Archive for the 'religious tale' Category

Changing words

December 25, 2015

I hadn’t heard of Eva Cassidy until fairly recently, and I’ve been listening to the singing she left behind ever since.  Many of the recordings are covers, and sometimes I prefer her rendition, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes it seems she has changed the lyrics or left some out, and I liked the original version better.  Other times I am waiting for a particular vocal flourish that doesn’t come, or I find I am just too used to the original recording I heard.

While I’ve bought a couple of CDs of Eva Cassidy’s music, and tried to buy another (as yet without success), I’ve been listening to some of her work on YouTube, and there, the people posting a song aren’t always clear about who actually wrote it.

So eventually I looked into who wrote “I Know You By Heart.”  Diane Scanlon wrote the lyrics, Eve Nelson the music.

And I also learned that Eva Cassidy changed the lyric in the first verse from “I see your profile” to “I see your sweet smile.”  I learned that from the interviews on :

I love Eva Cassidy’s singing of the song “I Know You By Part.”  As Diane Scanlon says in those interview answers, Eva Cassidy “understood what I [Diane Scanlon] was trying to say.”  That comes through.  But the “profile” version of the lyrics resonates even better for me.

It’s clear to me that our guidance for others is limited because of our inability to see things exactly from where that other person actually is.  We look up, or down, from where we are and try to discern what they should do, but that’s not the same as actually being in their skin and hearing the guidance for them.

I guess I see the substitution of “sweet smile” for “profile” as a revelation of this Achilles’ heel from even such a consummate singer of songs.

It strikes me because I struggle with the issue of collaboration, of putting together the development of material with its dissemination.  I think there are trade-offs in terms of the skill sets needed for each, so a collaboration would seem to be optimal in a sense.  But maybe it’s the case that something is too often lost in the process, whatever the gains.  Maybe that’s okay, maybe the creator’s version and the covers all have their place.  But my sense stubbornly persists that changes in transmission of the original, as in the children’s game of Telephone, can make a difference and that we may end up “on a frolic and a detour” if we are unaware of the original.  I relate this hazard to the need for communication between human beings (I will forego yet another reference to the story of the blind men and the elephant), and that the resolution of the issue of collaboration lies somewhere in improving communication between creator and disseminator.


Tea caddy spoon

October 4, 2014

I was looking at an early nineteenth century silver tea caddy spoon shaped like a shell.  I’ve read that real shells had been used at some point for scooping tea and that that is why the shell is a familiar motif in the genre.

I got to thinking about meteors and wondered if they ever impart molten metal to what they impact when they hit the earth — I wondered if a shell has ever become encased in metal.  The idea kind of bothered me, a living creature with an outer carapace it was not supposed to have, maybe like a person living within a paralyzed body but also suffocating, too  —  I imagined distress.

But the tea caddy spoon was itself not horrible, it was graceful and sweet, just in need of a little polishing.

There’s the tag line, “The butler did it,” there’s the Monty Python schtick about “Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition,” one summer at camp, the running punch line was “Fuente Ovejuna” [a play the drama department produced that summer] did it.”  For me, my mind is always drawn back to a meteoric event, I’m not sure why.  It’s connected with my fascination with feathers on the ground and with leaves swirling down from the sky.  I can even hear echoes of it in the myth of Icarus and in the story of Lucifer’s fall.  And I apparently am reminded of it by a silver shell antique tea caddy spoon, too.

More on mosaics

July 23, 2014

When I was watching the co-owner of the mosaic studio begin to cut the broken cup pieces in preparation for reconfiguring them (see previous post), one of the things she showed me was how by cutting a curved piece, she could in effect flatten it.  (I think it was that by cutting the curved piece along one plane and making it smaller, the contrast producing the curve became reduced in each of the smaller pieces, and so they were flatter.)

Now that suggests to me a spiritual parallel, because I think we human beings are faced with trying to perceive more dimensions of the universe than our everyday world deals with.  So when we perceive something from another realm, maybe we hear it as music, maybe we channel it into poetry or a visual art;  but some of us plug into a small fragment of the much larger thing with many dimensions and try to translate it into linear rational thought and language.  When we try to do that, I think it’s only by limiting the attempt to bringing only a small piece of it into this world that we are able to bring it into this world at all.  It can feel as if we are flattening the idea in breaking it into smaller pieces while we are still remaining consistent with the curves of the original idea as a whole.

The blind men feeling the elephant in the traditional telling of the tale generalize from their personal understanding, and my usual understanding of the tale is that we all need to communicate and share our understandings in order to get at a more profound understanding and peaceful relations with each other.  But today I got to thinking more along the lines of the difficulty of bringing the whole (understanding) into the world at all, no matter the method employed.  With the arts, something of the multidimensional experience I think is being reproduced, but it doesn’t usually become understood in rational thought and integrated into our mundane activities.  So it seems to me there is a trade-off even there, and that it is difficult if not impossible to bring the curved surface completely intact into a realm of flatness:  the universe is curved but our material world is in a sense flat.  When we as inhabitants of this material world poke our perception into, or permit our perception to take in, other realms, we perceive the curves of things.  Bringing them back into this world to share with others here is a whole other project.


February 1, 2014

I wrote somewhere in a comment to what I think was probably a piece in the “Opinionator” section of the NYTimes, that I can see the story of Abraham’s hearing a call to sacrifice his son Isaac as a story about surrender, about having a willingness to serve without reservation, no strings attached, not even a caveat of “Just don’t hurt my children.”  I don’t see it as a story about child sacrifice.

But even more than this, I can see the story as a misunderstanding, as a misperception by Abraham.

I think he was being asked to grow up himself, to “sacrifice” his inner twelve-year old in order to grow into the mature adult he could become if he could emerge from the orientation toward the self that children harbor.

I certainly am aware of multiple aspects of myself.  Sometimes I’m in a situation, and I can discern that part of me is annoyed but another part of me really doesn’t take it personally and can just let the situation slide off of me.  In other people I can notice great wells of wisdom and perspective while the person is acting in a limited way nonetheless is other regards.  It’s kind of like different flowers in our garden and we don’t always tend every species all the time.  We really like to grow those sunflowers but we don’t always bother watering and weeding those bee balm plants, or we let those black-eyed Susans run rampant and spread throughout the garden.

Some traditions tell us that we all have the wisdom inside us anyway, we just need to improve our access to it.  I think, as well, that some people have already done that in previous lifetimes in some regards (or in most regards) but have lost the knack for accessing parts of themselves since then and are working on that in their current lives.

The idea of sacrificing Isaac might be a story to flag one of those situations, where there is a need to grow out of a childish stage in some way.

Carl Jung’s “dead”

July 13, 2012

Carl Jung wrote about how we are the dead, the un-waked-up to our full consciousness.  I don’t know or remember whether he goes further to suggest that we build on earth, collectively and individually, heaven or hell, but I think we have that reversed, too, that we do build them here (rather than encounter them elsewhere).

The other myth I think we’ve got mixed up is that of Icarus.  I don’t think it was a human who flew too close to the sun, I think it was a dinosaur bird in flight when that meteor came crashing down like a ball of fire — like the sun falling to earth — and killed the bird, as its relative watched helplessly from a distance.

Climbing the mountain

April 13, 2012

I am thinking about Moses, in part because of Passover and in part because a couple of comments to my comments on the NYTimes website have called attention to my surname.

The thought my mind came to rest on is, “What good is having climbed the mountain if you can’t see?”

I think Moses (in the Bible) saw, I think I can understand the tradition of his brother Aaron helping him get the message out, but my guess is that there is still unfinished business to the story.  My sense of where to look for what that unfinished business might be is in the notion of the Great Man.  I suspect, in other words, that we’re all supposed to climb the mountain and see.  I think we got stuck in the West with a Great Man model that doesn’t serve ultimately, but may have been a sufficient way of keeping things going until we could understand more clearly what is needed.

A danger, as I see it, is for an Aaron to learn to make the climb himself before he has the vision, the ability to see, because that could result in his transmitting an erroneous message.  I wonder if the previous division of labor between Moses and Aaron could have inadvertently resulted in this consequence.


January 24, 2012

I wrote what follows in an email in response to a bit of tension that seemed to be developing in an email group discussion.  It contains some thoughts of mine that I hold to more generally, beyond that context, so I thought I’d try posting it here, too.

I am interested that many “liberal Democrats” (Paul Krugman comes to my mind as an example of a person whom I think illustrates this and with whom people may be familiar) don’t wonder more why the approach of liberal Democrats doesn’t pull in everybody in our democracy to that way of thinking — and I want to connect that gently with the discussion here.
We all and each have a point of view.  Sometimes we lose sight that it is just that when we are surrounded by many others who happen to think similarly.  But people who have different ideas may have them because from their experience and in their lives, these other ideas are more helpful.  Other people aren’t just “us” parachuted into different scenes — we are each shaped by our experiences, Democrats no less than Republicans.  I think the fact that Democrats don’t seem to be able to address the deep unease that seems to animate much of conservative policy is a weakness in the Democratic platform.  I sometimes wonder if the attempt is even made.  I think that an attitude of being “right” from an intellectual point of view is a limiting (and limited) one, and often misses the real issue — which may actually be that the model being used is itself missing some important parts or information.
So, I’m all for emphasizing being open-minded.  We are all so limited anyway, we need to pool our understandings, like those blind guys with the elephant.
Which brings me to the religion issue: there, too, and especially, we are all blind guys feeling what part of the elephant we can reach.  For me, the point of the Sufi parable is the communication necessary among the blind guys — compassionate communication, I think, is actually the goal, not coming up with an accurate description of the beast being felt.

The apple

January 3, 2012

I realized I never explained how the apple figures into this alternate version of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall I related in my last post.

In one variant, it’s a piece of fruit on the ground Eve thinks is okay to take as part of her gleaning, and she gets in trouble for taking it nonetheless, which adds to her troubles.  In another variant, the apple’s fermentation leads to attempts, by Adam or Eve or both, to use it to self-soothe, which in a different way adds to their troubles.

Pundits, part I

January 3, 2012

I have often wondered how pundits are supposed to serve.  I have this sense that we often labor under slight misunderstandings of how the systems we have are supposed to work, and the relationship between our punditry and our government is one of those for me.

So, I look, and I see pundits are somewhat independent but need access and want to influence.  In some sectors they espouse particular points of view, ideologies, even religions, or systems of more academic thought that are belief systems unto themselves.  I then try to discern how the pieces might be rearranged.

Like the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall.  I have heard this one rearranged so that Eve actually fell before she ate the apple.  In this version, she loses children, and when they die, they take with them pieces of herself.  (One expression of this concept is a song by Richard Shindell called “The Ballad of Mary Magdalene,” the part where she says “He walked off with this heart of mine.”)  The episode about the family of Rick Santorum taking home the body of their son to welcome him into their family before releasing him to God or to the universe, or however people conceptualize this, is a way of disentangling hearts and souls so that this doesn’t happen — at least, that’s my understanding of it.  If we don’t, we get complicated grief and protracted bereavement, kind of like an impacted wisdom tooth or deeply embedded splinter.

So, in this rearranged version of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall, Eve has lost parts of her heart through her losses of children, and into this hollowed-out heart comes a spirit.  It’s not a “bad” spirit or an “evil” spirit, but it is one she is not adequately prepared to deal with.  Her lack of preparation is not a moral failing, but it is a fact.  And so she “falls” — falls into unrelenting despair.  Her despair leads to Adam’s, because he, too, is inadequately prepared to deal with this spirit (or energy, if that’s an easier concept to use).  It also leads to Eve’s understanding of the world in a new way, and that is her way out, through some sort of detachment through which the losses feel different and have a different significance, and she can find a path to a new stable and higher ground out of her despair.

She tries to share this way out of despair with Adam, and it doesn’t work the same way for him.  He processes the world in a different way to begin with, and this tool for Adam requires a lot more steps.  For one thing, he tries to do what she did through his mind and not through his heart, through his thinking apparatus and not through his relationship with the universe.  Why this is is a whole other story.  For this story, the simple point is that takes a huge amount of time and incremental steps, including my favorite part, when Adam and Eve trade genders in various combinations in order to help Adam utilize that part of the human apparatus for apprehending the world that he needs to use for this purpose.

And Adam and Eve do find their way back to the Garden.  Eventually they both are able to see the world in such a way that they don’t despair, because the world comes to look okay as it is to both of them, even pretty wonderful.  I think in the story, the Garden looks a little different from the way the old one looked, because time has passed, but that’s fine.  And Adam and Eve have to agree between themselves on what the Garden looks like, but they have the willingness to work that out, and despite some uncomfortable moments (the subject of countless other stories, including the episode in which Adam decides that Eve is just plain nuts, and then the one in which Eve fears this is so but this time it isn’t), they eventually do.

So, I would like to discern in a similar fashion a rearrangement of the elements of our current systems of government, media, business, intellectual thought, and understandings of helpful human behavior, with a view to having the engine of our society run more smoothly.  This is the context for my trying to figure out how, from my point of view, pundits can serve more helpfully — how the system is meant to work, and then, of course, how to get from here to there.

Understanding God through social science?

October 29, 2011

I guess what I really mean is, “Understanding where to look for God, or how to understand God’s existence through social science,” but that seemed kind of long.

It’s nothing new, it’s in that (Noel) Paul Stookey song, “The Wedding Song,” it’s in the story of the blind men feeling the elephant: God emerges from our loving interactions with each other.

But the thought came to me that maybe people who don’t roll with this love notion or religious parable thing might be okay with seeing God as an emergent property, through a notion developed by the rational thinking people at the right institutions with the correct credentials — those people have their role to play, too.

If I don’t react well to seeing the divine left off the list, it’s similarly not okay for me to leave off these fellow seekers.