July 14, 2006

Summer Lush

Summer is like whiskey to me. Was it Gen'l Lee or Jackson who said that he didn't drink spirits because he "liked it too much"? Surely the same could be said of me in this season of sun when I'm driven with a high fever to collect experiences for experience's sake (oh vanity of vanities), beginning in May when I wandered amid the Savannah-like streets of German Village after seeing an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

That was the beginning of my ruin. "Ruined by reading" goes the phrase but who isn't ruined by summer? It's hardwired in us to seek that which is given and then held back - the body, for example, puts on more fat after long fasts than it otherwise would, actually treating generic calories differently afterwards. So too, I suppose, the God-seeker who hungry in this life finds her reward in the next that much more to her appetite, given the keenness of her earthly appetite.

Running helps. It helps slake this gelatinous summer upon which I so gluttonously gorge! (Bulwer-Lytton here I come!) I run by the soul-deadening architecture of the Convention Center, the cement block so denigrated by the UK Times columnist covering the Episcopalian convention. It's so drab and dreary that it feels intentional, as if it its plainness was done purposely. I run later into the bliss of Victorian Village with its pleasing hidden-nook-and-cranny houses fastidiously enclosed by ornate black iron fences. I think: do I like this better simply because it's less familiar? Because it provokes nostalgia or sentiment? Would someone in the Victorian Era would pass by them as I do the Convention Center?

I want to disentangle it and find the line between what is intrisically beautiful and what is merely novel and evocative of something else. A fool's errand, of course. The futility of that exercise reminds me of Neuhaus's attempt to disentangle his experiences from his theological reading in pinning down how his conversion to Catholicism came about:
These were nontheological, even psychological, factors in the story of how I became the Catholic I was. That does not mean they were unimportant. I have long since given up all hope of definitive success in disentangling the factors that formed me from the intellectual and theological reasons I gave, and give, for the decisions I have made. Early on I came across and took to heart William Butler Yeats's caution against rummaging through the rag-and-bone shop of the human heart.
It seems the danger of seeking after experiences of physical and intellectual stimulation is to begin to apply the same standard to prayer, to our spiritual lives, where God is not interested in supplying spiritual ecstasies like a glorified tour director. Neuhaus had a week like that once and said, "in the years that followed I would, from time to time, try to re-create them, to experience again what I experienced then. It never worked."
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"Gather the flowers while ye may," and I do, gather the sun's largess even though sometimes it feels a bit...frivolous. Perhaps the frivolous can lead to depth though. Jody Bottum writes poetry, so you know he has a frivolous streak (I joke), and today he began what looked to be the Most Banal Post Ever Written, something about ukuleles. By the end he was quoting TS Eliot and Edward Gibbon, tussling with the signs of our decline and fall...

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