Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Toward an Unknown Real"

I have a short list of books--the books themselves are mostly short too, as it happens--which have informed not just my mind but my soul. I'm not speaking of novels here, which are in a separate category, but the spiritual guide, the book of quiet wisdom. I and Thou by Martin Buber; Wittgenstein's notebooks; Three Poems by John Ashbery; the collection of Simone Weil's writings called Waiting for God; these are a few of these.

When I travel, at least one of these volumes comes with me. They are for me what The Way of the Pilgrim was to Salinger's Franny Glass, what the Diamond Sutra was to Kerouac's Ray Smith and Japhy Ryder, what Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief apparently was to Wittgenstein himself; what Franny and Zooey and The Dharma Bums have been to countless people in their late 'teens and early twenties.

None of these titles are all that surprising; I and Thou probably figures on many people's similar lists; so too with Simone Weil; and I have bonded almost immediately with the few, the sensitive and wise few, who meet my eyes with an "Ah" of understanding upon the mention not just of John Ashbery but of Three Poems. But there is one book in my private canon that I am consistently surprised to find almost unknown.

Mirror to the Light by Lewis Thompson is a spare volume of a little more than 130 pages (plus a preface by editor Richard Lannoy, from which I lift a number of facts for what follows). The book is one of the great under-appreciated spiritual classics of the 20th century. I know how overblown, how "pretentious" that can sound--who the Hell am I to grant a work such accolades?--and, the answer is, I'm no one, but the work is what it is. Thompspon had been at work on this slim masterpiece for two decades when he died suddenly at the age of forty, from the effects of sunstroke, in Benares. He had been a wanderer and an ascetic poet for most of that time, the last seventeen years more or less penniless in India. I have sometimes wondered, idly and without any real evidence that it could be the case, whether Thompson inspired Somerset Maugham's character Larry Durrell in The Razor's Edge, published about five years before Thompson died. I might add, speaking of J.D. Salinger, that the figure who seems to me to resemble Thompson the most is Franny and Zooey's older brother Seymour--who was also a poet, was also drawn to the East, and who also died young. There is a passage in Salinger's "Seymour: an Introduction" which resonates strongly with how I read Thompson:
I'll champion indiscrimination till doomsday, on the ground that it leads to health and a kind of very real, enviable happiness. Followed purely, it's the way of the Tao, and undoubtedly the highest way. But for a discriminating man to achieve this, it would mean that he would have to dispossess himself of poetry, go beyond poetry. That is, he couldn't possibly learn or drive himself to like bad poetry in the abstract, let alone equate it with good poetry. He would have to drop poetry altogether. ...it would be no easy thing to do.
Some poets do manage to drop poetry altogether. In George Oppen's career there is a lacuna of twenty-eight years. Laura Riding turned her back on poetry entirely; so, notoriously, at twenty-one, did Rimbaud. When Thompson was around the same age, he too went through a profound crisis over the paradox of poetry--the drive to articulate the truth, and the inevitable falling-short of any effort of articulation. At one point during this struggle, Thompson burned a manuscript on which he had worked for five years--the first drafts of what would become Mirror to the Light. Yet the writing inexorably, Thompson recounted, "always grew up
again from its roots." What Thompson did entirely renounce was a "literary life." Though he continued to write to the end of his life--poems, journals (which have now also been edited and published), and his extensive notes for his book--and referred to his writing as a yoga, he was on the other hand almost hostilely indifferent to public "success"; when he died, two poems were all that had appeared in print; there are 102 in the edition Black Sun: the Collected Poems of Lewis Thompson, including "Black Angel," a poem of which Lawrence Durrell said he would give five years of his life to have written it. And yet, Thompson insisted, "somewhere between eighteen and twenty I believe I too experienced all that is implied in Rimbaud's rejection of literature."

Yet he knew his roots were in the literary, artistic and religious culture of Europe. He had been raised a Protestant in England; he was a sensitive pianist who loved Debussy, Chopin, and Bach. Though he read translations of Chinese, Japanese and Indian classics, he never learned any Asian language, and his poetic idiom remains lyrical, in tune with the work of Wordsworth and Keats, and with Valéry, Mallarmé, and Rilke, who he translated. His was also a self-consciously modern mind--more than once he cites Rimbaud's injunction to "be absolutely modern"--but he had also schooled himself in the philosophia perennis from an early age and he went to India intentionally seeking to immerse himself not as a tourist but as a real seeker. His meditations and aphorisms are the distillation of critical modernity and ancient asceticism each fired in the crucible of the other. He was fierce and unsparing, most of all with himself, but Mirror to the Light betrays no tendency to castigate himself, no abstinent recoil from life's allure; there is simply a calm disinterest in being distracted. He reminds one of Simone Weil in his uncompromising insistence on truth, of Laura Riding in his care with the precision of words. There is an unaffected earnestness that cannot be reduced to the caricature of "earnest youth," and a ferocity that belies his apparent resemblance, in the brevity of his remarks, to the moralist tradition. He belongs in the company of those he considered his models: Pascal, Blake, Nietzsche, Villon, Eckhart, Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud.

He was absolutely indifferent to ordinary comforts, whether of the body or of sociability, and endured the everyday life of subsistence begging in India and the loneliness of one who may travel shoulder-to-shoulder with friends but who is ready, at a moment's notice, to struggle with them to the death. He traveled for a long while with Ella Maillart, the Swiss ski champion and travel writer; he stayed with Earl Brewster, the American painter who had traveled with his friend D.H. Lawrence in Sri Lanka (Brewster told Richard Lannoy that Lawrence and Thompson were the only two men he had known who he considered to have been giants, and that "physically the two could have been brothers"); he had a long period of devotional study under Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon. Yet he was uncompromising, and these relationships could be painful. To Brewster he wrote,
I am not your friend or anybody's friend. I have no more use for 'friendship' than has--let me modestly say, a cat. The fault is mine, you understand. I let myself be confused by undisciplined good nature.... good nature in itself, of course, is purely a matter of individual rebirth...and to be confused by it is spiritually self-betrayal. ...I have no motive of 'goodness' and no belief in it. In any case, if I am good at all and goodness is real, I am good without it. On the contrary, I consider moral adjustment to others a weakness harmful to both. I find you almost suffocated in the coils of such virtue--either a deep lie or a painful stupidity. ... You have been brought up to think everybody needs it. Or do you, like most in this world, project your own need upon others and half consciously try to suborn them? In this way you make whatever goodness and sweetness I actually have false, poisonous, finally explosive! Just because it refuses to be falsified! I believe for respect of each others' essence two friends--any two men--should be prepared, if necessary, to kill each other. Short of this, 'love' is sentimentality, self-indulgence, a conspiracy of confusions or weaknesses.
One might be rather taken aback after receiving such a letter. But Brewster, in the context of the relationship, was able after all this to say to Thompson, "I feel a relation with you one seldom feels--a kind of chemical affinity, quite without barriers."

I quote this letter from Thompson (it is cited by Lannoy in his introduction) to underline the strong disregard for social niceties that runs through his work and character. He was most seriously bent upon one thing only, the nature of realization, and like his models--Nietzsche and Rimbaud stand out--he was utterly unconcerned with anything else. His unconventional "discipleship" under Sri Atmananda is a case in point. Thompson undoubtedly considered this man--who he knew by the name Krishna Menon, but who he always referred to simply as "the Jnani"--a great teacher and a realized soul; yet in a letter, he spelled out to him unambiguously his nuanced and agonistic critique of discipleship:
As a conception, a dogma, a considered possibility, a proposed means, or something separately sought, the guru can only be a superstition.
What then is my attitude to those who seem to me realized men and why am I not indifferent to them? Of course one feels love and respect for, and delight in, anyone or thing that for one's consciousness is a convincing expression of the Fullness one would realize.
But otherwise I question men who appear realized in order to find out why I question them. --Because they can by definition offer the spiritual resistance that one can nowhere else find.
Sri Atmananda accepted this abrasive disciple and even eventually said of him that he needed no guru. There is a report that one day as Thompson reclined with his head in his teacher's lap, the latter spontaneously entered samadhi. Such an unconventional relationship between master and disciple inevitably aroused the envy of the more traditional students, but the real tension seems to have arisen from Thompson's forthrightness, which would not let him silently pass over perceived inconsistencies in the Jnani's teachings. This was no mere rationalistic insistence on the excluded middle; Thompson was a poet before all else, and keenly appreciative of paradox--but he was willing to question and question and question. At a certain point, Sri Atmananda unilaterally withdrew from the relationship and dismissed Thompson. The abandonment left Thompson "like a beaten dog," according to Ella Maillart, but he made no attempt to gain readmittance, though he dedicated his last poems to the Jnani and only a year before his death--six years after his dismissal--wrote that "my whole existence is in suspense until I can recover, or find, my true relationship with him--with all that that implies." But, he added, "it is too deep and important, to me, to be forced or hurried."

One would go wrong if one read Thompson as a chaser after the "mystical east." His roots are in the west, and particularly in the western poetic tradition, the tradition of Dante, Villon, Blake; of Rimbaud, Yeats, and Rilke. "The only thing that interests me in this world is Poetry and all that serves it," he told Ella Maillart. For him, Christ was "the supreme poet," and his own last written words were an account of why poetry was his path:
The discipline of fidelity to the non-mental in poetry...is for me an immediate and congenial means of beginning to 'go beyond the mind'--of attaining and establishing a purely transmental vision and speech.
Two days before he wrote these words, on June 20, 1949, Thompson had been found by a friend wandering in the blazing high summer noon near the Ganges riverside in Benares, dazed with sunstroke. His impoverished dwelling was an attic with a corrugated metal roof. His friend brought him home, but sunstroke had already set in. Thompson died on June 23; he was cremated and his ashes scattered over the Ganges.

Mirror to the Light is the book Richard Lannoy edited from Thompson's notes, a book Thompson clearly envisioned himself--the notes were found in two large cardboard boxes of pages, meticulously organized by topic and by alphabetical order. (Thompson's only long-term employment in India seems to have been his job as librarian at the Rajghat School just outside Benares.) My patient reader has doubtless observed that, so far, I have cited a few letters and journal entries by Thompson but nothing from Mirror to the Light. Doubtless this betrays a "biographical fallacy" in myself, but I find I cannot separate the force of personality I feel in Thompson's aphorisms from their wisdom and their quest. I am loathe to offer here at the end a kind of "sampler" of his thought, but I know how hollow must sound the rationale that "his work is all of a piece," or that it "must be taken as a whole"--deeply though I have felt it as I make these few selections. And indeed, Thompson labored to shape his thoughts into a form that was memorable, brief, and unified. There are passages of considerable simplicity and beauty, and notes that are remarkable as much for their brevity as for their insight--most were written on small slips of paper, and probably the size of the paper was meant in part as a constraint upon the expression. He wrote, he says once, in order to forget his thoughts, to not be ruled by them. He also warns his readers to not forget what sort of book they are reading:
My aim in this book is to overcome the mind even on its own ground--completion of Hypocrisy. It is organized only as a poem. the whole synthesis, the integral interpretation, intellectually, critically, and in experience, is made by Poetry.
"to overcome the mind even on its own ground"--one of the most succinct and apt accounts of the methods and aims of philosophy--what I mean by philosophy, anyway. Thompson meant very seriously this crossing of poetic symbol and rigorous intellect, a tool that had to be mastered, not discarded:
Those who most concretely and consciously intend the Real are in their minds, to the confounding of the sentimental, absolutely analytical. The mind cannot be surpassed or put in its proper place without being fulfilled. "He who is not faithful in little, who will give him much?"
Or again:
You can entirely dissipate yourself in intelligence. It is a pure and may be a very athletic life. But because you must continue to live it it represents a premature, and thus essentially a tragic, surrender.
Intelligence must be entirely employed, it must be spontaneous not for its own sake, but in being limited by what surpasses its conditions. And then alone has it its own full and proper flexibility, and a promptitude free of accident.
There are observations on the political forms of mid-20th century life, which immediately render implausible any reading of Thompson as a reactionary or naïf:
...now only a world-culture is possible. The undifferentiated mass, formerly controlled within limits or hierarchically, has now to be dealt with as a whole on the ground of its own overflooding of cultural order.... There are no longer priests and kings of quite another order from the slave, as a man is different from an animal.... Now the lowest common factor rules--the modern abstract brutishness. There is only this actual material democracy or mere reaction from it into fascism or communism.
Thompson draws an interesting corollary:
This fact also prepares a truly universal recognition of spiritual values. For since they are themselves universal there is no question of a universal religion: no limited cultural form can any longer be dynamic here.
There are observations on the economic situation of the rich, the poor, and the actually free:
Most people mean by work--slavery: they have nothing to do, and are not inwardly free enough to play. In fact they can conceive 'play' only in complement with work. Thus they are either wage-slaves or unemployed--in either case slave of the modern 'historical situation.'... What is the historical situation of a leopard, or a man who lives first and 'begs' of those who are afraid to? ...The man who lives first is the reverse of the parasite. those who are afraid have created standards by which he is indistinguishable from the parasites produced by their own state. And this is the measure of the whole evil.
These remarks on politics and economics are somewhat surprising in the context of a book of apparently "private," "spiritual" observations, but always they are tied back into reference to what Thompson considers the root questions, the questions of what is Real and who one is.

Thompson is ruthlessly abrupt sometimes with those who see only partway. He is equally brusque with 'Humanism'--"the romantic sentimentalism of the ego"--as with all forms of "occultism": "modern magic is perverse or sentimental and like Faust's only an extreme of romanticism."
Our 'common humanity' is, after all, our common fatigue and imperfection, common evasion, confusion, compromise, hypocrisy. The Buddha, the Christ--all Liberators--have been 'inhuman.' We consent together to flatter them. It is like flattering fire, lightning, or the Sun.
His remarks on sexuality--"this accidental joy"--are sane, gentle and uncompromisingly ascetic.
Sexuality in itself, like everything relative, is entirely destructive. In this, as in general, it has a direct polar correspondence with the brain. Thought completing itself in its own sense destroys itself. It is only so far as sexuality, incapable of exceeding its [own] limits falls short of this, that it continues the endless process of relativities: what it perpetuates is not life, but old age and death. In itself it is a powerful expression of life, but of life divided.
The sexual problem exists only so long as we have not first of all discovered how very small a part of ourselves sexuality can engage--so long as we have not perceived its limits, so long as it is still psychological, with overcharged confusion, Anguish, dreams--so long as we are not disinterested and realistic in this sphere.
Or again, perhaps most succinctly:
There is only one way to be chaste if chastity is not to be negative, that is, to love deeply.
Thompson never ceases being a poet:
Solitude is resonant with a music as remote and vivid as the tremor of the stars. Out of all dream Athene arises, grave, clear-eyed, forever youthful. About her a void tuned beyond all music, crossed by speedless intimation, threads of sound, of force, of light, more oure than frost.
And he never stops being concerned with what Poetry means:
All disinterested expression is poem.
This disinterestedness is not easily attained; it is only painfully wrested from the acknowledgment that (as Thompson frequently reiterates), "the truth cannot be told." His was a quest "towards an Unknown Real." This emphasis on the incommunicability of truth is of a piece other of Thompson's concerns: his indifference to social niceties, his dim view of "morality," his emphasis upon solitude, his interest in the limits of poetry, and on the utterly instantaneous nature of realization:
He meets me exactly who offers me complete resistance, who allows me to retain my silence.
Poetry is the dance of truth among limits and which it explodes....

Poetry is the speech of love, universal by its perfect particularity. Love is the key to it all.

Love absolutely does not need to be recognized.

No one is capable of love who has not first been capable of his own spiritual solitude.

The 'Real' is--what is perceived with perfect disinterestedness--what does not need to be real.

Reality is first achieved as the exhaustion of every possible sentimentality.

Our language contains one word whose power is directly magical: NOW. But first it will bring us face to face with the complete agony of our own incapacity and our ignorance.
And, finally:
You can escape in a moment, but only in a moment.
Mirror to the Light was published in 1984. I think there may have been only one printing. For a long time I have wondered what was amiss with the world that this jewel of a book received so little attention. Then two Sundays ago I was in one of the last few local independent bookstores that seems to be making a go of it, and there on the shelf was Fathomless Heart, by Lewis Thompson, edited by Richard Lannoy. This is a much expanded edition of the Thompson's masterwork, and Lannoy must be praised for his long labor in the effort to make known the work of this remarkable English "poet-sage," as Thompson is called in the subtitle. Lannoy has expanded his Introduction, and there is a fine Preface by William Stranger (from which I have also gleaned a few items for this post). The book may herald the long-overdue widespread appreciation of Lewis Thompson.

Nothing would have displeased Thompson more than to become a cult or a cause célèbre, but if one reads him with his warning in mind, one may not go far wrong:
Do not believe what I say, any more than you believe a poem: only see the intention, what it means spiritually. There are enough theories and dogmas as it is.
This fundamentally provisional nature of his work, his flawed articulation of spiritual intention, is summed up for me in an anecdote Lannoy rightly characterizes as almost Zen-like. Though Thompson was very interested in the work of J. Krishnamurti, he met him only once, by chance, in a narrow hallway. Neither man said anything. Thompson only met Krishnamurti's smiling and silent gaze with his own, in quiet composure. After several moments of silence, Krishnamurti slowly lifted his hand and quietly pointed to a place in white cotton garment Thompson was wearing. There was a small hole torn there. Still smiling, still meeting Thompson's eyes, he pointed to his own, similar garment. There in the corresponding spot was an identical tear. The two men parted, neither having spoken a word. He meets me exactly who offers me complete resistance, who allows me to retain my silence.


  1. I'm intrigued. Have added this to my reading list.

    BTW, thanks very much for your review of my Wilber article. I enjoyed your comments and I expect I'll give them a more thorough look when it's time to revise.

  2. I read your piece with interest. You may also be interested in Ronald Nixon who left Cambridge and went to India and blossomed into the Yogi Sri Krishna Prem. Then there is J.A. Chadwick, given the name of "Arjava" by Aurobindo, a pupil of C.D. Broad who later went to India and became a disciple of Aurobindo and an inmate of Aurobindo Ashram. He also wrote some interesting poems, apparently inspired by his spiritual experiences.

    Now to "J.K." mentioned in your closing paragraph. I was enjoying your piece before reaching its closing paragraph!

    In my teens, I used to attend "J.K's" talks in Chennai, India. I even confronted him once with a question as he walked back to his rooms in "Vasanta Vihar" after a talk.

    What a poseur! And how muddled in his "thinking"!

    He almost drove David Bohm to suicide with his confused, disorienting, and repetitive monologues. Bohm naively thought that "JK" was enlightened and never recovered after learning about the revelations by Radha Rajagopal Sloss, in her book "Lives in the Shadow of Krishnamurti", concerning J.K's long term secretive affair with her married mother and the abortions he compelled her to go through.

    For all his outward show disavowing the theosophical doctrine of "Masters" and their "chosen vehicles", the man pathetically deluded himself that he was a "special guy" and that he was being used as a "vehicle" by some extraordinary being!

    But I will grant that, at least in my teens, and perhaps even now, his "spiritual" aestheticism of nature appreciation, however fancifully expressed, and evident in "Krishnamurti's Notebook" and his "Commentaries on Living", did/does stimulate interesting contemplative experiences along the same lines.

  3. "Toward an Unknown Real"????

    Ah, the astonishing Māyā of language!

    If it is unknown, how do you know that it is "Real"?

    And if it is unknown, and hence not known to be "Real, how can you possibly move "Toward" it?

  4. Skholiast (May I know your "Real" first name?), I think this is one of your best pieces. It certainly "feels" inspired.

    Thompson: "Thinking of intellectual coordination of discrete aphorisms and the artificiality of the result: don't try to force a final abstract order among themselves on the aphorisms. Rather, do the minimum of arrangement.... Don't kill lyricism by absolute, rigid, closed intellectual order."

    This could well have been the voice of Wittgenstein on the arrangement of his philosophical remarks!!!

    And it is not well-known that W. wrote that his conception of philosophy could be summed up in the remark that philosophy ought to be written only as a form of poetry.

    W. would have wholeheartedly agreed with the last sentence in the quote from Thompson.

  5. 'The Unknown Real"

    Perhaps, he means that it is unknown to him (but known to others, the "spiritual" elite?) but nevertheless real based on the testimony of those who have known it?

    But how do we know that the testimony is reliable? How do we know that the ones offering testimony have not deluded themselves?

    In any case, reasoning from testimony is inductive reasoning, and, hence, probabilistic in nature. Therefore, it ought to be "the probably real" rather than the certain "Real".

  6. Thill,

    Glad you liked it. Yes, Thompson reminds me much of aspects of Wittgenstein, though LW seems more anguished. Both have the unflinching ascetic edge. As for Krishnamurti, I remain cheerfully agnostic. I don't know his work well enough and I have never felt especially compelled in that direction -- the stuff on dialogue you mention (with Bohm) would seem to be right down my alley, but I haven't found anything I could sink my teeth into. But I do like the vignette of the meeting in the corridor.

  7. Thank you for sharing this with us. I have ordered the book and look forward to reading through these aphorisms. In the past few months, I have been getting closer and closer to God/Love/Christ (this is the only way to say it), mostly due to my return to Kierkegaard (all his later writings specifically) and Rilke, but especially thanks to Simone Weil (the volume you mention here as well as Gravity and Grace). I have to tell you, I can feel a bit overwhelmed by it -- the demand that K's and W's "vision" of being-Christian -- and insofar as they call for nothing less than the imitation of Christ, the incredibly high demand that Christ Himself sets for us, this vision of utterly equal love that casts off all the world. I think there is a difference here between these "Christians" (of course, none of them call themselves that, except Christ) and more eastern methods of spirituality. The latter seem aimed at comforting, at peace and realization of ones true nature; but these Christians seem to require that we refuse peace, that we refuse realization, and that we beg God to pile on more and more affliction upon us, and then to know that in doing so we bear the weight of the whole world with Christ, and that it is only by grace and love that we are able to bear it. Anyway, I'm excited to receive the Lewis book and see where he fits in this, and what specifically he has to tell me at this juncture of life.

    All the best,

  8. Tim,

    at the risk of sounding like I endorse a vision of Christianity as masochism, I agree with you here. For all his bombast, Zizek gets this right about Christianity; it is the "traversing of the fantasy", and this means, accepting ones incommensurability.

    1. I think the idea of "God piling more affliction upon us" could only be called "masochism" if it were for the sake of our own obscene pleasure. But the Christian thinkers remind us often enough: it is not mortification of the body we are after, but purification of the spiritual and physical heart. This purification cannot be a mandate on life, passed down by any human authority; it must be a need felt deeply within. One must turn voluntarily toward God-- and I would add, one must resolve daily, one must turn daily, one must never assume that one has really done anything. Faith without (continued!) existence is dead.

      What I mean is that the notion that "the wages of sin is death" is something that, without or without "Christianity," we learn over time if we are attentive to the innermost movements of our heart. We see what being quick to anger and indulging in controversies does to our words. We see what pornography does to our body. We see how the daily news clouds our thoughts and impedes our meditation. We see how passing attractions detract us from God and rob us of peace. After feeling this for many years, to then turn to Christ (after much failing!) is not to beef up with religion, but to heed the call that says: there is a better way, there is New Life. "All are called, few are chosen," yes, but also: only those who choose are chosen, only those who heed the call are called. And the call doesn't issue from elsewhere. It issues from the inside of "me." Only those who are self-aware can taste of the true need for self-obliviation.

      More and more, I am realizing that, without it ("Christ"), I will feel like I have wasted the blessing of time. But I don't think that means I've been wasting my life up to this point. As Thomas à Kempis writes, "Read such matters as may sting your conscience, rather than merely fill your time." That is a vow I made years ago, and it has brought me to this point. And when it suddenly dawns on a man that those staggering texts deemed "Christian" are perhaps the most stinging, who will be surprised? Whatever that may be, I'm still convinced that so long as we are pursuing titles that sting our conscience, and modifying our lives accordingly, we are following "the way of Christ"-- defining the latter by the former, not vice versa. Just as we should recognize God according to the degree of love we find, and not according to anything else. No love, no God. Simple.

      Christ is for those who are at the point of having done with diversions and debates, for those who are, in a sense, done with discourse, with ideas, with everything save the purification of body, mind, and spirit (no human consolations!). It's for those who realize that there is a final accounting of our ways and deeds, and that that judgment doesn't come some future day, but increasingly comes upon us in the instant. Critical self-examination and self-humbling (in light of my death right now) are the essence of a Christian life; without them, "Christ" never even gets started. We need to begin all our prayers with, "Help me never to feign..." either our words or our love. I've been trying to do this forever. May God give me the strength to pursue the path I've been on even higher. Or turn it all around if need be.

      Anyway, I hadn't heard from you in a while, so I thought I would send a note. All the best to you my friend,


  9. Tim,

    When you say,

    " Christ is for those who are at the point of having done with diversions and debates, for those who are, in a sense, done with discourse, with ideas, with everything save the purification of body, mind, and spirit ",

    I am reminded of a remark Wittgenstein makes: "In religion every level of devoutness must have its appropriate form of expression which has no sense at a lower level. This [such-&-such a] doctrine, which means something at a higher level, is null and void for someone who is still at a lower level; he can only understand it wrongly and so these words are not valid for such a person." Wittgenstein's own example is the doctrine of predestination, which he says means nothing to him and just gets in the way. (Culture & Value, p32.) I take Simone Weil to be saying something similar when she says that for her, "the cross is sufficient," and it is the Resurrection which is a stumbling-block.

    I am of course far from turning my back on the 'universalist' claims of Christianity or indeed of philosophy. I really do maintain that there is a sense in which wisdom must be "true for everyone." But I also understand the utterly personalist focus of a declaration that conceives itself as good news which is addressed in some way to the one Kierkegaard called "that individual." Don't misunderstand me -- I genuinely stake my project upon the sense of liturgical enactment, and no one can "do liturgy" by himself. Nor do I think that the doctrinal and creedal definitions and disputes are pointless -- but it is curious how their pertinence seems to shift over time. To be a person is to be a strange hybrid of change and continuity.

    All our prayers should begin with "Help me never to feign..." -- yes. What else does Wittgenstein say? "Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself"?

    Good to hear from you.