Let Justice . . . Rain?

But let justice roll down like waters

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:24

The rain was pelting down yesterday, but graciously let up enough for me to walk along the garden path beside the river to the gym for a swim in the early evening. As I walked through the mist in a half-light, under drippy trees and muddy ways, there and back, I was thinking over what I’d been reading. The elements encouraged me to play with slipping in the words “reign” & “rain” to pair with Justice. I’d been re-reading the medieval teaching tale contained in Gillian Rose’s Love’s WorkIt fit my mood; it animates my questions about justice. It gives no (easy?) answers.

I, along with many, continue to wonder about how to think about the world we are creating to/and (?) live in. Today is World Philosophy Day, and, having read this quote from Irina Bokova, the UNESCO Director General,

Faced with the complexity of today’s world, philosophical reflection is above all a call to humility . . . The greater the difficulties encountered, the greater the need for philosophy to make sense of questions of peace and sustainable development.

I offer, for your reflection, Gillian Rose’s tale:

“King Arthur explained his dream of Camelot to Guinevere, his beloved wife. He would end the feuds and warfare between the barons and knights, not by becoming a tyrant or despot, but by becoming a just king, who would maintain the rule of law. He would give straight judgements to foreigners and to his own people, so that they would prosper and enjoy peace, not war. They would have plentiful harvests, not famine or blight or plague, and the women would bear children. In answer to Guinevere’s doubts about the likely stability of this new regime of peace, King Arthur proposed to enlist the participation of the knights. He built a Round Table, emblem of equality, and sent out criers for the best knights to join the debate.

Launcelot, afar in France, heard of this vision of Camelot, and, like other warriors and wise men, he was eager to join the fellowship of the Round Table. Launcelot hoped that the new kingdom would create the perfect realm, whereas King Arthur’s aim was to guarantee a knowable and reliable law, which would serve the people and their customs as they were. Guinevere and the other knights warned Arthur that Launcelot cared more for ideals than for others. However, they were all convinced of Launcelot’s human heart when, in a jousting tournament, he wept as he slew a knight. So Launcelot became a Knight of the Round Table.

Launcelot and Guinevere fall in love. For some time, everyone except the King knows of their illicit passion. When the King finds out about it too, should he continue to pretend not to know what has happened, so as to preserve the vision of Camelot? This would destroy the authority of the Round Table and the law. Should he banish Launcelot and condemn Guinevere to die, according to the law, which they have all sworn impartially to uphold? If he enforces the law, against his desire, he will lose his beloved wife, who has betrayed him, and his beloved friend, Launcelot. The King carries out the law: Launcelot is banished and Guinevere is condemned to death. Launcelot saves Guinevere, who enters a convent, and he wages war against Arthur. King Arthur wins the war, but he loses Guinevere, Launcelot and the vision of Camelot” (121-123)

The choice, to overlook the betrayal or prosecute the crime, is not the issue, Rose declares.

‘For, one way or another, the King must now be sad . . .  Sadness is the condition of the King. For he has to experience his power and his vulnerability, his love and his violence, within and without the law’ (123).

The prophet Amos identifies Justice with water, a flowing that sometimes comes down, and sometimes comes up (I’m thinking of well/springs and human tears); of an element that can be hard and can be soft but one that we cannot live without. Water always looks for a way to move on.

As the rain has done for this day.


Opening the Heart(h)


What joy!

The first day of winter and

the sound of a kettle singing

is heard from a window.


‘Er, um, sensei’ she ventured, ‘I’ll not be in class next week, I’m afraid. There’s a tea party in Kyoto that I’m going to. We’re opening the ro.’ Of all the fresh excuses students make (and, truth be told, there aren’t that many), this one I found quite delightful.

In the warmer seasons, portable braziers (furo) are used in tea ceremony, but come winter the traditional tea room has a special ceremony to open the ro, a sunken hearth built into the floor. The tatami cover is lifted and a special ceremonial kettle is lowered onto the smouldering bamboo charcoal which keeps its warmth better in that small, enclosed space.

As autumn deepens into winter and the yuzu (citron) change their colours, this, the tea master Rikyu taught, is the time to open the hearth (ro) and refresh and renew ourselves for the ‘coming of the beloved and joyous winter.’

The seasons are eloquent in Japan; the very elements speak. For example, there are various degrees of experiencing the cold in Japanese. You can feel a little cold (yaya samu), or you can have skin-tingling cold (hada samu), be ‘almost-not quite-am-I?’ cold (uso zamu) or you may feel the cold keenly (mi ni shimu). There are, also, I’ve learned, varieties and names for different qualities of rain to be aware of with seasonal changes. The November rain showers are called shigure. To be sitting around the ro, listening to the sound of the shigure raindrops on a wooden pent roof is regarded with special fondness

When the ro is opened there is a lingering feeling, a longing, for the furo — time is passing; each change of season encourages us to remember this. We remember; we resist remembering; we surrender, let the feelings roll, and avail ourselves to the enchantments of the now. Are not our hearts enlivened by the beautiful pine needles that have fallen in the garden, by the fresh bracken ropes tying together the bamboo fence that encloses the sacred ritual area, and by those tongs we’ve not seen for a while, lying beside the charcoal ash receptacle? Look at the new tatami mats and the clean white shoji paper in the windows; how soft and bright the light that comes through; how cozy the room! All is fresh and clean, elegant and refined both inside and outside the tea room.

May it be so in our hearts, too, as we welcome the gracious turning of our beautiful planet.

Fall, teahouse, muted

Gleanings: 5 Seeds. November, 2015 (1)

Gleaning by Arthur Hughes

I read quite a bit day in, day out, and tweet the links a bit, but not everyone shares all of the same social media platforms so I thought I’d offer a few links on the blog, from time to time, that I’ve found to be of value, thereby adding, I hope, to the Interestingness Index of Life!

  1. Anyone who read my posts [here and here] on changing stories and their implicit engagement with the religion-science dialogue will most certainly be interested in Alister McGrath’s Science and Faith: Exploring an Intellectual Frontier.
  2. I’m noticing how very dark the mornings have become (and they’re not even really all that dark where I live) and how quickly the afternoon becomes evening . . . Which gives very good reason for why I am a devotee of the advent memorial of the Oriens on the winter solstice. This, Lighting Our Candles, We Dance into the Dark, was a beautiful, nostalgic and encouraging read as we, in the northern hemisphere, incline toward winter.
  3. How did I not know about Nostra Aetate, that document that emerged from Vatican II concerning the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions? The more I think about it, the more I see how this has been part of my unconscious scaffolding my.whole.life! The article, linked above, by Michael Barnes SJ, is one of the articles I’ve read about it. He calls the declaration ‘the moral heart of Vatican II’. Partly because of my generation and partly my geography, I suppose, but reading it had me feeling (beyond!) shocked by the disrespect that predated this document. I’ve recently received a copy of Rabbi Sacks’ The Dignity of Difference and see that Sacks was interviewed in a recent On Being show (which I’ve yet to listen to).
  4. In amongst the 50th anniversary Nostra Aetate commemorations (end of October), I was introduced to the work of the French-Jewish historian, Jules Isaac and am finding his story utterly compelling!
  5. Last week, Rene Girard passed away. I saw quite a few tributes to him online but was especially reminded of his work when I read this hopeful piece, ‘Love in a Changing Climate’ on the recent synod by James Allison, whose theology is very intertwined with his reading of Girard. For a couple of interviews with Girard ten years ago in the autumn quarter, have a listen to Entitled Opinions. One is on Sept.17th on Mimetic Desire and the other, on October 4th, is on Ritual Sacrifice and the Scapegoat.

Image: Gleaning  by Arthur Hughes

Changing Stories? (Part 2: Science)

[The first part of ‘Changing Stories?’, whose focus is culture, is here.]

Whereas myth comes from a place of primal belonging and is essentially conservative, science’s quickly moving and ever expanding boundaries call humans into uncertain and sometimes uncomfortable territory. Myth is tame, one might say–hardly apt to make any wild, unpredictable moves. Science, though, for all its cumulations on continuities, often surprises and challenges with sudden discontinuities.

A recent article by David Barash, the title of which plays on Milton’s epic poem, Paradigms Lostexplains some of the difficulties inherent in the modern imperative to integrate and balance stories from different fields, which themselves grow at variable speeds. Changing stories, it turns out, is made more complicated by having to change paradigms. Barash writes:

Many scientific findings run counter to common sense and challenge our deepest assumptions about reality: the fact that even the most solid objects are composed at the subatomic level of mostly empty space, or the difficulty of conceiving things that go beyond everyday experience, such as vast temperatures, time scales, distances and speeds, or (as in the case of continental drift) exceedingly slow movements – not to mention the statistically verifiable but nonetheless unimaginable ability of natural selection, over time, to generate outcomes of astounding complexity.

One may think of science and religion as different languages: certainly there is very reason to become bilingual in both, in our age, for each wields significant power. We would be greatly assisted by good translators or interpreters fluent and well-versed in the language of each of the ‘magisteria’ (i.e. of science and of humanities/religion). [An argument, if ever there were one, for the benefits of the liberal arts!]

Our understanding of reality is a serial revelation, a work in progress, and we need shepherding through the fields on our way. It may be something many people have already worked out, but for me one of the most hopeful aspects of scientific knowledge, is the fact that, just as discoveries are provisional in nature, human insights, too, are in the process of evolving. And, surely, if this is true experientially, our stories, too, must be changing, mustn’t they?

To conclude: a proposal. I mentioned earlier the cumulative nature of scientific work and this, for me, is one of the most compelling ways by which the scientific has found its way to (a modest) integration in my own mind. I think more history of science (and scientists) would be really useful to help us changing (not for change’s sake, merely, but for deepening our catholicity and complicating–in a good way–) our stories. In this interdisciplinary field there is just the sort of pattern recognition that even non-specialists can engage with.


Changing Stories? (Part 1: Culture)


Like many people working at the intersection of religion and science, Ilia Delio in Making All Things New (2015) remarks on the human ‘inability to modify core religious beliefs according to what we now know about ourselves’ –thanks, that is, to new knowledge made possible by advances in the sciences. These recalcitrant core beliefs, she notes, are founded on ‘the power of religious myth [which] runs deeper than science, even though the beliefs are based on outmoded notions of the physical cosmos’ (55). The tension of the underlying questions: ‘why and how does change happen?’ ‘what has to change?’ and ‘what has to stay the same?’, echoes through all movements of growth, all expressions of transition, all kinds of ascending, all kinds of deepening.

Coming from a literary background I resist the suggestion that myth is some sort of obstruction to progress. No: myth is manna. On myth, belief is predicated.

Before “belief” came to mean “opinion,” it typically referred to devotion or trust. It was an experiential word, and not a philosophical one, that indicated what a “believer” held dear or loved. “Belief” was a disposition of the heart.’

Diana Butler-Bass (here)

Myth is a continuity, something nourishing and time-worn (in good and less good ways). It is a stabilising influence in the cultures and communities out of which it has arisen–or, it has been up to now. It is also true I think, that myth does not function in the same way it once did; doubtless a contributing factor that plays into our ‘outmoded notions of the physical cosmos.’

This very engaging article ‘Increasing the Bandwidth‘ explains the idea of ‘cultural bandwidth’ and the strains a globalised world brings to bear on our ability to usefully store and integrate information. [The whole thing is worth a read.]

Our culture as a whole has a very wide interface with reality, with telescopes, microscopes and many other instruments, with scientific institutions and scientific methods used to increase that bandwidth. However, unlike early cultures, the large amount of information makes it impossible to hold all members of society together inside one single cultural framework. Inside the total culture, subcultures are forming whose bandwidth might even be narrowing, and might be more or less intentionally be restricted, through ideology, denialism, consumerism etc.

In the Beau Lotto video on perception and stories I linked to recently, the blurb includes the lines: ‘our senses tell us stories about the world and we can control those stories to change our perceptions and ourselves.’ This is an intriguing claim. I want to know how it works. I’d like to believe it, even. Does the claim hint at something about conversion? About metanoia (which I’m using here to mean a total refresh for humanity, but not necessarily in a religious sense)? Are there methods for changing stories –via attention, say; via the body? And what are the time scales involved? Are the mechanisms similar or different for the individual and the collective? 

Image: The Flammarion Engraving, found here