Random Thoughts (4)

What is friendship this elevated expression of love between two souls which beforehand were nameless one to the other. The Creator, Himself, has in one place called us His friends (Jn. 15:15). Mourning is not a difficult emotion to feign during a time of sorrow and so surprisingly this is not always a true test of friendship. In the same way, though we would expect for our friends to be there for us in times of our need, this does not always happen. Sometimes they might be suffering at the same time and in another world, more desolate than ours. This is where friendships have been lost because trust and the benefit of doubt have been removed. Rather, the true test of friendship is the unbridled joy we might experience when news arrives that our friend has been the recipient of a wonderful success. Heartfelt joy cannot be feigned and is hard to pretend for more than a few minutes and an hour. It is the absence of envy, then, this “green-eyed monster”, which is the truest indication of the depth which two souls are travelling together.

We can experience loss in many different ways. And unlike pleasure which is quickly passing, loss can remain with us for a long time. There is the inexpressible loss of loved ones or the devastating sense of abandonment a child can experience. Then there are other losses still very difficult but the impact of these stop at a given place. Once trusted friends walking away from us never to return, work opportunities not given to us after years of labor, the loss of our youth and health, the loss of dreams no longer attainable, the lost opportunities at reconciliation. But there is a greater loss still, the loss of ‘the light’ every time we deny the other a show of compassion. Every time we say no to the movement of grace and ‘rob’ Love of its work. Every time this happens, we die a little more.

If we had knowledge of the peace and comfort we could bring to a suffering brother or sister with one single paragraph and the insufferable pain we might cause them for holding back on this kindness, our hearts could break. We wait for the moment to be heroes by jumping into the freezing waters to save a stranger from drowning, a time which will probably never come for most of us. And if it did, can we be sure we would dive in? What if it was a burning car? Yet we would withhold a generous act which would take no more than a few minutes and which might allow for another human being to break free from the heavy weight of our shadow. Love is more often revealed in the small and sympathetic acts of everyday encounters, like pieces of sunlight which suddenly break through into a dark room.

Idols cannot and will not replace the living God. So we create gods to live amongst us in our own image and likeness. We call these men and women ‘stars’ and nowadays too, ‘influencers’. And when they betray or rob from us, and demand of us that we lay down our lives for them in war or in servitude, we are initially dismayed and shocked. Why do we continue in this folly? One of the explanations that perhaps somewhere in our subconscious we have comprehension we are created for something ‘higher’. For some hidden reason we despair of reaching that height ourselves so we throw that mantle of light away and look to place it on another’s shoulder. There is an otherworldly agitation within us all which goes back to that divine spark from creation. It cannot let go and it will tug at the ears of the soul to our final day.

Clichés will often speak the truth with a stunning simplicity. ‘Do not judge a book by its cover’ we say. People who we might dismiss on account of their appearance or social status could carry within them the greatest of treasures. So magnificent can this treasure be that its brilliance can easily blind us to its great worth. Like the secreted potential of the humble young donkey waiting to carry the Son of God into Jerusalem a week before Easter Sunday. We have walked past the finest poets, the most beautiful singers, the smartest minds, the bravest people, the most heartbroken and repentant of the fallen angels. We have not stopped. And we have not said a word.

There is nothing new under the sun. Even the Homeric school paid homage to the poets who came centuries before. True originality exists and moves in our daily expressions of love, for Love itself draws upon an infinite and inexhaustible source of creation. All else falls into varying degrees of imitation ranging from the breathtakingly sublime to the cheaply crass, whether to do with the finest art or the cruelest tyranny. Acts of love alone remain uniquely inimitable like the unmatched patterns of a snowflake or the membrane ring behind the cornea of your eye.

If I cannot find meaning in the existence of the other, whatever dreams I might build will collapse all around me, like words I might speak devoid of sentences. I become alive and experience the breadth of life by entering deeply into the joyful-sorrow of the one opposite me. There are many examples from all facets of life where this can be experienced. A telling model is that of marriage with the exchange of the crown of thorns, or when a child is adopted into its new family. Another way to experience this life-giving synergy is when we practice the noble art forgiveness.

If you can live with the revelation that your dreams were oftentimes your greatest obstacle, that no one will ever see you ablaze with love, or take in your finest scent, or that your enemy will never hear you praying that they be blessed with gifts you will never taste, or that your best poetry is forever lost, or that the beautiful woman who yesterday crossed your path will never know you at twenty-one, or that you will never be reconciled to all those things which need your reconciliation, that soon it will all be gone and death is the one undeniable truth of life, then you will be happy and you will be beyond the reach of any sadness. If you can live with the knowledge that it is not beauty which will save the world but compassion, then all of this will make some sense to you.

In the end we can only heal ourselves, and this is one of the hardest truths. This is why the Nazarene, that great investigator into the mysteries of the human soul was able to say, “Physician, heal thyself” (Lk. 4:23). Others can and should help us when they can, but that kind of help however needful and valuable, cannot and does not last long into the night. So why do we persist looking for healing outside ourselves knowing that it will in the end prove short-lived like a painkiller for a toothache which will return. Is it not because of the need to confirm we still matter and that our suffering must not remain anonymous and unacknowledged? Our ontology demands such recognition. There is also a marvelous term we find in Buddhism, Vipassana, to explore reality [‘reality as it is’] within oneself.

So what then is this journal all about?

September 22nd 2011

Saturday, Bucharest, Romania

N.B. The two little paragraphs below are lifted from my journal which I have oftentimes been happy to share with you. They were drafted on a pleasant September afternoon in Bucharest in 2011. I hope one day to publish it if I can manage to get it into some controllable order. Here I was struggling with the definition of the journal which is a commixture of various literary types ranging from: autobiography, to memoir, to confession, to a history of surveillance, to travel journal, to dream analysis, and to storytelling. But the real question then, as indeed still is now, what is its authentic purpose and what are my true motivations?

… … … … … … … … …

Truth is the correspondence between language and reality, a simple definition which probably sits well with most. Then what of truth in literature?[1] How are we to understand metaphor, myth, or even fairy tale for instance? Is there a better example of the evident stresses that this ‘correspondence’ will often elicit than the battle over the exegesis of the biblical account of creation in the Book of Genesis? What is the cognitive value of this universal ‘story’ and what kind of ‘truth’ is it meaning to convey? And what of the ‘spiritual truths’ put in the mouth of the Starets Zossima by Dostoevski in his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov? Or how ‘true’ is Plato’s famous allegory of the cave? An autobiography, a memoir, a life-journal, for example, to what extent are they both literature and science? And how long does a text or document maintain a stable and determinant meaning before the deconstructionists get to it and challenge its structures and propositions? These questions became especially problematic for me from the moment I made reference to method and hence appealed to one of the great canons of science.

One way to arrive at some kind of practical resolution is to think in terms of context.[2] In this specific instance the style and genre framing the journal (whether the narrative as a whole or its smaller constituent parts), would determine the exegetical approach that the reader is being asked to follow in the quest to interpret the text. That would assume, of course, that we have come to some agreement as to what we mean by text in the first place![3] As a case in point, it could mean that if the author makes reference to a “dream” then it is a “dream” and not a “vision”, this might seem to be a subtle distinction for some, but in-between a dream and a vision lies another world. So when Samuel Johnson writes “[t]he value of every story depends on it being true”,[4] it all comes down to how we comprehend ‘story’ and what we expect each time we turn the first page of a book. From the moment I reference this document as a life-journal the reader comes to it with certain well founded expectations. First of all, that it is a ‘true story’ which can be tested and weighed up against its fundamental expositions and that it is not a work of fiction (though there might be elements of fiction scattered throughout, i.e. segments of ‘magical realism’).

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/truth-lies-and-literature

[2] https://www.etymonline.com/word/context

[3] http://kontur.au.dk/fileadmin/www.kontur.au.dk/OLD_ISSUES/pdf/kontur_07/jan_ifversen.pdf

[4] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=GFtVAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61&dq

Random Thoughts (3)

Source: http://www.lovethispic.com/image/36213/leaves-in-the-wind

The most unmistakable expression of Love is compassion. If I do not suffer with the other or at the very least if I do not try to alleviate the pain of the other the best I can, I have done nothing. My art, too, it will mean nothing.

A friendship which demands ‘my enemies are your enemies too’ is one that needs to be quickly broken. It will destroy the one and rob the other. Do not permit for another to exercise any form of dominion over the arc of your embrace.

The world resists us all, both the righteous and the unrighteous. We are all subject to gravity and to the unbearable weight of grief and loss. There is none amongst us who desires to be hated more than the need to be loved. And in the middle of all this we shift between the states of lukewarm.

We make use of noise to numb us to our wounds. We are all wounded and seek out different ways to forget. This is one of the principal reasons why social media has taken hold of the world and choking it of its life-force. It has become increasingly painful to think and to swim upstream.

First the eye becomes corrupted then the heart. That is, the flesh first wages war against us and then should we lose this battle, it is the turn of the heart which is the seat of the soul. This is where the hardest of all battles are to be fought, that is, in the heart. Here it is where most is to be gained and most is to be lost.

Why is it we so quickly tire of carnality and become too soon bored with all manner of sensual pleasure? Is it not the case that we are for the most part looking for someone to speak to? To say: this is who I am, see me, in all of my nakedness and trembling.

The other of the great deceptions is that technology will solve most of our problems. But we have found that for every advance new problems are created. And even more alarmingly we are creating autonomous systems which will neither thirst nor hunger. On top of all of this, they will not forget.

And yet life really is beautiful, to be celebrated and to be lived out to its end. Satisfying your thirst with an icy glass of water; moments spent loving another human being; saying I love you for the very first time. For such simple pleasures as these and many more, life can really be beautiful.

Do not die without trying your best to become the man and woman you were meant to become. Aim for the highest in you and make that good reach towards the fullness of your capacity. For one day beginning with those moments just before your death, the man or woman you were intended to become will confront you for the last time. They will give you their hand and you will be left with no other option but to take it.

Few things are sweeter than the practice of forgiveness from a heart which overflows with the rivers of mercy. Few things are bitterer to the spirit than a forgiveness which is given but not forgotten. We find forgiveness difficult because we often confuse it as a pardon for the act itself.

At any given moment when you look into the eyes of your neighbor irrespective of their office in life, there you see the Christ before you. You will discern Him more clearly in the eyes of those who mourn (Matt. 5:4). To think too highly of ourselves is the surest way to becoming lost.

Rocks and pebbles exist in a community of cooperation. They do not discriminate in the presence of the other, nor do they heckle or shove for position. They wait in quiet offering shade and protection to the life around them. Some are under the soil, others covered in moss, and many are under the water shifting only under the draw of nature. They wait patiently to be discovered one afternoon as you recite the Beatitudes.

A thousand winters, written like this, could be no more than a week. All of a sudden, perspective is God.

These are your terrifying moments of cleansing

Shellharbour, NSW

What to do when you want to pray but cannot? When you would wish for your heart to become ‘dumb’ and turn to stone if only for a short hour that the pain could go away. This terrible nauseous pain which goes by many names and which in reality answers to none. But, no, your heart must never turn to stone, not even for an hour, for that would be an hour where you would stop loving, where you would lose all capacity to forgive or ask to be forgiven. No, you must never ask for your heart to turn to stone, not even for an hour. Not even for the time it takes to suck in your breath. And so, suffer all of the calumny, the blood-letting rejection, and in the night close your eyes to the horror vacui of your rooms. As tempting it might be to stop the pain, to dry up the flow of tears, to wipe away the bad memories which become increasingly beastly by the minute, do not ever wish for your heart to turn to stone. What to do when you want to pray but cannot? When you would wish for your heart to become ‘dumb’ and turn to stone if only for a short hour that the pain could go away.

“Self-portrait” in Paphos, Cyprus, 2016. MG Michael Family Archives.

“Self-portrait” in Paphos, Cyprus, 2016. MG Michael Family Archives.

But this pain like an old guilt does not easily go away. Both have changed you and for a season you will only exist and move about in the shadows. That's why think on those whom you might have comforted on their deathbeds when you whispered into ears straining for light [for their eyes had now shut]: “Let go, it is good, now is the time to leave.” Remember the unmerited grace you have received which has covered the multitude of your iniquities. Be grateful there is water in your home and you will not thirst tonight when your throat burns. Get up, wash your face, and write a loving message to your enemy. Like an Armenian flute suspended over the Syrian Desert. In a little while feel the heavy load upon your heart start to lift, even for a moment. And for now that is enough. Begin again. Like the free-flow juice pressed and crushed from the grape. These are your terrifying moments of cleansing, one way or another, you have earned them. Do not waste them.

The shadows, too, for a while, do not be afraid of them. They would not exist if the light was not after you. It is after you. You cannot outrun it. These prayers have nothing to do with the rubrics as does this pain which has little to do with the nerve fibers. There are the spaces of the entering into your becoming, the unveiling of your true self. From here, out of these all-consuming green fires, you will step out to greet the world.

The Old Man from Bucharest

September 12th, 2011

Bucharest, Romania

A sharp glance to the left and there he was, my old man.

Earlier today on my morning walk I noticed a charismatic looking old man sitting on the steps leading down to the Piata Romana train terminal. As my eyes fell on him I straightaway felt that pleasurable warmth we might feel when we see a loved one coming nearer from the distance. “Hullo old man”, I whispered to myself, “we two have met before.” He was tall, thin, with a frowzy silvery beard, and ascetic in his appearance. I would guess his age somewhere in the seventies. He was wearing a long brown coat which fell below the knees and which reminded me of a huge poster I had once seen in Istanbul of Turkmenistan aksakals. Walking on I decided to take a seat at the nearby bus-stop before heading to the hotel for a late breakfast and a change of shirt. Within a few minutes I sensed a welcome presence approaching to share my bench. A sharp glance to the left and there he was, my old man. Thereupon I also noticed the eyes; a dark shade of green and a little sunken. They were peaceful, comprehending eyes. I felt them looking into me, through and past the boundaries of my flesh. As I have felt before with the elders of the desert. We stayed together, the old man and me, for the better part of two hours. We sat quietly observing the world and listening to the stories. Now and then we turned to look at each other. He then left disappearing into the busy street. Who was he and where did he go, Michael? I would think our phlegmatic Irishman Samuel Beckett would have liked this picture. We are all waiting. The not too easy task is to identify things and to give them their name.

N.B. The image in this entry is not of the old man in the story. After much searching online this striking photograph I have added here is amazingly close. My beautiful "old man" would not permit for me to take his photograph. MGM

Draft for a little story after a chance encounter

An old man stepped out into the bright light and headed towards Piata Romana. He looked about with the gaze of the barn-owl and walked off into the direction of the bus-stop where others were also waiting. His disorganized flowing silvery beard and his balding head did not detract from the compelling loveliness of his countenance. Though he could have done with a good scrubbing and his clothes were in need of a wash, there was yet this ‘cleanliness’ about him that you would not have considered him in any manner soiled. The younger man with the laptop in his hands, next to whom the old man from Bucharest sat to rest, was also balding but was clean shaven for his time had not yet come. The old man was carrying a small suitcase. “They usually do” the younger man thought to himself, “…these types of fellows seem to always be carrying suitcases and do not go for shoe-laces either.” The younger man, the one whose time had not yet come, peered into the suitcase which was held together by two large luggage straps. He spotted a fleece blanket of different colours and a gold-leaf trumpet. He also thought he could make out a plume of white feathers. The old man and the younger man exchanged glances, each accepting and recognizing the presence of the other. Their eyes scanned the crowd with their heads moving in unison left to right, up and down, precisely as the moment would require. Now and then their attention was lost to a robin or to a leaf from the black locust. And the old man and the younger man would look at each other, acknowledging the beauty in the world which goes by many names. The younger man offered the old man a Romanian pretzel; he took it without saying a word except to nod his head in approval. The old man from Bucharest with the disorganized flowing silvery beard reached into his torn coat and pulled out a small monumental tree. He then jumped to his feet and with episcopal dignity lowered his head and touched his chest with his right hand. The younger man did the same. But the old man did not leave until the younger man took off his shoes and offered them to the outstretched hands which, from the wrist up, were covered in thick white down.