Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Without ANY distinction?

"men have begun to collect many books and great libraries outside and alongside of the Holy Scriptures, and especially have begun to scramble together without any distinction, all sorts of 'fathers,' 'councils,' and doctors.'  Not only has good time been wasted and the study of the Scriptures neglected, but the pure understanding of God's Word is lost. . . ."

     Martin Luther, Preface in vol. 1 of the Wittenberg edition of his German works (1539), as reproduced in Philip Jacob Spener, Pia desideria (1675) III.1, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1964), 91.  =WA 50, 657, ll. 5-10.  =Works 34, 283.

There are some diseases that we've never seen God heal

"As Emile Zola once noted:  The road to Lourdes is littered with crutches, but not one wooden leg."

     Mary Karr, Lit: a memoir (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 255.  Shouldn't that be the road from Lourdes?  This reminds me of a comment I once read in Books and culture to the effect that there are some diseases that we have never seen God heal.
     I don't know about Zola, but here is Anatole France, in his essay on "Miracle" (The works of Anatole France in an English translation, ed. Frederic Chapman and J. Lewis May, vol. 12, 2nd ed. (London:  John Lane, The Bodley Head; New York:  John Lane Company, 1920), 176-177):
     Happening to be at Lourdes, in August, I paid a visit to the grotto where innumerable crutches were hung up in token of a cure.  My companion pointed to these trophies of the sick-room and hospital ward, and whispered in my ear:     ‘One wooden leg would be more to the point.’     It was the word of a man of sense; but speaking philosophically, the wooden leg would be no whit more convincing than a crutch.  If an observer of a genuinely scientific spirit were called upon to verify that a man’s leg, after amputation, had suddenly grown again as before, whether in a miraculous pool or anywhere else, he would not cry:  ‘Lo! a miracle.’  He would say this:  ‘An observation, so far unique, points us to a presumption that under conditions still undetermined, the tissues of a human leg have the property of reorganizing themselves like a crab’s or lobster’s claws and a lizard’s tail, but much more rapidly.  Here we have a fact of nature in apparent contradiction with several other facts of the like sort.  The contradiction arises from our ignorance, and clearly shows that the science of animal physiology must be reconstituted, or to speak more accurately, that it has never been properly constituted.’ . . . the man of science above surprise. . . . Such miraculous cures as the doctors have been able to verity to their satisfaction are all quite in accordance with physiology.

(That's actually quite consonant with a responsible Christian theology of both miracle and nature, by the way.) 

"Fulfill the contract you entered into at the box factory, amen."

     "In[to the car] climbs big-footed David [Foster Wallace], red bandana around his head, along with a[nother] guy from our [AA] group named Jack.
     "Jack of the red curly hair, skittery-eyed Jack, whoon being introduced to me firstexplained that he had a little touch of the schizophrenia, as he held his index finger one inch from thumb.  Mostly he stays medicated enough to hold down a job at the box factory.  But he once showed up to arrange chairs with a tinfoil over his head molded into a knight's helmet with a kind of swan shape on top, convinced that his girlfriend was beaming messages to him through the radio.  It's a tribute to the radical equality of the room that I never heard anybody ever challenge the reasoning. . . .
     "Riding back to Lexington in the backseat, I sit between passed-out, openmouthed Jameshis breath on the side window spreading and receding like a tideand curly-headed Jack.  I think with rue of Joan the Bone's injunction to ask the first person I saw about my marriage.  I'm still angling to prove what crazy bullshit her much vaunted surrender-to-the-group concept is.  Whatever Jack's brief spells of clarity, he rarely goes to a meeting without jabbering out something nutty.
     "So I start whispering my tale of marital woe to Jack, who sits in the hunched posture of somebody tensing against a blow.  Occasionally, he'll tug a red curl over the crease in his forehead.
     "Eventually, I wind down and ask, what should I do?  And I wait for the word salad of his scrambled cortex to spew forth.  Instead, his eyes meet mine evenly, and he saysas it seems everybody saysYou should pray about it.
     "But what if I don't believe in God?  It's like they've sat me in front of a mannequin and said, Fall in love with him.  You can't will feeling.
     "What Jack says issues from some still, true place that could not be extinguished by all the schizophrenia his genetic code could muster.  It sounds something like this:
     "Get on your knees and find some quiet place inside yourself, a little sunshine right about here.  Jack holds his hands in a ball shape about midchest, saying, Let go.  Surrender, Dorothy, the witch wrote in the sky.  Surrender, Mary.
     "I want to surrender but have no idea what that means.
     "He goes on with a level gaze and a steady tone:  Yield up what scares you.  Yield up what makes you want to scream and cry.  Enter into that quiet.  It's a cathedral.  It's an empty football stadium with all the lights on.  And pray to be an instrument of peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is conflict, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope . . .
     "What if I get no answer there?
     "If God hasn't spoken, do nothing.  Fulfill the contract you entered into at the box factory, amen.  Make the containers you promised to tape and staple.  Go quietly and shine.  Wait.  Those not impelled to act must remain in the cathedral.  Don't be lonely.  I get so lonely sometimes, I could put a box on my head and mail myself to a stranger.  But I have to go to a[n AA] meeting and make the chairs circle perfect.
     "He kisses his index finger and plants it in the middle of my forehead, and I swear it burns like it had eucalyptus on it.  Like a coal from the archangel onto the mouth of Moses."

     Mary Karr, Lit: a memoir (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 230-231, 233-234.  (She means Isaiah, I think.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"What fun-house land have I crossed into, where the rich seek the counsel of the poor?"

     Mary Karr, Lit: a memoir (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 191.

"We're asleep most of the time, I once heard the writer George Saunders say, but we can wake up."

     Mary Karr, Lit: a memoir (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 190.

How can I keep from singing?

     "Every now and then we enter the presence of the numinous and deduce for an instant how we're formed, in what detail the force that infuses every petal might specifically run through us, wishing only to lure us into our full potential.  Usually, the closest we get is when we love, or when some beloved beams back, which can galvanize you like steel and make resilient what had heretofore only been soft flesh.  (Dev, you gave me that.)  It can start you singing as the lion pads over to you, its jaws hinging open, its hot breath on you.  Even unto death.

Mary Karr 2009 Pax Christi"

     Mary Karr, Lit:  a memoir (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 385-386.  The allusion is to p. 350:  "Early Christians, [Tobias Wolff] tells me, partly won converts by going to death singing.  I mean, a lion is eating your face and you're singing.  Or you're crucified upside down and you're singing.  It's undeniable that some experience changed them from the normal consciousness.  Maybe they were hypnotized, brainwashed.  Aren't suicide bombers gleeful?"