Posts Tagged ‘Paul Tillich’

Sunday

August 29, 2021

The border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.

Paul Tillich, The Interpretation of History

With the room darkened from overcast morning skies, I woke at 7:00 this Sunday morning feeling the urge for coffee and books. I have not been disappointed. Paul Tillich is one of my patron saints to whom I return again and again, particularly when I begin a new semester of teaching. After a four-semester hiatus, I was not prepared for the rush of eudaimonia I now feel as we burst into this new semester of academic pursuit.

Tillich’s most famous student, psychologist Rollo May, has authored a precious volume titled Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship that provides the most intimate gaze into the persona of Tillich and his effect on students. I re-read several chapters of that volume, then went to Paul Tillich: The Future of Religions, edited by Jerald C. Brauer. Brauer authored the first chapter “Paul Tillich’s Impact on America”, and I am inspired profoundly at the description of Tillich’s analytical and synthetic thought processes:

Paul Tillich had the unusual combination of a powerfully analytic mind yet a constructive or creative mind. The power of analysis was never used simply for its own sake–to analyze the ideas of other men or of other periods of history. His primary task was always to construct his own system, to create his vision of meaning and coherence. This was one of the most compelling forces that attracted and held the attention of students. Finely honed analytic minds are commonplace in universities, but a synthetic mind, a truly constructive or creative mind is a rarity.

Reading this sent me back to Rollo May’s Paulus (this book has become a Bible for me since I first read it in 1993). I knew there was an example of Tillich’s creative synthesis of multiple sources:

Paulus encountered the world in many dimensions at the same time. He was at home with Heraclitus in ancient Greece, with Abelard in the Middle Ages, and with Nicolas of Cusa in the Renaissance. He confronted a person with all these different levels at once. . . . In our day of “intimacy-over-the-weekend” we have forgotten the truth in Tennyson’s “I am a part of all that I have met” . . .

Throughout my years of research and teaching, I have always been fascinated with the world of “connections”, of “seams”, of “junctures”. I know that my habit of stitching together disparate sources to construct some kind of a system extends as far back as my college days when I struggled with demands of my own Bachelor’s Degree and my first pastorate. Just this past weekend while immersed in a painting of Lonesome Dove, I found myself re-thinking ideas I had read from the letters of N. C. Wyeth that seemed to link naturally with portions of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. That is how I am wired. I’m always tearing into the building blocks of texts, down to the foundational words in sentences and suddenly recognizing a connection with a completely different source.

At the moment I’m trying to compose an essay (simply for my own edification) that addresses these seams, these cracks, that Tillich identified as “the propitious place for acquiring knowledge”. I find myself hearing Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” once again:

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Thanks for reading. I need to get back to this stuff . . . I stopped in the middle of my reading with this impulse to try and convey to my readers what’s going on in my head this soothing and dark Sunday morning.

Winter Solitude and Artistic “Visitations”

February 12, 2021
Pleasing Winter Fire and Hygge Environment

All my life I have been haunted by the fascinating questions of creativity. Why does an original idea in science and in art “pop up” from the unconscious at a given moment?

Rollo May, The Courage to Create

We never come to thoughts. They come to us.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

Winter weather in Texas cancelled our plans to work in The Gallery at Redlands this weekend. Fortunately, creativity is not restricted to a particular space. We now continue our gallery opening preparations in Studio Eidolons. With temperatures hovering now at 19 degrees along with meteorological rumors of snow, it was pleasing to build a fire and enjoy coffee, journals and books here in the living room with dogs sleeping nearby. Glowing candles about the room have enhanced the hygge environment Sandi and I have been reading about in recent weeks. Time, weather and space have mingled to create a lovely zone for reflection.

As a compulsive re-reader, I have re-opened Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. The author and psychologist was inspired by his mentor Paul Tillich’s work The Courage to Be, where the argument is advanced that courage is demanded to affirm life while living in a threatening enviornment. Rollo May responds: “one cannot be in a vacuum. We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.” This called up deep reminiscences of my own sojourn in this life. Though nurtured by my family, I endured anxiety throughout my entire childhood and adolescent years, feeling inferior among my peers at school. The only talent I felt I had was in art, and engaging in this activity gave me inner strength to face my small world. As an adult, self-confidence took hold, and making art fell by the wayside for the most part as I went to work the way everyone else seemed to do.

Since retiring a few years back, I have been writing my memoirs, seeking a better understanding of my past. I cannot overstate the luxury of time to think on these things and write out my perspectives of what has happened. Perusing stacks of personal journals accumulated over the years, I’ve been trying to determine when it was exactly that art came back to the center of my life. At this point, I feel that art was something I did as a coping skill when a child, then something induced by talent in teenage years, only to be dropped completely in favor of academic study during college and graduate school years. Once I entered the teaching field, art came back into my life, but it seemed more personal, more reflective than it had been in younger years.

Now, art is something I have to do. Ideas and mental pictures cascade into my consciousness throughout the day. Visions invade my dream world while I sleep. Every morning, I awake to compulsions to pursue an idea or draft an image. Echoing the sentiments of May and Heidegger quoted above, I find myself wondering over the origin of these visitations. Throughout the years I have enjoyed reading musician Neil Young’s biographies and autobiography, along with listening to his interviews with Charlie Rose replayed on YouTube, where he discusses his songwriting experiences. Frequently, Young has admitted that particular ideas and jarring images just arrived uninvited–he has no idea what prompted them to visit his imagination. That is exactly how I feel. For instance, the picture below–a couple of days ago, I “saw” this remembrance in my mind’s eye of a lone fisherman I saw many winters ago while fly fishing for trout stocked in the Brazos River beneath the Highway 16 bridge below Possum Kingdom dam. Going back through my archives, I located the picture I took of him with a digital camera years before the smart phone took over. I had to go to the drafting table and give this image a try in a quick watercolor sketch.

Life is like that, for me, and has been for years. I am excited and overwhelmed to take over the ownership of The Gallery at Redlands, and look forward to our opening event in late March. Sandi and I have been consumed with ideas for this space for nearly two weeks now. I have answered several friends who have questioned whether my new life as a gallerist will impede my work as an artist. I honestly don’t see that happening. My attention to creative pursuits has not waned in past weeks. Ideas continue to stampade through my consciousness throughout each day and night. I cannot refuse to answer the call when it comes.

Still adjusting this 5 x 7″ watercolor

I placed a mat over this 5 x 7″ watercolor sketch, but have decided to tweak it further. I have already added another framed 5 x 7″ to The Gallery at Redlands and plan to join it with this one once it’s finished.

Already on dispaly at The Gallery at Redlands

It appears that I will need to bring this meditation to a close–I’ve received another visitation.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Speeding Up or Slowing Down? Horizontal or Vertical?

January 7, 2020

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Martha. Martha. You are distracted by many things. Only one thing is necessary. Your sister has chosen that one thing and it will not be taken from her.

Luke 10:41-42, TT (Tripp’s Translation) 😊

My mind wanders over the landscape of thought while painting, and as I work on this locomotive composition, the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha keeps visiting my consciousness. If you haven’t read the account in Luke’s Gospel, I urge you to take a look at the brief story. While Mary sits at the feet of Jesus in their home, hanging on his every spoken word, Martha is prattling about the house trying to get everything in order to serve their guests. Finally, in frustration, she implores Jesus to tell her sister to get up and help with the tasks. His response is posted above. The contrast between the sisters is front and center of my thoughts this morning, and I’m going to try and work this out: charging Martha vs. contemplative Mary.

I am developing a painting of a steam locomotive charging and snorting across the landscape like a runaway steed. We can imagine a scene inside this charging vessel of iron: sedentary people drinking coffee, nibbling pastries, smoking cigars and reading newspapers. The surface appearance would suggest a calm interior contrasted with the velocity outside. But within this nexus of people we would likely find the same contrast: some of them charging impatiently toward appointments, others quietly enjoying the journey.

Suspended above the train, stars weave intricate constellations, but few inside the train are looking out the windows in admiration. Or, to draw from the observations of Pythagoras, the stars perform complex symphonies, but few will listen. The world still offers unspeakable resources to a people who will not respond.

We live in an age of sharp contrasts, but the weight seems distributed toward the frenetic. In this current digital media age, we hurtle through life at warp speed, many of us chasing every stimulus that presents itself. Restless people in our culture carry smart phones and are constantly engaged with the screens, reading, texting, flitting from platform to platform, seldom pausing to absorb many of the gifts the environment offers. One of the greatest gifts is repose.

If we are to become a more thoughtful culture, a more fulfilled people, what would we need to consider? If mature, reflective thought and response is to come from us, what do we need? How do we harness the discipline to think twice before responding? Soak time is required. Time to pause. To breathe. To center. To compost. Heidegger once wrote: “We never come to thoughts. They come to us.” How often are we willing and patient to allow fresh ideas to come to us? Why do we think happiness and contentment must be chased? Captured?

On May 6, 1963 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, theologian Paul Tillich was the principal speaker at the fortieth anniversary party for Time magazine. His audience consisted of 284 subjects of Time cover stories, including Adlai Stevenson and Douglas MacArthur. His address was titled “The Ambiguity of Perfection.” His biographer Wilhelm Pauck summarized the event:

Pointing to the ambiguous character of all high achievement, Tillich hammered home to his audience the idea that the human condition is ever ambiguous, an “inseparable mixture of good and evil, of creative and destructive forces, both individual and social . . . there is nothing unambiguously creative and nothing unambiguously destructive. They accompany each other inseparably.”

The same was true, he continued, of the one-dimensional culture of which they were all a part. It was a free society, to be sure, but one without depth: its ceaseless expansion, whether into outer space or on the production line, had created an almost irresistible temptation on the part of everyone to produce in order to produce still more.

Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to “enter creation and unite with its power,” in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension. In a direct reference to his own role as a Socratic gadfly, he pointed out that the creative critics of contemporary society no longer needed to fear martyrdom, but were instead forced to “fight against being absorbed by the culture as another cultural good.”

Martha was the quintessential, spastic reactor, the embodiment of frenetic energy, always churning. Mary, the reflective one, knew that one thing mattered. One thing was necessary. Jesus said she found it, and it would not be taken away from her. May we find that resolve to figure out what matters.

Thanks for reading. Please check out my blog http://www.davidtrippart.com.

Shultz reducedI make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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Labor Day Fishing

September 2, 2019

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Canada Geese Keeping Me Company

Time is but the stream I go a–fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

On this second September morning, I still find the west Texas world comparatively cooler than what I knew during August. I found a shady spot again at a playa around 8:00 this morning, and again found the carp cooperating. I managed to land three of them, and lost two more. After two hours, I decided to call it quits when I caught a channel catfish the size of my hand.

Sitting in the shade in a comfortable lawn chair, I felt gratitude for a world that seemed to slow down where I sat. I chose to leave the national news alone, knowing it would most likely be more of the same–an avalanche of frenetic reporting on the same catastrophes and national embarrassments that I’ve know far too many years now. In the nineteenth century, Thoreau expressed dismay for a country that was living too fast when he was writing his Walden manuscript:

It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

Today I found comfort in reading an article the theologian Paul Tillich published in The Saturday Evening Post back in 1958. His assessment of the American culture was that we had become a people, driven by an industrial society and recent technological advancements, in a frenzied horizontal direction. We were driven to work harder, faster, and produce more and more. He opined that we had lost our vertical sense of depth and no longer thought about the deeper issues of life that matter.

Robert Pirsig, in his celebrated work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote that our national conversation, thanks to mass media, had gotten out of control, like a mighty river flooding its banks and running shallow, silting up with debris of no lasting value.

The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated.

William Powers, in his book Hamlet’s Blackberry, warns that we will never achieve depth in our thinking if we are all the time distracted by our smartphones and tablets. Jumping from link to link, like a bird flitting from branch to branch, we find ourselves in a state of perpetual distraction, and never pause to reflect over the better elements of our lives. Two mornings of fishing have helped ease my mind as I’ve felt the stress growing due to a major presentation I am scheduled to make in exactly two weeks. Every day I work on this presentation, but thanks to the last two mornings of quiet fishing, I’ve found myself in a better state of mind and creativity to focus on the task that is coming on very quickly.

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The Carp were Active again this Morning

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Using my Size 13 Boot for Scale

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And then . . . there were the Little Ones

Thanks for reading.

 

Mind Drifting Back . . .

August 14, 2019

All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . but must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, “Lyrical Ballads”

I arrived at Dave’s Diner about thirty minutes before Dad and I agreed to break our fast here. The Missouri morning is beautiful beyond literary description–amber sunlight standing strong against the cold shadows, and our 75-degree day is not expected to climb above 88. I read this morning that my Texas home will reach 102 today. I’m fortunate to be here.

Opening my reading of Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, I meditated over several pages of his discussion of Existentialist thought, finding his words very personal and enlightening. This book has been my vacation companion for nearly two weeks now, and I hope to be blogging about its message in subsequent posts.

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Waiting for Dad at Dave’s Diner, High Ridge, Missouri

But as I read and recorded notes in the journal, my mind kept drifting back to Monday and what I experienced while fishing all day with my friend. I never thought a Missouri river could equal the beauty of a Colorado mountain stream, but I say in all earnestness that Big River on that day rose to the competition.

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Sorry Wayne! I’m not 1/10 the Photographer that You Are!

I attempted several photos with my smart phone but naturally could not approach the quality of Wayne White, my fishing friend who is also a photographer of professional standards. I tried to capture a panorama of what I saw that morning as he crossed the stream to meet up with me.

Currently, I am sitting in a Fenton, Missouri coin laundry, grateful for the technology we enjoy these days–Wi-fii, smart phone, laptop–and I feel moved to record some more of what I knew on Monday. It proved to be one of those rare days when, as a fly fisherman, it seemed I could do no wrong. I still feel that cool, breezy morning wind caressing my face as I gazed downstream at the river’s bend, admiring the golden sunlight sending shafts through the branches of the trees overhead. The whirring of the locusts provided a more suitable white noise than what I know in city life. I spent the day staring at a light green fly line that continually cut the surface of the gliding waters in front of me. Looking down at my wading boots, three feet under water, I could see them as clearly as though gazing into an aquarium. Three or four perch were surrounding me, darting between my feet, perhaps looking for edibles set adrift by the gravel I stirred. The pebbly basement beneath the gliding, reflecting surface of the waters managed to hold fast my imagination to the point that I now puzzle over how to capture that dynamic play of colors and tones in watercolor. Maybe later . . .

As the morning passed and the sun rose higher, I took delight in watching the shadowy forms of largemouth bass prowling the depths of the channels I worked.  Studying the water’s flow and watching the minnows flash in the sunlight as they surged upstream, I searched through my fly box for something to match what I observed. My joy was complete when I managed to fool five of the largemouths with my Clouser minnow fly pattern. But some of the bass were in the 18″ range, and Wayne and I have now decided to return to this location tomorrow at first light to see if we can coax some of those lunkers to take our offerings.

Today is given largely to running necessary errands as I prepare for my imminent return to Texas. Hopefully this afternoon I can take out my watercolors again on Mom and Dad’s carport and continue working on the Sedona series I began weeks ago. I have fifteen plein air watercolors that I began on location, and now am puzzzling over how to complete and sign them. I am intrigued by Wordsworth’s theory of spontaneity followed by judgment, and hope I can make that work in my watercolor as he did in his poetry.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I  journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am  not alone.

 

Excavating for an Original Idea

December 19, 2018

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Layers of Ideas Covering my Desktop

I admit that I often set up compositions to photograph for the blog, hoping they will catch attention. But I testify that the photo above is very real, and I wasn’t aware of what my desktop had become till I re-entered the room with a fresh cup of coffee. I love these moments when my reading drives me down frequent diverging paths, and I keep opening books from my library to chase down parallel references. That was what filled this particular morning.

In our digital age, we hurtle through life at unheard-of speeds, chasing every stimulus that presents itself. If order is to be restored, then time for soaking ideas is required. I have some of that now, having undergone a surgical procedure over a week ago to remove a squamous cell from the crown of my head. Now that the sticthes have finally been removed and I am no longer taking meds for pain, I feel more clear-headed to read and think over these recent ideas.

The history of literature . . . is a sum of very few ideas, and of very few original tales,–all the rest being variation of these.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

This statement from Emerson has remained with me since my earliest years of teaching. I entered the classroom in 1985, fervent in my belief that if I was diligent in my scholarship I would one day arrive at an original, publishable idea. My fervor often reached a fever pitch, similar to that seen In the film “A Beautiful Mind,” where the youthful John Nash, as a student at Princeton, searched in earnest for his original idea. Eventually he came up with governing dynamics. As for me, I have followed more the Emerson track, over the years combining ideas from various sources much like a child putting together Tinker Toys.

As the years grew into decades, I came to the realization that I was not creating original ideas, but rather weaving disparate threads from philosophy, theology, art and litetature into tapestries. I took pride that I was synthesizing, while at the same time chafing that I was not coming up with anything original. And as the years continued, I began to worry that I was only scratching the surface of thought.

Paul Tillich remained one of my patron saints as I explored the world of ideas, and I was taken by words he uttered on May 6, 1963 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, delivering the keynote address for Time magazine’s fortieth anniversary observance. His distinguished audience included Adlai Stevenson and Douglas MacArthur. As I read this address, I felt the impact as I acknowledged, with his words, that I remain the product of a “one-dimensional culture.” Tillich regarded America as a free society, but one “without depth.” The culture he described that day in 1963 has not changed from the current one in that it moves fast, with an obsession “to produce in order to produce still more.”

I now quote from Tillich’s biography authored by Wilhelm Pauck:

Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to “enter creation and unite with its power,” in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension. In a direct reference to his own role as a Socratic gadfly, he pointed out that the creative critics of contemporary society no longer needed to fear martyrdom, but were instead forced to “fight against being absorbed by the culture as another cultural good.”

As I read these words, I envisioned today’s thinker as one who water-skis over a vast ocean, skating rapidly over the surface while paying no regard to the immeasurable depths beneath. As a student of history, I see myself that way, as one who has focused on timelines and extensions, putting in little time for excavating the layers of strata beneath the surface of thought.

I am re-posting this remarkablly incisive quote from Emerson, who also saw the American thinker as one who stayed on the surface of ideas without bothering to tunnel beneath:

The crystal sphere of thought is as concentrical as the geological structure of the globe. As our soils and rocks lie in strata, concentric strata, so do all men’s thinkings run laterally, never vertically. Here comes by a great inquisitor with auger and plumb-line, and will bore an Artesian well through our conventions and theories, and pierce to the core of things. But as soon as he probes the crust, behold gimlet, plumb-line, and philosopher take a lateral direction in spite of all resistance, as if some strong wind took everything off its feet, and if you come month after month to see what progress our reformer has made,–not an inch has he pierced,–you still find him with new words in the old place, floating about in new parts of the same old vein or crust. The new book says, ‘I will give you the key to nature,’ and we expect to go like a thunderbolt to the centre. But the thunder is a surface phenomenon, makes a skin-deep cut, and so does the sage. The wedge turns out to be a rocket. Thus a man lasts but a very little while, for his monomania becomes insupportably tedious in a few months. It is so with every book and person: and yet–and yet–we do not take up a new book, or meet a new man without a pulse-beat of expectation. And this invincible hope of a more adequate interpreter is the sure prediction of his advent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Method of Nature”

Thoreau made use of this same metaphor in his masterwork, Walden:

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. 

Tillich, Emerson and Thoreau have inspired me to devote more time to drilling to the core of things. After so many decades of gathering fragments, I’m wondering now what kind of skill set is required to think with depth rather than breadth. I’m happy that the holiday season has finally arrived, the fall semester has ended, grades have been posted, and I can now relax into a season of meditation.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Morning Coffee in the Wet Wasteland

October 19, 2018

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Waking to yet another cold, wet, dark Texas rainy morning, my first thoughts were recollections of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man being read to me via audiobooks as I drove on yet another long business road trip yesterday. I’ve posted these words before, but they are always worth repeating:

Towards dawn he awoke. O what sweet music! His soul was all dewy wet. Over his limbs in sleep pale cool waves of light had passed. He lay still, as if his soul lay amid cool waters, conscious of faint sweet music. His mind was waking slowly to a tremulous morning knowledge, a morning inspiration. A spirit filled him, pure as the purest water, sweet as dew, moving as music. But how faintly it was inbreathed, how passionlessly, as if the seraphim themselves were breathing upon him! His soul was waking slowly, fearing to awake wholly. It was that windless hour of dawn when madness wakes and strange plants open to the light and the moth flies forth silently.

The serenity I felt as I drove for hours yesterday, listening to this book of abundance cannot be overstated. The theme that resounded the most with me yesterday was that notion of living a life alone. This morning, I opened the volume to a couple of texts that jarred me yesterday while driving:

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amidst of a waste of wild air . . . 

–You’re a terrible man, Stevie, said Davin, taking the short pipe from his mouth. Always alone.

Long ago, in the sermon by Paul Tillich, “Loneliness and Solitude”, I found an ace I could play repeatedly throughout my life: loneliness is the injury suffered from being alone, whereas solitude is the healing balm. And since the day I read that sermon, I have unfailingly acknowledged that I, though living and traveling alone, am very seldom lonely, instead feeling solitude. I relish the space, the internal quiet, and even the frequent feeling of disconnectedness.

It does not alarm me, the feeling of being tossed headlong into the midst of an enormous, chaotic, swirling planet that seems to follow no logical plan. Reading existential writers perhaps helped me with this sentiment. But the way I see it, I am surrounded by currents of activity that sometimes include me in the “plan”, but most of the time seem oblivious that I am here. And I don’t find this threatening. Rather, I feel a dizzying freedom to follow my bliss, live the dream.

In chapter one of Melville’s Moby Dick, Ishmael muses that Providence has cast his life as a minor role between two major plays:

“Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States”  “WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.”  “BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.”

As the world population, fixated on the news, chattered away about a presidential election or a bloody conflict, an obscure young fellow named Ishmael boarded a whaling ship and sailed out to sea. His odyssey, important to him, would go unnoticed by the world at large. And alone in that odyssey, he spun his story.

I have always had a fascination with a biblical passage that I’m sure most readers would pass over without a second thought. It is from The Prophet Jeremiah 1:1-5:

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.  It came also in the days of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.  Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

In my studies, I have read commentators writing page after page of text concerning those final words of the LORD knowing Jeremiah before he was conceived. But what has always held my attention is the larger context: Jeremiah arrived on this planet in the matrix of enormous national and political events that would hold the attention of the population of his day. As the nation of Judah swirled in the maelstrom of the news of its day, a Word came to a solitary man in a small town obscured in the shadows of the metropolis of Jerusalem. The Word of the LORD came (“happened” is a better rendering of the Hebrew text). Something HAPPENED while the world at large chased the swirling winds of the national news.

Whether it is Ishmael tossed on the unruly waves of a boundless ocean odyssey or Jeremiah receiving enlightenment in a small town, my heart quickens when I think of solitary people engaged in large ideas even as their surrounding climate is oblivious to what is going on inside them. Yesterday as I drove, I savored the text of Joyce’s Portrait, thinking of this young self-exiled writer recalling his youth in Ireland and laying out those powerful lines of text.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson suffered the loss of his wife at a tender age, and then resigned the ministry, no one accompanied him to the docks when he sailed out of Boston harbor for a two-year European odyssey, seeking some kind of purpose to his existence. A solitary man, he finally found his voice and launched New England Transcendentalism. In later years, as he penned “Self-Reliance”, he gave us this challenge:

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.  Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.  Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age . . .

In those words, all of us can find hope. We have been placed on this planet and given a number of years to find our way, to seek something that matters, to pursue our bliss and offer no apology for it. And the great majority of us are destined to obscurity. The world at large is not going to read about us, talk about us, and the footprint we leave behind may not affect a large multitude, But still, we have been given this gift, this opportunity, to explore life and decide what we wish to do. As for myself, I am still enjoying this gift of adventure, and if anything I write and send up as a smoke signal offers good to others, then I am all the more happy.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone (though being alone is O.K.)

 

Morning Coffee following a Quixotic Odyssey

October 5, 2018

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In a Small Town Diner this Morning

Driving out through the windmills

And some of them were still.

Sometimes it’s hard to catch the wind

And bend it to your will.

James Raymond

The road unrolled like an unending manuscript yesterday, which was a gift to me, seeing I needed plenty of time to think over some important matters. Tuning in to music, I was smitten by these opening words of a song composed by James Raymond, son of David Crosby, my musical hero since high school days. The lines remind me of Don Quixote, and all the silliness surrounding his adventures stemming from his unusual perception of his role in life. “Quixotic” is a label tossed around to describe those with exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical ideas about life (artists?). I know why well-meaning friends occasionally pin this word on me, it’s deserved.

So, while driving, I gave this plenty of thought, and probably resolved little. I am old enough to know the world doesn’t bend to my will or always conform to my hopeful anticipations. But I am also old enough to know that ideas are my most precious resource. And, when times turn gray, my ideas give my world the color needed to remain attractive. I write all this in good will, I am not complaining or in a resentful mode as I write this.

While drinking coffee and pondering breakfast options in a small town diner this morning, I turn again to Paul Tillich’s The Interpretation of History and enjoy his autobiographical observations in this text. As he portrays his life lived “on the boundary”, I am prompted to recall all the boundaries I have threaded in my own Quixotic Odyssey.

Among the many boundaries Tillich explored in his personal journey, one that particularly resonated with me was that difficult path between theory and practice. Like Tillich, I know I have always felt more connected to theory and therefore not always practical. But I took solace in these words:

In these years of practical activity theoretical work was not interrupted, although of course, much restricted. This period of immersion in practical work, however, in no way shook my basic devotion to the life of theory.

Like Tillich, I held down a number of practical professions throughout my life, and a number of them were soaked in practical details. And I gladly testify that, despite the numbing effect of carrying out mindless details in these jobs, they never took me completely out of the world of ideas. Tillich wrote that “the highest form of play and the truly productive abode of imagination is Art.” Those words I wholeheartedly endorse.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Morning Coffee with David & Paul Tillich

October 4, 2018

20181004_06391959835431436232020.jpg

The border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.

Paul Tillich, Religiöse Verwirklichung

A rare occasion this morning, having two hours of leisure before heading off to class. As I looked over my Logic notes for this morning’s presentation, I thought of how unusual it is to be teaching a discipline so unlike my right-brain natural instincts. Friends who have known me for years are aware of my creative, non-linear ways of approaching things. And yet, the university tagged me years ago to teach Logic more than any other course.

Throughout my public school upbringing, I struggled in math and science, while flourishing in the fine arts. During college years, I continued to feed the art beast, but woke up to the values of the left-brain disciplines. Graduate school took me further down that road, and then throughout my teaching career, I tried to strike a balance between the two.

In my reading of Paul Tillich, I’m intrigued by his volume titled The Interpretation of History, a 1936 publication during his tenure at Union Theological Seminary in New York. I was fortunate to obtain a first edition of this volume at a rare books store in the year 2000 (anyone who hasn’t visited Larry McMurtry’s “Booked Up Inc.” in Archer City, Texas should consider a life-changing visit to that location). In Part One of this book, titled “On the Boundary”, Tillich writes in confessional fashion of his life as one lived between two conflicting worlds. He explores this theme geographically, philosophically, theologically, psychologically and so on. Page after page, in excellent prose, he explores the conflicts he faced throughout his years, always seeking a way to live out his existence “on the boundary” between the two.

Very early in my study of philosophy, I discovered in Plato this notion of dualism which I used as a tool to study virtually everything. Now I’m looking at Tillich’s “boundary” motif and plan to re-explore some important matters from my personal past and present.

Tillich ink portrait

Well, it’s time to go to class . . .

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Friends

September 11, 2018

friends

Early Morning Solitude

. . . I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Yesterday afternoon, I found a break amidst all my grading and college prep work, and returned to the studio, finishing a commission that I’ve already posted several times, and then began re-working this plein air sketch I began in west Texas a couple of weeks ago. Sitting on the back bumper of my Jeep, I looked across the barren landscape and painted this amazing horizon, then quickly sketched in the railroad embankment below, but never painted the line itself or the gravel banks. Today, I tried to enrich some of the colors and shadows of the trees and horizon, began work on the railroad embankment, and then determined where the 8 x 10″ boundary should lie. Tomorrow I plan to return to the studio after my morning class, and will take a fresh look at this to see if it requires any more attention. It felt lovely to pick up the brush again.

plein air

Return to the Studio

My early morning reading today began in The Gospel of Mark where I had in a previous blog remarked on the Parable of the Sower. In the same chapter is a brief discourse on growth that I was thinking about yesterday while painting that small watercolor. As I painted, I thought about my past, and the number of silent years required to grow in artistic ability, sensitivity, and intellectual matters. When I was college-age, I envied professors of fifty years and older, because they seemed so well “seasoned” in their thinking and in their art work. When talking with them in earnest, they would usually smile and say something like, “Be patient, stay with it, results will come in time.” It took decades for that to sink in. In fact, it wasn’t until my last few years of teaching that I heard myself mouthing those same words of advice to impatient high school and college students. Yes! Deeper, more mature matters require extensive time to compost, to develop, to flower, to bring to harvest. There is no royal road, no short cut to Quality.

The amusing part of this morning’s reading is that it began with one book, the Bible. Within thirty minutes, all these other volumes were sought, opened, read, notated, and now I am attempting to describe this refreshing morning on the blog. The cumulative moments that go from one book to half a dozen books remind me of earlier days, either composing sermons for the pulpit or writing papers during my Ph.D. seminar years. And I love it! I love the pursuit, the process, following the thread, seeing where the idea is going to lead. The reading and thinking themselves are an Odyssey. Recently I was reading about sowing seed, and now the idea comes up again, from The Gospel of Mark, 4:26-29:

. . . as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of itself: first the blade, then the ear, after that the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

The above I have posted from the King James Version. This morning I read the same passage from my Geneva Bible which preceded King James by about fifty years. I enjoy struggling with the English of this era:

Alfo he faid, So is the kingdome of God, as if a man fhulde caft fede in the grounde,

And fhulde flepe, and rife vp night and day, and the fede fhulde fpring and grow vp, he not knowing how,

For the eaerth bringeth forthe frute of her felf, firft the blade, then the eares, after that ful corne in the eares.

And affone as the frute fheweth it felf, anone he putteth in the fickel, becaufe the harueft is come.

After years and years of effort in education and the making of art, I am delighted to bring some of this to harvest. The classes at the college make me feel warm inside, because finally I am pouring out matters of the heart that have taken me most of my life to grow and water and now disperse. And as for the arts, I am so blessed that three galleries have welcomed my work and finally I have enough art festivals and shows annually where I can send out my creations.

Years ago, a gentleman was in my home, and seeing the size of my personal library, he made the observation: “It doesn’t seem fair that you have hoarded all these books and put them inside a private residence. They should be ‘out there’ for others to enjoy.” I thought that was an odd assessment, and still do. I thought my response made sense, that those books were what grew me intellectually, and being a teacher, I was daily going into the classroom and attempting to pour their wealth into the minds of students. I still think of his words, and my response, which seemed to be met with indifference. But, there it is. Throughout the decades I have loved studying, thinking, writing and attempting to put the best of my ideas out there for others to read. And so also with my art–I have created a large inventory of work, but it is in the galleries and festivals, not hoarded inside my home like a private collection. And then, this blog–I write daily because I have to; it is in me. And my hope remains that whatever ideas I share will play a part in making this world better than it was the way I found it. I hope that the footprint I leave is one that can point the way for others.

And so, I close with these words from my beloved muse, Paul Tillich:

The most intimate motions within the depths of our souls are not completely our own. for they belong also to our friends, to mankind, to the universe, and to the Ground of all being, the aim of our life. Nothing can be hidden ultimately. It is always reflected in the mirror in which nothing can be concealed.

Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.