UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Call to Worship

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26:
"I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. …"

16 Happiness/Joy II

Last week's sermon was called "Happiness/Joy I". It was the first of a two part message, the first part being about happiness, and the second part, this one, to be about joy. In these two messages, I am making a distinction between the words "happiness" and "joy"; I do not know for sure if this distinction is even worth making, but I think it is always wise to examine our thoughts (our thoughts, after all, are made of words) to check for laziness or inaccuracies in our thinking--inaccuracies that could lead to wrong conclusions and spiritual errors. Last week I had many negative things to say about happiness; for instance:
"It appears to me that the word "happy" is a generalization for a spectrum of states of mind, of which many are not at all of the same quality or intensity. The word "happy" then, is such an ambiguous term that it has practically no meaning."

and:

"I truly hate my life, and pray for its ending at Jesus's earliest convenience."
I now admit that last week was as much an exercise in semantics as it was in anything truly useful, because it was a diatribe not against happiness, but against the use of the word "happiness". I made a case for equating happiness with the same ego fixity and redundancy that impoverishes all cliched thinking and doing. I also indicated that the signs of happiness are not necessarily the proofs of happiness, joy, or any other exalted spiritual mind state. I was busy putting down happiness as a temporary, a temporal state of mind that does not lead to higher spiritual attainment. The following quote from C. S. Lewis makes the same distinction between joy and happiness I am making here, and he is in basic agreement with my interpretation of the word--only in this case, he uses the word "pleasure" instead happiness:
“Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

This seems to me to be a powerful and worthwhile thing to say: in this statement, Lewis is reiterating my point that pleasurable experiences are not necessarily the proper index of joy, because pleasure may be manufactured in a laboratory of carnal creation, whereas joy only comes through the beneficent gift of grace. Thus, one may be happy, because one is without pain, or want, but this happiness may be the product of an alchemy of mundane materials the effects of which are destined to wither and decay with time. It is precisely because joy does not come from the physical plane that it can last forever.

Now, to get down to it: last week, I also indicated that joy wasn't necessarily pleasurable--that the fulfillment of one's duty to God did not necessarily have a residual effect on one's daily life, that it did not not uplift the servant when the servant was not actively serving; I basically said that sobriety of mind is not pleasurable, it is merely endurable; I said that laughing and weeping amounted to the same thing in this screwed up, sad, sad world: that was a load of crap.

I mean, let's face it, who could last an hour in a world in which the rewards of the spirit were only bestowed on you after you die? That's not what Jesus is saying--Jesus repeatedly incites us to partake of heavenly gifts here on Earth; here and now. Sure, Jesus wept, but to make Him into a Man of infinite sorrows is just dumb depressed balderdash.

And now that we're using the proper technical philosophical terms, its poopy-brained too! This is why we are sinners, because we can fall for this crap SOOO EASILY. True, there is a solemnity embedded in the middle path of life, the calm path, the devoted path; the path where we have chosen to be led, and are led, without our personal volition, into activities which are intended for the greatest good for the greatest number, are all inspired by a divine plan that is beyond our puny powers of understanding. There is peace and security in leaving all the big stuff to God. But remember our discussions about free will, and remember that we are always making little choices which add up to big choices sooner rather than later. Remember, too, something else I said last week--it was a comment on a quote from Ray Bradbury (who, by the way, just recently died):

"I laugh until I weep
And weep until I smile."

What is this smile? Where does it come from? Why do we smile when we are laughing, sometimes when we are weeping, and yet also smile when we are communing with the mind of God, the furthest thing imaginable from laughing?

Perhaps I am saying that joy, like everything else in our state of mind, is a CHOICE. I feel that joy is like a pot of simmering hot water under which we can choose to turn up the heat and bubble over, or keep on the back-burner for later. This is not the same thing as what I said last week:

"I don't feel any particular residual satisfaction; the feeling of usefulness does not bleed over into the down time."

In fact, this is not even sobriety of mind, it is simply behavioral reserve which may be appropriate and maybe not. I DO carry a feeling a satisfaction around with me when I am not doing my job, it's just that, like every other sinner, I forget to pay attention to it. When I pay attention to it, it fills me with blessings just as real and as potent as the feelings of accomplishment I get at the moment of doing my job. In fact, remembering acts of virtue can be an even more delicious way of savoring the blessings than actually performing acts of virtue.
So whassup wit dis?

"I sometimes think I am a marshwiggle--I don't have much of a positive slant on my personal life; I have no close personal friends, I have no social life, I never have any fun; in fact, I have a long list of things I say look like fun but aren't. I think there was a time earlier in my life when I did have fun, but when I think about it, I think it was having fun with my kids growing up--sharing in their fun--I can't remember the last fun thing I did that was just plain fun for me.

I am detached from most of the normal human emotions that people consider enriching, and which most people cannot do without: emotions like affection, sympathy, cheerfulness, anxiety, pride, regret, etc.. I'm not complaining, but neither am I exaggerating or bragging, but, rather, as you will soon see, am merely stating undeniable fact about my character: my sobriety of mind denies me access to many of the common pleasures that most people consider necessary components of something called "happiness", but it also gives me a higher level of clarity of mind that most people cannot claim."


These paragraphs are NOT downright lies, but they have caught me in a mood of forgetfulness--forgetfulness of the grace I enjoy every moment of every day. I apologize for the self-indulgence that coaxed those remarks out of me, and for the misleading tone they brought to the message. However, I completely affirm the remark,

"my sobriety of mind denies me access to many of the common pleasures that most people consider necessary components of something called "happiness", but it also gives me a higher level of clarity of mind that most people cannot claim."

I think this is absolutely true about me; furthermore, the storm of pain that  beached me on this shore of elevated consciousness was as real as anything can get, and the consequence of that beating by the shepherd's rod and staff totally did the job--my mind is still in traction, and gets around with a walker, but my eyes are definitely opened little bit wider. In short, I feel my heightened clarity of mind has been bought and paid for in full; what didn't kill me made me stronger, that's for darn sure, although many times I wish it had killed me. Ah, life!

Joseph Campbell advises us:
“Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”

Well, Joe, I'm working on it, but the joy and the pain are still battling out the race neck and neck, and I don't yet completely retract any of my negative statements about the absence of "happiness" in my life.

What I would like to recant is the implication that I feel, in any way, deprived or at a loss in regard to the happiness my sobriety of mind has denied me. The happiness I have lost has been amply replaced by the joy that simmers on the back-burner of my heart, waiting to be cherished when I have a moment, and shared when the time is right. John Lennon has advised us:

"You've got to hide your love away."

But this does not mean you don't ever let it out--it's more of a "pearls before swine" kind of thing. We have spoken, in months past, of the evils of proselytizing--getting in someone's face with your faith when they are not ready for it.

Ephesians 4:7-15 says this:

"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:"

Thus, hiding your love away may not be as much an act of sobriety as it is an act of prudence--and selectivity.

Now let's review the original scripture that inspired this message:

John 12:25
"He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."
This whole business about hating your life was such a tempting expression to get into when I was in a depressed mood, and I took it in a direction I really don't think it had to go. The problem is with the word "hate". Just as with every other abstract word we use, it is easy to hear the word and miss the meaning. As Christians we are taught brotherly love, compassion, and tolerance, and are directed to steer clear of words like "hate", "wrath", "lust", and "despair", etc. However, the words "righteous indignation" will often spring to our lips when we get into a violent disagreement with somebody about---well, ANYTHING. Clearly, in a generation that can still remember people like Hitler, Stalin, and Sadam Hussein, it is not unreasonable to include in our vocabulary the expression "righteous hatred".

There are a couple of examples of righteous hatred, in the Science Fiction Trilogy of C.S. Lewis, that bear repeating. The first one is a speech from Out of the Silent Planet, spoken by a Martian "hrossa" about his natural enemy, the hnakra; this enemy is a fierce water animal that the hrossi hunt, much like whalers hunt the leviathan. Here the hross explains his complex relationship with this enemy:

"I long to kill the hnakra as he also longs to kill me. I hope that my ship will be the first and I first in my ship with my straight spear when the black jaws snap. And if he kills me, my people will mourn and my brothers will desire still more to kill him. But they will not wish that there were no hnakri; nor do I. How can I make you understand, when you do not understand the poets? The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved. We feel in our hearts his joy as he looks down from the mountain of water in the north where he was born; we leap with him when he jumps the falls; and when winter comes, and the lake smokes higher than our heads, it is with his eyes that we see it and know that his roaming time is come. We hang images of him in our houses, and the sign of all the hrossa is a hnakra.  In him the spirit of the valley lives; and our young play at being hneraki as soon as they can splash in the shallows."

The bearing this passage has on the idea of "hating your life" is this: there are on the mundane plane of existence manifestations of evil which are so contrary to the way of spirit, that they MUST be hated in order for them to be expunged from our earthly reality. There are simply some things that are NO GOOD, and we must hate them, as much as we love God.

The paradoxical part is that the hross says, "The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved." How does this apply to the subject of hating evil? Well, we don't really have to think too hard to be reminded that the carnal nature that falls so short of spirit and which he hate with a righteous hatred is IN OURSELVES--and we must hate that part of ourselves which is tainted by original sin, and strive in every moment to root it out of our nature, to cleanse ourselves of Adam's curse, and make ourselves free by the most energetic (violent) act of will possible. Thus, "he that hateth his life in this world", is involved in a cleansing process that must be carried out with the utmost intensity, and "hate" is not too strong a word to describe the devotee's relationship to his own carnal nature.

The second C.S. Lewis quote comes from Perelandra. In this scene, the hero, Ransom, is preparing to do battle with an earthling who has become possessed by the powers of Satan (it never says if it is Satan himself). Once again, he hear the idea of a "joyful hatred", but the main point of the section is summarized in the last line:

"Then an experience that perhaps no good man can ever have in our world came over him--a torrent of perfectly unmixed and lawful hatred. The energy of hating, never before felt without some guilt, without some dim knowledge that he was failing fully to distinguish the sinner form the sin, rose into his arms and legs till he felt that they were pillars of burning blood. What was before him appeared no longer a creature of corrupted will. It was corruption itself to which will was attached only as an instrument. Ages ago it had been a Person: but the ruins of personality now survived in it only as weapons at the disposal of a furious self-exiled negation. It is perhaps difficult to understand why this filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came finding at last what hatred was made for."


Thus, it is the flaw in our own carnal nature, the self-limiting attitude of self-importance, the Satanic ego-mania, that puts ego first, ahead of the larger spiritual perspective--that vision of life that sees reality not through God's eyes but from the flawed, distorted perspective of our own human eyes. Remember we read a couple of weeks ago we read some remarks by Boethius on the subject of Wholeness:


"And here I conceive it proper to inquire, first, whether any excellence, such as thou hast lately defined, can exist in the nature of things, lest we be deceived by an empty fiction of thought to which no true reality answers. But it cannot be denied that such does exist, and is, as it were, the source of all things good. For everything which is called imperfect is spoken of as imperfect by reason of the privation of some perfection; so it comes to pass that, whenever imperfection is found in any particular, there must necessarily be a perfection in respect of that particular also. For were there no such perfection, it is utterly inconceivable how that so-called imperfection should come into existence. Nature does not make a beginning with things mutilated and imperfect; she starts with what is whole and perfect, and falls away later to these feeble and inferior productions."

Thus, Boethius insists on the existence of a perfect world created by a perfect God; any departure from that perfection is the consequence of a departure from wholeness into a partialness, a privation of perfection. The villain in this scenario of "feeble and inferior productions" is the EGO. It is the Ego that attempts desperately to maintain psychic stability by creating "empty fictions".

Carlos Castaneda has this to say about self-importance, and the cosmic sadness that accompanies it:

"Self-importance can't be fought with niceties.
In the life of warriors it is extremely natural to be sad for no overt reason. Seers say that the luminous egg, as a field of energy, senses its final destination whenever the boundaries of the known are broken. A mere glimpse of the eternity outside the cocoon is enough to disrupt the coziness of our inventory. The resulting melancholy is sometimes so intense that it can bring about death. The best way to get rid of melancholy is to make fun of it.
      There is nothing more lonely than eternity. And nothing is more cozy for us than to be a human being. This indeed is another contradiction--how can man keep the bonds of his humanness and still venture gladly and purposefully into the absolute loneliness of eternity? Whenever you resolve this riddle, you'll be ready for the definitive journey."

Now remember, last week, I said this:
"To be sure, in the moment of doing that thing, completing that task, my life has meaning, and I would not trade my state with kings; but I can't say I get any lasting pleasure out of what I do: by this I mean that when I'm doing my job, I feel alive, filled to overflowing with spirit, and possessed by a personality of all goodness and joy--but when I'm not doing my job, I don't feel any particular residual satisfaction; the feeling of usefulness does not bleed over into the down time." 

The mistake I made in writing this paragraph was this: to think that the job, my life's commission, ends with the specific task I think I have been assigned, is to ignore the fact that THE JOB NEVER ENDS. It is easy to point out specific things that I have done, specific things I have been put here to do, but what I need to remember, at every moment, is that these specific tasks are merely the peaks of an endlessly rolling plain of peaks and troughs; the peaks are more visible than the troughs, but it is quite an arguable point to say that they are more important; in an eternal moment, it is the essence of being now that says to the universe, "I AM."

I herewith include a collection of Biblical quotes about joy that mostly speak for themselves, although I couldn't help sidebarring a few of them:

Mathew:

25:23"His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.
        You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you
        over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord."
Luke:

6:23 "Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward
        is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing
        to the prophets."

[Sidebar: Here we have a reiteration of basic typical spiritual/economic  (karmic) principle at work: do good works, and ye will be joyful.]

In the following quote from Luke, the joy of spiritual reality is said to have dominion over evil spirits:

Luke:

10:17"The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons
        are subject to us in your name!"

In light of this, I have to ask myself: might my own feeling of depression and detachment be the voice of Satan whispering words of discouragement in my ears? Both the feeling of depression and the feeling of detachment have a comfortable emptiness that fits snugly over the surface of each; but when I look closer, the emptiness of the depression is a bottomless pit, while the feeling of detachment has an object and a degree which is subject to change, and, to an extent, control; true detachment is a quiet moment in a cell bounded by raucous hilarity which I can reach out and touch, from the center, any time I want. I can see, now, that it would be easy to mistake that feeling of calm detachment for yet another of Satan's ploys to disassociate myself from myself. It just goes to show, once again, how people can do and say the completely wrong things for the right reasons.]

John:

3:29    "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of
        the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly
        because of the bridegroom's voice.  This, my joy,
        therefore is made full."

[Sidebar: Here we have a few more of those joy/sorrow paradoxes that seem inextricably bound together in the larger cosmic paradox.]

16:20"Most certainly I tell you, that you will weep and lament,
        but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your
        sorrow will be turned into joy.
16:21 A woman, when she gives birth, has sorrow, because her time    
        has come. But when she has delivered the child, she doesn't  
        remember the anguish any more, for the joy that a human being is 
        born into the world.
16:22 Therefore you now have sorrow, but I will see you again,
        and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy
        away from you."


17:14 "I have given them your word.  The world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."


2nd Corinthians:

2:1" But I determined this for myself, that I would not come to you
        again in sorrow.
2:2 For if I make you sorry, then who will make me glad but he who
        is made sorry by me?
2:3 And I wrote this very thing to you, so that, when I came,
        I wouldn't have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice;
        having confidence in you all, that my joy would be shared
        by all of you.
2:4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you
        with many tears, not that you should be made sorry, but that you
        might know the love that I have so abundantly for you."

[Here, the joy overflowing is represented as a tangible ACTIVE force in life, and is love not hidden away, but paraded through the provinces. One wonders WHAT provinces, but the general tone of the interjection is clear: if you walk in spirit, you walk in joy--maybe not 100% happiness, but 110% joy!]

Galatians:

5:22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
        kindness, goodness, faith,
5:23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there
        is no law.
5:24 Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its
        passions and lusts.
5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let's also walk by the Spirit."

Colossians:

1:10 "that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in
        all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing
        in the knowledge of God;
1:11 strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory,
        for all endurance and perseverance with joy;
1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who made us fit to be partakers
        of the inheritance of the saints in light;
1:13 who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated
        us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love;
1:14 in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins;
1:15 who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn
        of all creation."

James:

1:2 "Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters", when you fall
        into various temptations,
1:3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
1:4 Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect
        and complete, lacking in nothing.
1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God,
        who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it
        will be given to him.
1:6 But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts
        is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed.
1:7 For let that man not think that he will receive anything
        from the Lord.
1:8 He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
1:9 But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in
        his high position;
1:10 and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower
        in the grass, he will pass away."

["Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." That seems to say it--yeah, there is pain and suffering, yeah life is sad, but endurance not only leads to perfection, endurance supports the traveler on his journey to perfection. Hoo-Yah! Furthermore, we see, once again, a link between the mind state of joy and the mind state of faith; we (I) MUST REALIZE THAT FAITH IS THE ARMOR THAT DEFEATS ALL THE ATTACKS OF SATAN'S WEAPONS OF DEPRESSION, DOUBT, AND SADNESS!!

1 Peter:

4:13 "But because you are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice;
        that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice
        with exceeding joy.
4:14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed;
        because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
        On their part he is blasphemed, but on your part he is glorified."


Mr. Anonymous leaves us with this lovely thought:

"Joy is the flag which flies from the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there."

In conclusion, we must reiterate the fact that the ups and downs of life create a rich mix of delights and sufferings, which can be dealt with in a variety of overt and covert expressions. In our struggles with the mind state dominated by language, we will constantly stumble over fluctuating levels of significance, and battle confusion and paradox at every turn. However, let us constantly call to mind the reality of joy that resides on the back-burner of the heart, always ready to be mobilized into activity by egoless affirmations of faith.

For today's benediction I have chosen a song from Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, Book 3, Song 9: Let us Pray:

    "Oh, grant, almighty Father,
    Grant us on reason's wing to soar aloft
    To heaven's exalted height; grant us to see
    The fount of good; grant us, the true light found,
    To fix our steadfast eyes in vision clear
    On Thee. Disperse the heavy mists of earth,
    And shine in Thine own splendour. For Thou art
    The true serenity and perfect rest
    Of every pious soul--to see Thy face,
    The end and the beginning--One the guide,
    The traveller, the pathway, and the goal."

Amen.

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