As I was driving home, from a very informative and positive day of trainings, my mind continued to mull over the day. Not only over the frameworks presented for creative positive school culture, but the podcast I had been listening to that morning, the audiobook I’m currently in the middle of, and the real book I’ve just finished. Like anything well-mulled, the flavors of each were distinct, but center, surprisingly, and without conscious planning, around a common taste, one theme: How to lay strong and common foundations of a culture.
I returned last week from a 3 day ‘silent’ retreat at the beautiful New Clairvaux Monstary. 3 days! during which I spent time reading, writing, praying with the monks, drinking wine with friends, reading, writing, and running a bit. While there, I unplugged from my normal highly digital days – emails, texts, emails, documents, repeat…. Literally – no computer – 1 text a day home – and 1 phone call all weekend. It. Was. Wonderful. I had time to have real conversations, real thoughts about what I was reading, what I was writing, how my life impacts the world, and how the world impacts my life.
I did not go with a specific plan for this retreat. However, I took a couple of books and was able to finally finish How to Survive the Apocalypse by Alissa Wilkinson & Rob Joustra. This fabulous book strives to condense the theological/philosophical writings of Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre (amongst many others), by using the language and stories of modern pop-culture literature, film, and television shows to deconstruct the shared apocalyptic and naval-gazing culture in which we (mainly American and Canadian) currently find ourselves. They posit that we live in a world that does not have a shared vision of a good life, nor a shared vision of purpose, nor a foundation on which we can build a logical argument for what is virtuous and what is not. W & J, however, do not see this as the end of the world in a smashing crazy apocalypse, but the beginning of a new way of seeing the world, and they argue – with the use of their pop-culture allusions – that the communal human-we recognize the need for a shared understanding of what is good – we just don’t like to acknowledge it (quick aside – this is a horrible summary of everything in this book – there is so much more to it, and I highly recommend a good reading – you do not have to have seen or read any of their referenced pop for it to still make absolute sense) .
We can’t purge the pathologies of a Secular age from our midst. But we can make better choices. choices that open up more promise than peril in our modern life together.How to Survive the Apocalypse – Wilkinson & Joustra
These are the thoughts that I kept coming back to in my reading: I should not lose hope in this apocalypse of culture, should look for the shared values, and I should stop and remember my own values before I keep building habits that would shape me away from my goals. Additionally, build up institutions that have these goals – regardless of the individuals within them – and know that we are a broken people, striving for beautiful things, that this is not yet the Kingdom coming, but it will do for now, and I can do my part to build in something good.
Stopping for a moment to reorient my life is easy to do while sitting alone in a Monastery cell – a room of my own with a desk, a rocking chair, and a bathroom. It’s easy to boil down life to what is important and why I am doing those things, but as soon as the regular routine of living takes over, I get stuck in the same cycle of constant movement, activity, productivity, and not enough time. So, pulling in a bit more of that mulling of my drive home, I give you some T.S Eliot on this journey.
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,– stanza 1 of T.S. Eliot’s The Rock (italics in poem, mine)
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God .
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
I originally read this quote, out of context, in another book I’ve been studying with friends – Space for God by Don Postema. The book included only the 10 lines I italicized above, and it struck me as rather timely – that we live in a world in which there is constant innovation and constant change, but that newness and motion leaves no time to wonder what parts of it are good – what parts virtuous – what parts worth keeping before we move on to the next new thing. Eliot seems to haunt my readings as of late, and it seems that perhaps I’m being called back to my Literature studies. It seems appropriate that he was writing 100 years ago – yet another cycle to acknowledge. Cycles seem unending because they are, and there is always talk of breaking cycles, and perhaps that’s where I am, but I don’t want to re-invent a wheel, I want to break it to pieces and build a hovercraft instead. Maybe this is what makes me – and I imagine, us – completely human: this need and want to always create, and the inability to base that creation on anything but a very small and individual-self-focused vision of the world.
Eliot talks of motion and knowledge being the opposite, or at very least, being louder than silence and knowing – he writes as if we have deified knowledge rather than God, that Life is being lost as we strive to know and move and struggle to push out the silence. If I look at my daily life, I can easily see this. It is so easy to get lost in the busy details of what I’m doing and what needs to be done, of what I’ll never get done, because there’s not time, that I forget the Why of what I’m doing. I lose sight of the Why, and in so doing, it isn’t reflected in my life. The good, the virtue, the love of life and people and God – it all gets lost in the need to complete the next task. So this is my question: How do we (as a shared culture of humans-we) take a step (or perhaps a giant leap) back and enjoy the still silence long enough to form an outline in our collective mind of a common and strongly held understanding of the Truth of the whole world? Check your foundations people – have one why for every action – one why for every choice. I think we all may have a bit more in common than we realize.
How the podcasts and days’ training play into my mulled thoughts is a blog post for another day, it seems, but for fun and reference (and to remind myself) it has a bit to do with Alasdair MacIntyre and a bit to do with Nietzche. Good Night for now friends. Happy Foundation laying and Culture building.