Uncomfortable Dreaming

Serves me right - after my glib gab here yesterday about dreams, la vida es sueno, etc. - that last night I would wake up at 3 a.m. after a dark & troubling dream that stirred my conscience.  Jealousy, violence, remorse... strange symbolism of the heart.

"The heart is desperately corrupt"... says the prophet Jeremiah.

Lay awake thinking about the dream for a long time.

My comments in yesterday's post about holism in literature, philosophy, theology - and about the Union, and the common good, sought through the civic faith of Gorski's "American covenant" - were undercut a little by my own dream last night.  I lay there pondering things about which perhaps the Puritans and Roger Williams also meditated late at night.

The separation of Church & State, or Williams' (& others') distinction between the "two tables" of the Mosaic law (the sacred and the civil codes) perhaps grows logically out of a real, a factual, distinction, between a person's spiritual life - the life of the soul - and the collective social life we organize and share.  Between religion & government; between spirit & flesh.  Perhaps there is this deep and actual dividing line - in the midst of all the seamlessness of vision, the oneness of nature, and the unity of the common good toward which we strive together.

For me the problematics and contradictions of this situation are almost irresolvable and impossible to figure out.  Because, as the animale compagnevole, we obviously do not live our lives alone; we are born into relations with others; our very selves develop in these deep relationships.  Yet many (including Roger Williams, for example) would argue that true religion is about the individual soul's relationship with God.

Perhaps one solution is to suggest that the solitude of our relation to God is also the pivot of our personal liberty, and the foundation of our moral responsibility (freedom and responsibility being the very spine of personal selfhood).

We can understand, in this context, how the absolute transcendence of the Hebrew God stands as the basis, the historical origin, of moral freedom and human equality.  Not that moral freedom and equality did not previously exist in various kinship bands and human cultures beforehand; but the Hebraic covenant so to speak articulated this reality in stone, in the midst of empires and states devoted to sacred kings and unlimited, divine royal power.

But let me return to last night's dream.  The heart is desperately corrupt, the prophet cries.  Between the mind's dutiful bookkeeping and the heart's passions lies a wide dark gulf.  I woke from my disturbing dream with this thought : true religion is the soul's remorseful conscience, seeking the intercession of the Spirit, the mercy of God, because there is no other help.  John the Baptist at the river's edge, for example, demanding only personal simplicity and true repentance.  The universal "high priest" is essentially a healer of souls.

This spiritual dimension is personal.  It is an otherness, distinct from the public, civic, political sphere.  The two dimensions are obviously intertwined in each of our lives, and in all our cultures, societies, nations - yet they are distinct.  The two tables of the Law.  "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's".  Roger Williams, among others, believed in "natural law" - that human beings are naturally endowed with the conscience to determine right and wrong, and the ability to organize themselves in societies dedicated (however imperfectly) to liberty and justice.  The fact that people of all faiths and cultures are so endowed, whatever their denomination or confession,  is the prime basis for religious liberty and political tolerance.

I don't know if I've been able to express myself very clearly or well here this morning.  What struck me as I lay there thinking over the dream was a sense of contrast between our public and politically-charged debates about cultural and religious issues, our disputes over differing group demands, rights, and powers, one the one hand - and the inward spiritual dimension of "true religion" on the other.  Conscience, belief, reasoning, searching hearts, inwardness, and personal acts of repentance, humility and charity : these are religion.  "Do justice, and walk humbly with your God".  It's not about political maneuvering, bickering, and social power.  Those things are part of the civic world, the secular table of the Law.


New Antidote for Deracination

After a super-natural lightning-&-thunderstorm over Minnesota last night, today it's very clear and quiet here in Minneapolis.  My family is happily up in the woods; I'm staying home to care for my 92-yr-old mother, who's lying a-bed in hospice now, nearby.

I used to blog on HG Poetics A LOT.   Now that Ravenna Diagram is a done thing - finished, packed, booked - I'm someways at loose ends.  Feeling the predictable anxiety for the poem's future, its reception (or non-).  And trying to live with this awkward new rhythm of NOT writing the absorbant river-poem every day, NOT swimming along in its echoes, memory maps, feedback chicken coops... where to now, Mr. Hen, Mr. Chicken Bones?

Feeling my marginal non-presence, as ever.  I don't write much criticism, I don't write many book reviews, I'm not in the professional set-ups.  In some ways the MFA structure encourages the membership of poets among the intelligentsia, the knowledge workers - professors, scholars, journalists, scientists, etc.  There are certainly some benefits in that regard for literature.  But with the professionalization comes a modicum of climate control, opinion moderation, careerism, bureaucracy...  Deracination.

Yet poetry is one possible antidote to spiritual deracination.

Am re-reading Philip Gorski's fine book American Covenant.  Subtitled a history of civil religion from the Puritans to the present.

Gorski sees democratic republicanism (as in republic with a small, non-party-affiliated "r") as representing the growing, changing, developing civil religion of the United States.  Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln are its chief prophets.  The civil religion understands history in general, and American history in particular, not as circular (as with social conservatism), nor as linear (as with social progressivism), but as a spiral - by which people draw inspiration from the principles and ideals of the past, so as to move forward toward a more just and perfect future Union.

Such democratic republicanism requires from each a personal tempering and restraint of private passions (whether for fame, or pleasure, or success, or wealth, or domination), on behalf of the res publica, the common good.  But this worldview is optimistic about such a process, since the view is grounded in a concept of human nature as fundamentally and naturally social.  We do not achieve our best selves or ultimate good in solitude; Man, as Dante put it (following Aristotle), is the animale compagnevole - the "friendly animal".

Gorski sketches out the main philosophical antagonists to our "civil religion" of civic republicanism : 1) religious nationalism - ie. the idolatry of the Nation, the nostalgic (Confederate) blood and soil, cloaked in apocalyptic or narrowly literalist Biblical fundamentalism; and 2) radical secularism, the absolute separation of all religious belief and feeling from the civic sphere, on behalf of various strands of Lockean neo-liberalism, atomized libertarianism, or progressive scientism.  He outlines in detail the complex shifts in the growth of these beliefs, and their political effects, through American history.

What does this have to do with poetry?   In my view, poetry reflects certain implicit habits of mind and philosophical stances, which are motivated in part by the poet's ongoing commitment to and absorption with the creative process.  This view is certainly partial, debatable and not acceptable to all (or perhaps even many) poets; but my firm sense is, that poetry is allied to the mentality of holism, synthesis, continuity, unity.  The creative process is an intellectual or logical search for integration, the correlation of disparate or contradictory parts into wholes.  The vision of poetry is an effort to abstract a seamless representation from life itself - without tearing or disrupting the seamless experience of reality itself.  Normative human life is an incomprehensible ongoing seamless whole; art is a partial moral and intellectual comprehension of that life, through a clear mirror.  "My circuit is circumference," writes Emily Dickinson.

I've tried in my own long poems (most recently Ravenna Diagram) to represent life as a living wholeness, a wholeness of living Mind or Spirit.

La vida es sueno : life is a dream.  Such an idealist-romantic stance is at odds with the materialist or analytical approach of philosophical skepticism.  To put it in a nutty nutshell : my sense is that the primitive spiritualism of archaic humanity is allied with the theological commitments of major religions : we inhabit a cosmos of living Mind, of spiritual Personhood.  A position which underlies - rationalizes - all the traditional faith commitments regarding life-after-death or resurrection.  La vida es sueno : this is my own "dream song".

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players...

Back to blogging... ?  I guess I will leave it at that for now.  Good night !