For much of this last year I have been locked in front of a book, kindle, or laptop absorbed in the study of existence. And, though I have done my best to avoid them my whole life, I have lately had to deal with what the Germans had to say about it. And they had a lot to say. First the Greeks, then the Latins, though quickly to the Greeks again, and then the Germans, and now we are all trapped in the high-pitched whine of überology in all its various echoes and translations.
Sometimes I get very tired.
Sometimes I want to plug my ears and run away.
All the philosophy! All the minds are trying too hard to listen and learn and declare and delve and do. But maybe existence just wants to be. As in, maybe existence just wants to be left alone.
And yes, I think it is pretentious. It is pretentious for any of us to claim to ‘study’ something like existence, divine or otherwise. Let’s please recognize that many of those with the time and opportunity to delve into these things have been madmen—literally. No doubt their madness was a gift to enable them to achieve brilliance. But, when you and I became involved, when we became invested in following in the steps of madmen, it’s time to question our own sanity. And pretensions. And, frankly, I question both for myself frequently.
Two thirds of the way through his opus Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas had a mystical experience that caused him to put down his pen. He never finished it. Later he said, “Everything I have written is straw.”
The point is, it takes a lot of time…but does it matter? All the ologies and osophies and emiotics… Do they feed one hungry child? Do they comfort one elderly person on a cold day?
I speak to all of us, I think this pursuit must not be of a distant star or an academic prize but it must be a pathway to wellbeing. As a graduate student grasping (gasping) through the texts of Hegel, Kant, Peirce, and more, sometimes I just have to get some air. And, as I’m breathing, I have to wonder…what??!
This is what I do on a ‘straw’ day to clear my head when all the ‘ologies’ begin to feel a little too big for everyone’s britches. :-) Or a long walk is also good.
What are we doing? Are we trying to make our point in a hostile room? Or have we stumbled onto something wondrous! Can we maintain humility and use what we learn to build/nurture societies and communities of wellbeing? Some of us contribute the shingles for the church roof. Others bake the most delicious spice cakes. A brave few travel the world and record for the rest of us the chasm between what we wish were true about humanity, and what is actually true. Still others, like me at the moment, attempt to delve into the unknown depths of divinity and scoop out images and experiences of neighbor, lover, and God.
It’s hard to stay sane, but I’m determined to try it. As such, I have a little fun as I go. (See my post Words, words, humor me.) I like to let the air out of the tires of ‘big words’ for example, as well as poking fun at words that border on pretension even as they attempt to justify their existence in a plea for exactitude—ha! I say look out! Big words can aspire to too much power. After a while, they need to be aired out. We all do.
Consider this an airing out. Consider this blog the product of a ‘straw’ day, a day when, after weeks of reading tracts devoted to what was or was not part of a priori existence, I have to agree with Thomas Aquinas about it all being straw. I find his straw reference very interesting. Straw, after all isn’t that bad, it has some uses. It’s clean. It smells good and fresh. In the 12th century it was handy for thatch and stuffing mattresses. It made an appearance at childbirth. This is all good. Even better is that it is a commonman’s material, ready to hand to be turned into items of utility, like baskets and brooms, and even art.
A Belarusian Straw Bird, by Viktar Patsciuk, 2007. Wikipedia Commons.
The trouble is, straw was not exactly what Thomas Aquinas was aiming for. For all its nicer uses, straw is mainly used for soaking up messes. It is strewn liberally in places like horse stables to absorb excrement and clean up easily. It is used by the handful to scrape unknown substances from the bottoms of shoes. ‘Straw’ may be ‘clean’ and ‘natural’ in starting out…but maybe in the end it is only useful for absorbing the mess we make of it…
Yet I guess I am hooked. I am willing, at least for now, to trust to the stuff that can absorb the mess. I trust that this straw of everyday life is what really matters, regardless of what it aspires (pretentiously) to be.
I am a miller’s daughter spinning…spinning….spinning…
Where is Rumpelstilzchen when you need him?
Illustration of Rumpelstiltskin from Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm, translated by Lucy Crane, illustrated by Walter Crane, first published by Macmillan and Company in 1886. Available at Project Gutenberg. and Wikipedia Commons.