Wrestling with Czeslaw Milosz, fellow poet

In one poem, which I’ve crunched here from my own journal entry, he replies: “You ask me how to pray to someone who is not. All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge and walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard, above landscapes the color of ripe gold transformed by a magic stopping of the sun. That bridge leads to the shore of reversal where everything is just the opposite and the word is unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned. Notice: I say we there, everyone, separately, feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh and knows that if there were no other shore they will walk that aerial bridge all the same.”

Elsewhere he wrote: “’I could not have had a better life than the one I had,’ she writes to me in February 1983 from Warsaw, Irena who has lived through the occupation of her country by two enemy armies, had to live in hiding trailed by the Gestapo, then adapt herself to Communist rule, witness the terror and the workers’ responses in 1956, 1970, 1976, 1980, and the martial law proclaimed in December 1981.”

I’m not sure I agree fully with his theology, but I completely appreciate the richness of his grappling with 20th century unbelief and its practice with his discovery that there is, indeed, something larger than what we admit – something few other artists in our time have been able to pull off convincingly enough to be considered sound artistically. (Milosz won the Nobel Prize, 1980.)

He also wrote: “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”

And, he quoted from Renee le Senne: “For me the principal proof of the existence of God is the joy I experience any time I think that God is.”

Again, Milosz: “To wait for faith in order to pray is to put the cart before the horse. Our way leads from the physical to the spiritual.” And himself: “My friend Father J.S. did not believe in God. But he believed God, the revelation of God, and he always stressed the difference.”

How existential!

He/she/it/they

I’ve been accused of being unable to understand because I’m a man. It was tempting to respond that she couldn’t understand my need to have a God the Father to relate to as a man who needs a role model and a complete positive (for the most part) male authority figure, and she couldn’t understand because she’s a woman. We are in a bind. But that cheap shot would have accomplished nothing. I still say that Biblical language is not exclusive, if rendered correctly.

The irony here arose in the case of a woman who was being criticized by a man for using Biblical language. Who should know more whether she felt excluded by its masculine nouns? As she said, it’s his problem.

~*~

Oh, my, this was all before some of my most important fictional characters were women.

The pandemic’s put new words and phrases on our lips

Sometimes we need to state the obvious. So just to make sure we’re conscious of one impact, here are ten words and phrases the pandemic’s added to our everyday vocabularies over the past year.

  1. Coronavirus. (Of course.) We even learned to spell it.
  2. Covid. (Ditto.) Upper- or lower-case.
  3. Zoom. The word existed, just not in the context we now think of first.
  4. Shelter in place. This one still strikes me as strange.
  5. Self-quarantine, self-isolation. I suppose it’s supposed to sound voluntary. Or else.
  6. Social distancing. Specifically, six feet or more.
  7. Vaxxed. Which leads us to:
  8. Moderna. Not as a chic word for contemporary.
  9. Pfeizer. As a synonym for a vaccine, rather than the pharmaceutical giant.
  10. Fauci. Dr. Anthony.

There are more. What would you add to the list?

Are we finished?

We writers or artists, at least some of us, push ourselves as far as we can, coming to a point where we no longer know if a piece is any good or not, only that we’ve done everything in its pursuit that we possibly can at this period in our life.

Either it gets published or whatever as is or gets pushed aside, maybe to be picked up later and reworked, maybe to go in the trash. Or maybe Death intervenes.

Some things to reflect on as we’re coming out of Covid restrictions

  1. We learned to Zoom. As much as I missed face-to-face and the subtle interactions there, Zoom did spare us a lot of driving. Sometimes it was a treat not having to leave home.
  2. We saved a bucket of money, apart from takeout. Well, Amazon made out like a bandit, but local retail took a big hit.
  3. We used less cash, if any, while credit card use for small items exploded.
  4. Kids lost a year-and-a-half of the growing-up experience. School events like the homecoming, prom, and graduation, as well as classroom learning, team sports, summer camp. I really feel for them, and their teachers. Can we make it up to them now?
  5. For worship communities, shut-ins and folks at a distance could tune in and be part again. But we definitely missed singing together.
  6. It’s triggered a big population relocation and a real estate frenzy. So how do we feel about working from home rather than an office? Or the opportunity to live anywhere we want and dial in?
  7. Arts, artists, and arts organizations suffered most of all. They need our renewed support, bigtime.
  8. As our astute son-in-law quipped, it was a year without culture. He was talking about sporting events, but it really fit across the board. We couldn’t even really get together as a book club.
  9. Going about without those masks feels refreshing. Or even naked.
  10. What’s your reaction to going up to the checkout counter and noticing the plexiglass barrier isn’t there anymore?

And, oh yes, we learned to spell coronavirus and even pronounce it.

What’s high on your own list of takeaways?

More than the bottom line

Even though I cut this from the final version of my novel What’s Left, it’s still true:

What people need, and this is essential to a proper approach to labor, is balance.

~*~

Two things are going on here, one inside the other, but I’d like to be less confusing.

The first, quite simply, is my belief in what we Quakers call centering. We find our stopping all outwork activity for a time of deep meditation and reflection helps bring us perspective on the other parts of our lives. Add to that moderation and simplicity or focus all leading to a healthy balance of individuality, home, career, community, faith, and so on.

The second touches on attitudes toward labor itself, which quite frankly has been demeaned in modern society. What makes the concept of leisure so exalted? The danger, I suspect, is in overworking — often sucking any joy out of the project at hand.

Think of your job. What could management do to make it more human?

~*~

Classic. Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside Boston.

In sharp contrast

I recall two poet-friends:

One a public high school teacher, quite prolific as both excellent poet and gallery-exhibited photographer, did most of his work during the busy school year rather than the summer; he could never quite figure out why the pattern was exactly opposite of what people would expect.

The other, having all the time in the world to write, could produce only disconnected flashes – nothing sustained or full but wild all the same.

They were buddies.

Moving past Covid

Yes, we were Zooming, as our monthly gathering of religious leaders in town has been doing for the past year, but the suggestion did come as a jolt.

For decades now, the largely informal group has been a way of supporting each other, clergy and laity, as friends and neighbors, and out of that has grown joint activity, such as our community-wide Thanksgiving, Blue Christmas, and Martin Luther King services or overnight shelter for the homeless in the depth of winter or recognition of challenges we face as congregations. It’s one of the things I will especially miss in moving from Dover.

“We need to think carefully about how we come out of Covid,” the Congregational pastor mused. “We need to give it the same attention we did going into the restrictions.”

We still haven’t had the conversation. Maybe we will on our next agenda. But she’s right. Our new normal won’t be the same as the old.

I’ve been hoping that when the restrictions are lifted and we’re all immunized, we’ll be hungry to be back in public get-togethers more than ever, including worship. But there’s also the reality that we’ve fallen out of social habits and may cling to our newer stay-at-home routines. There’s a recognition that for some, continuing the online connections may be beneficial – for invalids or people living at a distance, especially. In addition, a Zoom session can be more convenient than driving hours to a committee meeting, as we’re finding, though it also has drawbacks.

As organizations, we appear to have kept a loyal core but also seen, I sense, newer participants drift away. Can we find ways to lure them back or attract others once we’re “open again”?

~*~

You’ve probably already seen the report that for the first time since the figures were kept, church, synagogue, and similar membership in the U.S. has fallen below 50 percent. Some of the reaction has noted a difference between joining in a congregation in contrast to unaffiliated “spiritual” identity. Some other commentators have derided religion altogether, but we should also be aware of declining membership in various associations across the board. One of the things that struck Alexis de Tocqueville about American society in his travels in 1831-1832 was the degree to which we were joiners. Not just in churches but also trade and economic associations, fraternal societies, political parties, lodges and clubs, sports teams, choruses, bands, and theatrical groups, and more.

While I don’t consider myself to be especially “social,” I’m still a member of a half-dozen groups, and I’m not counting those that are essentially an annual donation and a membership card or magazine in return.

Not so for the younger generation. One daughter does belong to the county beekeepers’ group, but that’s it.

As others have noted, that’s not a good sign for building democracy or community.

~*~

But folks are understandably restless. Already, everyplace seems to be booked up for vacation travel. (Glad we have a place that’s suddenly “in.”)

That transition from lockdown to normal now promises to transpire over the summer, giving organizations a chance to anticipate the changes and readjust more slowly. There’s so much we don’t know, after all.

And we haven’t even touched on the future of retailing and other local business.

What are you looking forward to post-Covid? And when?

Think you’ll miss Zoom?