a "sane and productive atmosphere."  Not to repress differences and individuality & eccentricity, on behalf of some prison of bourgeois conventionality - but rather a generous, magnanimous world, not afraid of change and otherness, but also, at the same time, cherishing the ordinary.

Wholeness and holiness sound similar, and share a common root.  Around Thanksgiving, is it still possible to give thanks to the Creator?  Or did the concept of God die off a long time ago?  Wholeness, in this sense, is a kind of spiritual anti-gravity, which lifts the mind's eye past particular things toward a cosmic view.  Jesus somewhere in the Gospels says something like "Get right with God, and all these good things shall be your as well."  This is the epitome of the stance which used to be called piety : to see all things within the context of God's loving, creative will.  To try to orient ourselves in the light of this conception.

The anti-gravity force pulls us away from self-centeredness, injustice, wrongdoing.  Its consequences radiate throughout the socio-political fabric of human civilization on this planet, in every corner of the earth, in every dimension of human relationship.  How can we come to the table of Thanksgiving with neighbors, friends and family, if we are not right with them?  If some oppression, injustice, unkindness, manipulation, exploitation, thoughtlessness, heartlessness, indifference, malice, hidden wickedness, hatred - if any of these things lurk beneath the continuum of our "normality"?  I think this is why the keynote, the touchstone, of the mission of Jesus is mercy and forgiveness.  We cannot sit at table together, neither on this planet nor in our own homes, without acknowledgement of our own wrongs and mistakes, without mutual forgiveness and the grace of divine mercy.  The "unexamined life" indeed!

Thus Christians at Thanksgiving have a lot to be thankful for : they could start by thanking the Jews.  For the Jewish faith has served as a sacrificial priesthood to the whole planet.  Where would we be, as a civilization, as a world, without the message of these ancient concepts - repentance; acknowledgement of sin; and mutual forgiveness, kindness, mercy, welcome?  These are the true Biblical values.  They echo in the universal human heart and find home there : they are the knot which binds us all together, Martin Luther King's "seamless fabric of mutuality".  For Christians, the coming of Jesus, the Way he proclaims, is a fulfillment and a return to the basic values introduced through Judaism from the beginning : it could not have happened otherwise : it began within the families of Israel.

As I understand it, the artist expresses inborn talent for making beautiful things (music, art, literature) - a talent which often emerges in early childhood.  I see these gifts as something offered to the continuum of wholeness : the dream of a peaceful world, a shared communion : this is the "providential" plan for the planet as a whole.  & I think this vocation is the source of the artist's stubborn resistance to reductive abstractions, merely intellectual explanations for phenomena.  The artist must love & merge with & celebrate the continuum of experience : this is how the over-arching serenity & balance of the greatest works of art come to manifestation.  (I've written about some of these things more specifically with respect to poetry, in some of the review essays in Critical Flame.)

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