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An Invitation to the Church of the Open Question

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — announcing a new blog for matters quasi-religious, poetical ]
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The Church of the Open Question is the name of my church.

I have held this domain name, churchoftheopenquestion.com, for some years now, and a blog-church by that name should be coming online shortly — this is its first announcement.

My church bears that name because it expressly questions dogmatic formulations, while encourageing depthful exploration of the possible resonances of dogma that might go missing if all such formulations are dismissed out of hand.

Push open a question, leave it open, and what you have is possibilities.

The marvelous, beautiful, well-spoken Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel has titled her book on Tibetan Madhyamaka philosophy, The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha’s Path to Freedom, and I find myself to have come by a natural unfolding to a position very sympathetic to that which she has attained by the disciplined enterprise of Madhyamaka Buddhism under the tutelage of her husband, Lama Dzigar Kongtrül — a delightful homecoming for me.

I view my church — and the swing-doors that are its central feature — as offering a place where, for instance, Catholics who are leaving Catholicism may find certain doctrines illuminated as imaginative or poetic vehicles for wonder, which they can then carrry with them as spiritual values in an overwhelmingly secular and monteized societty, while those approaching the Church from outside it may find means of delighting in poetic or imaginative readings of texts that, stated in plain prose as definitive beliefs, are difficult indeed to swallow.

**

As an example, here’s a poem I wrote in this spirit, exploring the central symbolism of thr Christmas story..

Christmas for Buddhists

Suppose the full radiance inhabiting all things,
on the specific occasion we now celebrate,
finding itself as fond of narrative as of symmetry,
of emptiness as of fullness, decided
for the sake of teaching its selves a thing
or eight, to take on a newborn form,
while letting its nature shine forth visible
to its mum, sundry animals, three visiting kings

and an assortment of invisible winged beings —
what better place than the animal stall
outside an inn, where no room was available
for a pregnant visitor to give birth, could
that master of story, Original Face, choose,
to tell humanity: humility is the necessary virtue?

or it’s close cousin, exploring the Mass:

To suppose the Eucharist

Suppose the hypothetical all of everything
in unspooling itself chose to exhibit itself in
one human, suppose further all the sun’s
light were caught in wheat and baked into
bread, all the world’s pains and passions
crushed like grapes into wine, suppose the
one person took loaf and cup and with
word and gesture raised them blood, body

of his own self to be supped and sipped,
thus woven into his one flesh, blood, mind —
just when his flesh is torn, blood spills —
suppose then that his mind to love were to
entrain this new body of many bodies to
heal with all radiance each instance of pain..

That one certainly owes something to Teilhard de Chardin, as the first may to Thomas Merton — this, then, will be above all a gathering or congregation of friends..

**

I’m encouraged by Dr Jordan Peterson‘s claim that he “wanted to establish a church .. in which he would deliver sermons every Sunday” — although in my own case, every now and then will have to substitute for every Sunday.

I have a first sermon lined up, too, in which I want to ask “What did Mozart see as Christ‘s life” when chosing the words “Ave verum corpus natum” to set to some of his most wondrous music? The answer’s a bit surprising, and suggestive of the many devotional moods the contemplation of that life can give rise to..

Coming shortly.. Clapton, too. And Anthony Bourdain.

Three books in one day — splendid!!

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Imagination, Joan of Arc, and Coronation ]
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Oh, the other day was a great day, bringing me three terrific books:

  • Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi: Alone with the Alone
  • Marina Warner, Joan of Arc: the Image of Female Heroism
  • Matthias Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: From James I to Elizabeth II
  • The Corbin is simply the most dedicated book on spirituality I would take with me if I could, and which I’d dearly love to crack. Marina Warner was a stellar presence in the cofe I frequented in Little Clarendon Street in Oxford, and hijacked me once to help paint her new digs. And the Range? It’s a book I’ve long wished to read and finally, here it is.

    Quite a trio!

    Seeking the Beloved, for Jim Gant

    Thursday, June 7th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — two great poems, my friend, and the impassioned voice of Sara Mingardo ]
    .

    Rainer Maria Rilke:

    You who never arrived..

    You who never arrived
    in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
    from the start,
    I don’t even know what songs
    would please you. I have given up trying
    to recognize you in the surging wave of
    the next moment. All the immense
    images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt
    landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and
    unsuspected turns in the path,
    and those powerful lands that were once
    pulsing with the life of the gods–
    all rise within me to mean
    you, who forever elude me.

    You, Beloved, who are all
    the gardens I have ever gazed at,
    longing. An open window
    in a country house– , and you almost
    stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
    Streets that I chanced upon,–
    you had just walked down them and vanished.
    And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
    were still dizzy with your presence and,
    startled, gave back my too-sudden image.
    Who knows? Perhaps the same
    bird echoed through both of us
    yesterday, separate, in the evening…

    **

    Hide and go seek, or for the truly young at heart, peek-a-boo, is the earliest of games, and the most profound. We are seekers: there is something, some treasure to be found.

    Among the greatest of our comrades was Rabia of Basra who, sensing an unaccustomed absence of the divine beloved, wept all night long in prayer, WHere are You, Why have you left me? — only to be comforted in the morning by the renewal of the presence, which patiently asked, And Rabia, who do you suppose cried all night long, praying so urgently for my presence?

    Let us go seek, for the great game is upon us.

    **

    David Jones:

    If Rilke gave us the romantic beloved, Jones shows us the search for the beloved in the person of Christ, seeking his form without success in the structures of modernity..

    This poem is remarkable also for the two great wailing cries in Latin that give it its title and final words, giving poetry a passion more eaily found these days in the blues.. I know of no poem in the English language quite like it,.

    A, a, a, Domine Deus

    I said, Ah! what shall I write?
    I enquired up and down.
    (He’s tricked me before
    with his manifold lurking-places.)
    I looked for His symbol at the door.
    I have looked for a long while
    at the textures and contours.
    I have run a hand over the trivial intersections.
    I have journeyed among the dead forms
    causation projects from pillar to pylon.
    I have tired the eyes of the mind
    regarding the colours and lights.
    I have felt for His wounds
    in nozzles and containers.
    I have wondered for the automatic devices.
    I have tested the inane patterns
    without prejudice.
    I have been on my guard
    not to condemn the unfamiliar.
    For it is easy to miss Him
    at the turn of a civilisation.

    I have watched the wheels go round in case I
    might see the living creatures like the appearance
    of lamps, in case I might see the Living God projected
    from the Machine. I have said to the perfected steel,
    be my sister and for the glassy towers I thought I felt
    some beginnings of His creature, but A,a,a Domine Deus,
    my hands found the glazed work unrefined and the terrible
    crystal a stage-paste … Eia, Domine Deus.

    **

    We are frtunate to have that same cry, Domine Deus, delivered with unmatched devotional intensity in the voice of Sara Mingardo, in Rinaldo Alessandrini‘s version of Vivaldi‘s Gloria, RV589:

    I am posting this in the hope that it will go some way towards illuminating the equivalent devotional inttensity in Jones‘ poem. The whole Gloria in Alessandrini‘s version with Mingardo, can be found here on YouTube.

    Pulitzer : Lamar :: Nobel : Dylan?

    Friday, April 20th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — with the nost remarkable, beautiful, unexpected, unexpectable music at the very end, a total surprise ]
    .

    Kendrick Lamar just won the Pulitzer for music. A small while back, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    I haven’t seen anyone comparing Kendrick Lamar‘s Pulitzer fuss with Bob Dylan‘s Nobel shenanigans — yet.

    **

    The black on white of the Dylan lyrics (upper panel, above) and the white on black of the Lamar lyrics (lower panel, above) aren’t racially intended, nor do they represent good and evil as so commonly elsewhere — and in any case, in black on white is it the black or the white that carries the meaning, and vice versa — but in the case of white on black, which do you notice most? And above, below, what do they mean?

    Both, and.

    Good’n’evil, rock’n’roll. Rock on, world.

    **

    Sources:

    These two will give you the surprise, surprise narratives:

  • New York Times, Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize, Redefining Boundaries of Literature
  • NPR, How The Pulitzer Jury Opened Its Doors To Hip-Hop
  • And those two headlines make a nice contrapuntal DoubleQuote, too.

    **

    Me, I’ve been listening to Dylan since I could crawl and he was folk, and had never consciously heard the words Kendrick Lamar until yesterday, when I started in on this piece.

    Sources:

    Here are the two musics from which the lytrics posted above are taken, both of which you may skip if you know them already:

    and:

    **

    But. And. Yet. Also. Splutter —

    My remarkable discovery of the day.. It’s Caroline Shaw‘s astounding Partita for 8 Voices, written for and sung by Roomful of Teeth. Listen closely, beauty is born fresh here:

    Kudos, where kudos due:

  • Slate, Classical Music Needs Kendrick Lamar More Than It Needs the Pulitzer
  • **

    Okay, just in case — what I hear:

    Human voice sound poetry of Henri Chopin — I visited him briefly circa 1965 — via Glenn Gould‘s polyphonic voice radio plays, meeting Machaut, via Morten Lauridsen‘a O Magnum Mysterium, plus what funk meant first, before it was limited to funk — a twisty ringing of changes in sound: cough, swoop, taal, stutter and bend weaving in and out of dissonance, of purity..

    Utterly fresh and brilliantly performed: watch and listen..

    And tell me below if you knew this wonder already.

    Foolishness, Martin Luther King Jr and the Resurrection

    Sunday, April 1st, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — from MLK via St Basil the Great to Mullah Nasruddin ]
    .

    Three lines from the Apostles Creed locate the Resurrection between a descent into hell and an ascent into heaven. These lines are worth pondering in concert:

    He descended into hell;
    on the third day He rose again from the dead;
    He ascended into heaven,

    In what world of three worlds are these three utterances, so poetically juxtaposed, credible as declarative propositions?

    **

    He is risen!

    Bach’s Easter Oratorio, with Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra:

    **

    Martin Luther King Jr gently lays out the liberal / modernist perspective on the Resurrection:

    The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine?

    The root of our inquiry is found in the fact that the early Christians had lived with Jesus. They had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality. This basic experience led to the faith that he could never die. And so in the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century, this inner faith took outward form. But it must be remembered that before the doctrine was formulated or the event recorded, the early Christians had had a lasting experience with the Christ. They had come to see that the essential note in the Fourth Gospel is the ultimate force in Christianity: The living, deathless person of Christ. They expressed this in terms of the outward, but it was an inner experience that lead to its expression.

    **

    The Jesuit priest Fr James Schall defends that outward interpretation, as found in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, taken for dogmatic purposes as declarations of fact:

    To the wise Greeks, as St. Paul tells us, the whole aura around Christ’s death and resurrection seemed to be “foolishness.” And it is foolishness unless considerable evidence is found showing that something astonishing was in fact going on. This evidence is basically the testimony of the women and men who attested to the fact that Christ did rise again. This is the same Christ whose death on the Cross they had witnessed a few days before.

    **

    To take these declarations as reporting historical fact, it may help to have an upside-down worldview — that of the wisdom of the fool. Appropriately, this year Easter is celebrated on April Fools Day. Indeed, Fr Schall opens his piece from which I quoted above by noting that fact, then moves to a discussion of Christ himself as a Fool:

    A tradition exists about “Christ the Fool.” It probably originates from when Pilate sent Christ to see Herod. Herod was anxious to see him. See him do what? See him perform. He had heard much about this man and his miracles. So naturally the king wanted to see what Christ could do; he wanted a private show to entertain the court. In response, Christ was simply silent.

    Christ, we might say, played the naïf for Herod.

    **

    Scripture declares how a naturalistic worldview perceives the eruption of God’s wisdom into this world as folly, and vice versa:

    For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.

    while:

    the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    and, in an almost tongue-twisting formulation:

    For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

    **

    All of which leads Christians to imitate the foolishness of Christ:

    We are fools for Christ’s sake

    That too is St Paul, writing of himself and his contemporaries, followers of the pattern set by Christ — and his message has echoed down the centuries among those who wish to imitate that pattern closely:

    One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference.

    **

    In the Orthodox tradition — in which, this year, Easter and the Resurrection will be celebrated next Sunday — the foolishness of saints is a recurrent story. As I noted, quoting from the National Catholic Register in an earlier post:

    In Russian history the greatest of the “holy fools” was Basil the Blessed, a man so revered that the famous Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square next to the Kremlin was named in his honor. Basil walked through Moscow wearing nothing more than a long beard. He threw rocks at wealthy people’s houses and stole from dishonest traders in Red Square.

    Few doubted Basil’s holiness. Tsar Ivan the Terrible feared no one but Basil. Basil was also given to eating meat on Good Friday. Once he went to Ivan’s palace in the Kremlin and forced the tsar to eat raw meat during the fast saying, “Why abstain from eating meat when you murder men?” Countless Russians died for much less but Ivan was afraid to let any harm come to the saintly Basil.

    **

    I don’t suppose one could speak of left and right wing parties under the Terrible Ivan, but evcen if one could, I don’t think St Basil’s approach would fit either description — he’s acting in a manner that is plain contrary to all sane opinion — and indeed, the term “Contraries” is applied by anthropologists to trickster shamans and holy foots in many traditions. Interestingly, in Sufism the “path of blame” has at times been highly esteemed — its practitioners, like the Russian Holy Fools, draw blame on themselves to awaken those around them while subverting their own propensity to take pride in how “spiritual” they are.

    **

    Mullah Nasruddin really didn’t want to loan his donkey to a neighbor.
    My brother borrowed him yesterday and hasn’t brought him back, the Mullah said..
    Just then, the donkey brayed.
    Who are you going to believe, the Mullah asked hastilyy — me or a donkey?

    Now, who in that little vignette is more of an ass?


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