I've never been to a Pentecostal meeting in which people speak in tongues, which I suppose surprises me a bit, because my sister turned Pentecostal in her thirties. But I certainly read a good bit of poetry and see a fair amount of art that makes me realize that people have paths to ultimate reality so very different from my own.
In recent years, folks focus a lot on "an artist's way of seeing" or on "poets against the war". One must have special eyes. One must have special status. All authority derives from one's special eye, one's special heart. That's the problem, of course, with gifts of the Spirit. They have a way of being parceled out unequally. I do like that tag, though, that even if one speaks in the tongues of all kindsa folks and even angels, if one lacks love, it all comes to nothing.
Sometimes I think that all the various big ideas and great notions are not competitors but a tapestry. I like the thing Mary Cassatt said about Cezanne: "He prefaces every remark with 'Pour moi it is so and so', but he grants that everyone may be as honest and as true to nature from their convictions; he doesn't believe that everyone should see alike".
Many of us, including myself, do not see in so very many ways. I am not a particularly literal person, nor am I a person with great leaps of insight. I put together in my mind a tapestry of ideas and notions, and they seem to suffice. This means that I am not a scientist or a poet (or rather, a good poet). I am instead an attorney who seeks out truth in a patchwork of facts. Sometimes I get a flash of insight about a truth I am seeking, but the process largely involves the right kind of hard work rather than any particular "gift" for the tasks. A few "jury lawyers" have a gift of charm which is invaluable, but I tend to get by in life through preparation and execution more than fatal charisma.
Law school came fairly easily to me, although when I say "easily" I should qualify that by saying that I worked very hard at it, and my work was rewarded with good grades. But a lot of kids who worked extremely hard at law school, after "straight A" undergraduate careers,got only mediocre grades in law school. It took more than hard work to "make the grade"--it also took the right kind of hard work. It's not how much you try, but how well.
I think even as I sit here in the too-wee hours of a Saturday morning, that right now in some land grant university, somebody working on a dissertation toils endlessly on a project that may not work. I remember the fellow I knew in college who lost his chance to get a Ph.D. because he kept blowing up the laboratory. I remember he fumed with rage and indignation because he was only to receive a Master of Science in chemistry, an attainment only a small portion of people can achieve, but to him represented failure. If only life rewarded midnight hours with dawn success in each instance! But it's all much more complex than that.
That's the ephemeral trap built into a worship of success. The best coffee shop in the world may still be put out of business by the Starbucks across the street. Many of the most earnest writers I know are not the best writers I know.
I got an e mail from Graham MacKintosh today, telling me that he's got a new book to read. I was pleased to hear from him (apparently a contact because I reviewed his works on Amazon), because I really like his book "Into a Desert Place". He's the Brit schoolteacher who decided to walk the entire perimeter of Baja California. His point was that as the most ordinary, unremarkable person imaginable, he could show kids stuck on the dole that one can have an adventure without money or any particular talent for doing so. I like his books because he is so very down to earth, sentimental and non-literary--a man in the desert with his heart on his sleeve. I think it's a virtue to just live a fun life without genius. I have, by the way, a longing to have a pet burro I do not think I'd have but for his books.
I think that a key to truly living is to open oneself to other ways of seeing, and other modes of thought. The world has too many poets, and not enough readers. I don't mean that in a haughty way (fortunately, I lack the attainments to be haughty in this vein), as I've read far too many "I've published and you've not, so I must have talent and you don't" essays by too many would-be-chic writers trying to scare off the competition. I mean instead that I love kaleidoscopes, and the kaleidoscopes of ideas I love the best.
We went last night to Campisi's, an outlet of Dallas' "first" pizza restaurant. They make pizza with a hard crust there, rather more like a flour-y cracker than a dough-y concoction. As we sat in a crowded restaurant in Plano with quiet storm jazz playing (which music I found satisfying, and my wife found annoying), I thought, as I often do, about all those lives of folks I'll never meet,
gathered together on a Friday night enjoying a camaraderie of an atmosphere they share, even though they do not even meet one another. A lot of life seems that way to me--sharings with strangers.
I tend to see everything as religious. I don't mean by this that I think that there is some lockstep plan to lead humanity to some desired goal. I think that the road to Heaven is littered with the wrecked cars of folks who knew the One True Way to live life. I personally find the atheist as religious as the most devout monotheist in many instances. When I say I see everything as "religious", I mean that trying to construct meaning in life, and living life as if it matters even when it seems short and meaningless, seems so important to me. But all the constructs and all the ways of relating to life really don't impress me unless they have a sense of compassion about them. Sojourner Truth said "Religion without humanity is poor human stuff".
I think that truth is an elusive thing. One thinks one has found some holy scroll, telling one how to live life. Then a scientist comes along and tells one that the universe was formed in two billion years, not seven days, and one must adjust. Brilliant theorists lay out the framework for a social order in which want and inequity are erased, but the first folks to put it into practice turn it into a way to oppress people and entrench their own power over others. It's hard not to fall in love with one's own way of looking at life. Peter Abelard once asked "grant that we may seek diligently for the truth in our several callings, and may learn to love the truth more than our own cleverness".
I see the truth sometimes in paintings, or read it sometimes in an essay. But I also see little truths when I do a kindness spontaneously, as if it were a natural thing to do. I must confess that sometimes I wish that I could write a brilliant novel, or that some spiritual or intellectual force called me to some ministry, or some great discovery. But I think that this desire to be great sometimes inhibits me from being good.
I think that one can accept almost anything, except oneself.
It's so easy to sit in that metaphoric church, listening to people much more inspired than oneself speak in tongues of angels, and feel a bit unimportant and envious. It's much more difficult--and yet essential--to learn to live with oneself, even if, like me, one is nobody all that talented or important.
I like to think that I ask myself more often "was I kind?" than "was I brilliant?". To the extent I don't, I intend to begin. I want to live a livable life, one that matters to me. It doesn't matter what ribbons I attain, but what I learn and how I relate to other folks. The fun thing about living is that one can enjoy a great song, or a great novel, or a cool bit of technology, and yet not be a singer, novelist or scientist. That's not to say that folks shouldn't sing or write or experiment. I am all for swinging for the fences. But it seems to me that it's not so much about how many home runs that one hits, but how one plays the game.