Tuesday, January 25, 2005

What If?

What if?
What if I put all the books away?
Put all the experts away . . .
Put all the traditions and philosophies and religions away for a day . . .

And merely sat with my laptop and wrote what emerged . . .

Is this of any more benefit than reading the Talmud or Soloveitchik or Levinas or the Lam Rim or the Imitation of Christ or St. Therese of Lisieux or Deleuze or Olson or Wilber or Kazantzakis or whomever and whatever I have studied and turned to these last thirty years to better understand myself, the world, God, others and the wondrous dance that takes place between them all.

Clearly, there is clarity and direction that comes from the focus on one area of study, one tradition, one practice, one perspective – one system that can order my life from morning to night, birth to death and help me learn to care for the other and recognize my role in all that occurs . . . this understanding settles me, offers me peace, gives me place in the world and an avenue to help and support and teach others.

Yet, I have resisted that One Path, One System, One Taste – and that has created an isolation and a loneliness and an inability to find avenues to contribute or even explain what the goal of this searching and reading and thinking is for.

What is the goal? How am I growing? I cannot find answers for those questions. I might want to say – “I am more peaceful and understanding with others,” yet that has never been a problem, but instead my nature. Another answer, “I can now talk about and discuss the Talmud and been in dialog (through reading) with a tradition that spans thousands of years.” And so what – are you continuing to study, can you teach, how does that change you in your life here when you are not Jewish?

As I write these words I think that it seems like the Talmud itself tries to justify its study itself – there is a tradition that the study of Talmud is more important than all other commandments and is even better than the World to Come – AND that the goal of all creation is the lone individual with his (or her in modern times) Gemara struggling to define and create their method of observance. IT IS THE GOAL – STUDY IS THE GOAL. Is there any wonder why I am attracted to this . . . but not being Jewish and being over forty years behind the real Talmud scholars and being unable to read the original Hebrew and Aramaic – doesn’t all that say – Why would you do that? God did not command you – you are not Jewish – only the Jews are commanded to study Talmud. If you are serious, convert. If not, move on . . .

But perhaps all systems have answers within them that give the individual within reasons and answers to stay within?

  • It is God’s will that Jesus brought with him a message of faith, hope and charity and following this narrow path is the road to salvation.
  • The key to enlightenment for you and all sentient beings is understanding the nature of karma and emptiness without that understanding one is trapped, all are trapped in a realm of suffering caused by ignorance, hatred and attachment.
  • The study of Talmud helps the individual understand that they are commanded and that every action and interaction has infinite repercussions, and so studying in order to understand those commands and how they effect our daily lives is the greatest commandment of all.
  • The AQAL, second-tier system of Ken Wilber explains everything and only if more and more people begin to understand it will the world become a more peaceful place.
  • Levinas’s view of the other is so radical that when one understands it and lives it then we will have the justice and will finally walk in the ways of God.
  • The rhizomatic nature of reality urges us to give up the fascisms of power and authority that come from systems and to connect to all and everything without judgment or criticism, and through these lines of movement and actions we will create the new and the new will continue to create and create and create infinitely.
  • It is the poet that can stand outside and within the flow of life and help others see and experience that flow in new ways. The poet as guide, as prophet, whose words create reality anew.

These and so many other perspectives fill my head and do not help me put the next word down on this screen. Adding more words to any of these views, when there are so many, so many words already there (most unheard and uncared for) – why add to this vast pile of words and books and articles and web pages and conferences? There are experts in every one of these fields who have spent a lifetime understanding it and living it and explaining it – they have used that viewpoint to find their own peace, their own direction, their own answers and now are doing everything they can to tell the world.

Where does this leave me? Do I self-confidently assume that like the person in that famous painting I have stood up and seen behind the dome of the sky, beyond all these systems, even the system of no systems? And with these eyes I now can see that I am right that these viewpoints are simply all competing for the chance to explain it all, to advocate their version, in order that their followers and their experts will be right and have the peace and power that comes with having the answers and having others follow and validate your thinking.

Shouldn’t we choose one, maybe any one of these perspectives and go with it? A postmodern, integral, poetic version of any of these will ensure that we care for each other, care for the earth and understand what is wanted from us as we live our lives each day. Wouldn’t that be a gift to have such clarity and togetherness and reassurance that we are traveling along a path together with the entire world?

But being true postmoderns we can’t have anything so totalizing or systematic, we all know that it will lead to fascism and thought police. Or is this postmodern perspective itself a fascism and totalizing viewpoint all by itself?

So, where are we left? Back to the blank screen, the next moment. Perhaps I have to agree with Walker Percy when he writes, “I suppose I would prefer to describe it [Percy’s Catholic existentialism] as a certain view of man, an anthropology. If you like; of man as wayfarer, in a rather conscious contrast to prevailing views of man as organism, as encultured creature, as consumer, Marxist, as subject to such-and-such a scientific or psychological understanding-all of which he is, but not entirely. It is the ‘not entirely’ I’m interested in -- like the man Kierkegaard described who read Hegel, understood himself and the universe perfectly by noon, but then had the problem of living out the rest of the day” Walker Percy, Signposts in a Strange Land, p. 375 (my emphasis).

3 comments:

Steven said...

Dear Jeff,

Goodness, there's a great deal of interior clamor implicit in this writing. Seems to me that you have filled your head sufficiently for the moment--take the pot off boil and allow the water to descend from the upper chamber of the percolator into the lower. That is, use what your head has acquired in the silence of your heart to instill direction.

Talmud may be a very good road to tread--it will at very least keep you in touch with the Word. But Talmud must be combined with appropriate times of silence, of getting past the "shoulds" and the "oughts" to the core of who we are, which is not discoverable in anything short of a direct encounter with God himself. Books will bring us close--but they are a asymptotic approach--they will never take us completely to the goal. Rather, we approach until we are ready to take the leap of faith and of heart. The goal of the study of Talmud is not merely more study (it would seem) but the inscribing of the law upon the heart until you become a living law. In Christian terms, it is to find your identity, your true identity in Christ. This comes through many means. We must not abandone any of them until they are more hindrance than help. To find God we must seek Him until we have sorted through enough to allow Him to find Us.

shalom,

Steven

Steven said...

Jeff,

I commented before, an extensive comment. Blogger seems to have eaten it. I haven't time to try to reproduce it, but I'm hoping this one comes through. This is, more or less, a test.

shalom,

Steven

Steven said...

Dear Jeff,

Ah, I see, a browser refresh problem. Sorry for stirring things up.

shalom,

Steven