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Thursday, April 11, 2019

From Psalm 105
Hallelujah! Thank God! Pray to him by name! Tell everyone you meet what he has done! Sing him songs, belt out hymns, translate his wonders into music! Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life!

(continued from yesterday)

Mom smiled at me and said, “But you can think of other things. You can set your mind on these things.” And she recited Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true. Whatever is noble. Whatever is right.”

Years later this memory returns in tears of gratitude and repentance. “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.”

Now my mother is 96. She sits in her chair and she reads books, she watches movies, she gets caught up in “realism,” just like I still do. I don’t want easy answers or false certainty any more than I did then. I don’t want people to force-feed me answers to questions I haven’t asked.

I do want help looking for my own questions.

My mom had less access to that hell-bent search for “truth” than me. She grew up in the Depression. Her dad was an adult child of an alcoholic who took the responsibilities of his life very seriously. He taught his first-born (my mother) to do the same.

Born in 1922, Mom was one of Brokaw’s “greatest generation,” the “civic generation” that built things up. I was born in 1949, a baby boomer - one of the alienated, entitled children of the civic generation.

But some things transcend generational differences. My mother has the same taste as I do for truth, goodness and beauty. She loves to feel her bare feet finding their way, on the ground in which she has her being. She thirsts for God, and so do I.

Mom was blessed by those words in Philippians. And then she offered them to me. “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things.”

How does God work his changes in us, in the time we have? So that first I might name my obsession, and then give it up for God to touch?

Philippians 4: 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything,” but pray and pray and pray. “And the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” And then comes the best of all: “… Think on such things.”

The image of my mom in her house-dress standing slightly silhouetted in the sun surrounds all these words, and gives them grace. God’s presence comes through her into Paul’s verses, and I rejoice.

I guess there’s nothing magical about the words, or even the memory. But as I remember I become aware of God’s patience with me. As I contemplate this confluence of goodness, truth and beauty, my ego is undone. It has nothing more to offer me. In this moment remembered, healing rises and waits for my eyes to see.

The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. All these things and more, and that just in me. See what wondrous things the Lord has done.

If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things.

* * *

From St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel:
“To reach satisfaction in everything, desire satisfaction in nothing.
To come to possession of everything, desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of everything, desire the knowledge of nothing.”

At the top of his illustration of Mount Carmel, John writes: “Nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, and even on the mountain, nada.”

Here is Hemingway’s version (The whole story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, is here. And here’s an audio version of the story, a bit over nine minutes long):

The older waiter speaks first:

"You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves."

"Good night," said the younger waiter.

"Good night," the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself. It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours.

What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.

Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.

Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before another bar, with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.

"What's yours?" asked the barman.

"Nada."

"Otro loco mas," said the barman and turned away.

"A little cup," said the waiter.

The barman poured it for him.

* * *

The story sings, and it still singes the edges on my images of truth. The waiter is a good man, who wants to give the men around him what he wants to have, and almost has, himself. He listens to Jesus’ words: “Go and tell them that the blind see, the lame walk.” He does what he can in his café.

But it isn’t quite his miracle, and his uncertainty impels him into emptiness, into the dark. Of course, perhaps the darkness is the darkness of a womb, but first it must be the darkness of a grave. And regardless of its end, the darkness leads nowhere but into itself, into what the medieval monk called the “cloud of unknowing.”

Still, the waiter wills to live in faith, as he waits to see the tomb become a womb.

This is a good way to live.

* * *

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, O Lord, you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me, a feast in the presence of my enemies, you invite me to come and eat. My cup runs over! Your beauty and love chase after me always. And I’m back home in your house, O Lord, every day for the rest of my life.

St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel, Book 1, Chapter 13, originally published in 1618

Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” first published in 1926, then again in Winner Take Nothing, 1933



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