matter becomes again means of communion with and knowledge of God

On the other hand, the same act of blessing may mean the revelation of the true “nature” and “destiny” of water, and thus of the world—it may be the epiphany and the fulfillment of their “sacramentality.” By being restored through the blessing to its proper function, the “holy water” is revealed as the true, full, adequate water, and matter becomes again means of communion with and knowledge of God.

For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann.

love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds

Nothing is inexorable but love. Love which will yield to prayer is imperfect and poor. Nor is it then the love that yields, but its alloy. …For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected—not in itself, but in the object. …Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.

George MacDonald (#2 in the anthology by C.S. Lewis)

A List of Online Articles (and a Reading List) by David Bentley Hart

A few folks have asked me for this list from time to time, so I plan to start maintaining it publicly. Here is a list of online articles by David Bentley Hart going back in time (with his exchange with N.T. Wright separated below):

  • “Three Cheers for Socialism: Christian Love & Political Practice” in Commonweal Magazine on February 24, 2020 here.
  • “A Pakaluk of Lies” in First Things on February 14, 2020 here.
  • “Why Do People Believe in Hell” in The New York Times on January 10, 2020 here.
  • “Misenchantment” in Commonweal Magazine on January 6, 2020 here.
  • “Manoussakis and his Pear Tree”in Eclectic Orthodoxy on November 7, 2019 here.
  • “‘Gnosticism’ and Universalism: A Review of ‘The Devil’s Redemption’” in Eclectic Orthodoxy on October 2, 2019 here.
  • “1 Timothy 2:3-4: will, intend, or desire?” in Eclectic Orthodoxy on September 23, 2019 here.
  • “Theodicy and Apokatastasis” in Eclectic Orthodoxy on September 20, 2019 here.
  • “Divorce, Annulment & Communion: An Orthodox Theologian Weighs In” in Commonweal Magazine on August 26, 2019 here.
  • “Quentin Tarantino’s Cosmic Justice” in The New York Times on August 6, 2019 here.
  • “Can We Please Relax About ‘Socialism’?” in The New York Times on April 27, 2019 here.
  • “Anent Garry Wills and the ‘DBH’ Version” in Eclectic Orthodoxy on February 11, 2018 here.
  • “The Gospel According to Melpomene: Reflections on Rowan Williams’s The Tragic Imagination” in Modern Theology on January 26, 2018 (not fully accessible without a fee but can be previewed and purchased here).

Exchange with N.T. Wright:

  • N.T. Wright published “The New Testament in the strange words of David Bentley Hart” in The Christian Century on January 15, 2018 here.
  • David Bentley Hart published “A Reply to N. T. Wright” in Eclectic Orthodoxy on January 16, 2018 here.
  • David Bentley Hart published “The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients” in Church Life Journal on July 26, 2018 here.
  • James P. Ware published “The Incarnation Doesn’t End with the Resurrection” in Church Life Journal on June 21, 2019 here.
  • David Bentley Hart published “Looking Awry at Resurrection Bodies” in Church Life Journal on July 04, 2019 here.

A few older favorites by David Bentley Hart:

David Bentley Hart also frequently appears in online video interviews and podcasts. I have transcribed portions of some of these:

  • See here for a conversation about the new heavens and the new earth as well as some philosophy of the mind in an interviewer with Robert Wright from February 26, 2020.
  • See here for a conversation about the living cosmos in an interview here with Jason Micheli from April 13, 2018.
  • See here for some conversation about classical liberalism, Karl Marx and other topics in an interview with Jason Micheli from October 18, 2019.
  • (Separately, I also have various favorite passages from Hart’s books collected here along with a few of my own ruminations about some of his work.)

Finally, here is a reading list from David Bentley Hart that has frequented the internet since November of 2015 when Ben Davis posted an email from David Bentley Hart recommending these titles for any theologian:

Metaphysics:

  • Metaphysics (4th edition) by Richard Taylor
  • He Who Is by E. L. Mascall
  • Existence and Analogy by E. L. Mascall
  • The One and the Many by W. Norris Clarke
  • Proofs of God by Matthew Levering

Theology (always start with the fathers):

  • Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man
  • Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and Resurrection
  • Ps-Dionysius, Complete Works
  • Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ
  • Athanasius, On the Incarnation
  • St Isaac of Ninevah (especially the “Second Volume”)
  • Maximus the Confessor, Chapters on Love
  • Maximus the Confessor, The Cosmic Mystery of Christ

Mediaeval and Early Modern Theology:

  • Symeon the New Theologian’s Mystical Discourses (or whatever it’s called in English)
  • Bonaventure’s Journey of the Mind to God
  • Nicholas of Cusa
  • Thomas Traherne, Centuries
  • George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons

Modern Theologians:

  • Sergius Bulgakov, Bride of the Lamb
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord. (This is a seven volume set.)
  • Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church
  • Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World
  • Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics part IV, (There are 5 volumes in this set. 14 total.)
  • Henri de Lubac’s Supernatural (currently being translated I believe, but if you read French go ahead)
  • Rowan Williams’ Resurrection (2nd edition)

things seen clearly …freed …from possessiveness

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a regaining—regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them” —as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.

“On Fairy Stories” by J.R.R. Tolkien published in Tree and Leaf (Boston, 1965), pp. 57-58.

I may be at risk of recording this entire classic by Tolkien within the collections in this blog, but I don’t think that I had this critical passage in my harvesting here.

God to whom we pray is nearer to us than the very prayer itself

The God to whom we pray is nearer to us than the very prayer itself ere it leaves the heart.

George MacDonald in Paul Faber, Surgeon, chapter 35, “A Heart.”

You were more inward to me than my most inward part and higher than my highest.

Augustine in Confessions (3.6.11), in Latin “interior intimo meo et superior summo meo.”

by the tune of the rustling of Thy leaves

On the last Sunday before Orthodox Great Lent, the church remembers the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. This hymn is sung at the vespers on Saturday evening that starts this liturgical day. In this hymn, Adam asks Eden itself to pray to God for Adam (by the music of Eden’s rustling leaves) that the gates might be opened and that the Adam might once again be able to enjoy the tree of life.

O most-honored paradise, comeliness transcendent in splendor, the dwelling-place perfected by God, unending joy and enjoyment, the glory of the righteous, the joy of the Prophets, and the dwelling-place of the saints, beseech the Creator of all, by the tune of the rustling of Thy leaves, to open for me the gates which I closed by sin, and that I be worthy to partake of the tree of life and joy, which I enjoyed in Thee of old.

for creation to become like the burning bush

Robert Wright (journalist and author of several books who has said that God is a figment of the human imagination but also that he is not an atheist) interviewed David Bentley Hart on his video blogging channel (The Wright Show, posted here on YouTube, Feb 26, 2020). Wright did an excellent job of keeping Hart down to earth and of drawing out material on a wide range of topics (although primarily focused on Hart’s latest book). Below is a fast transcription of a few portions on the new heavens and the new earth as well as philosophy of mind that I will want to return to for myself. Below the transcript, I compare what Hart shares with ideas from N. T. Wright (not to be confused with Robert Wright). So here is the hasty transcript:

(47:01) What did someone like Origen or Gregory of Nyssa think that the point of creation is? It’s ultimately to call spirits out of nothingness into an eternal divinizing union with God and within a framework of created nature which is full of the glory of God. That’s it. That’s the whole point. If you don’t reach that end, then God’s will has been thwarted.

[Criticism of the impoverished and cartoonish vision that we modern Christians put in the place of this and contrasting our impoverished vision with Paul’s “glorious cosmic vision” in 1 Corinthians 15 which “should shift your vision of what the religious imagination is capable of seeing.” (48:38)]

(49:32) …The eschatology of the whole Bible, …Jewish and Christian alike, is this worldly. The kingdom of heaven just means the kingdom of the heavenly places or the transcendent places, the places on high. If you had the cosmology of the time, it would mean the kingdom literally either of the Empyrean above the sphere of the fixed stars or Primum Mobile or the kingdom that encompassed everything above the sphere of the moon. It just means the divine place. …When the kingdom of the heavens or of heaven comes to earth, it is to transform earth so all of the language of redemption in the New Testament is of a new heaven, a new sky literally, a new earth. And all the animals are there rejoicing, and there is plant life and animal life and human life. It’s a communal, a cosmic restoration in which the glory of God now pervades everything. In the eastern Christian tradition, which has a certain pronounced mystical tendencies even at the center of dogmatic life, a very popular image is to say that the end of creation is for creation to become like the burning bush—pervaded by the glory of God but not consumed.

(51:55) …The first showing of God to Moses is in the form of a burning bush, a bush that is not consumed by the flames. …This was the vision of the purpose of creation in the New Testament or the early church. It’s not that human spirits are wafted away to an ethereal paradise, but rather that the whole cosmos—well it’s right there in Paul, chapter eight of Romans, that all of creation is groaning in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed or Revelation, I saw a new heaven and a new earth. It’s not about a heaven elsewhere.

(56:30) Wright: …Do you have a conception of what the afterlife might be like?

…No. I have none. No. Even the dogmatic pronouncements on this are worthless. It’s part of Catholic doctrine, for instance, that there is such a thing as immediate judgement. …I think all of that should be just judiciously ignored.

Wright: So you’re what—agnostic but hopeful or what?

Hart: I’m not a materialist. I don’t even believe that you can come up with a materialist reduction of consciousness let alone of anything else actually. I just don’t think that any picture we have could possibly be adequate to whatever the reality would be, so I dislike trying. …I just wouldn’t claim to know what it’s like beyond this life. I find it always results in a kind of cartoon. You always picture somebody who has a nice front garden and running orange juice from the taps. It’s everything that our limited imagination at its most guilelessly childlike can come up with, but other than that—just take those as psychological symbols of something far greater.

1:03:23 …Wright: You think consciousness is more fundamental than the material world.

Wright: So the material world depends on it more than it depends on the material world?

Hart: Most definitely, yah. It would have to be, I think.

Wright: So the material world depends on it more than it depends on the material world?

Hart: I would say that the ancient intuition that held good up until the days of the mechanical philosophy that mind is the more basic reality, the more original, the more primordial principle is correct and that the modern tendency that has become dogma for us since the seventeenth century—first in the form of a schism between a mental and a physical realm and then in terms of a sort of omnivorous physicalism which tried to explain everything including mind in terms of a material reduction—has been a logical failure and will continue to be one because it creates more problems than it answers. So yes, I’m very much with the forest ascetics and the contemplatives and the mystics when it comes to how I understand the nature of reality.

Among several other things, it struck me that Hart sounded similar to N. T. Wright’s thesis in Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. For example, Hart says:

The eschatology of the whole Bible, …Jewish and Christian alike, is this worldly. …When the kingdom of the heavens or of heaven comes to earth, it is to transform earth so all of the language of redemption in the New Testament is of a new heaven, a new sky literally, a new earth. And all the animals are there rejoicing, and there is plant life and animal life and human life. It’s a communal, a cosmic restoration in which the glory of God now pervades everything. …It’s not about a heaven elsewhere. …It’s not that human spirits are wafted away to an ethereal paradise, but rather that the whole cosmos—well it’s right there in Paul, chapter eight of Romans, that all of creation is groaning in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed.

Compare that to N. T. Wright:

Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. …“God’s kingdom” in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming “on earth as it is in heaven.”

More recently, N. T. Wright took Hart on for what Wright described as an overly spiritualized translation of Paul, specifically Paul’s description of the resurrection body as a spiritual body (a debate that I have considered at length here). Wright implied that Hart was too neoplatonic or gnostic—something such as what N. T. Wright criticizes generally in this passage from Surprised by Hope:

Most Western Christians—and most Western non-Christians, for that matter—in fact suppose that Christianity was committed to at least a soft version of Plato’s position. A good many Christian hymns and poems wander off unthinkingly in the direction of Gnosticism. The “just passing through” spirituality (as in the spiritual “This world is not my home, / I’m just a’passin’ through”), though it has some affinities with classical Christianity, encourages precisely a Gnostic attitude: the created world is at best irrelevant, at worst a dark, evil, gloomy place, and we immortal souls, who existed originally in a different sphere, are looking forward to returning to it as soon as we’re allowed to. A massive assumption has been made in Western Christianity that the purpose of being a Christian is simply, or at least mainly, to “go to heaven when you die,” and texts that don’t say that but that mention heaven are read as if they did say it, and texts that say the opposite, like Romans 8:18–25 and Revelation 21–22, are simply screened out as if they didn’t exist.

There is something elusive about the distinctions between David Bentley Hart and N. T. Wright in their recent disputes over the nature of the resurrection body as described by Paul. Hart sounds just like Wright when he says that “the eschatology of the whole Bible, …Jewish and Christian alike, is this worldly” and that “it’s not about a heaven elsewhere” or “that human spirits are wafted away to an ethereal paradise.” At the same time, Hart regularly describes himself as a neoplatonist (in this interview excerpted above and in many other places), and Hart is regularly criticized for this.

I find the key in the title that Hart gave his essay when he defended himself against N. T. Wright: “The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients” (more here including links to all the related articles between Hart and Wright). Hart clearly does not think that the standard criticisms of the neoplatonist position are correct about what neoplatonist believed. In this interview with Robert Wright, Hart mentions gnosticism once (not in my transcript and just in passing as a description of a film that Robert Wright brought up, The Matrix). Hart would no doubt agree that certain neoplatonists and gnostics (not to be conflated) were wrong to be dismissive of everything about this earthly realm (all of which clearly matters eternally in some real sense for Hart). Neoplatonism is misunderstood according to Hart. While it does insist on the greater substantiality of mind and spirit, not all neoplatonism therefore dismisses or despises the stuff of earth.

I love Hart’s allusions to the importance of the burning bush in the understanding of the purpose of all creation, and I can’t close this essay without citing the opening lines of “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins: “THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;” which I’m sure were written with an awareness of this standard image from the early church authors.

Finally, here’s an excellent quote about this idea of the burning bush among the early church fathers (shared with me from this fantastic blog):

St. Maximos says that “the unspeakable and prodigious fire hidden in the essence of things, as in the bush, is the fire of divine love and the dazzling brilliance of his beauty inside every thing.”

The logoi of created things, the presence of the invisible within them, is at the same time their hidden beauty that can be apprehended by noetic vision.

The beautiful, then, is “a shining forth, an epiphany, of the mysterious depths of being”—the visible illuminated by the invisible.

All are part of the shared redemption of humanity and nature through the disclosure of divine beauty.

From Bruce Foltz in The Noetics of Nature.
“Landscape with Moses and the Burning Bush.” 1610–16. Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri). Italian.

utterances can somehow touch mysterious depths which analysis can never quite fathom

Walter Ong studied how human life and consciousness changed substantially with the move from oral to written cultures. He worked at a crossroads of communication theory, history and literature. Ong also wrote a lot about the history of education (including material on the early moves from classical to modern classroom methods). He argues that we need to help students learn to speak and write by imitating and expanding upon delightful and witty collections of great examples. In this passage, he critiques the modern method of learning to write by analysis (which was first used in classrooms to the exclusion of almost all else by Peter Ramus, 1515 to 1572):

With analysis as a device for finding ‘matter’ for discourse, [students] shift from a word-wisdom to a kind of classroom-wisdom. Ramist analysis forces the pupil to process all his mental possessions through some art or curriculum subject before he puts them to use. If an apothegm or a proverb or an aphorism should by any chance come to mind, before one uses it one had best write it down and analyze it grammatically, rhetorically, logically, mathematically, or ‘physically.’ What it ‘contains’ is what comes out of the analysis, not what it actually says before it is analyzed. …To this mind the sense that utterances can somehow touch mysterious depths which analysis can never quite fathom (without itself opening still greater depths) is of course lost. All statement is flat, plain, and if it is not this, it is deficient as statement. …Ramism implies that it is the curriculum subjects which hold the world together. Nothing is accessible for ‘use,’ that is, for active intussusception [a drawing in of something from without: the assimilation of new material and its dispersal among preexistent matter] by the human being, until it has first been put through the curriculum. The schoolroom is by implication the doorway to reality, and indeed the only doorway. …The implication is there, for every educator to read and take comfort from, that in the last analysis the curriculum is all. Ramus is indeed a pedagogue’s pedagogue.

“Ramist Classroom Procedure and the Nature of Reality” by Walter J. Ong. Studies in English Literature. Winter, 1961. pp. 31-47.

I’m so grateful for a friend who recently introduced me to the work of Walter Ong. I’m learning, inspired and encouraged. There are many solid and helpful implications for classical Christian educators. Ong did a lot of criticizing of influential French humanist and educational reformer Peter Ramus (1515 to 1572). Ong also loved Gerard Manley Hopkins (writing Hopkins, the Self, and God).

Here are a few more quotes from more major works as examples of his thought:

Jack Goody (1977) has convincingly shown how shifts hitherto labeled as shifts from magic to science, or from the so-called ‘prelogical’ to the more and more ‘rational’ state of consciousness, or from Lévi-Strauss’s ‘savage’ mind to domesticated thought, can be more economically and cogently explained as shifts from orality to various stages of literacy. I had earlier suggested (1967b, p. 189) that many of the contrasts often made between ‘western’ and other views seem reducible to contrasts between deeply interiorized literacy and more or less residually oral states of consciousness.

Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.

Learning to read and write disables the oral poet, Lord found: it introduces into his mind the concept of a text as controlling the narrative and thereby interferes with the oral composing processes, which have nothing to do with texts but are ‘the remembrance of songs sung.

Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.

Sight isolates, sound incorporates. Whereas sight situates the observer outside what he views, at a distance, sound pours into the hearer. Vision dissects, as Merleau-Ponty has observed (1961). Vision comes to a human being from one direction at a time: to look at a room or a landscape, I must move my eyes around from one part to another. When I hear, however, I gather sound simultaneously from every directions at once; I am at the center of my auditory world, which envelopes me, establishing me at a kind of core of sensation and existence… You can immerse yourself in hearing, in sound. There is no way to immerse yourself similarly in sight.

By contrast with vision, the dissecting sense, sound is thus a unifying sense. A typical visual ideal is clarity and distinctness, a taking apart. The auditory ideal, by contrast, is harmony, a putting together.

Interiority and harmony are characteristics of human consciousness. The consciousness of each human person is totally interiorized, known to the person from the inside and inaccessible to any other person directly from the inside. Everyone who says ‘I’ means something different by it from what every other person means. What is ‘I’ to me is only ‘you’ to you…

In a primary oral culture, where the word has its existence only in sound… the phenomenology of sound enters deeply into human beings’ feel for existence, as processed by the spoken word. For the way in which the word is experienced is always momentous in psychic life.

Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.

One of the abiding problems of explanation is that it splits issues analytically in order to clarify them, and in the process often impoverishes or denatures the issues, depriving them of some of their full and essential depth.

Walter Ong. Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization.

A name is often referred to in slang as a ‘handle,’ a hold on something or someone.

Walter Ong. Hopkins, the Self, and God.

The ancient Greek term mythos, which yields our English ‘myth,’ at its root means anything delivered by word of mouth and thus from the start was radically acoustic.

Walter Ong. Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization.

The term ‘catholic’ (katholikos, a Greek word adopted by the Latin Church) does not mean universal (that is, ‘inclusive,’ ‘encompassing,’ and hence by implication to some degree bounding) but rather, in its Greek etymology, kata + holos, through-the-whole, outgoing, expansive.

Walter Ong. Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness an d Culture.

Openness does not mean lack of organization, lack of principle, or lack of all resistance. For the human being, at least, it means quite the contrary: the strengthening of organization, principles, and resistance where needed, so that interaction with the outside can be strong and real. Indeed, paradoxically again, openness means strengthening closure itself.

Walter Ong. Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness an d Culture.

Real time has no divisions at all, but is uninterruptedly continuous: at midnight yesterday did not click over into today. No one can find the exact point of midnight, and if it is not exact, how can it be midnight? And we have no experience of today as being next to yesterday, as it is represented on a calendar. Reduced to space, time seems more under control—but only seems to be, for real, indivisible time carries us to real death. (This is not to deny that spatial reductionism is immeasurably useful and technologically necessary, but only to say that its accomplishments are intellectually limited, and can be deceiving.)

Walter Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.

all become of one stature

Then the trumpet shall blow with great shouting, and the foundations of the earth shall shake, and the dead shall rise from their graves, and all become of one stature, and the secret thoughts of all stand revealed before Thee.

A hymn from the Orthros service on the morning of Judgement Sunday (Orthodox church, Antiochian jurisdiction).

When I asked friends what “stature” means in this hymn, someone responded: “Eph 4:13, until all of us come to … the measure of the full stature (‘helikia’, as in the hymn) of Christ. …on course to Christlikeness, as a dynamic state, ever-increasing, real inasmuch as it is ever ‘in progress.'”

Here are the eight instances of this word (ἡλικίας) in the New Testament:

  • Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature…”
  • Matthew 6:27 and Luke 12:25 “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?”
  • Luke 19:3 “And he [Zacchaeus] sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.”
  • John 9:21 and 23 “But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age. …Therefore said his parents, He is of age.”
  • Ephesians 4:13 “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.”
  • Hebrews 11:11 “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.”

So this ancient hymn writer (who I have not tried to look up) imagines that everyone in the general resurrection will “rise from their graves” and stand together with a similar age or maturity level. This term does suggest being “on the way” toward a goal or ideal or final maturity. So the comment that I received is helpful in saying that all who are raised to face Jesus Christ will be placed into a similar way of being “on course to Christlikeness.” It is helpful to envision this “one stature” of all humanity alongside this vision of Paul: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

the stubbornness to accept our gladness

“A Brief For The Defense” by Jack Gilbert.

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

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