Through a Glass Darkly

5 06 2008

On Unsettled Souls and the Search

During my brief years as a monk, I kept a notebook that I would occasionally write in between the long hours of baking, packaging, and delivering I had to do for my monastic obedience. This morning, I thought of this particular quote, and I think it is foundational as far as what I now write is concerned. I have been mulling over recently what is the meaning behind the phrase, “aesthetic Christianity”. It is, in the end. a working title. But maybe this quote, written in the monastic metochion of Big Bear Lake on April 26th, 2005, will shed some light on this term:

The aesthetic principle: maybe avant-garde musicians and bohemians are closer to God because they are still looking for Him in what they do. For us proper “religious people”, we often think that we have found God, so we indeed are far away from Him. This does not excuse the evils and immoralities that these people commit; but if we can’t excuse theirs, how can we excuse our own (we, who supposedly know better)?

I just finished watching the film, In the Mirror of Maya Deren, on the experimental film maker, dancer, and Voudou priestess who changed the face of avant-garde cinema in the twentieth century. My acquaintance with Maya Deren actually dates back some twenty years now, when I first read her book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, at the tender age of nine. Since then, I have been fascinated by the idea of a white woman, a Ukrainian Jew who immigrated to the United States at the age of five, becoming an initiate into the rites of an ancient African religion. I suppose I have always been enchanted by people who have stepped out of their shell and ended up in places “they should have never been”.  Maybe it is an intellectual weakness, an addiction to curiosity and the strange. But at times I feel that the only way you see life is by radically shaking it up and looking at it from another angle. As the performance artist Robert Wilson once said, take a Baroque candelabra and set it on a table in a salon in the Palace of Versailles, you see the candelabra one way, or better yet, you hardly see it at all. Take the same candelabra, and put it on a rock on the beach next to the ocean, it becomes something entirely different. It is the same exact thing, just seen in radically other circumstances.

There is also the issue of doing. Sometimes I don’t think that I have “Faith”, at least what people think of as “Faith”. Maya Deren, in speaking about Voudou, said that practitioners never asked her if she believed in Voudou. They asked her if she did Voudou. I’m not sure if that is an acceptable way to put it in Christianity. But sometimes I feel that when it comes to Catholicism, there is a whole lot of “believing” and not enough doing. Man’s brain is very weak. His fingers, his feet, and his knees are very strong. In my case, that has to be good enough, since that is all that I can offer.

Perhaps it is for this reason that I am in general rather intolerant to triumphalist attitudes. When people strut around the Internet, radio, and television like a peacock in front of a brood of females talking about how they have come to the fullness of Truth, even if they’re Catholics, I wonder what the he%# they’re talking about. All I see in these truths are even more confusing puzzles. All I find at this destination, this homeland, is another road. All I encounter in this life, as one Voudou practitioner put it in the film, is man as the shadow of God, a luminous shadow, but a shadow nonetheless; a shadow of what could be and of the life to come.

I think it is this sense, this aesthetic unease, that is the foundation of all that I think and feel. Yes, I am grateful for it all, I think it is all so wonderful. But there is much more, and the greatest act of gratitude towards God is to want even more. To see Him not in mirrors or through windows, but face to face.


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6 responses

9 06 2008
diane

I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about, Arturo–it’s over my wee little head–but for some reason it reminded me of something. Once, when we lived in southern Vermont, DH and I drove past some sort of New Agey emporium, where a gaggle of earth-shoe-shod harmonic-convergence types was clustered outside. Our first instinct was to break into giggles at the sight of these rather goofy-looking aging flower children. But then my DH said, “Well, at least they’re spiritually searching. They’re searching for something.” Then he observed, “Why don’t the churches make any effort to reach people like that? At least they’re searching.”

6 06 2008
FrGregACCA

“Truth be told, I have about twenty posts already written, and more coming down the pipeline. If anything, I find two or three potential posts a day. It’s not posting that is the problem.”

If you got ’em, bring ’em on.

6 06 2008
Steven W

Arturo,

You’re one of the most needed voices around. No rhetorical flourish on that one.

a stuffy Calvinist,
Steven W

6 06 2008
Arturo Vasquez

R & F,

Thank you for the kind words, and perfectly understandable. I don’t expect anyone to read my blog consistently. The volume of stuff I put out is a bit daunting, and much of it not of good quality. Truth be told, I have about twenty posts already written, and more coming down the pipeline. If anything, I find two or three potential posts a day. It’s not posting that is the problem.

Much of what I say here is due to rhetorical flourish, so take it for what it’s worth. And thank you all for reading.

6 06 2008
R & F

Arturo,

Greetings in the Risen Christ!

God Bless you on your search. However, I am confused and maybe you are confused and maybe you are too judgmental on those who are proud of being or finding Catholicism.

I also liked Wade Davis’s book the Serpent and the Rainbow on voodoo. The movie was not as good as the book of course.

My grandmother (calling her abuela like yours) had some curandera characteristics. My wife is psychic which is why I can’t get in trouble even if I wanted to.

I think what you are trying to say or what my limited understanding allows is that even once we find that Catholicism is the Truth that we still are just searchers with one level of knowledge but much more to learn. Also, I agree with you that the praxis may be more important than the intellectual belief, like the Pascal practice of practicing the faith without full intellectual assent or faith per se. Just go to Liturgy, Receive communion, pray the Rosary, Read, Pray, cultivate virtue and treat others as you would want to be treated with charity and love and develop an interior life. I think many conservative Catholics and especially young do what a priest called “mental masturbation”, we could stay up all night talking about the Immaculate Conception in a historical and theological light discussing Aquinas v Scotus but sometimes actions speak louder than words.

I pray that I lose my own hypocritcal and pharisitical nature when I do not live up to my beliefs or I am not as close to God as others who do not have the knowledge I have because their hearts are more sincere.

I am sorry I have been away but I have had some health issues that you are aware about and am busy. You always give me much to read and even more to think about. Sometimes I don’t even know what you are writing about from both my philosophical and historical ignorance.

Let us all commend ourselves to the Blessed Mother, the Theotokos so we can find in Her the Truth in Jesus which we lack in ourselves. The Seat of Wisdom.

6 06 2008
The Shepherd

“when I first read her book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, at the tender age of nine”

Man, and I thought I was a weird kid. 😉

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