On rising above the ground
'But this is the lowest level of knowing: it is not even out of the soil. Nothing has broken through yet. There is no truth to be found here.' You are making sense of feelings I've not been able to name, let alone articulate. Thank you.
Well, I'm up for it. :)
Maybe this is taking the analogy too far, but I'm thinking of plants that do not hold their blossoms up above the foliage. Garden bred hybrids do this, for an exaggerated show. Often wild plants have small, nodding, blossoms nestled among or under the leaves. Sometimes fragrant or night blooming, they target a specific audience: their preferred pollinators. All this to say, in my life I have been part of various groups that sought to "rise above" the ordinary, irritating, silly, needy people of everyday humanity by organizing around some principle, theology, or concept. Of course it never works because even if the founding members are all of the 'right sort' they'll end up having kids who aren't, or spouses, mothers, newcomers, and it is impossible to make a more pure group. The attempt pretty much ruins any good intentions that were there initially. You did say that bit about "people we don't like". I think that's the nugget of insight. The best growing conditions are uncomfortable many times. Plants often fail to flower if over fertilized.
This welcome note acknowledges the central role of that great taboo of our compulsively egalitarian culture: hierarchy. Such is the vehicle by which a jumble of sensations or data become perception (as noted by Jonathan Pageau in your video conversation with him) and I believe it is counted as one of the primary "needs of the soul" in Simone Weil. That it can begin in and then yield to mystery is the touch that keeps it from ossification and idolatry instead of a path to true worship. A hard path but, as your note and illustration witness, a proper response to and journey into true life and light. Thank you. We look forward to the next installment.
Thanks for this essay. I too don't want to take the analogy too far, but I couldn't help wondering if weeds play a part in this garden. Ignorance, appeals to base motives and emotionalism are all intentionally sown in a garden to devastating effect. Here in America where the cultural soil is barren and shallow weeds are ubiquitous. I have, within the past year or so, without seeking them out, been treated to noxious weeds/beliefs. Among my friends and family I have heard that; the Clintons are serial murderers, Democrats and Hollywood elite eat fetuses as a means of maintaining their youth, COVID is a plot to get rid of old people because they cost too much to insure (spoken by a "scientist on TV" so it had to be true), that in the Santa Monica Mountains (urban hills in Los Angeles) there is a "Nazi house" built "during the holocaust" by the Nazi's because they wanted to be prepared for when they won the "holocaust war". All of these came from seemingly sane, functioning people who at least graduated from high school and live normal productive lives. The problem is, the sowers of the weeds are openly and proudly continuing their efforts and those efforts are increasingly successful. Can the garden survive or will it only revive after a cleansing conflagration sweeps through? I hope these cheerless thoughts have not wandered too far from the topic at hand.
I believe that Humility ( humus-of the earth) is necessary in order to reach the ineffable light. Hierarchy and order enables one practice humility And I say this for myself, it is a daily struggle to be humble but a virtue I seek.
To quote the goofy American sitcom character Ted Lasso, "Be curious, not judgemental." (He attributes this quote to Walt Whitman, though I'm not sure the poet ever said it, lol.) Even if it's the most pedestrian meme ever coughed up by the Internet, it's decent advice. I fail at this often - but it does tend to work to ask more questions, look for commonalities, and adopt the stance of a person seeking to understand, rather than to be understood.
The way we differentiate facts from opinion is by calling upon an external authority. In the days of covid-19 we are subjected to the external authority of ‘experts’, for better or worse. Over recent decades all forms of institutional authority have been systematically deconstructed. Be it parliament, or the church, science or religion, all have experienced a loss of authority. Consequently, having rejected any form of external authority, we have made ourselves the ultimate arbiters of truth. My opinion has become my truth; not only my truth, but significantly, my identity. Therefore challenging my opinion is to call into question not only my ideas, but the core of who I am. It is an attempt to deconstruct me. It is a form of violence. There is a pathway out of this dark place, but only as we turn towards the Ineffable Light.
"It is only from the light which streams constantly from heaven that a tree can derive the energy to strike its roots deep into the soil. The tree is in fact rooted in the sky." Simone Weil
“Because we can not circle above all existence—sleepless, unbroken, boundless, glowing—we content ourselves with being submerged and awakening.” —Martin Buber
I am really looking forward to reading these! It's like food for thinking. At first I thought, well there's a whole new universe in 'consider the lilies' there! Then I was thinking about Jesus being the Alpha and Omega; the ineffable light and the soil below...made sin, humiliated beyond belief/utterly divine. Could it also be that different people will always be at different levels of knowing- some in one part of the plant all of their lives, some at different places at different times in their lives. Could it be that any part of the plant is meaningful so long as it's not cut off from the life of/acknowledges the importance of the whole plant. It also reminded me of Paul's (apostle not Kingsnorth (!)), image of the body (church) writ large as society in general? If the hand says 'I have no need of the foot' etc... I have heard western civilization referred to as a cut flower... it's as important to acknowledge the roots as to remember the direction... I will try to think about this a bit more, but it seems to work so well on so many levels...
I'm reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre's 'After Virtue.' His metaphor of the shipwreck is probably the best hermeneutic I've ever read for explaining the inability of cultural factions to find any shared sense of reality. When the most basic shared meanings no longer exist then dialogue is essentially impossible.
This probably leads to what Austrian economists would call 'creative destruction' - the system rips itself to pieces and collapses like 4th century Rome and is replaced by a new order built on the ruins of the old.
My daughter is 13 and is reading deeply in these areas which leads to some fascinating discussions when I drive her to school. Yesterday I reminded her of Pontius Pilate's words to Christ, "Truth...what is that?" I've always felt that the exchange between Pilate and Christ in that moment is one of the most significant exchanges in human history.
It seems we face an interesting cultural paradox. In one sense we treat truth as utterly irrelevant with only the 'will to power' having any solidity. And yet, culture warriors seem utterly convinced that they possess the truth. As such, truth is almost nothing and everything at the same time.
I would like to ask about your thoughts also about the difference between wisdom and gnosis. Does wisdom always require that we are open to revelation? We don't so much attain it as receive it?
Western philosophy chose the wrong segment of the Socratic inheritance. In short, we have consistently tried to ask the "what is it?" question in order to ensnare reality in the net of words. To create a total system that explains everything without remainder. This project ended in postmodernism -- the exact opposite of finding truth--and have become unmoored, knowing neither up nor down or where we are even headed. ["If the rule you followed let you to this, of what use was the rule." -Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men.] There is another element--which is displayed in this post-- of the Socratic/Platonic tradition which is the real heart of it: The Allegory of the Cave. Nietszche derided Christianity as Platonism for the masses. May it be so.