On conscience and law

The law is written on our hearts, that is, in our own conscience. Living by it frees us from the written law, since it is only an attempt to put the conscience the creator weaved for all of us down on paper. A perfect attempt of course, but still limited by the medium.

The conscience that is united to the Holy Spirit by faith, hope, and selfless charity becomes a mirror of God’s own interior law which is His charity. It become perfectly free. It becomes its own law because it is completely subject to the will of God and to His Spirit. In the perfection of its obedience it “tastes and sees that the Lord is sweet,” and knows the meaning of St. Paul’s statement that the “law is not made for the just man” (I Timothy 1:9)

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.3 Sec. 10

Merton on listening to our subconscious (or not)

I do not say that we should try, without training or experience, to explore our own subconscious depths. But we ought to at least to admit that they exist, and that they are important, and we ought to have the humility to admit we do not know all about ourselves, that we are not experts at running our own lives. We ought to stop taking our conscious plans and decision with such infinite seriousness. It may well be that we are not the martyrs or the mystics or the apostles or the leaders or the lovers of God that we imagine ourselves to be.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.3 Sec. 8

On checking yourself for benefits too much during prayer

It is best, therefore, to let the psychological conscience alone when we are at prayer. The less we tinker with it the better. The reason why so many religious people believe they cannot meditate is that they think meditation consists in having religious emotions, thoughts, or affections of which one is, oneself, acutely aware. As soon as they start to meditate, they begin to look into the psychological conscience to find out if they are experiencing anything worthwhile. They find little or nothing. They either strain themselves to produce some interior experience, or else they give up in disgust.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.3 Sec.6

I remember doing exactly this when I was in college. I would get up at some ungodly hour meet with the hard-core prayer warriors at the church several days a week. After pushing through this for about a month, I gave up in disgust. In hindsight now, my motives were whack from the start. It would have been better to stay in bed.

On free will and spontaneity

On free will and spontaneity:

Free will is not given to us merely as a firework to be shot off into the air. There are some men who seem to think their acts are freer in proportion as they are without purpose, as if a rational purpose imposed some kind of limitation upon us. That is like saying that one is richer if he throws money out the window than if he spends it.

This is seen in icky postmodern art where careful design is scorned. Meaningless paint flung on the canvas gives rationalism the finger, and moralism while it’s at it.

At first I was going to write that this idea plays a part in the elevation of spontaneity as well: that something is more valueable if it is done with very little forethought – that a flower picked suddenly on the walk home is better than the one picked in a very premeditated fashion at the florist. Or that praying outloud and making it up as you went along was more spiritual/powerful/whatever than writing something down earlier and reading it. But I think this is different than what Merton is talking about here. That is rationalism and systematic reasoning versus intuition and spontanaity. Not free will fireworks versus motivated purpose.

The obligatory heartbeat

Being an avid feed reader junkie for several years, one of the regular posts that crops up from a quiet blog is a shout of “I’m Still Alive!”. This is often followed by some kind of self-punishment declaring “Oh, I’ve been a bad, bad blogger, but I’m going to get my act together!”

You could be really boring and make it a one line yip, possibly followed up by a similar yap after another week of silence. You know a blog is on the way out when this happens.

Or, one could be very creative in delivering this standard confession:

Brant Hansen did this a couple days ago with a post titled And the Award for “Worst Blogger Ever” goes to…

So here’s what’s happened: A few months ago, they started syndicating our radio show.  And that’s neat.  But it’s confronted me with something I didn’t think about:  Emails.  Bushels of ’em.

To:  Brant.  From:  Every Person Alive.  RE:  Every Conceivable Thing, Mostly Tragic Stuff

I wrote awhile back that C.S. Lewis took the time to write to each correspondent.  It doesn’t quite suffice to say, as I did, that “I’m no C.S. Lewis.”  Let’s just say that if Clive is an F-16, Brant is a paper airplane, badly-folded.

Or, our local author N.D. Wilson laments his lack of blogging while disclosing his next brilliant social business plan in a post called Don’t Let the Chia Pet Die:

I will gather a stable of writers, and then take clients too lazy (or busy) to blog, but who are desirous of all the immense gratification that comes from watching web stats rise, pie charts swell, and comments flourish. These lazy people will forward all photos and news items to their assigned ghost-blogger, who will then over-romanticize humorous, coy, and empathetic narratives around them.

Alas, I have nothing so clever – just parroting quotes from other folks and throwing in a little commentary. Only my wife reads this blog anyway. Actually, I think by brother might read it sometimes too. And the guy from Portland with the cool photos on Flickr.

I was on a roll, writing at least a little something every day, then I lost my way.

And save our souls, we’re playing dead
And mine for gold in a heart of lead
And turn around and save yourself
We found our way and blocked it out

– Drown Out, The Swell Season, Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova

Actually what happened is I just got a new job! I continue to shun my degree in music theory and move up the IT ladder. It’s been a good time so far. I’ll keep recording other thoughts here as I bumble on down the road.


Well, I missed seeing Flogging Molly this weekend a few miles away. Oh well. The university newspaper had an interview with some of the band members. I found this part enjoyable:

Q: The Evergreen: What are some common misconceptions people have of the band?

A: Casey: That we get f—ing drunk out of our minds every night and that all we want to do is drink whiskey with everybody.

A: Schmidt: And that we’re all Irish.

Q: The Argonaut: Isn’t it just Dave (King) that’s from Ireland?

A: Casey: That’s right.

The whole thing is here.

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Same old shtick

Rolling stone announced today they are changing the physical format of their magazine from it’s large tabloid size to that or all other glossy magazines.

Let’s see. The last issue’s covered was trashing McCain. The new cover is praising Obama. In fact, the interview reveals this is the third time in seven months that Obama has graced the cover. And you thought it was about music. Uh huh.

“Switching the format to attract more readers is a logical decision that will continue Rolling Stone’s tradition of revolutionizing society’s way of thinking,” Barbu [an avid reader] said.

A tradition of revolution? Sounds like the same old shtick to me.

Abstracting the heart of God

Obeying God has to be done from the basis of our conscience before the Lord, not in rules or principals that have been boiled enough to be written down, even if they’re true and good. God has put eternity in our hearts. Part of our heart touches the bare metal (excuse the software terminology) of God’s will and what is right and wrong. The more layers of abstraction we wrap it in, the more likely we are to actually end up actually missing it. Wrapping things in abstraction is absolutely necessary for teaching and understanding and any kind of written communication, but when that dictates our actions, we miss the heart of God, either a little or a lot.

The bible itself is abstract from the heart of God, wrapped in the OT law and squeezed into the restraints of words and language. (Theology writings and commentary even more so). It’s the best thing we have and everything we need to know about him is in there, but it’s still not him. Knowing him in theory is wise, and a doorway for many. But we must know him in our hearts. Conscience is a good place to start.

If, in trying to do the will of God, we always seek the highest abstract standard of perfection, we show that there is still much we need to learn about the will of God. For God does not demand that every man attain to what is theoretically highest and best. It is better to be a good street sweeper than a bad writer, better to be a good bartender than a bad doctor, and the repentant thief who died with Jesus on Calvary was far more perfect than the holy ones who had Him nailed to the cross.

And yet, abstractly speaking, what is more holy than the priesthood and less holy than the state of a criminal? The dying thief had, perhaps, disobeyed the will of God in many things: but in the most important event of his life He listened and obeyed. The Pharisees had kept the law to the letter and had spent their lives in the pursuit of a most scrupulous perfection. But they were so intent upon perfection as a abstraction that when God manifested His will and His perfection in a concrete and definite way [Jesus] they had no choice but to reject it.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.4 Sec.13

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What was Jesus actually thinking?

Lest they risk (at the worst) blasphemy, or (at the least) stepping on someone theological toes, throughout the ages people have been hesitant to try and guess what what actually going through Jesus’ head. Any approach that imagines him to only be thinking high mystical ideals is effectively denying his manhood. This is gnosticism. Anything that skims over the fact that he had the full measure of the Holy Spirit (at least from age 30 on) and never entertained sinful thoughts is denying his divinity. Tricky business!

Anne Rice (of fictional vampire fame) has recently taken a serious swing at it in her Christ the Lord novels. These are narrated by Jesus in the first person. I haven’t read them but they are, from all accounts, carefully researched and fairly convincing. The first chapter of the narrative begins:

I was seven years old. What do you know when you’re seven years old?

An excellent question!

The wise Bishop of Durham also can’t resist exploring this a bit in his apologetics:

I do not thing that Jesus “knew he was divine” in the same way that we know we are cold or hot, happy or sad, male or female. It was more like the kind of “knowledge” we associate with vocation, where people know, in the very depths of their being, that they are called to be an artist, a mechanic, a philosopher.

-N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p.119

Elitism in coffee

Drop that Starbuck’s milkshake you uncultured swine! (Just kidding)

On true gourmet coffee vs. everything else:

Great coffees, he [Peter Giuliano] says, should be brewed one at a time. “It isn’t consistent with the specialty coffee aesthetic to pre-brew and store coffee in the kind of thermoses you see in gas stations, hotel lobbies, or bullshit coffee shops where they sell French Vanilla.”

God in a Cup

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