…But this at least can be said without prolonged invasion of the theological field. There is no escape at any point from the fear that our very seriousness about ourselves is sound and fury signifying nothing. The medieval schoolmen would have said: inevitably so, for man is poised between being and non-being; he draws his existence from the self-existent God. The movement of human thought must reflect man’s situation in being. Because he is poised between being and not being, he will never see his existence as something assured. Again and again, in taking stock of himself, he will not find easily arguments which will assure him that his standing is secure. At their wisest the schoolmen would never allow that by a formula we could somehow escape the most fundamental conditions of our existence. In the end they would have said: the proof of the pudding is in the eating; a necessary implication of their insistence on the primacy of being over thought. And perhaps we must say the same. There is no other proof possible that a seriousness in life is justified than is found in living. One cannot by magic escape the conditions of humanity, assume the absolute perspective of God. If it is better to arrive than to travel, we are still inescapably travelling in statu viae, to use the old phrase. And our perspectives are necessarily those of travellers, at least for most of the time. But there still remains a difference between the traveller who takes the measure of his road and the one who seeks to be oblivious of its windings. –D. M. MacKinnon, “Death”
Anyone who would like to hear the talk, follow the link. Both the talk and the discussion session are recorded.
A little poem to memorialize the Toomer’s Oaks.
(After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks)
Aren’t they just trees?
–Yes, they are—they were.
–And weren’t they dying anyway?
–Yes, they were—and I am—and you are too.
Dying. But someone killed them.
(Yes, you can kill something that is already dying.
If you doubt that, shoot someone with a terminal illness,
then plead your innocence.)
–But they were just trees.
–Yes—they were. But all trees have a kind of dignity,
A dignity revealed in the way they call on us to contemplate them:
St. Augustine knew that, and Arthur Schopenhauer too.
And these trees, wrapped as they were in celebration,
Wrapped as they were in meaning,
Called on us more insistently than most—even demanded contemplation.
Poisoning them, destroying their roots, was an attack on meaning,
A meaning that some, wrapped in unmeaning, could not bear.
Meaning has weight. You can crumble under it, or understand it, your call.
Yes, just trees. And these are just my students, this is just my university,
This is just my life.
–But the meaning of all these things—you just put it there, gilding and staining,
In burnt orange and blue. It is not real. It is a collective delusion. Tradition
Is no mode of access to what is real.
–Of course it is, it always has been, and it always will be. Tradition makes
Values available for appreciation, for appropriate response:
And your response is the tree’s judgment on you. Luckily for you, they are, they were,
Yes, let us put together in thought the traits which meet in the picture of accidie; let us think of it in its contrast with that brightness of spiritual joy which plays around some lives, and makes the nameless, winning beauty of some souls, aye, and even of some faces; and we may recognize it, perhaps, as a cloud that has sometimes lowered near our own lives; as a storm that we have seen sweeping across the sky and hiding the horizon, even though, it may be, by God’s grace only the edge of it reached to us, only a few drops fell where we were. Heaviness, gloom, coldness, sullenness, distaste and desultory sloth in work and prayer, joylessness and thanklessness, do we not know something of the threatenings, at least, of a mood in which these meet? The mood of days on which it seems as though we cannot genuinely laugh, as though we cannot get rid of a dull or acrid tone in our voice; when it seems impossible frankly to rejoice with them that do rejoice, and equally impossible to go freely out in any true, unselfish sympathy with sorrow; days when, as one has said, everything that everybody does seems inopportune and out of good taste; days when the things that are true and honest, just and pure, lovely and of good report, seem to have lost all loveliness and glow and charm of hue, and look as dismal as a flat country in the drizzling mist of an east wind; days when we might be cynical if we had a little more energy in us; when all enthusiasm and confidence of hope, all sense of a Divine impulse, flags out of our work; when the schemes which we have begun look stale and poor and unattractive as the scenery of an empty stage by daylight; days when there is nothing that we like to do; when, without anything to complain of, nothing stirs so readily in us as complaint. Oh, if we know anything at all of such a mood as this, let us be careful how we think of it, how we deal with it; for perhaps it may not be far from that sorrow of the world which, in those who willingly indulge and welcome and invite its presence, worketh death.
For Poetry Day:
Death paid a call
Dropped in unexpected
We weren’t receiving visitors
Andy Griffith was on tv so
At first we didn’t notice
Death’s tuneless quiet whistle
But when Barney said
“Nip it! Nip it! Nip it in the bud!”
Death stopped whistling
And all we could hear
Was silence and Death
Rocking in his chair
We knew someone was headed
To Mt. Pilot