Two contrasting world views...

This morning I had to report for jury duty - not necessarily what I wanted to do on my Sabbath day - but in the spirit of "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" and all that I showed up at 7:54 am and was duly registered. At about 8:50 am, the attending constable welcomed the roughly 85 other civic minded Berkshirites, invited us to watch a 25 minute video about "what to expect as a juror" and then told us that once the judges started court at 9:00 am we would eventually find out if we were needed.

There we sat - and sat - and sat some more. Until at 11:53 am we were notified that none of us was needed and that we could all go home. To say that many thoughts ran through my mind at that moment - from HOW it came to pass that it took nearly three hours to decided ALL of us were unnecessary to just WHO exactly showed up on a Friday morning to court anyhow - would be an understatement. Still, it was better than waiting until 4:00 pm, yes?

So, during my enforced waiting I got a lot of church planning finished - from liturgies to brochures - and some serious and light reading, too. About a week ago, while waiting for another meeting to begin, I had about 20 minutes to wander through the local independent bookstore in Lenox aptly named The Bookstore and came across a collection of essays by Milan Kundera entitled Encounter. I have long valued both Kundera's fiction - especially the Book of Laughing and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality - as well as his critical reflections on art and artists. This book falls into the second category and considers a range of themes from "the comical absence of the comical" in Dostoevsky's The Idiot and the meaning of the "intellectualism of the heroes in the novels of Philip Roth (who "yearn to keep past times on (a) novel's horizon (so that) the characters in each book are not left in the void of where our ancestors' voices have ceased to be audible") to the frustration of art in the age of motion pictures.

In a fascinating essay, "The Painter's Brutal Gesture: On Francis Bacon," Kundera carefully considers what Bacon is attempting with his grotesque portraiture. After noting that Bacon always strives to go beyond the face to the essence - a challenge in the modern age of violence and mass society - Kundera writes of Bacon's obsession with the slaughterhouse:
To link Jesus nailed to the cross with slaughterhouses and an animal's fear might seem sacrilegious. But Bacon is a nonbeliever, and the notion of sacrilege has no place in his way of thinking; according to him, "Man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason." Seen from this angle, Jesus is that accident who, without reason, played out the game. The cross: the final point of the game played out the end without reason. So, no, not sacrilege; rather a clearsighted, sorrowing, thoughtful gaze trying to penetrate to the essential. And what essential thing is revealed when all the social dreams have evaporated and man sees "religious possibilities... completely canceled out for him?" The body. (pp. 13-14)

Upon returning home from my anti-climactic time at court, I lay down to take a nap and started to browse through David Schindler's American take on the theological insights of Hans Urs von Balthazar: Heart of the World, Center of the Church. (Ok, ok, so it is a cold, rainy day in New England and my thoughts have wafted towards the heady - it is in the air today, man!) Where an entirely different worldview is articulated with these opening words:

Christ did not leave the Father when he became man to bring all creation to fulfillment; and neither does the Christian need to lead his center in Christ in order to mediate him to the world, to understand his relation to the world, to build a bridge between revelation and nature, philosophy and theology... for this is what the saints are full aware of: they never at any moment leave their center in Christ. They give themselves to their work in the world while praying at all times... and this is a more serious incarnation. Just as the Son of God, the more he became a man 0 until he appeared only as a naked man on the cross - did not lose his center in God and indeed revealed it with ever greater clarity - so too the community of faith will become similarly paradoxical through our deeper engagement with the world. (Balthasar)

One view - honest, humble and horrified at the emptiness of contemporary life - comes to trust only what can be revealed in the flesh. The other - equally honest, humble but also hopeful - sees in the flesh of Christ both the meaning of life and the purpose of creation: the invitation to move through even suffering and death with compassion born of the presence of God's love at our core. One vision searches for meaning within the absurd and tragic emptiness of our material existence. The other searches for the presence of God within our bleak world but discerns beauty, turth and goodness amidst the madness and so moves beyond the obvious towards hope.

+ I think of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot vs. Cormac McCarthy's The Road

+ I see the visual work of Damien Hirst vs. Makato Fujimora

+ I see goth kids aching for contact with the supernatural and the whole explosion of vampire romanticism of Twilight vs. the equally edgy but spiritually honest music of Bono or Arcade Fire

+ I recall the writing Jean Paul Sartre vs. the novels of Morris West to say nothing of the current shallow aetheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris - who poke holes in charactictures and straw men they call Christian - versus the careful, nuanced and question works of Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard or Thomas Moore

I have a friend in Tucson who once said something like this: "I used to really be into Nietzsche and his dark insights until I started to notice that all my Nietzsche buddies were either becoming alcoholics or taking their lives. I guess if you follow Nietzsche's way you become like him... so I started searching for an alternative." We wound up calling our take on the alternative something like "Johnny Cash" Christianity - that was dark and honest and very clear about the brokenness and pain - but also connected to a grace that was bigger than the pain.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came at this from a different direction in his Nobel Lecture in 1970 when he wrestled with the claim that "beauty can save the world." (And who is better equipped to explore and facing the apparent deafening emptiness of the modern?)

One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: "Beauty will save the world". What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes - but whom has it saved?

There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender.But a work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force - they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.

So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through - then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar TO THAT VERY SAME PLACE, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?

It has been a very interesting day... and as it comes to a close I STILL find myself standing with Mako and McCarthy and Bono and Dillard and Solzhenitsyn.


Black Pete said…
What? No coda that ends on the second last note?

Splendid posting, and I agree that beauty and truth, as I read you, are separated at our peril.
RJ said…
I didn't make the clip, my man, or else it would have had "her majesty's a pretty nice girl..." Thanks for your encouragement.

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