Posts Tagged ‘Paul Tillich’

The Oracle Comes in the Morning

May 28, 2018

coffee 2

Coffee, Books and Democritus

coffee

My New Passion–the French Press

. . . there is generally some kind of message, some guidance that appears. It comes more readily if I do not stridently demand it; if I listen to my “deeper” self, sooner or later it will speak to me. The message which forms itself out of the darkness and the vapor–when one does come–often takes me by surprise. This is generally a sign of its authenticity. This third phase owes a good deal to my Protestant-Christian background. It would be surprising if I could cut off my cultural body, nor do I want to.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

How sublime, these moments when I can stop after weeks of art-related engagements and festivities. Before and after my morning walk, I was afforded the pleasure of reading Rollo May from his books Paulus and My Quest for Beauty. With French press coffee to sip and soothing YouTube music filling my room, I read this portion posted above about Rollo May’s morning meditation practices in the office before his appointments began.

Reading about this morning watch resonated with me profoundly, and I haven’t been able to discuss this easily with friends and acquaintances. In my early college years, as I participated in the Baptist Student Union, I was introduced to his notion of Daily Quiet Time, and the practice soothed me in the midst of college studies and then later as I did the work of the pastoral ministry.  Those days are far behind me now, but my second life as a teacher for three decades found me practicing a daily morning watch of some sort. This practice continued to serve as a compass for my classroom navigations.

Long ago, I came to expect some kind of oracle, some kind of message, a Word, as I lingered over books and my own hand-scribbled journals first thing every morning. The Greek notion of word (logos) can be construed as a “gathering together.” An idea would emerge from the gloom most mornings, and I would take that idea seriously, using it as a pole star to lead me through the days ahead. And every time I read from another creative spirit of how s/he listened for this inner voice, I feel that I have gained yet another soul mate in life and feel less lonely, less isolated in this odyssey.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

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Finding a Home for my Intellectual Heroes

March 9, 2017

Tillich (2)

All arts create symbols for a level of reality which cannot be reached in any other way.

Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

I am posting a photo of this collage I created in 1989, my second year of teaching.  Paul Tillich became one of my intellectual heroes and guiding forces as I developed a course in the Humanities at Lamar High School in Arlington, Texas.  In 1996, when I transferred to Martin High School across the city, I imported Tillich into my Philosophy classes.  He, along with Emerson, Thoreau and Nietzsche were my main pillars as I sought to challenge students to think independently, to find their own voice.

As I have wound my way through this final year of teaching, approaching retirement, I often looked up at Tillich’s portrait from my school desk, thankful for all that he brought to my interior life. Today I’ll say Good-Bye to this image, as a graduate from this school returns from the university to purchase him.  I’m always pleased when a student thinks enough of one of my heroes to buy my artwork created in tribute.  Earlier this school year, a current student in my art history class purchased my framed collage of Gerhard von Rad, another hero of mine that unfortunately I could not work into my curriculum with the depth that I did Tillich.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Art as a Healing Balm

March 4, 2017

home

“Art still has truth, take refuge there!

Matthew Arnold, “Memorial Verses April 1850”

Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking before an adult Sunday School group at a local church. Most of this day was given to preparing my remarks, taking Matthew Arnold’s statement as my point of departure. A number of things have happened around me that have saddened a large number of people whom I love, and the tragedies have been mine as well. We lack satisfying answers when grief invades our lives, and sometimes it is all I can do to pick up the brush and go through that portal into the sanctuary of art, and give healing a chance. Thanks to time spent watercoloring, and resuming my reading of Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, I have managed to find some quality in this day.

The day has been cold and rainy, and I felt it necessary to keep a fire burning in the fireplace. In the comfort of that warmth, and ignoring the grayness outside as much as possible, I returned to this watercolor and have nearly finished it. The setting is the farmhouse where my grandparents lived in southeast Missouri. The old building is barely standing today, and no longer has the front porch where I have positioned myself with a guitar I purchased from my late uncle’s estate. Of course, being twelve hours away from this location, I had to settle for a selfie taken in my backyard. Only in my memories can I place myself on the porch of that ramshackle house where I used to spend the summers of my childhood.

I’m pleased that this painting has turned out good enough to frame and put into my March 24th show. Barring any unforeseen difficulties, I’ll complete it tomorrow and deliver it to the frame shop on Monday.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to cope.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Not the Rooftops of Paris, but Dark and Rainy Nevertheless, and Quite Good

February 20, 2017

 

grandma

Second Day on a 20 x 16″ Watercolor

But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the litle oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.  I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Waking early this morning to a dark and rain-soaked world, I was glad not to go to work but to do as I please for the entire day.  Late last night I had begun work on a new watercolor of a Blues theme that I used to pursue fervently, but had stopped doing in recent years.  Soon I’ll release details on a new One-Man-Show that has been offered me, and I would love to complete some Blues art to hang in this venue.  I chose as a backdrop for the painting my grandmother’s abandoned house.  Then I took some selfies in my backyard, holding my late uncle’s pre-World War II Gibson archtop guitar.  I have high expectations for this composition and have already enjoyed a full morning of layering washes and drybrush details into the piece.  I’m taking my time with it.

As I worked, I dialed up on Netflix “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.”  When I’m painting, I love listening to movies, documentaries, and YouTube lectures.  They keep my mind engaged. And as this film rolled, my mind went back to some intense reading I enjoyed a few winters ago: Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Carlos Baker’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story.  And as I worked, I thought of all those times when I’ve struggled over whether to make art, read, or write when I had time to myself.  This weekend has produced another one of those environments for me that I love so much–what Paul Tillich referred to often as “creative eros”, an urge to create, period.  And when I find myself unable to resolve whether to paint, draw, read, write, or just sit in a comfortable chair with coffee to think and do nothing else–I realize that life could not possibly be better.

desk

Working on a New Lecture Series

Just before the weekend arrived, I discovered that among the post-retirement options offered to me this coming fall is a chance to teach Ethics at the university for the first time. Pulling from my shelf a volume from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I was surprised to find myself absorbed in a very lengthy History of Ethics article.  This came as a surprise because I seldom find myself interested for very long in an encyclopedia entry, particularly one that goes on for page after page after page, four columns staring back at me every time I turn the page.  But this article has really taken me in new directions.  For decades I have been interested in the history of philosophy, but usually focused on metaphysics and theories of knowledge, never ethics.  Now, as I read the ethical portions of these philosophers and schools, I am amazed at the new ideas I’m grafting onto the structures already learned.  The new directions are quite exciting.

Reading this article has also led me back to a famous book that I have never successfully stayed with over the decades: Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Now, having read twenty-seven pages and scribbling out a pile of notes, I feel that I am finally into this book as well. The reading of just these two sources has already produced pages and pages of journal entries, paragraphs, diagrams and illustrations of new ideas waiting for further development.

creel-redone

“Thinking About the Next Catch”

Last night I received my email notification that the piece pictured above has been accepted to show in the 32nd Annual Texas & Neighbors Regional Art Exhibition to be held at the Irving Arts Center April 29-June 3. There were 585 pieces juried, and 75 selected.  Over the years, I have visited this show and always wished to participate, but continually missed the application deadline.  Thanks to an artist friend, I met the deadline this year, and now am very happy for this opportunity of hanging one of my pieces with works selected from Texas and several neighboring states.

The weekend has been full and rewarding.  Thank you for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Finding the Seam

March 6, 2016

Finding the Seam

My Watercolor from Several Years Back

I admit that this is highly unorthodox, but I’m going to post the talk I’m planning on giving before the Samaritan Sunday School class at the First Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas later this morning (hoping that none of the class members will find and read this in advance). This is a class of adults that I came to love deeply about twenty years ago when I was asked on a number of occasions to speak before them.  They even invited me to attend a weekend retreat at Lake Murray Lodge in Oklahoma, serving as a conference speaker.  The memories of them have always been rich, even though we drifted in different directions over the past decades. Recently they found me again and invited me back last Sunday.  Today I will close out my series with them.  Thanks for reading:

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back.

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast.

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.       
Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots as it cuts through the banks, I hear Maclean’s words coming back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all.

What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness.

Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

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.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

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.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow.

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.

 

[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.

My Annual Rustic Christmas Gallery

December 8, 2015

image

But in the end, in the end one is alone. We are all of us alone. I mean I’m told these days we have to consider ourselves as being in society… but in the end one knows one is alone, that one lives at the heart of a solitude.
Harold Bloom

Too many of my friends regard a quote such as the one above as depressing.  I don’t see that at all.  Looking back over my life span, I have felt alone, even while in the midst of rich relationships.  My recent reading of Harold Bloom has opened so many avenues of thought, that I find it fortunate to have some “alone time” to sort through them all.  And I like it.  In the final week before Christmas, I will introduce my Philosophy class to the thought of Paul Tillich, a philosopher/theologian who had much to say about the qualities of being alone.  He called the positive aspects of alone-ness “solitude” and the negative aspects “loneliness.”  I can appreciate that difference, and have known both worlds.

The part of my life given to making art, reading and writing is a solitary enterprise, as far as I’m concerned.  And I find those moments to be sublime, not lonely or depressing. When reading Hemingway’s comments in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”), I’m saddened to think of those who suffer loneliness when engaged in creative acts.

Above, I have posted a photo of my classroom gallery that I set up the final two weeks before dismissing for the Christmas holidays.  When the gallery is in place, I stay in my classroom until 4:00 every school day.  Since I finish teaching at 12:20, it makes for a long and solitary afternoon if no one comes into the classroom.  But that is time well-spent as I catch up on my reading and sketching.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

Thinking Across the Boundaries

October 6, 2015

image

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

While students in A. P. Art History were researching and writing in their reflective journals about the fin-de-siecle era of art history, I scratched out some quick sea shell sketches, while thinking back over my recent Laguna Madre visit. Looking up at a quote from Paul Tillich taped to my cabinet in the front of the classroom, I found my mind moving from Tillich to the lagoon environment to the issue of thinking, and wrote the following in my journal (I’m repeating it now, in case the photo is bad or my handwriting illegible):

While thinking back on the Laguna Madre experience, I found the littorals separating sand from the hypersaline waters an interesting metaphor. Paul Tillich always claimed that his knowledge was gleaned “on the borderline” that separated disciplines. I can make the same claim for myself. I have always been absorbed deeply by the arts, literature, philosophy and religion, but many times did not enjoy the actual classes that were taught by those who seemed to know nothing except the subject they taught. Now as a public school teacher, I hear the administrators stressing “writing across the curriculum”. Well, how about “thinking across the curriculum”? I detest the bell schedules and passing periods when they become barriers separating the subjects. I believe that students can gain genuine knowledge and insight in those borders that link the subjects. When studeents enter my art history class, I do not want them to think that literature, science and math are now closed. Thinking should transcend the borderlines imposed by learning institutions.

Thanks for reading.

I draw in order to relax and think.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Morning Ruminations

August 1, 2015

My books I’d fain cast off, I cannot read,

‘Twixt every page my thoughts go stray at large

Down in the meadow, where is richer feed,

And will not mind to hit their proper targe.

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Rising at 5:33 on a summer Saturday morning was not in my plans. But in my waking moments, I reached for my phone and found this amazing greeting from an old friend of mine:

What a great night on the river. I was tight line fishing from the yak when I got a visitor. An otter swam right up to the yak close enough that I could reach out and touch it. He played around the yak for awhile and disappeared into the darkness. When I headed for the ramp he showed up along side of me and followed for a ways down the river and then disappeared. It was amazing.

The author, Wayne White, I have known since second grade. He is a farrier now situated on a great spread west of St. Louis, not far from historic Route 66. http://www.doubledacres.com/  Anyone who considers him/herself an outdoor enthusiast should check out his Bourbeuse River blog:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1580956622121509/

It has been my dream to join Wayne on the river for some serious fishing and exploring. He also has a penetrating artist’s eye with his camera. And it has been years since I’ve been in a boat cruising a river for fishing and sketching.

After catching up on Wayne’s exciting life style, I decided I needed to get some breakfast on the table: some coddled eggs (love those English coddlers my friend Dinah secured for me in an antique shop recently), Greek yogurt with pineapple, blueberries, buttered toast with peach jam (thank YOU, Jill, for the jam!), V-8 and coffee.

Early Saturday Morning Breakfast

Early Saturday Morning Breakfast

Breakfast was a satisfying experience this morning, but I would trade it quickly for what my friend Wayne does on his mornings:

Following breakfast, it was time to settle into my favorite chair and let a sage from yesterday prod my thoughts . . .

Go where we will on the surface of things, men have been there before us. . . . But the lives of men, though more extended laterally in their range, are still as shallow as ever. Undoubtedly, as a Western orator said, “Men generally live over about the same surface; some live long and narrow, and others lived broad and short”; but it is all superficial living. . . . The frontiers are not east or west, north or south, but wherever a man fronts a fact, though that fact be his neighbor, there is an unsettled wilderness between him and Canada, between him and the setting sun, or, farther still, between him and it. Let him build himself a log-house with the bark on where he is, fronting IT, and wage there an Old French war for seven or seventy years, with Indians and Rangers, or whatever else may come between him and the reality, and save his scalp if he can.

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers 

As I read the sage’s words concerning the “frontier” and one’s act of “fronting” reality, I recalled his famous text recorded later in Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Thoreau built his cabin on Walden Pond, remarking that Harvard had taught him all the branches of learning, but none of the roots. It was time for him to front nature directly, to see if he could learn from her. This sentiment has always stirred me deep within: all formal education is secondhand; if God grant we live long after graduation, we can devote the rest of our lives to exploring this enveloping world and sorting out all these wonders that approach us, offering themselves to us. When theologian Paul Tillich was nearing the end of his life, he expressed gratitude to our country for giving him a new start after the Third Reich expelled him from German universities. He said that American universities were free, yet superficial–we study the surfaces as we survey our histories, but never get to the depths of what matters. He challenged us to restore the vertical dimension to education. This has haunted me throughout my decades in the classroom. I cannot teach a student to think, but hopefully I can challenge him/her to nurture that natural human curiosity within that desires to explore. Aristotle opened his Metaphysics with “All persons by nature desire to know.” Immanuel Kant, in his “What is Enlightenment” challenged his readers: “Sapere aude! (dare to know)”.

I resumed something started late last night–experimenting with textures by pushing a sharpened 8H pencil into the surface of the paper, and then skating lightly over the top of it with a 6B pencil, showing the creases left by the hard pencil beneath. I experimented with the textures on the shell of this crab carcass I brought back from the island last month. Then I also played with both pencils, layering them in the background tones. I still have plenty to learn from this.

Expermenting with Pencil Drawing of Blue Crab

Expermenting with Pencil Drawing of Blue Crab

My workspace is starting to pile up, so I guess it’s time to tidy up a bit, then go after the chores that are waiting for me today.

drawings

drawings

Thanks for reading.

I draw in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Buried in the Work, and Ecstatic

June 2, 2015
So Little Time. So Many Books

So Little Time. So Many Books

An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, . . . to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man

I found an amazing thread of continuity among some of the divines I’ve been reading lately: Ian Roberts, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and Andrew Wyeth. Each in his own way addressed the notion of getting at a subject directly and honestly, with no decorative scrollwork. Hence my recent interest in creating “vignette” compositions with my watercolors, leaving plenty of undefined boundaries so the viewer can have imaginative room to enter the composition. Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams addressed this in literary fashion with their “Imagism” theories. Andrew Wyeth addressed it when he said the strength of a composition is not what the artist puts into the picture, but what s/he leaves out. Hemingway, during his early years of writing in Paris, acknowledged that he created his best work when he cut out all the ornamental prose as so much scrollwork, and returned to the truest sentence that always began his writing. And so, in recent sketches and compositional studies, I have been creating simpler works of art, and plan to do that when I get to the Gulf later.

Another theme I am trying to work out is that which involves the boundary or tension between two features. I’ve been reading Paul Tillich this week, fascinated with his focus on the littoral zone separating ocean from beach, and how he continually applied this to his studies in philosophy, theology, art and psychology. He once wrote that “the border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.” I have always enjoyed working this idea in my philosophy and art history classes, but now wish to push it in my own theories of aesthetics as I pursue my watercolor attempts.

In closing, I’m going to post this crayon drawing I dug out of my closet last night when I was foraging for watercolor paper for my next project. I didn’t know I still had it: the earliest “work of art” from my personal collection. When I was in third grade, my teacher entered this drawing in the districtwide art contest, grades 1-12. I still remember entering the high school gymnasium and seeing my matted work hung on the wall among hundreds and hundreds of student works of art. If the Presocratics and Aristotle were right in saying “the end is in the beginning,” then perhaps I ought to look at this one more closely and see if I recognize any of my own features in it.

My Earliest Saved Artwork--Third Grade

My Earliest Saved Artwork–Third Grade

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Time to Reflect, to Compost, to Nurture and Grow

February 22, 2015

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life. Until now the progress has been “at the face” but not yet of any magnitude, and it has yet to be seen whether or not the direction of the tunnel is right.

Karl Barth, letter to Eduard Thurneysen March 17, 1920

I am buried in my study with stacks of grading to do, and now face a possible shut-in situation as winter weather threatens my part of the country. There exists the possibility of my city icing over tonight and school being canceled tomorrow (darn). Taking advantage of the quiet, the dark and the cold, I have found ways to enjoy this Sunday, despite the grading. I opened a volume of my Karl Barth correspondences to his comrade in the early part of the past century, because I always remembered his satisfaction of working all day in his study with a continuous plume of smoke rising from his pipe. I don’t smoke, but I am pleased with the nonstop aroma of coffee that has charmed my study during this frigid, dark day. An added bonus is the conviction that this coffee is managing to keep me alert as I pore over pages and pages of scrawled words from my students.

The Philosophy journals are filling me with satisfaction today, as I note a number of students seizing on something I mentioned in a recent roundtable seminar. I told them that high school schedules are set up with seven-minute passing periods between the classes, with the expectation for students to push aside what they have just learned in one subject in order to focus on a new one. Knowledge and grades are compartmentalized by subject, with no connective tissue between them, despite educational buzz-words like “writing across the curriculum” or “integrated learning.” The schools do not provide for any of this, as far as I can determine. The bell rings and it is time to put away the stuff from one class and pass on to the next. Just exactly when are they expected to integrate all this material, while they’re working their evening jobs or doing their homework?

Last year, I atteded a national AVID conference in Orlando, Florida. It featured two days of packed schedules of sessions, with only a few minutes separating each, much like a typical high school bell schedule. In one of the ballroom sessions, I had the immense privilege of listening to Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the  University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His words reached to my core, often bringing me to the point of tears. The moment he finished, the facilitator took the microphone and informed us we had five minutes to get to our next session. I knew I would not go. I found the hotel coffee bar, sat at a table, opened my journal, and wrote for ninety minutes, pondering and savoring every thought, every impulse I had experienced during this President’s address, a sacred moment in my life. It was then that I came across this idea I am now publishing–schools do not allow time to compost, to process, to water the seeds of inspiration planted from some subject, some encounter. We are expected to close our notebooks and file into the next session. Rollo May published in his tribute to Paul Tillich his own personal habit of walking in the park after a meaningful lecture:

I had had brilliant professors or colorful ones or ones who cared about communicating knowledge or were profound in their reflection on the human predicament.  But I had never had one who brought all these things together. Three words summarize [Paul Tillich’s] lectures for me: universality, depth, and caring. . . . In my solitary walks in Riverside Park after his class to let the ideas sink in, I was filled with a profound seriousness and joy, not only about the truths I had heard but also about my own life and the decisions I had to make.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

I am now reading Philosophy journal responses with great delight, as high school students share with me their thanks for my providing them that occasional space to “soak” what they are learning, and to integrate it with other subjects, and most importantly their personal life goals and aspirations. I guess sometimes they do hear and feel what we have to say to them.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.