Zeno’s Nocturne Hymn

Sometimes words stalk me in the middle of the night. There’s some stuff I have been mulling over for a while now and I suppose that the subconscious pools bubbled up to the surface and woke me up. So, I wrote. In the end all art is theft (I think I stole this line as well), and this piece is the byproduct of my sources, so I owe this to the artists and philosophers who have blazed this trail before me. For those of you who are in the ad fontes kind of mood, these are my sources:

TS Eliot’s Four Quartets

Lisel Mueller’s In Passing

Zeno’s Paradoxes

Henri Bergson’s An Introduction to Metaphysics

* Apologies for the formatting, I still haven’t been able to get WordPress to behave

 

Zeno’s Nocturne Hymn

 

The moment freezes the arrow in midair,

the black oak leaves encased in the amber afternoon

remain still while the cold breezes between

autumn and winter blow.

Time and motion cease at the still point

and point to the beginning of motion and time

and their end.

 

Emptiness and fullness are the child

of the same mother,

who was with the LORD before all worlds

when the Word was spoken in the beginning.

She is ours in fear and the end of fear

when at last fools learn wisdom and renounce

the poisoned fruit of our first garden.

Knowledge is regained in unknowing and

trembling ceases when we learn to tremble.

 

The autumn rose shrugs off her mysterious bud

at the thorned end of her ascent,

still, ever and always still the blossom lingers

in the eternal moment,

and what is precious is lost upon the frosts of winters morning.

Her petals make the slow descent

to the barren soil and blanket the sepulcher

when time begins again at its Lenten end.

 

Calm midnight is forever still and

starlight frozen in unceasing circuit.

Orion ceases in the moment

between past and future and forever shines.

The oaken leaves in November’s amber afternoon

are called and recalled into the ceaseless night by memory;

where the past is made immortal in the present,

where future leaves rattle in tomorrow’s breeze

under the same still starlight.

 

Oak and rose, Advent and Lent

are the same child of the same Mother,

ascending and descending on the still point,

sharing the same seed of Eden and Gethsemane.

The thorned bud ascends from the same Sepulcher.

Midnight and afternoon

stand forever still in the same memory.

 

By: Jedidiah Paschall

 

 

 

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The War On Drugs…

No, I’m not talking about that war, which is tantamount to a war on the people. I am talking about the band – The War On Drugs. Had it not been for the sage advice of my younger brother Sam I would never have heard of this band. Now that I have had the chance to listen through their albums, all I can say is this band is drips with artistic, musical, and lyrical excellence. If you are a fan of Bob Dylan, especially his later collaborations with Daniel Lanois (e.g. Time out of Mind), you are going to dig The War On Drugs layered tracks that blend old-school devotion to the craft with a cutting-edge sensibility. That said, sometimes there are songs that hit like a carpet bomb of beauty with an incandescence that is so radiant it aches. Instead of waxing rhapsodic, I’ll cut to the chase here – the lyrics to the track ‘Strangest Thing’  on their recently released album A Deeper Understanding that hit me like a sledgehammer, here’s a sample:

I recognize every face

But I ain’t got everything I need

If I’m just living in the space between

The beauty and the pain

It’s the strangest thing

 

Here’s the track in full, enjoy:

Fire Raged on the Eastern Hills…

Image result for guejito witch creek fire

The Guejito Fire of 1993 and the Witch Creek Fire of 2007 that burned in and around North San Diego County were seared in my memory in ways that defy analysis. Anyone who has witnessed a natural disaster – fire, hurricane, blizzard, tornado, earthquake, or tsunami will likely agree that this is the case. These fires have been burned in my artistic subconscious and influence what I write and how I write in ways I cannot adequately explain. There is a distinct linguistic power God has placed in nature that I think lies behind any serious attempt at writing.

Last week there was a fire burning on the western edge of Murrieta (where I now live) that prompted me to share an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Damned May Enter. This is a particularly important passage that sets the tone and symbolism that I try to sustain throughout the book. For my fellow writers, I hope that this serves as a small inspiration of the power of memory and nature in shaping fiction:

Fire raged on the eastern hills of Escondido, illuminating the night sky. Angry halos glowed red against the orange capped peaks as they shot sparks out into the darkness like charged particles in the blackness of space. The flames poured down the mountains in front of the furious gusts of the Santa Ana winds blowing in from the California desserts. Had these mountains been volcanic, once might think they were belching magma, sending lava and ash flowing down into the populated inland valleys. Yet the fire was not in the heart of these mountains, they were burning because of the old growth chaparral that clung to their slopes, giving its dense brush to the flames.

On the hills a pitched battle was being fought between man and this force of nature. Whether or not the impending apocalypse would consume the city below was still an open question. The sky echoed with the syncopated thumping of helicopter blades and droning propeller blades as areal firefighting squadrons bombed the encroaching flames with retardant and water. On the ground, firefighters dug trenches and cut lines in the chaparral to create a no-man’s land, separating themselves from the onslaught of noxious smoke and consuming fire. Like soldiers on the bloody grounds of Verdun, they dug in to face the enemy’s advance with abandon and resolve. They were the thin line that kept the hellfire on the hills from overrunning the homes in the valleys and burning all the way to the shores of the Pacific. In the face of nature’s fury, these brave men lifted up their prayers into the smoke-choked night for respite from Santa Ana’s gales and steeled their nerves to face the fires, come what may.

The Brandt brothers watched this infernal drama unfold from the back porch of their home, which offered a panoramic view of the hills to the east. There was something both terrifying and sublime in the carnage that could not be ignored. Standing mesmerized on the porch, they couldn’t have taken their eyes off of the flames if they wanted to. It was as if such displays of power and violence demanded witness. The call of impending destruction went out to all onlookers, imploring them to look upon this strange and horrendous beast nature had conjured to show humans their place in the order of things. In the face of such indifferent power a man is reminded that he is small and frail; that he lives in a vast, wild world which defies all his pretenses to control. The imperatives of nature rise up before the Brandts’ eyes demanding reverence and awe.

For those of you who have been following the progress of my book, I am in the re-write stage as I shape my manuscript for editing, which will happen after the first of the year Lord willing. This thing will get done sooner or later! Anyone who tells you that writing a book is easy is either writing a bad book or is lying or both… with that I am back to my little world of words. I’ll check in again soon.

Henri Bergson, TS Eliot and Time

There are certain pieces of literature that have an inescapable gravity. For some time I have been fixated on TS Eliot’s masterpiece, Four Quartets. Eliot draws off of a cacophony of settings and images in a polyphonic witness to Christianity in the modern era. The further I have delved into Eliot’s work, the more acquainted I have become with some of his sources. One of the towering figures in Eliot’s intellectual heritage was the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Bergson was married to the cousin of the great novelist Marcel Proust, and his philosophy had a marked impact on Proust’s work In Search of Lost Time. My quest to understand Eliot has lead me to read some of Bergson’s philosophical writings, where he elevates the place of intuition in the quest for knowledge, and ponders the human experience of time. The following line from Eliot’s first poem in Four Quartets, Burnt Norton is quintessentially Bergsonian:

Time past and time  future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

In Four Quartets, the term ‘point’ has a two-fold use. Eliot’s first use describes ‘point’ is a vector which can point toward or away from something in the human experience of time. The second, and use is ‘point’ as the fixed axis around which everything rotates, like the hub as the immobile ‘point’ of the wheel. Eliot takes this up in his rendering of the eternal point around which everything moves. Take for example his musings on the Christian notion of how God’s a-temporal eternity transects human time in his lines, also in Burnt Norton:

     At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh, nor fleshless;

Neither from or towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor

towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

 

In Bergson’s seminal essay, “An Introduction to Metaphysics”, he describes analysis as an important mode of inquiry of knowing about an object that is abstracted in time. However, for Bergson, analysis can only ever lead us to know about an object (persons, places, scientific discoveries, etc). In order to truly know and object, one must dispense with mere analysis and engage in an intuitive process that includes a sympathy for the object known. I find this to be much closer to the biblical concept of knowing, which is fundamentally relational, and never merely a series of propositions that can be analyzed. It is one thing to know about God through theological inquiry and analysis, it is still another thing entirely to know him truly. In the final estimation, God has revealed himself in Jesus, everything that the Father thinks of himself he has spoken in his Word (the Divine Logos) who was Incarnate in space and time when the Word was joined to human flesh in Jesus. Faith is, in some senses, very much similar to the sympathetic/intuitive process of knowing that Bergson describes. I could write much more on this, but for now I will share a sketch of a reflection – a ‘wild and wandering cry’ to steal one of Tennyson’s lines – that I came up with the other night as I search out what it means to be both a Christian and an artist:

The mists of memory are all of the past that remains in the present, yet in that cloud the present takes shape and moves in time toward the future. Time defies all analysis. Any knowledge of duration is the soul’s province. It is through the subrational and suprarational intuitions that cannot be touched by the empirical process that knowledge-of begins to take shape. The facts of the past are always debatable, and as Napoleon famously noted, history is a set of lies that everyone agrees upon. Certainly this is, at least in part true, but Napoleon lies even in his attempt at the truth. That the events of human experience actually occurred is a fact that cannot, in the final estimation be disputed. But, what these events were and what they mean in the present can only be known through a recursive and sympathetic intuition where the artist more than the historian; the poet more than the journalist; the mystic more than the dogmatist can render with prophetic prescience the reverberating inflections of meaning – a narrative of hope or of doom or of both.

The artist understands that historical persons are more than facts of history, they are characters. These characters, all individuals really, are part of an unfolding story that can be grasped through empathy and intuition. People and events are a nexus of dynamism, full of potential and contradiction that play a vital part as the story of history is being drawn to its conclusion, the very end for which the story exists. The end of all history is in its beginning, where the Word of the Father is spoken and Incarnate through the Spirit, is both Alpha and Omega. All things are summed up in him because all things are spoken and exist in him. The language of nature and the song of the soul belong to him, and their melodies, harmonies, discords, and crescendos can be heard in the inaudible echoes of eternity. The Word spoken and the Word Incarnate are one in the same. He is the fixed, eternal point around whom all time and all who exist in time dance, and to whom all things point. In him all time points to its beginning and its end, and he is and always will be known in the present which transects both time and eternity.

I don’t know if any of this will ever make much sense to the reader, nor am I sure it makes much sense to me. But, as Tennyson says in his Preface to In Memoriam:

We have but faith, we cannot know,

For knowledge is of things we see,

And yet we trust it comes from Thee,

A beam in darkness, let it grow.