On this day, of all days, I struggle to find that depth I once knew — the deeper parts (“deep unto deep”) that dragged me in until I, nearly drowning, water in my lungs, eyes lolling upwards, I caught a grasp of the thing itself and took a breath in and, coughing, taste a brief bit of air — just enough to sustain my life when dragged under again. Have I drowned in the spirit of the age? Am I now floating, limbs dangling limply, accepting this world?
I repeat that refrain each year — each year after year, it becomes harder to remember what the breath is, or how to find it? Age brings with it a comfort with drowning, until one misses the point where he accepts water as ether and forgets the purpose of his lungs.
Rather than finding that depth, a weakly shudder, forget to open my eyes — indeed, I forget that I have eyes, and accept shadows as substance. Even now, as I write, I think, “This is not the thing; nor is it touching on the thing. It does not satisfy, but nor does not contemplating that thing. I am pleased to miss that breath, nor am I displeased. Perhaps my skin has grown around my chains and I no longer have a means of at least rattling them and reminding myself that the song of the chains is closer to true sounds then not.”
Passion is for the young: it is not wisdom. Nor is a lack of passion. Nor does passion bring one to wisdom; nor does not not. Some tide pushes us up and out and draws us back and in, and who knows where that tide may be. Doldrums were well-named and yet, not; dolor, pain, splitting. Yet the doldrums do not split and do not cause pain except in a secondary sense — the calm causes us to forget what we are divided from — that is, motion forward.
Increasingly, my thoughts are more and more divided from the world-that-is and the world-that-Is, though I miss this in the hurry and bustle of life. (I wrote ‘hurry and burry’, but ‘burry’ refers to having burrs or prickles or pain — and one needs the right kind of prickles.)
I write of inwardness, not outwardness. I would not trade the outwardness for gold; nor am I dissatisfied with life. I am dissatisfied with my lack of dissatisfaction with my own inwardness.
A birthday – and a facsimile of inwardness.
As I reflect on the state of the world at this time and the rattle of keyboards on digital pages, I see that we have moved beyond the Word. The Word was spoken and lived, but that was not enough. We wrote the Word, pen on page. But that was not enough — even that was too substantial, for it was physical and an imitation of the true existence. So we created the printing press and then the typewriter, distancing ourselves even further from the Physical Word. But that did not create enough distance — so we created the computer and the keyboard to make words and the Word even more substantial. And so we have arrived at the pinnacle of our attempts to distance ourself from truth — for we can have the word without any actual need to connect it with physical existence. And so — we have the post-truth world.
It was too much to have the Word-made-flesh, so we made it pen, then paper, then zeros and ones — so that we can shut it off and it can be no more, and we can rest smugly in our own superiority, for we have killed without killing and can claim no moral culpability.
I have a voice, but it’s the voice for the wrong Age — and would be a good voice for no age.
We have a plague, and it is not COVID-19: it is a plague in our souls and, like COVID, most of us are asymptomatic and claiming complete health. Rather than masking our tongues and mouths, we breath out on everyone — and are surprised and blame others when they die.
I cannot even begin to connect my external actions with my internal motions. I am in the dissertation phase; I write one paper, and I am decreed and entitled to all the privileges that represents. Yet — inwardly, I have not even begun an elementary education in the ways of the world.
My enthusiasm for the degree makes no sense in reflection, for in reflection, there is nothing in the mirror. Like a creature of darkness, light reveals that there is nothing there.
In the past years, I have moved beyond despair — that is a cause for rejoicing — and despair, because despair compels change and contentedness — the long, good rest.
I fear that I have nothing to say to anyone, for I speak only my own language; like the Greeks who called the northern tribes barbarians (“bar-bar-bar”, they sounded to the Greeks) I open my mouth — and: “Bar-bar-bar”.
What I value seems invaluable to this Age — I attempted to type unvaluable, but my device autocorrects it. Isn’t this like our cultures and friend groups? The moment we try to speak *truly*, we are autocorrected: “You should not say that”, “You cannot say that” to “You will say this” — until we no longer have our own content and type away, not even noticing that the words we wrote are no longer the words we write.
And so we lose even knowledge of ourselves.
Politics: a fool’s game that only a fool would play. Yet aren’t we all fools?
I would, normally, journey to the city, rather than spend the day at home. But sickness leads to health; and isn’t it better to be with family then alone? Perhaps — yet everything has its season. How do I traverse that particular contradiction?
Few joys like being sung happy birthday by your children in the morning; few joys like being in community; few joys like knowing that your are valued. Yet few needs like the sorrow of being alone; few needs like discovering your insignificance; fews needs like tragedy and loss. One cannot be both a monk and a husband, a priest and a father. In this, the Catholic Church understands a mystery — for contemplation and action, silence and noise, inwardness and outwardness — cannot live in the same home. And yet — they must for us to be whole, and all of existence longs for that completion of action and thought.
I once knew someone who had a cheap dollar-store plaque on her desk that went something like this: “Resistance from others is affirmation that you’re doing the right thing.” Well, no. And yet we believe it and add, with no irony, a second statement: “Affirmation from those that think like us is affirmation that we’re doing the right thing.” — and that is not any closer to the truth, for neither affirmation nor challenge has any bearing on whether we are in the truth.
And so 41: it passes. I type in my garage, transition back into fatherhood, look at the whispering trees and dreary sky and today shakes with the complexity of life. For this year was no different from any other year — we play at its newness, its uniqueness, its challenges. “My God!” We pray to ourselves. “A year like no other and, lo, if anyone had just listened to me and my side things would be different.” And yet it would not be — for we are just travelers on life’s way and though the road may be rocky here, it will be rocky again; though it may be grass and water for a moment, soon it will be sand; we pass from landscape to landscape and forget that life is loss, life is gain, life is living and dying and pain and joy and though these things rise and fall in intensity — they are ever present. History has given us these challenges before — of plague and injustice and justice and health and will again, until history is no more.
We live with our current philosophies, gained by the landscape around us — like the Bedouins or Native Americans or Europeans or Modern Americans — forgetting that the landscape and the world around us gives us our philosophies more than thought because we live in a physical world and pretend, unwisely, that our thoughts are our own.
The Greeks were the Greeks because their geography split them, made travel hard, isolated them in their own minds; the Romans, because their geography allowed them travel and put them at war with those around them; the Mongols because of their plains; the Chinese because of their isolating mountains. In these times, we praise freedom — or argue for systematic injustice — or attack the police — or attack those hurt by the police — or claim to be victims — or claim others are victims — or fight the system — or accept the system — because of the geography around us.
We look at those people we have chosen to live with, those people who live on our little islands with us and share our thoughts and also believe that the river Nile is a god because it brings us annual life. A decade from now, our geography will have changed and all those who are “wise” — those sophists! — will now have new ideas, but missed that they have changed because they are secret pantheists, unwittingly worshipping the ground that bore them. — even those on the left, even those on the right.
Only those few that lift their eyes to the sun and do not worship it (not the Son, but the sun as an allegory for truth and meaning and what is real) will find that they may resist the influence of geography; only those will any real connection with the past, with ideas that struggle against all ideas of this Age and the Ages to Come may discover that they have pushed beyond the contingent into something real. And they run the risk of leaving the path and drowning in falsehood, worshipping the wrong thing, falling before idols they do not recognize. But those in the pantheistic present — they will always worship idols.
Better to die in the wilderness, in search of what is and risk grave error, then to guarantee it, living in this world and these ideas, and the memes and empty babbling of this and all Ages of heathens.
My friends that read this and reach this point in this little essay on thought: I pray that you leave the path in this coming year, as I pray the same for myself.
—A birthday comes and goes, and marks the beginning of the end of a beginning.