Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18: Feel the Now, ER Visit, Classic Saint Marty

What else is going on right this minute while ground water creeps under my feet?  The galaxy is careening in a slow, muffled widening.  If a million solar systems are born every hour, then surely hundreds burst into being as I shift my weight to the other elbow.  The sun's surface is now exploding; other stars implode and vanish, heavy and black, out of sight.  Meteorites are arcing to earth invisibly all day long.  On the planet the winds are blowing:  the polar easterlies, the westerlies, the northeast and southeast trades.  Somewhere, someone under full sail is becalmed, in the horse latitudes, in the doldrums; in the northland, a trapper is maddened, crazed, by the eerie scent of the chinook, the snow-eater, a wind that can melt two feet of snow in a day.  The pampero blows, and the tramontane, and the Boro, sirocco, levanter, mistral.  Lick the finger:  feel the now.

Dillard is talking about living in the present, because so much is going on at once.  Galaxies being born,  meteorites fizzing through the atmosphere to darkness.  Winds changing the landscape of the entire planet--melting snows, moving dunes.  All in the now.

Right here and now, I am sitting in my living room, recently returned from a trip to the local ER with my daughter.  She's been battling a severe infection in her left eye for a couple of weeks now.  She's already been through one round of antibiotic eye drops.  Now, she is on different antibiotic eye drops.

Also now, I have a tiny bit of panic building inside me:  I don't have my syllabi done for the classes I'm teaching next week.  I've started them, but I am far from being ready.  Was planning on getting them done this evening, but my daughter's eye problem changed my now.  Basically, a chinook came in and blew me in a different direction.

I tend to focus on the future quite a bit.  For instance, all I can think about right now is tomorrow morning.  The weekend.  The beginning of the fall semester.  The end of summer.  That's what's on my mind.  Not the cool cup of water I'm drinking or the air being pushed around by the ceiling fan.

The only thing that tethers me to the present are my kids.  They're young.  The future is not on their radars yet.  At seven and thirteen, they have no concept of the passage of time.  For the most part, it's all instant gratification.  I want pizza NOW.  I want the new Galaxy phone NOW.  I want my own laptop NOW.  If anybody lives in the now, it's a young person.

This time last year, I was pretty much focused on the present, though.  I know that I usually save episodes of Classic Saint Marty for Sundays, but I wanted to share the following post this evening:

August 18, 2015:  Terrible Darkness, Maggie Nelson, Divine Darkness, Adventures of Stickman

As they happily walked to the subway, they were looking forward to spending a lot of time together at home during the holiday, in the company of family and friends.  Ives and Annie had stopped to peer into a window display of French linen when, just like that, a terrible darkness entered them, and they could not move and stood looking at one another stupidly, on the crowded and busy sidewalk.

Yes, I have used this passage just recently.  It describes the moments before Annie and Ives learn that their son has been murdered.  The implication is that, at the instant that the "terrible darkness" enters them, Robert has passed into eternal life.  It hints at the enormity of the tragedy about to overtake their lives.  Annie and Ives have no idea what the darkness means, but it is powerfully sad, draining away their Christmas joy.

Darkness has always been used to describe moments of profound grief and loss and ignorance.  There's a reason why the Dark Ages was followed by the Age of Enlightenment.  The first period calls to mind a world full of suppression and rigidity, blind faith and blinder reason.  The second period, on the other hand, is the time of Bach and Mozart, Descartes and Voltaire.  Free thought and freer spirit.  Darkness=bad.  Enlightenment=good.

In the Biblical accounts, the birth of Christ is heralded by an immense star in the heavens.  Blinding angel choirs singing "Glory to God!"  Jesus is the bringer of light into a world of sin and darkness.  Again, darkness gets a metaphorical bad rap.

I'm not so sure that darkness is all that bad.  When the sun slips below the horizon, I am more at ease.  My day is over, and I'm able to relax, kick back, watch some mindless television.  For me, I am more myself in darkness.  Able to do what I want.  Read.  Write.  Nap.  Fart.  Whatever.  Darkness is a gift.

Maggie Nelson talks about Divine Darkness in Bluets.  Her description of darkness is comforting.  It's a state beyond sun and seeing, beyond knowledge and wisdom.  It's a place where trust exists.  And faith.  There is something in Divine Darkness that transcends comprehension.  I think that you can either fight it--and go through a "dark night of the soul"--or throw yourself into it--take that leap into God's open palm.

I know that's way too deep for a Tuesday night.  But that's what I'm thinking about.  Comforting darkness.

Saint Marty is going to go see his sister now.  Pray for her.  Let her know that she doesn't need to be afraid of the dark.

159 from Bluets

by:  Maggie Nelson

A good many have figured God as light, but a good many have also figured him as darkness.  Dionysius the Areopagite, a Syrian monk whose work and identity are themselves shrouded in obscurity, would seem to be one of the first serious Christian advocates of the idea of a "Divine Darkness."  The idea is a complicated one, as the burden falls to us to differentiate this Divine Darkness from other kinds of darknesses--that of a "dark night of the soul," the darkness of sin, and so on.  "We pray that we may come unto this Darkness which is beyond light, and, without seeing and without knowing, to see and to know that which is above vision and knowledge through the realization that by not-seeing and unknowing we attain to true vision and knowledge," Dionysius wrote, as if clarifying the matter.

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