July 28th, 2004

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Personal/Theological Notebook: Overloaded Conversation; Williams' "War In Heaven"; Arts Conference;

Well, I really started working today on putting together an account of my Victoria trip. I really did. It took me some time to weed through my photos and decide how to illustrate it. Now I'm too tired to type it out. I'm leaving for Jamaica and my brother's wedding Thursday: at this rate, I'm going to completely blow the illusion that I can keep track of my own life on these electronic pages.

Yesterday was Overwhelming Conversation Day. Exactly 73% of the people I know on the planet IMed or called me, and if you weren't one of them then I was worried that you were somehow ill or injured. So I talked breakups in Ohio, childcare in the Home Counties of England, earaches in Iowa, Nature and Grace in the Papal Social Encyclical Tradition in Minnesota (who woulda thunk it?), mystical visions in Massachusetts, and who knows what and where else. I even had time to make the acquaintance of a semi-celebrity storyteller and filmmaker in Chicago. An entirely satisfying day, other than that I didn't get to read word one of my 1930 Charles Williams novel, War In Heaven, even though I was only 40 pages from the conclusion. My favourite paragraph and scene which will forever be emblazoned in my consciousness:

So through the English roads the Graal was borne away in the care of a Duke, an Archdeacon, and a publisher's clerk, pursued by a country householder, the Chief Constable of a county, and a perplexed policeman. And these things also perhaps the angels desired to look into.

I just finished and sent in my abstract/paper proposals for the Epiphanies of Beauty conference at Notre Dame I've been trumpeting to all of you. Collapse )

Now I'm going to end the night with one of my new Netflix movies. I've got Bergman's The Seventh Seal, which I've not seen in years and am really eager to return to, but I'm so wiped that I think I'm going to watch Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman in Paycheck. Is that a sin against film?

Oh! Randall Thompson's "Ye Shall Have A Song" just came on the iTunes! Even in the hands of a high school choir, this is a masterpiece: transcendent in its simplicity. The movie can wait a bit....

Edit (5:18am): Well, no movie happened. My brother, curiously unable to sleep for someone getting married in a few days, came online and we just chatted about the wedding, the resort where it's happening (the reception's next door at The Whistling Bird), and the house they've put a bid on. I read 2 BD as "two bids" instead of "two bedrooms" on the realtor's webpage and nearly gave him a stroke when I asked about the other bid the website said had been placed.... No, no reasons for insomnia....
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Theological Notebook: Merton on Contemplation

My friend Patrick Collins just drew my attention back to this one:

The only way to get rid of misconceptions about contemplation is to experience it. One who does not actually know, in his own life, the nature of this breakthrough and this awakening to a new level of reality cannot help being misled by most of the things that are said about it. For contemplation cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized. The more objectively and scientifically one tries to analyze it, the more he empties it of its real content, for this experience is beyond the reach of verbalization and of rationalization.

–Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 2.

Given what I've been thinking and writing about the mindset of the philosophy of secularism, this highlights the difficulty for the dialogue between the religious/spiritual (you can't really separate them) worldview and the secular one. Perhaps, as I wrote earlier, this is for us now most vividly illustrated in the clash between the secular West and Islam. Merton is either saying something self-evidently true and only knowable by the experience of it, or he's engaging in a deceptive false truism that explicitly precludes being argued against. If conversation and argument between these two opposing views is problematic, if not impossible, and if the "conversers" are willing to using violence to protect their worldview, then do we not have a dangerous situation, an almost inevitable tragedy?

I can't help but notice the parallels at the Democratic convention, which despite showcasing the laudable goal of "inclusivity," has a difficult time trying to communicate – even to those who are Democratic in a lot of their opinions, but who have wider ideas of human rights that would include the unborn in issues like abortion and the harvesting of the unborn for stem cells and such. It'll be the same at the Republican convention: even the people who genuinely are concerned about the polarization of American politics can't seem to help but demonize the other party.