Christian Poems VI: Carson, Schnackenberg

Jupiter image (jelega at stock.xchng, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1155282)

[I WONDER]

By D.A. Carson

I understand that matter can be changed
To energy; that maths can integrate
The complex quantum jumps that must relate
The fusion of the stars to history’s page.
I understand that God in every age
Is Lord of all; that matter can’t dictate;
That stars and quarks and all things intricate
Perform his word—including fool and sage.

But knowing God is not to know like God;
And science is a quest in infancy.
Still more:  transcendence took on flesh and blood—
I do not understand how this can be.

The more my mind assesses what it can,
The more it learns the finitude of man.

In The Poetic Bible, C Duriez, ed. (Scribner Poetry 1997), 180.

__________

SUPERNATURAL LOVE

By Gjertrud Schnackenberg

My father at the dictionary-stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand

His slowly scanning magnifying lens
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word “Carnation.”  Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
“The obligation due to every thing
That’s smaller than the universe.”  I bring

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle’s eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study’s gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb

To read what’s buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom.  I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch “Beloved” X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle’s point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

I cannot read.  My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as “Christ’s flowers,” knowing I

Can give no explanation but “Because.”
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does

Where following each X I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, “A pink variety of Clove,

Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh.”
As if the bud’s essential oils brush
Christ’s fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it’s me,

He turns the page to “Clove” and reads aloud:
“The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud.”
Then twice, as if he hasn’t understood,

He reads, “From French, for clou, meaning a nail.”
He gazes, motionless.  “Meaning a nail.”
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,

I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth “Beloved,” but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,

The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I’ve sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,

I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, “Daddy daddy”—
My father’s hand touches the injury

As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ’s when I was four.

In The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, JD McClatchy ed. (Vintage Books 1990), 535-537.

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The Dark Knight Rises: Impressions

We waited a bit to see the newest batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.  This is not a formal review, but for some reason I didn’t like the movie all that much in the end, and I wonder about it.  What do you think?  If you liked it a lot – why?

Without giving away anything really, without giving a spoiler, I think I can say that the end was just lame compared to the first half or so of the movie.  There are really two endings, and I am referring to the one that explains the “why” of the Gotham City attacks.  To me it’s as if the movie makers wanted to provide some messages – that this wasn’t simply an action film – and that a great deal of the movie’s story ending didn’t really have much to do with the messages.  The story seemed to me a very flimsy vehicle for the messages.  (The second ending makes me actually look forward to further movies, which I think may be better than this one.)

And what were the messages?  My impressions are from only seeing the movie once, so please be kind to me if you respond with a comment.  My first impression was that the movie was saying that we can’t rest easy after eliminating some criminals.  There are always threats and we need to be prepared.  But more specifically, it seemed to be alluding to terrorism.

All throughout the movie the theme of failure and fear, fear of failure, what makes us not fail, was obvious. Yet, when these things were spoken of, it just didn’t seem deep . . . I couldn’t feel that these things affected batman in the way everyone kept saying (apparently this has to do with the first and/or second movie, which I can barely remember now).   The only part related to Bruce’s feelings and courage that seemed relevant to me was the issue of fear of death.  So many heroes say they’re not afraid to die – it’s almost a cliche.  But in order to continue to help anyone at all, batman had to let himself feel the fear of death.   Nice touch.

An important aspect of the film was discerning whom to trust.  Sometimes good people have to do bad things, so that a better thing may result; one has to sometimes choose the lesser of two evils.  Sometimes good seeming people are only self-serving and manipulative–others that seem bad may only be being honest, and so they are far more virtuous.  I like this theme the most, as I think it is the most relevant to our everyday lives – and it is such a significant aspect of life among humans.   I was reminded of the short biblical story Jesus told (Matthew 21:28-31);  though His specific application was different, it still reflects how people are and how we need to judge by actions, not just words:

“What do you think?  There was a man who had two sons.  He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.  He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Other than those more serious impressions, I enjoyed the acting–Joseph Gordon-Levitt was just fine in his role–and the music.  Great stuff.

The Dark Knight (http://www.thedarkknightrises.com/gallery.php)

Is God ever the author of evil? Does God cause evil acts?

The light shines through the darkness. By Mattox at stock.xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1134104).

As a Christian, I believe John’s statement:  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5).  Yet, there are verses in the Bible—mostly in the Old Testament—where God says He causes calamity, the hardening of hearts, even sinful behavior.  Critics and skeptics ask about these, and in light of the evil and suffering in the world, wonder at the goodness or even existence of God.

So which verses are we talking about?  Here are some of them:

Exodus 9:12:  But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had told Moses.

1 Kings 22:23:  You see, the Lord has put a lying spirit into the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has pronounced disaster against you.

Isaiah 45:7:  I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

Mark 4:11-12 (verse 12 is from Isaiah 6:9-10):  He answered them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been granted to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that ‘they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back—and be forgiven.”

So does God really, purposefully, harden people’s hearts to that they won’t listen to Him or come to Him, tell people or spirits to go and lie for Him so that they (or others) do the wrong thing, and/or simply cause disasters?

The basic answer to all of these is that since God is sovereign and He made everything, He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens.  That’s how the Hebrews saw it and that’s how they wrote, though to us today it seems odd or unsatisfactory.  The Hebrews knew that persons and spirits were responsible, yet they emphasized God’s role.  As is stated in Hard Sayings of the Bible, “What is reflected here is the lack of precise distinction in Hebraic thought between primary and secondary causes.  Since God is sovereign, human will and freedom to decide for or against God were often subsumed under divine sovereignty” (Kaiser et al, 620).

Let’s look at each of the above verses separately, while keeping in mind the general explanation already stated by Kaiser et al.  Regarding Exodus 9:12, MacDonald briefly writes:  “The more Pharaoh hardened his heart, the more it became judicially hardened by God” (96).  The concern is recognized in Kaiser et al.:  “. . . it appears God authors evil and then holds someone else responsible.  Did God make it impossible for Pharaoh to respond and then find Pharaoh guilty for this behavior?” (142).  No, since Pharaoh hardened his own heart  during the first five plagues (Ex 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15).  After this, as MacDonald so concisely stated, God helped the process along since it was already what Pharaoh had decided himself.

1 Kings 22:23.  In considering this verse and its context, the Hebrew habit of ignoring secondary causes is significant.  There are other verses in the Bible where a command is given, but it is an affirmation of permission – as is the case when Jesus tells the demons to enter a herd of pigs (Matt 8:31), or when he tells Judas to get going with his plans (John 13:27).  In the case of 1 Kings 22, King Ahab was listening to false prophets and the false prophets were responsible for their own lies; God allowed it and used it for His plans, and God even warned Ahab.

. . . the passage in question is a vision that Micaiah reveals to Ahab.  God is telling Ahab, “Wise up.  I am allowing your prophets to lie to you.”  In a sense, God is revealing further truth to Ahab rather than lying to him.  If God were truly trying to entrap Ahab into a life-threatening situation, he would not have revealed the plan to him!  Even so, Ahab refuses to heed God’s truth, and he follows his prophets’ advice (Kaiser et al, 231).

In conclusion, “Without saying that God does evil that good may come, we can say that God overrules the full tendencies of preexisting evil so that the evil promotes God’s eternal plan, contrary to its own tendency and goals” (Kaiser et al, 230).

Isaiah 45:7.  Much has been written on Isaiah 45:7, since part of the problem is that the King James Bible incorrectly used the word “evil” instead of disaster or some like word.  The verse refers to natural “evil” (destructive forces) and not moral evil.  God permits these things, and in fact natural destructive forces are a normal and necessary part of the earth’s balance and being.  The verse is a strong declaration, however, that God is THE creator and that He is ultimately in control of all things, and not some other being.

Mark 4:11-12 (Isaiah 6:9-10).  After having reviewed the other verses/passages, the meaning of this passage can almost be inferred.  It may sound mean and controlling of God, but it is a reality that there are those people who go after and accept views and actions that are contrary to God.  For those like this, God lets them continue; they have chosen their way, their path, and God does not force anyone to follow Him and accept Him as savior and Lord.  (Interestingly, the author of the section on this verse in Kaiser et al. [417-419] does not agree, providing a minority interpretation that is something of a 180˚ turn.)  MacDonald provides a generally accepted interpretation:

Verses 11 and 12 explain why this truth was presented in parables.  God reveals His family secrets to those whose hearts are open, receptive and obedient, while deliberately hiding truth from those who reject the light given to them. . . . we must remember the tremendous privilege which these people had enjoyed.  The Son of God had taught in their midst and performed many mighty miracles before them.  Instead of acknowledging Him as the true Messiah, they were even now rejecting Him.  Because they had spurned the Light of the world, they would be denied the light of His teachings (1330).

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5b).  God is not evil and does not do evil, but He does “work around” the evil in this world to further His plans for human redemption.  God loves us, and sent His son for us, so that we may have new life in Him (to not be controlled by the evil in the world).  If you want that, you will find it.  You will find God and He will know you.  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10); “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7); “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12); “But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor 8:3).

____

Sources:  James Dunn and John Rogerson, ed.s, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Pub Co 2003); Tim Jackson, Did God Create Evil?; Kaiser, Walter et al, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1996); MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub.s 1995).

Christian Poems V: Levertov, Halpern

INTRUSION

By Denise Levertov

After I had cut off my hands
and grown new ones

something my former hands had longed for
came and asked to be rocked.

After my plucked out eyes
had withered, and new ones grown

something my former eyes had wept for
came asking to be pitied.

In The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, JD McClatchy ed. (Vintage Books 1990), 191.

___________

By Doc at Stock.xchang (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1291969)

HER BODY (parts 1 & 4)

By Daniel Halpern

1.  The Fingers

They are small enough to find and care for a tiny stone.
To lift it with wobbly concentration from the ground,
from the family of stones, up past the pursed mouth—

for this we are thankful—to a place level with her eyes
to take a close look, a look into the nature of stone.
Like everything, it is for the first time: first stone,

chilly cube of ice, soft rise of warm flesh, hard
surface of table leg, first and lasting scent of grass
rubbed between the tiny pincer fingers.  And there is

the smallest finger poking the air, pointing toward the first heat
of the single sun, pointing toward the friendly angels
who sent her, letting them know contact’s made.

4.  The Soul

Who knows how they get here,
beyond the obvious.
Who packaged the code

that provided the slate for her eyes,
and what about the workmanship
that went into the fingers

allowing such intricate movement
just months from the other side?—
Who placed with such exactness

the minute nails on each
of the ten unpainted toes?
And what remains

beyond eye and ear, the thing
most deeply rooted in her body—
the thing that endlessly blossoms

but doesn’t age, in time
shows greater vitality?  The thing
unlike the body that so quickly

reaches its highest moment only
to begin, with little hesitation,
the long roll back, slowing all the way

until movement is administered by
devices other than those devised
by divine design?  The ageless thing

we call soul, like air, both resident
and owner of the body’s estate.
But her soul, only partially

unpackaged, sings
through the slate that guards it,
contacts those of us waiting here

with a splay of its soft,
scrutinizing fingers.
Her soul is a sapling thing,

something green, dew-damp
but resolute, entering this world
with an angel’s thumb pressed

to her unformed body at the very last,
a template affixed to her body
when they decided it was time

to let her go, for her to come to us
and their good work was done.
An angel’s thumbprint, a signature, her soul.

In The Best American Poetry 1997, J Tate ed. (Scribner Poetry 1997), 91-94.

Christian Poems IV: For Simone Weil

LOVE III

George Herbert

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
    If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here.
    Love said, “You shall be he.”
I the unkind, ungrateful?  Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
    “Who made the eyes but I?”

Truth Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
    My dear, then I will serve.
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
    So I did sit and eat.

.

In A Book of Religious Verse, H Gardner, ed. (Oxford Univ Press 1972), 132.

___________

Simone Weil (1909-1943)

Vicki Priest (This poem is included in the 2014 anthology, The Chorus, compiled and translated into Korean by Aeire Choi.  Poems are in both Korean and English.  The Chorus is a truly beautiful book of spiritual poetry, and well made [it’s heavy!].  Available through Aladin.)

God is pure beauty.  The longing
To love the beauty of the world in
A human being is essentially
The longing for the Incarnation.
What we love is perfect joy itself.

It is not in our power to travel
In a vertical direction.  Christ
Himself came down and took possession
Of me.  I was able to rise above this
Wretched flesh, to leave it to suffer by itself.

Something stronger than I was
Compelled me to go down on my knees.
It is not my business to think about
Myself.  My business is to think about God.
Only obedience is invulnerable for all time.

I always believed that the instant
Of death is the center and object of life.
Every time I think of the crucifixion
Of Christ I commit the sin of envy.
The future is still to be feared.

The danger is not in the soul’s doubt that
There is bread, but, by a lie, to persuade itself
It is not hungry.  Christ is our bread.  If one
Turns aside from him to go toward the truth,
One will not go far before falling into his arms.

.

This “poem” consists of quotes by Simone Weil.

___________

IN MEMORIAM

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Love is and was my lord and king,
    And in his presence I attend
    To hear the tidings of my friend,
Which every hour his couriers bring.

Love is and was my king and lord,
    And will be, though as yet I keep
    Within the court on earth, and sleep
Encompassed by his faithful guard,

And hear at times a sentinel
    Who moves about from place to place,
    And whispers to the worlds of space,
In the deep of night, that all is well.
.

In The One Year Book of Poetry, P Comfort & D Partner, ed.s (Tyndale House Pub.s 1999), “Feb. 11” page.

Christian Persecution Updates: August 8, 2012

July 31; reported August 6, 2012  Bhutan

Location of Bhutan.

If you’re like me, you tend to think of Buddhists as peaceful, nonviolent people, but as you will see from this report, they are not necessarily so.  Reports from various areas tend to tell of the violence of  “radical Buddhists” against Christians, but Bhutan is officially against Christianity.  On July 31, Pema Sherpa, a house church leader from the town of Gelephu, was beaten and threatened with death by a government official.  The reality of life for the Christian in Bhutan is distressingly the same as in many other anti-Christian countries:  “The practice of Christianity is technically illegal, and Bhutanese who become Christians can pay a high price. They may lose their citizenship and associated benefits such as free education and healthcare, their job, and even access to water and electricity. Some face harassment and beatings.”  About 2% of the population in Bhutan is Christian.

Source:  Barnabas Aid

.

August 6 & 7; reported August 7, 2012  Laos

In an action that is against the constitution of Laos, the village leaders of Nahoukou village ordered five families to stop practicing their Christian faith – to stop meeting together and to recant their faith (which is considered a “foreign religion.”).  They were threatened with harm if they do not comply with the village leaders and fellow non-Christian villagers.  When the church leader there, Tongkoun Keohavong, was questioned in the village, he said:  “God is real. When we believe, we are healed from sickness and immediately delivered from the possession of evil spirits.” He further stated: “We cannot deny the reality of God’s power.”

Source:  Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom

.

April – present, reported July 23, 2012 Uzbekistan

Baptist house church leader Yelena Kim has been charged with illegally teaching religion in the country of Uzbekistan; the sentence for this is 3 years or less.  Her house church was raided during a Sunday service in April, but police returned in June with a warrant and confiscated bibles, computer discs, a copier, and more.  Yelena’s husband is being charged too, apparently, but the source was unclear.  Another church member, Losif Skaev, also had his house raided and Christian items were removed.  This “comes amid international concerns about President Islam Karimov’s perceived autocratic style towards groups and individuals deemed dangerous [to] the former Soviet state.  Critics say Karimov takes a ruthlessly harsh approach to all forms of opposition” (BNL).  The Kims had been fined a number of times prior to the raids and sentencing.

Source: VOM CanadaBosNewsLife

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Please pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

A Short on the Argument from Desire (Goethe, Lewis, Kreeft)

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, has written that C.S. Lewis’s “argument from desire” is, apart from Anselm’s “ontological argument,” “the single most intriguing argument in the history of human thought” (p 249).  This is an argument for the existence of God (and heaven).  St. Augustine and Goethe also used this argument.

So what is this argument that so many have claimed is actually the best one for God’s existence?  Kreeft provides a concise description:  “The major premise of the argument is that every natural or innate desire in us bespeaks a corresponding real object that can satisfy the desire.  The minor premise is that there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature, can satisfy.  The conclusion is that there exists something outside of time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire” (p 250).

You experience hunger and desire food, and the object of your desire is naturally attainable.  The same can be said of sleep, sex, and friendship.  But what of pangs from joy and beauty?  What of that inexplicable longing at the crashing of ocean waves, or from being immersed in certain music, or desiring a love that a sexual relationship does not fulfill?  We experience a thing or person, yet instead of fulfilling desire, they create another – one that is not attainable on earth.  In describing Goethe’s thoughts on it, Timothy Keller in The Reason for God wrote, “We not only feel the reality but also the absence of what we long for” (p 134).

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing (Lewis, 29).

While Kreeft addressed the philosophical criticisms of the argument in his 1989 article (see sources below), Keller takes on the more recent science-oriented critiques in his 2008 book.  Evolutionary biologists believe all that we are is based on natural selection, and so belief in God and all religious feelings are the consequence of adaptation.  How our awe over a beautiful sunset could be explained in these terms is mysterious, but otherwise, there is a serious flaw in this line of evolutionary thinking that some have pointed out.

The flaw is that evolutionary theory says that we cannot trust our own senses or thoughts. Our brains are conditioned for survival (adaptive behavior), and not necessarily for reality or “truth.”  Richard Dawkins, Patricia Churchland, and Thomas Nagel have all said the same, as well as Charles Darwin himself.  So . . . by their own claims, there is then no reason to trust their thinking on the subject.  As Wieseltier wrote in the New York Times,

. . . if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection?  The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else . . . .  Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.

So what are you going to pay attention to?  Your own inner voice and experience, or the assertions of those who claim that our thoughts are guided only by our body’s need for survival – and that “truth” isn’t necessarily beneficial?  I’ll leave you with some of CS Lewis’ thoughts on this, from his “Weight of Glory” sermon (1941):

Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it.

They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now. Finally, lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever.

If Lewis could say this in 1941, how much more could he say today, when Naturalism has had one or two more generations to influence the population?  So many today don’t even try and pretend that there is an inner voice, an inner knowledge or longing, of a future beyond death.  We are evolved,* purposeless, and mortal.

* For a treatment on the lack of evidence for human evolution, see Science & Human Origins (2012).

Sources:  Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton 2008); Peter Kreeft, “C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire,” in The Riddle of Joy: G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis (M. Macdonald and A. Tadie, editors; Eerdmans 1989), CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Touchstone 1996).

[A version of this appeared previously in Examiner.com, by the author]

Christian Poems III: Dillard/Prishvin, Paterson, Dickinson

Water and ripples (from ethanw @ stck.xchng).

DASH IT

Arranged by Annie Dillard from Mikhail Prishvin, Nature’s Diary, 1925

How wonderfully it was all arranged that each
Of us had not too long to live.  This is one
Of the main snags—the shortness of the day.
The whole wood was whispering, “Dash it, dash it . . .”

What joy—to walk along that path!  The snow
Was so fragrant in the sun!  What a fish!
Whenever I think of death, the same stupid
Question arises:  “What’s to be done?”

As for myself, I can only speak of what
Made me marvel when I saw it for the first time.
I remember my own youth when I was in love.
I remember a puddle rippling, the insects aroused.

I remember our own springtime when my lady told me:
You have taken my best.  And then I remember
How many evenings I have waited, how much
I have been through for this one evening on earth.

In Mornings Like This: Found Poems.  Annie Dillard (Harper Perennial, 1996), 1.

___________

EXILE

Evangeline Paterson

Yes, it is a beautiful country,
the streams in the winding valley,
the knows and the birches,
and beautiful the mountain’s bare shoulder
and the calm brows of the hills,
but it is not my country,
and in my heart there is a hollow place always.

And there is no way to go back—
maybe the miles indeed, but the years never.

Winding are the roads that we choose,
and inexorable is life,
driving us, it seems, like cattle
farther and farther away from what we remember.

But when we shall come at last
to God, who is our Home and Country,
there will be no more road stretching before us
and no more need to go back.

In The Poetic Bible, collected by C Duriez (Hendrickson Pub.s 2001), 184).

___________

MY COCOON TIGHTENS, COLORS TEASE

by Emily Dickinson

My cocoon tightens, colors tease,
I’m feeling for the air;
A dim capacity for wings
Demeans the dress I wear.

A power of butterfly must be
The aptitude to fly,
Meadows of majesty concedes
And easy sweeps the sky.

So I must baffle at the hint
And cipher at the sign,
And make much blunder, if at last
I take the clue divine.

In Selected Poems & Letters of Emily Dickinson.  RN Linscott, ed (Doubleday 1959), 175.

Secular girl activist meets Christian girl activist: love and necromancy, OR, An Encounter with Simone Weil: A film review

This film is not yet out for general release.  See this FB page  or the website for more info.

Normally a review would recommend an audience for the book or movie or whatever it is that is being reviewed, but this film makes it difficult to say who exactly would prefer it or get the most out of it.  I love the late Simone and seriously looked forward to “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but I was in for a surprise with this pseudo-documentary.  This film (the Director’s Cut), by Julia Haslett, is like a personal travel diary only instead of the destination being a place, it’s a person.  And the road there is strewn with corpses.

Ok, so let’s make a stab at the audience, or in this offering, audiences.  The filmmaker comes from the liberal anti-American, anti-Christian segment of America, as is made apparent in the film, so that same audience is probably the intended one (since a quote from Michael Moore is on the front dvd cover, this is not a risky guess); the secondary audience would be those who otherwise like Weil or want to know more about her, most likely having heard of her in Christian or philosophy circles.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) was one of those rare of the rarest of human beings, a person with extreme intellectual prowess fused with extreme empathy and charity.  She was an intellectual who taught philosophy (and taught it all in the original languages), gave up her teaching job to labor with factory workers, had conversations with the likes of Trotsky . . . but scratch the record . . . she was also a Christian mystic.  This film touches on her academic career, but focuses on Simone’s social activism (“political” activism in the film) and her unfortunate and apparently irrational taking up with God (film’s view, not the reviewer’s).   It also has much interesting archival footage.

Haslett makes this film, does this research, due to her sadness and feeling of regret after her father’s suicide.  Could I have done something to stop it?, she asks, and Can I do more to help others who suffer?  She is inspired by something Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  Indeed, surprisingly true and knowledge worth acting upon.  How did Simone give attention, how did she alleviate suffering (or at least how did she try), and how does Haslett emulate Simone in this regard?

Without going into too much detail (a short bio of Simone can be found here, there is an excellent biography at the beginning of the book, Waiting for God, and there are numerous other sources about Simone as well), Simone didn’t just research social problems and make suggestions to the government.  She knew that the only way to understand someone’s suffering, at least to some degree, was to become them.  Thus the factory work episode mentioned earlier.   She also, from a very early age, paid attention to the sufferings of soldiers and workers and ate the small amounts they ate, or didn’t pay for heat if her fellow workers could not afford it.  She gave up on pacifism when she saw that war was inevitable and that providing help to the better side was a good; she fought in Spain for a short time (in 1936) with those against the fascists, and she volunteered to be a front-line nurse early in the Second World War.  She didn’t just talk, she walked the walk.

This is all well-known material regarding Simone Weil.  So what did Haslett do?  She does what she can to suffer alongside her brother who is in and out of depression, and she is involved with causes that are meant to alleviate suffering and bring about justice.  The problem with these causes is that they are very political and Haslett can’t seem to get herself to look at all the sides of the issues (she shows that there is voter fraud in Florida, on the side of the Republicans, but she ignores the voter fraud perpetuated by the Democrats).   Simone was very good at (and purposefully so) looking at opposing information.  Haslett’s inability to look at the other side, of humbling herself for that (or simply not villainizing the “other side”), shows up in another important way in this film.

Haslett is so enamored with Weil, and so mystified by some things about her, that she wants to meet her.  Since she can’t actually bring her back from the dead, she hires an actress (obviously a sharp one) to read and absorb Simone’s writings, and work in a factory like Simone did (sort-of), in order to “become Simone” so that Haslett can ask her questions.   [I’ll pause while you take that in.]   My first thought was, Why doesn’t she just try and understand Simone herself?   Haslett perhaps realized that she was incapable of doing so, but then, what use would there be in talking to and getting annoyed with an actress when you can basically do the same thing with a book?  It does indeed come to the inevitable head when the actress (bless her) says that “I” -meaning Simone – did not kill myself and by being  a slave of God’s I could get beyond my pain (Simone had very bad and long-lasting migraines) and try and do what I was called to do.

“Simone” insisted that she did not kill herself.  This is in reaction to many people’s claim that she passively ended her own life by not eating enough (while trying to get over tuberculosis); something the doctor who filled out her death certificate claimed.  Knowing Simone’s lifelong habit of only eating so much based on someone’s suffering–in this case, it was the amount allotted to her occupied countrymen in France–many question the doctor’s judgment.   But Haslett seemed to be trying to make the case that Simone killed herself, and had earlier submitted to Christ, out of desperation–desperation over not being able to stop the suffering of so many, and knowing that suffering would never come to an end.  It is presented that Simone had to have turned to religion only as a last resort – after all reason and rational thought were used up.  Reading Simone’s writings, one would be very hard pressed to come up with a justification of this opinion of Haslett and others.

For one thing, Simone insisted that “she had not needed to be converted; she had always been implicitly, in ‘secret’ even from her lower self, a Christian” (Fiedler 1951, 23).  Regarding suffering, she came to view her own, from the migraines, as a gift.  Of course, suffering caused by man should be worked against.  Regarding reason and rational thought, consider her claim:  “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (Weil 1951, 69).  Very unlike Haslett, Simone knew that humans needed salvation.  In all the history now known there has never been a period in which souls have been in such peril as they are today in every part of the globe.  The bronze serpent must be lifted up again so that whoever raises his eyes to it may be saved” (Weil 1951, 76; see Numbers 21:5-8 and John 3:13-15 for biblical references).

All this is significant since Haslett is against it . . . yet she can’t seem to dismiss it.  At the end of the film we find that the brother she includes in the film, who suffered depression after his father’s suicide, committed suicide himself.  Haslett equates his suicide with Weil’s, though this seems very far from the mark (especially if you are of the opinion that Weil did not commit suicide).  She says that, since the world is doomed, the only choice is whether to commit suicide or not.  Wow.  I do hope that if any suicidal persons see this film that they aren’t encouraged negatively by it.  In any case, there actually seems to be hope in the end.

Amazingly, Haslett, for the first time, gives a nod to the supernatural; she says that to give attention is a “miracle.”  As she kisses a wall, she ends the film with this Weil quote:  “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall.  The wall is what separates them but it is also their means of communication.  It is the same with us and God, every separation is a link.”  Perhaps the best audience for this film are all those who desire Haslett (and others like her) to look toward God longer, until she desires Him instead of the vessel in which He worked so brightly (Simone).
.

Fiedler, Leslie A.  “Introduction,” in Waiting for God.  Simone Weil (New York: Harper Colophon 1973)

Weil, Simone.  Waiting for God (New York: Harper Colophon 1973; reprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1951)

What does God say about employer obligations, worker rights?

Hall-Scott Factory workers, undated (late 1800s to early 1900s; http://theoldmotor.com/?p=18973).
Hall-Scott Factory workers, undated (late 1800s to early 1900s; http://theoldmotor.com/?p=18973).

In the Old Testament, Micah tells Israel, “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  Indeed, chapter six of Micah concerns the Lord’s decision to punish Israel because of its practices that opposed God’s laws and intentions:  Israel was full of those who used dishonest scales, who lied, and who were violent.

Many of God’s OT regulations were meant to protect those in weaker social and economic situations. Psalm 146 is a praise to God who, unlike mortal men, “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (7-9).

These ideals are certainly carried through into the New Testament, where it is emphasized that all are to be treated with respect and as one would like to be treated themselves, and that all persons are equal in God’s sight (Matthew 7:12; Galatians 3:28; 1 Peter 3:8). So what did God command concerning the rights of workers?  What was expected of the employer (or master)?  For one, all persons, including hired people and servants/slaves, were to have the Sabbath day for rest (Deuteronomy 5:14).  Second, workers were to be paid at the end of the day (Leviticus 19:13b; Matthew 20:1-16).  Third, employees are to be treated with gratitude, respect, and good will, as this verse from Ruth 2:4 exemplifies:  “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, ‘The LORD be with you!’ And they answered, ‘The LORD bless you.’”

Verses that continue with this idea, but also provide the reason – that all humans are equal – include Job 31:13-15, Colossians 4:1, and Ephesians 6:9.  For example:  “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (Ephesians 6:9).

God also gave warnings to those who would disobey His will and laws in the employer-employee relationship.  In Malachi He says, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against . . . those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me” (3:5).  There’s more in Jeremiah:   “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages . . .” (22:13). James did not pull any punches when he wrote:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.   You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you (5:1-6).

Another thing to consider about God’s laws and regulations is that they were more advanced and humane than those of the ancient near eastern societies that surrounded Israel.   Some slaves in Israel were the poor who became too indebted.  Instead of becoming homeless and/or being on various forms of welfare, “Someone would agree to pay their debt for six years (or fewer) of labor. After the time was over, the owner-employer sent them on their way, with funds and good.”

One law made it illegal to return runaway slaves to their masters!  “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master.  Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Laws such as these (and there are more) provided a big incentive for masters to treat all in their household fairly.   In contrast, there is hint about how poor persons were treated elsewhere.

In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the son receives his inheritance from his still-living father and then moves to a far-off country.  He soon finds himself without any money left, “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.   And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (15-16).  If the prodigal were paid every evening, would he be without food?  If he had been even a slave in Israel, would he be without food and shelter? I am not advocating slavery (!) but am pointing out a result of our practice and attitude toward the less successful in our country (the United States): the slaves of Israel were better off than the jobless/homeless in America.

(c) Vicki Priest 2014 [edited on September 1, 2014; previously posted by the author at Examiner.com, in 2011]

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