Soren Kierkegaard once commented in a letter to a friend how frustrating it is trying to communicate: “What I require is a voice as piercing as a lynx’s eye, as terrible as the sigh of a giant, as persistent as a note of nature, with a range extending from the deepest bass to the highest and most melting chest-tone, with a modulation capable of the lightest sacred whisper and the fire-spouting violence of madness. That is what I need to deliver myself of what lies in my mind, to thrill the bowels both of anger and sympathy.”
As I read, peruse, or otherwise handle the many books that pass through my hands and over my desk, I sometimes find myself staring smack into a lynx’s eye. For a second there is light. Or, other times, there is audible the sigh of a giant or some voice of nature, or some sacred whisper, or some human voice so bass, high, or angry that, for a second at least, my self-preoccupations lessen and some deeper chromosomes stir. I rarely go into a mystical trance, more I regularly reach for a pen and notebook when this happens.
From the books that went through my hands this past while, from varied authors – Therese of Lisieux, Annie Dillard, Ruth Burrows, Morris West, Herbert Marcuse, Peter Berger, George Eliot, John Shea, David Steindl-Rast, Hans Urs Van Baltasar, Doris Lessing, Simone Weil, Daniel Berrigan, Teilhard de Chardin, Charles Peguy, William Auden, Yogi Berra and Woody Allen – I offer you some sacred whispers and a chance, hopefully, to occasionally meet the lynx’s eye:
On faith, hope and happiness:
Remember…faith must constitute a certain cognitive defiance, a certain saying “no.” When we first pronounce the word “no” it will be tentative, hardly audible, it will come from our mouths like the first word of an infant or the words of a foreign tongue. But we had best soon be declaring our “no” loud and clear, under the pain of never saying it at all. However remember faith is an assent that implies restless cogitation.
Hope is not lost when we grow weary of evil, but when we tire of good, when we grow weary of joy. It is only the constant desire to defeat ourselves that can finally defeat us.
The purpose of life is love, not heroics. The Christian is not the tragic anti-hero luxuriating in despair, Hamlet canonized, bu the child of the kingdom, resilient, able to celebrate love because of the laughter of the resurrected Christ and the incredible resiliency of human nature. We need to be, for each other, mutual islands of sympathy, chastising each other only when we love each other, saying in our love… you, at least, shall not die!
What do we really need from life? Enough light to see a divine sense in this world; enough faith to follow that light; and enough love to make the darkness tolerable. Happiness is not what makes us grateful, but gratefulness is what makes us happy.
On patience for the long haul:
There is not short cut to wisdom. After all the centuries of invention, the soul’s path lies through the thorny wilderness which must still be trodden in solitude, with bleeding feet, with sobs for help, as it was trodden by them of old. Moreover, purity is attained when one seeks to give Christ’s desire to consummate all things precedence over one’s own immediate and momentary advantage. We must never give up heaven for the sake of our dignity or pleasure.
On idolatry, ideology and honesty:
One can take as an idol, not something made of metal or wood, but a race, a nation, an idea, a cause, a philosophy, a religion, something just as earthly. Race, religion, cause, solidarity, even commitment to the poor can be essentially inseparable from idolatry. Be ever aware of the liberal or conservative consensus operating as a surrogate for conscience, governing morality and conduct in place of truth and Christ. The house of idolatry and ideology has many mansions. Idolatry and ideology are recognized by the bitterness and joylessness they invariably spawn. Bitterness and joylessness are always infallible signs of self-pity.
When we come to the end of our pilgrimage and reach heaven, God will say to us: “Where are the others?”
And some thoughts for psychic hygiene:
Keep your eyes open, sometimes you can see a whole lot of things just by looking. Remember our sofas and chairs know secrets about us that others don’t. After the ecstasy, go do the laundry. And… when tempted towards hyper=criticalness, do keep in mind that, although reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it’s still the only place you can get a decent steak!