Sermon to the Living

Quarter of ten.

I’ve gotten back some of my confidence and motivation since yesterday. It only took actually doing something: working up my nerve and getting out of the house to do something different. I’d been stuck in a bad cycle, never doing anything for me, and beating myself up. It’s okay to have some fun and forget about the pandemic. Without pleasure and happiness, life is for nothing. Be selfish for a change and spread a little happiness around you. I disregard what St Paul said about self regard; Plato’s position on this is more useful. It’s important to respect yourself, for if you don’t, then it’s a recipe for depression and ill health. So, yesterday I indulged in a little fun, and the sky didn’t fall. It’s a mistake to think that our duty is to feel depressed. The very opposite is true to keep us sane and healthy… It’s a beautiful sunny morning in October. The leaves on the trees are changing, and today I’m living in the here and now, with some anticipation of the future. However, the past is not a bucket of ashes, because our past achievements give us confidence to achieve even more good things. It’s a series of ups and downs with no finish line.

Ten thirty five. It is possible to be selfish and generous simultaneously. Being selfish doesn’t necessarily mean hoarding or thieving, coveting, or whatever. It means being prudent and using your own judgment. You take care of your own needs first, and then help others to their particular happiness. Trying to be selfless is really to be soulless, and a soulless person is no use to anybody. And everyone’s happiness is something different and peculiar to them. So, a collective eudaemonia makes no sense. “One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” 

Benefit of the Doubt

I just remembered something from two years ago, around this time in October. It was occasioned by paying my utility bill and having it be no sweat. Two years ago I was still living in the trailer with Aesop. What got me through the whole fire disaster was a Pollyanna kind of optimism and belief in divine providence. But in October, Polly and her son came looking for me. And then a few weeks later, she made some cynical remarks about my remodeled home, after which I began to lose my faith in the same providence. I never recovered this optimism, and then in March, Covid hit us. But now I’m thinking that there’s nothing to prevent me from being an optimist again, even though it’s hard to maintain in the midst of a pandemic. Pastor himself has been very gloomy for a long time, giving sermons about the devil and such.

Maybe a revolution in thought can help restore the church to the happy thing it used to be prior to March of 2020. I mean, maybe it’s up to me to change my thinking and bring this back to my church so that everyone will be happy. If this is true, then what do I do with my sister and her family? Or perhaps I’m trying to take too much responsibility.

I used to believe that the good things that happened to me were a heaven’s reward for not drinking anymore. There’s no evidence for this either way, so why not give it the benefit of the doubt?

It looks like I have two families: biological, and the Lutheran church. I felt a lot happier before Polly came back into my life. The circumstances around all of us have changed a great deal with the pandemic, yet the way we think about it might make a big difference in our power over it. Now I’m thinking like another William Blake. I think it’s necessary to change our attitudes in general and to exclude no one from the global community. Consider it one big church of humankind.

Those are my thoughts for right now. They might be different tomorrow.

Misfit Flowers

Nine o’clock.

I got a better sleep last night than usual. Then I got up and saw my street shrouded in fog. Aesop didn’t like the canned food I gave him this morning but he dutifully chowed it down, expecting to get doggie pepperoni a little later. Heather at the store was wearing a black T-shirt with a logo that boasted of her clean time with a touch of humor. The opossum that lives under the house is beginning to get on my nerves. I’ll have to set a live trap for him and let Damien take care of it… I’m contemplating selling my American made Fender bass because I can’t get a good sound out of it. It’s probably the ultra light tuners they put on it. The bass sounds tinny and not very beefy no matter what I do with it… Though it seems like I’m complaining, I actually feel pretty good right now. I’m a bit anxious for being truant from church this morning. Que sera, sera. They can kick me out if they want to. My parents were never religious and I was raised without it. I guess I’m in a different mood from yesterday.

Ten twenty five. I made it through my dad’s anniversary last month. My mind is still weighing two things, Lucretius or Lutherans, and today I teeter towards the former. In a spiritual way, you really are what you read. But the choice of what you read is driven by you, so the only thing that matters is down to your soul… The fog is lifting… If the soul is a flower garden of instincts, then what constitutes a weed? Should it be allowed to grow, though it be shaped and colored like something out of this world? It might be a shame to uproot it, if this were even possible. What does a truly free society look like…? The sun comes out, shining with equity on everything that grows. “Everything that lives is holy.” 

Eternal Truth

Quarter after eleven.

The heat has an impact on me with or without air conditioning, but I’m very fortunate to be as comfortable as I am. The email scammer tried to get a response from me early this morning. I trashed his message without opening it. Skeptics of the virus think it’s cute not to wear a mask in public. They make jokes about getting away with it, as if the compliers were stupid. It’s an individual thing, though it would benefit us if everybody played by the same rules. Michelle the store clerk wears a mask because she has diabetes. I wear one because someone in my family was sick with Covid…

I was thinking again that people need more beauty in their lives. Are beauty and truth allied with each other or rather at odds? Reality is pretty ugly today, but reality and truth are different things. Truth is eternal, reality transitory. And if truth doesn’t exist then we’re screwed. My mind goes to the rock band Yes and their 1996 release Keys to Ascension. “How did heaven begin?” Evidently we created it in a manner like William Blake, by sheer mental fight and poetic language. In All Religions Are One he suggests that the True Man is the same as the Poetic Genius… But it’s hard to write about this when my Romantic faith is flimsy, my conviction shaky. Also it’s difficult to pull it off all alone. Is anybody else with me?

Noon hour. The air quality is bad today; they say it’s unhealthy to sensitive groups. Another intrusive fact… Now they’re saying it’s unhealthy for everyone… Obviously it’s from wildfire smoke. I just looked it up on the internet. I only hope it won’t be like the situation last September. 

Snowmelt

Two thirty.

Well I gave my French book of Mallarme a cursory flap and found much of it unreadable, like pure nonsense, the drivel of a lunatic: psychobabble in a word. This discovery is a sign that I’m recovering from the illness more and more with time. I ought to be much more coherent now than last winter, not to mention years ago as a churchgoer. I may wish there were an Ideal dimension to the universe, but unveiling it is beyond all method… It is emotional reasoning to posit the spiritual universe; saying I feel it, therefore it must be true, but after this comes the burden of proof. It’s a difficult call to make. Is it right to categorically reject everything arrived at by intuition? And here I’ve opened up the same old can of worms as last winter. If my intuition is blind, it doesn’t make everyone else blind. I remember gifting Pastor that volume of William Blake six months ago, thinking of a particular passage in the Europe prophecy. Isaac Newton blows the last trumpet of doom, after which the angels fall from heaven and crash to the earth. In other words, scientific discovery knocks religion down. It is neither a good or bad situation; it simply is. Or maybe Blake thinks the blow to religion is regrettable… By the way, Blake is another one of those unintelligible poets, like James Joyce toward the end. Word salad. Psychosis… I don’t even know by what means I’ve been thinking since the end of springtime. Things either make sense to me or they don’t. Spirituality still is very hard for me to swallow.

Quarter after nine. However, there’s an image Mallarme uses more than once in his published poetry: something like a “snowfall of perfumed stars.” It makes me want to translate the poem myself to English. And perhaps in doing so, thereby lose my identity in his, or leave the poem extant without an author. Only the words and the reader remain, in a condition of dubious being. 

Blake under Pressure

Two twenty five. I ordered a new copy of Blake’s poetry, thinking I could give it to Pastor as a belated Christmas present. To me, Blake is the epitome of English Romanticism, and to know his poetry is to understand what drove progressive rock such as Yes— especially Yes.

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:

Bring me my arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In Englands green & pleasant Land.

The edition by Erdman is still the definitive one. I’m not sure what more I can say. My faith is clouded by doubt of the efficacy of the imagination, our creative potential. There’s no doubt that Blake believed in the powers of the mind to create a meaningful reality, what he called the Poetic Genius. But I’m struggling to maintain such optimism. Rather than creative, I grow more analytical, no matter how I try to resist the change. Still I admire those who can keep that optimism going. Time will be the test of what is true. Perhaps the dreamers of big dreams will win the day? 

Torn

Eight fifty.

It’s almost time to feed Aesop. He doesn’t care that Joe Biden is being sworn in this morning. And maybe it isn’t such a big deal after all. I got another scam call regarding the warranty on my car, when I don’t own one. In the mail last night I received the Sandburg book. I’m very pleased with it. I read twelve pages early this morning… Now I have to go to the store. Hopefully they’ll have some of those sandwiches.

Ten o five. I came upon my neighbor Willie and his small dog Rosie on the return trip from the store. He saw me coming down Fremont and stopped and waited up for me. Willie has long white hair and a goatee. He’s always pleasant to talk with. His street is the one parallel to mine to the east. Once when I was out walking in the summertime I took his picture with my Kodak PixPro. It was my new toy and I shot everything for a while. Right now it’s quiet and peaceful in the neighborhood. Things seem to be settling down and people can breathe again. Perhaps now we can move on with the new year. First thing this morning I found another good book of analytic philosophy in my stuff. It’s about time for unfounded metaphysics to be put in its place, at least for me. Church is all right with me if it’s just about the people, but I’m not into the supernatural. I think my dog believes in ghosts and things he can’t explain, but human beings ought to know better. I just remembered a passage from Blake. Newton blows the trumpet of doom and consequently the angels in heaven crash down to earth. This is to say that science kills the religious imagination. Possibly I should think on this a little more. It’s hard to know what’s right. 

Saturday Morning

Six thirty. I feel drained and tired from yesterday’s heat and activity. I don’t have to do the food pantry today. This morning is overcast and cool. I’m curious about William Blake again, and would like to read his epic Milton. I don’t really remember his shorter books either, except the image of Newton blasting the last trump of doom, whereupon the angels fall from heaven and crash to earth like meteorites. This occurs in Europe: a Prophecy. Blake didn’t like the empiricist philosophers either. He reacted against Hume with “There Is No Natural Religion.” I love his idea of building Jerusalem on England’s green and pleasant land. For him, God is very much alive, and the time of the prophets is not over with. Through the Poetic Genius, people make God a reality. It’s similar to the creative storytelling of Yes music. “And I heard a million voices singing / Acting to the story that they had heard about.”

Ten o’clock. I did some digging and found my Penguin copy of Blake, the one my dad bought me for my birthday at the university bookstore after I graduated. It includes all the poetry. Also I ran across my biography of Joyce in another box. It was my first purchase from Barnes and Noble when they opened in Eugene in November 1993. A beautiful book… I just got home from those places around the corner that I frequent. Aesop needed canned food, and I added his favorite bacon strips. I stopped at the salon and made an appointment for a haircut: Tuesday at eleven o’clock. Karen asked me if I was good at moving furniture and I said no, my back is bad. I had a chocolate filled donut and took off. A lot of people were outside this morning. Roger was buffing the hood of his truck with an electric drill. It’s good to have something you really like. Now Aesop is ready for breakfast.

“Here We Can Be”

Last night I felt annoyed by the popular notion that God controls our lives if we just let go. I haven’t seen any evidence for this claim, so I find it very unscientific. When you step off the edge of a high cliff, you fall to your death. No big gust of wind will break your fall, no act of providence great or small, no guardian angel trying to earn his wings, no reason to believe any of those things. It used to make me sad to listen to the Yes song “To Be Over.” The songwriter was so complacent about the afterlife, but I could not share his confidence. It’s a wonderful song, as “Awaken” is too. Beautiful beyond your wildest dreams; but is it true?

Maybe we can do better as a race if we act as if religion were the truth, regardless of its factuality. And if we’re very fortunate, the dreams we work so hard to realize will by some grace be materialized. Maybe like Blake we can aspire to build Jerusalem on our green and pleasant land— if we do not cease from mental fight. The structure of “Awaken” is like a Keats poem. It begins on earth, then in a dream transports you to a celestial place nothing short of heaven. At last it places you back down on the ground to wake up from the awakening. If music and poetry can do this, then surely you and I can follow by just listening?

Microcosms

Five forty. I checked out Pastor’s movie recommendation and I guess my assumption was wrong. I was trying too hard to analyze what he had said. The one who was irrational was only me… My burrito is cooling down before I eat it. I could go for ice cream tonight. Maybe tomorrow. No worries now about drinking again. It was the thing with Pastor that had bothered me… He may only want to be better friends with me, guessing from the plot of the movie. This is consistent with the time he called me at home on the phone. Easter was the next day and he didn’t even mention it. We just talked about music and literature like ordinary guys. Perhaps the one who needs a friend is him? He has a wife and grown up daughter, and a brother that I know of; but he hasn’t referred to any good friends. Well, having a friend is never a bad thing, so I ought to send him an email.

One forty. I’ve woken up with a stomach cramp. Been dreaming about volunteering with the church, but with frustration. Silly of me, really. Hours ago I sent a link for a King Crimson song to Pastor. No reply yet. I know I’m magnifying things out of proportion. Life is only human after all. I try to mold events into a Henry James novel just for the beauty of it, but life is often rather inconsequential. Or maybe it’s the insignificance that is so poetic? Seeing eternity in a grain of sand. Carlos Williams found the most trivial things worthy subjects for poetry. An old woman eating prunes from a bag: they taste good to her. A pastoral of junk items and furniture gone wrong. A red wheelbarrow beside the white chickens. Fire trucks and great figures in gold. Or the black ants that keep turning up in my kitchen. And a blue heeler dog growing obsessed with bacon strips. All of these snapshots are in themselves the stuff of dreams, of an art that extends to universals. Particulars to generals, or the latter in the former. It’s an idea made famous in a poem by William Blake… So that exaggeration is not really exaggerating, and the smallest things can be the greatest and grandest.