Saturday, 6 May 2017

On Magnitude

I read about the super-rich constantly building new yachts: massive, bigger than the Normandie. You need a new one, because your neighbour has a new one: bigger swimming pools, in-house submarines, helipads onboard. You need a new one with better features.
            Biggerness and betterness are often conflated. How big? How good? Is magnitude always relative? Do we know when things begin to be large?
            Big trouble is usually easy to find. But if one of the, say, top 100 wealthy feels suddenly poor as the neighbours increase, what does it say about the order of magnitude? Is smaller than the Normandie still big?
            Anselm says God is that which nothing greater can be imagined. We’ll have to define ‘God’, ‘great’, and ‘thought’. Mathematics isn’t my world, but it seems to me the numbers involved must be either very large or very small. So small they become great?
            Aquinas doesn’t buy this argument, because God is a mystery. What, then does magnitude say about the human condition? Comparison with those above (richer, smarter, happier) rather than those below (poorer, and so on) is natural, but unenlightening.
            John the Baptist understood magnitude. “He must increase; I must decrease,” he said.

Monday, 17 April 2017

On Rejection

Last night I dreamed I was new arrived again, and fell to weeping in my sleep. Those who welcomed me, rejected, accepted, attacked, tolerated or disapproved of me: I’ve forgiven you all. Some indeed have by now forgiven me.
     Why then do tears run down in sleep? Sleep, the alternative world, is peopled with the past, a treasure-store of memory:  prop-room, wardrobe, prompt-box, rehearsal space for life’s cautionary dramas.
     Proust says a cast of divinities inhabits memory: those people who have made us suffer. Recollection comes through the senses, an uneven paving-stone, for instance, and Venice appears. For me the question ‘How d’you like Australia?’— once a common expression — awakened memory to work again in sleep.
     All this was decades ago, many have died, and died heroic deaths, too. Yet in memory, in sleep, they live to perform their roles. As Proustian divinities, they’re only a metaphor: they point to the joy received when they embrace instead of doubting.
     Is life so personal? The rational mind would allow, explain, excuse, comprehend. In sleep, though, the mind recounts its private story. What I’ve learned is this: for the love of God, treat your immigrants well. The marks are indelible.

On Charlie

I miss Charlie. Sometimes I attend city hospitals for treatment, when I’ve seen Charlie, sitting on the pavement with her crossword puzzle, passing the day. I saw her tent once, pitched in St. Peter’s grounds, because homeless shelters are not felt safe for women.
     Charlie, a polite, well presented young woman, says the city is better for her than the country town. It keeps her away from bad company; she’s here to put her life together again.
     I haven’t seen her lately. Nor the man I greeted on Bourke Street, who has such terribly swollen, shoeless, blue-purple feet. The city is closing in. Some things happened. Boarding houses shut, for why? Did the land become too valuable, or were they just such unsound premises? Facilities fenced out at night, due to fights over limited resources. Flinders Street Station featured the police, who as in the times of the English Poor Law, moved people on. A better place to sleep, crowded, lighted, food and water nearby? Better than a dark lonely alley?

     I’d miss Charlie less if I knew she was in a warm, dry, safe place. I can’t forget her little fingerless gloves, her courteous conversation, her half-finished crossword puzzle.     

Sunday, 2 April 2017

On Superstition

Excess fear of the gods. I’ve experienced, and others do report, an absence or shunning (friends, colleagues, even family) in the presence of misfortune, especially death: more particularly sudden or violent death. Where some respond generously, others flee through superstition.
 ‘They need rest and quiet’ (assumption never plumbed); ‘I wouldn’t invade their privacy: so, so private’ (imposed, unrequested isolation); ‘I wouldn’t know what to say’ (unspoken words protecting self-esteem). Superstition is located low in the brain; I liken it to fear of contagion, following an epidemic. Death is the ultimate malady.
            Superstition is concerned with luck and the means of controlling fortuitous events. Where there’s no rational way of confronting chance, deflecting randomness, becoming safe, quite unconsciously I have no doubt, minds turn magical: feelings freeze.
            The gods that are feared, of fate, destiny, circumstance, attract these silencing prayers although one hopes for help from gods and not rejection. The Beatitudes say mourners will be comforted, but Beatitudes may be expressive of all the opposites. In the Kingdom of God, comfort will come.

            These gods of superstition are not the God of truth and justice, of living water that flows and is not still. That’s my personal observation.

Monday, 27 March 2017

On the Civilised Heart

The civilised mind is full of wisdom and past regard. But what is the civilised heart? A direct answer would be Bach. Why civilisation at all, with barbarity so entertaining?
            I attended a Choral Scholarship Appeal yesterday. The high arts have always needed patrons; benefactors have many calls on their resources. Why is the training of these young singers important? Why are sixteen voices more beneficial than eight? Could every cent given to music, painting, or literature better serve with the poor?
            In seeking the welfare of the city, attention (a form of therapy) must be given to the sense or significance of values. Barbarity in the form of greed heaps up riches while the soul may be required before nightfall. How to understand human fate or come to terms with divine matters?
            Civilisation refers to societies with highly developed arts, sciences, religion and government; not fundamentalism, despotism, denial (whether unscientific or unhistorical), illiteracy of language, arts, or music. It’s a privilege to be a civilised person, to act with civility.

            Where knowledge meets human feeling, the heart is civilised to consider other than self. So yes, it is important. The arts provide a civilised heart.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

On Going Slow

Lent is a desert. It partakes of that holy isolation beloved of early church ascetics, in contrast to those who dwell naturally in the desert, who may find it quite a crowded place. For there are invisible cities and rungs of association, even in the most spacious desert.
            It’s called quaresima, ‘forty days’. As if these were the only 40 days there are. In Advent, we look forward, but in Lent we look back. Our whole salvation history lies in Lent. And we have time to repent: slowly, lento, as music wants to reflect on a phrase or develop a theme.
            Thank God, we can stop pretending to be what we are not: invincible, immortal, insatiable. We consume less. Live as Ecclesiastes says, between frugality and feast. We jettison what will not float: I like to start with prejudices (still got many). We exercise the virtue of moderation.
            Why Lent? Why the liturgical year at all? Why liturgy, come to that? The liturgies of antiquity were obligations of the rich to civic benefaction, keeping the city in everything:  aqueducts, baths, libraries, public banquets. A liturgy lasted all year. We could embrace a Lenten liturgy: giving up, and taking up.


Friday, 24 February 2017

On Reliability

Reliability: not the most glamorous quality, you say. Charm, energy, strength, creativity, self-expression being more engaging. Charisma and dominance stand out from the crowd. Spectacle makes an impression. Which would you rather be, impressive or reliable? Who would you rather trust?
            Unreliability in big public systems leaves thousands without power and takes down the phones. Health and communications need reliability. Unreliability in private curates anxieties and dramas. Reliability charges the batteries and fills the tank. Reliability watches your back.
             Reliability partakes of the virtue of justice, that gives back to everything what belongs to it. While we ache to be noticed and long to be stars, reliability is also divine. God is said to be plenteous in steadfast love: reliable attentiveness.
            Watchful attention, care and cultivation, being there at the right time: all are godly qualities. Picking up the pieces, setting out a wholesome order, healing, cure and holding on: assisted by reliability. Wouldn’t you like someone to do all this for you? And think of the skill, concentration, commitment and desire you show when you exercise the divine process of being reliable for others. Value it in yourself. Treasure it in others. On it the world spins.