Friday, November 29, 2013

Demian, Ch 7 -- Eva

So Emil Sinclair, in his first year of university, becomes an equal of the independent and humanist, Max Demian.  Emil finally meets Max's mother, Frau Eva Demian. He becomes a mother figure to him and becomes infatuated with her. With Max, Emil becomes part of a network of seekers, idealists, non-conformists, and followers of obscure or esoteric religions. They consider themselves humanists and await the emergence of a new world order of humanity. They all bear the mark of Cain but as a sign of distinction rather than stigma. It signifies that they do not think or act according to the common mentality. They do not conform to tradition or custom. Hesse's citation of Nature is an element pagan, German mysticism. (The Nazis had that too.) In the scene where Max is catatonic, he must have just manufactured and taken some form of hallucinogenic drug. I appreciate how the novel ended, with Emil and Max both going off to fight for Germany in WWI.  Max is a Christ figure and his mother, the Virgin Mary. Emil is an apostle figure, set to live and teach what he learned from Max.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Demian, Chapter 6--Jacob Wrestling (Herman Hesse Novel)

I can see Emil Sinclair as Harry Haller at ages 10-19. And Siddhartha is the same story set in India.

In Steppenwolf, near the end of when he is in the magic theater, he said that he understood everything now. Much of the episode with Knauer seemed parallel to the magic theatre sequence in Steppenwolf.   He encounters someone in the street and experiences things that are dream like or hallucinogenic. At the end of the episode with Knauer, Emil says, "But suddenly I knew everything."

Knauer mentions suicide (Was that some symbolic Freudian/Jungian thing which was actually about Emil wanting to kill that aspect of himself? Or am I reading too much in?) 

One of the resolutions/epiphany of Emil's relationship with Pistorius was that Emil felt that the Mark of Cain was upon his own forehead now.  But its still not clear to me what Emil means by that (I'm probably trying to read too much into it).   But I think that part of it was that previously Emil had been a sort of disciple or protegee or under the influence of Demian, but now Emil has gone through a full cycle of growth and self knowledge and became his own man. Emil became another Demian.

The wisdom learned:

"An enlightened man had but one duty--to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward, no matter where it led. The realization shook me profoundly, it was the fruit of this experience. I had often speculated with images of the future, dreamed of roles that I might be assigned, perhaps as poet or prophet or painter, or something similar.

"All that was futile. I did not exist to write poems, to preach or to paint, neither I nor anyone else. All of that was incidental. Each man had only one genuine vocation--to find the way to himself. He might end up as poet or madman, as prophet or criminal--that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern. His task was to discover his own destiny--not an arbitrary one--and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one's own inwardness. The new vision rose up before me, glimpsed a hundred times, possibly even expressed before but now experienced for the first time by me. I was an experiment on the part of Nature, a gamble within the unknown, perhaps for a new purpose, perhaps for nothing, and my only task was to allow this game on the part of primeval depths to take its course, to feel its will within me and make it wholly mine. That or nothing!"  (p.111)

The language and concepts are taken from Christianity, but Hesse stops short of mentioning God. He does mention Nature, as if it were God or Grace.  Is this the mystical influence they talk about in German culture?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

J.F. Powers and Radical Catholicism of the 1940s/1950s

I am an echo of the radical Catholicism of the 1940s/1950s.  The influence was through my mother. My mother knew these intellectual currents and spoke of them admirably to me as a child. In particular, she always had great praise for The Catholic Worker Movement and their leader, Dorothy Day.  I had never heard of The Detachers before, but that way of thinking was present in my upbringing and had a hold on me.

See the three book reviews below of the book, Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: Letters of J.F. Powers, (1942-1963) by J.F. Powers (author) and Katherine Anne Powers (editor). 

Two quotes from the first review:

"the radical-liberal Catholic of the forties and fifties, whose allegiance to the rules of the Church (all those children!) was part and parcel of his allegiance to what would now seem an extravagant, not to say extremist, egalitarian politics."

"The collection of letters reveals that he spent the war years as a conscientious objector, and as a sympathizer with the Detachers—a Catholic movement, never officially approved, but apparently tolerated, that insisted that American materialism and militarism were both evils to be avoided at all costs by good Catholics. The idea of an American Catholicism whose central purpose was to stop the national-security state and the supermarket—in those days, supermarkets were seen as Wal-Mart is now—is alien to us, and Powers’s immersion in the often self-defeating politics of left-Catholic activism, with its glamorized poverty, is fascinating to follow from letter to letter."

The neo-Medievalism is not far-fetched at all nor the ruralism.  My grandfather was a ruralist.

Thoughts on Gay Marriage--a Point of View

There is no absolute right, no natural right to marry, not even for heterosexuals. Marriage contracts are issued by the state. It exercises power to control or withhold the right to marry. The reason is that the state has a vested interest in the well-being of its children. The state's overriding interest is that children are the state's future citizens, soldiers, tax payers, farmers, and economic protagonists. In ensuring the future prosperity of the state, the first step is to make sure that there is a father and a mother are legally bound--are forced by the state--to provide for and raise them. That's all there is to it.  Marriage is about children.  The state has no interest in gay marriage because gays cannot beget children.

The purpose of a government is to ensure the common good. In controlling marriage, the state is acting for the common good. The state's control of marriage is a limitation on individual freedom, but individual rights must be balanced against the rights of the community, the state.   

The issue of gay marriage has arisen from what is wrong with contemporary heterosexual marriage. Of marriage, people's heads have become saturated with sentimental ideas about love and romance. to the exclusion of all else. Heterosexuals have been getting married for decades almost solely due to sentimental ideas of love and romance.  It is one of the reasons for the high divorce rate today--because romantic feelings of love and romance only last so long, and then what do you do? The primary driver behind the demand for homosexual marriage is that the almost exclusive emphasis on romantic notions of love and romance in the heterosexual community has spilled over and completely infected the homosexual community with the same illusions.  

These are all principles. The problem is that the devil is in the details. There are many inefficiencies, exceptions, and issues with these principles. 

Having said all of the above, it may shock you, but I am fully in favor of gay civil marriage. The reason is that in America, the way the laws are constructed, hundreds, even thousands of legal entitlements and rights flow from a marriage contract. In the current legal environment, the only way for get people to get them is to have legal gay marriage. If two gay people want to get married, who cares?  If two gay people want to enter into a relationship with all of the legal rights of marriage, I think they should be entitled to. They are not harming anyone else.

If marriage is supposed to be about the welfare of children, given the high rate of divorce and the high rate of births from unmarried people, then what we really need is to re-think heterosexual marriage.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cain and Abel

Elizabeth D. and I recently read the novel Demian, by Herman Hesse. The main character, Emil Sinclair said that he perceived Max Demian as bearing the mark of Cain. Elizabeth said to me that she has felt that she has born the mark of Cain for her entire life. This led me to explore the meaning of the mark of Cain.  The story of Cain and Abel rather pithy yet seems to contain several of the major themes of the Bible.

Historically, some interpreters have treated the mark of Cain as a stigma, a curse, or sign of eternal damnation. Augustine used it as a rationalization to justify the persecution of Jews. In the American South, white Southern Baptist congregations considered black people to bear the mark of Cain and used it as a justification for slavery. For the same reason, until the 1960's, many white Protestant congregations refused to ordain black men to the ministry.

In the text, we are told that while Abel's sacrifice to God was judged acceptable, Cain's was not. This was Cain's first sin. Note that God did not mete out any punishment towards Cain. Nevertheless Cain was upset, angry, and downcast over the fact that God was not pleased. Seeing this, God questioned Cain over the fact that he was upset and told him that as long as he did the right thing going forward, that all would be right between them. God even cautioned him that if he did rectify himself, then his risk of falling into sin would be even greater. Note that a personal relationship existed between God and Cain. It was God who desired a loving relationship with Cain, and it was God who tried to repair the broken relationship. Yet Cain did not repent.

Cain's first sin was a minor one compared to the next. For killing Abel, God punished Cain by causing his fields to have an insufficient yield. Note that God did not kill, or harm or threaten to kill or harm Cain. Rather, God's intent was to get Cain to repent--to reform--to get him to realize that what he did was wrong and to motivate him to return to a loving and obedient relationship (and friendship) with God. Yet Cain still chose not to repent. Instead, became a vagabond and a fugitive, as if he thought he could hide from God.

In primitive societies people take the law into their own hands, and revenge is considered a just punishment for crimes. This was the most primitive of times--no government, laws, judges, police, jails, etc. After Cain killed Abel, others would have felt justified in killing Cain for his crime.

Despite the murder, God still wanted Cain to repent. And Cain, still not repenting, nevertheless expressed his fear to God that anyone who came upon him will want to kill him. To avoid that and probably to assure Cain himself of that, God put a mark on Cain as a sign to others that if they killed Cain, they would receive a punishment seven times worse than the punishment God meted out to Cain (his crops failing).  A common, traditional understanding of the mark was that it signified a threat of punishment, which it clearly is. But even with the traditional interpretation, it still does not preclude an understanding on the part of other people that God is patient, forgiving and wants people to repent, to not be killed, harmed or consigned to eternal damnation.

This pithy little story has many messages. God still loves us, even after we commit serious sin. 
Even after serious sin, our relationship to God is not completely severed. He still listens to us and protects us, in his own way, even if we do not understand how. God wants evil-doers to repent. God is patient. 

God wants mankind to practice a law of love and forgiveness, not one of revenge. Punishment of evil by causing the evil-doer to suffer should be designed to reform the individual. It should not kill or permanently harm the person. This passage is a teaching for humane treatment of evil-doers and against the death penalty. 

Before the murder, we do not know why God was satisfied with Abel's sacrifice but dissatisfied with Cain's.  But if I were Cain I would be similarly upset.  Note that we do not know exactly what Cain was upset about. He may have felt that God was being unfair to him. He may have been upset by is own guilt. He may have angry and jealous at Abel.  Or any other number of other possibilities.   

God communicated to Cain that if he made thing right and repented then all would be right again. He even warned Cain that if he did not repent, he was at risk of sinning gain, which he did with the murder.  

We don't know exactly why Cain killed Abel. I suspect it was related to his prior sin. Traditionally, we are taught that he killed Abel out of jealousy.  God confronted Cain over the murder, first diplomatically, again permitting Cain to repent but then forcefully and angrily. 

I can relate to Cain.  When I sin, afterwards, I am so upset and ashamed with myself that I cannot repent, at least not immediately. I either want to hide from the one I sinned against, or I want to apologize but am unable or do not know how. 

St. John Chrysosotom is quoted as saying, "Be ashamed when when you sin, not when you repent." This is really an exhortation to repent. But when I know I should repent, the thought of confessing my sin in the Sacrament fills me with so much shame that it makes confession difficult. I suspect that this was the problem that Cain had.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Where I was When Kennedy was Shot

Though I was five years old at the time, I was very aware of the 1960 presidential election campaign from T.V. and listening to the conversations of my elders. I was very aware of the importance of John F. Kennedy to Catholics and especially Irish Catholics. On November 22, 1963, I sitting in my third grade  classroom at Sacred Heart Grammar School in Suffern, N.Y.

Our teacher received a message from the principal over the intercom. I had never seen the intercom used before. She said something as if to herself. I may have heard the word shot. She looked at us as if she didn't know what to do. She decided to consult with the teacher across the hall.  When the door opened, we could see that other teachers were consulting with each other. When she returned, a student who sat closer to the door and able to hear what was going on in the hall asked her, "Was President Kennedy shot?"

She said to the class, "No, President Kennedy has not been shot." She said that we were to wait for instructions from the principal. Soon, a signal was given, and the class was formed into a double line and marched to the church next door. The other classes in the school were doing the same.

While on line outside the church, a student near me turned to another and said, "President Kennedy was shot."  Then I knew.

More Succinctly:
I was sitting in my third grade classroom. The principle, a nun, had sent a message over the intercom, to all the teachers, all nuns also, and told them to wait for instructions from her. The teachers did not know what to do and consulted with each other in the hallway. We overheard the words president and shot being used. Soon, each class was marched, in a double line, to the church. While waiting on line outside the church doors, a boy on line next to me asked the boy in front of him why we were going to church, and he replied, "President Kennedy was shot."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Meditation, OCD, Bad Habits, and Me

Centering prayer is one of the forms of meditation that Christian monks practice. Until the Reformation, monks routinely taught centering prayer to interested lay people. But apparently, Martin Luther did not like centering prayer and dropped it once he separated from Catholicism.  Unfortunately, in the fallout of the (Catholic) Counter Reformation, Catholic monks were discouraged from teaching centering prayer to lay people.  However, in the past several decades, the practice has had a revival.

I've tried centering prayer a few times in years past, but it never lasted for more than a few days. I have a very busy brain, and I concluded that my brain was just not wired for meditation. But part of my brain told me that while that was true, it was also an excuse. Meditation is exactly what I needed. I lacked the motivation and self-discipline.

For the past two months, I have been alone in the house. It is a relatively monastic existence, yet I am very stressed out by the demands of life. I think too much. I do too much. I am a slave to distractions, worry, bad habits, compulsions, and procrastination. I do not take proper care of my health. Often life seems like an episode of nonstop demands. As an escape, I fall for every imaginable distraction, which reduces the time available to do the important things, which makes the important things all the more stressful. The procrastination, lack of self-discipline, and not feeling more in control in my life are all interrelated. Meditation and prayer are the way to take control and begin to free myself.

I have an OCD (Obsessive  Compulsive Disorder) type problem--compulsive skin picking--which gets worse with stress and not feeling in control. I habitually pick at my scalp which irritates the skin on my face (I do not have obsessive thoughts.) According to the book Brainlock, the non-drug treatment for OCD is to go to a therapist that specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), but they are hard to find.  Some forms of meditation--ones they have done studies on--have been helpful. Recent news reports say that studies have shown that one of the purposes of sleep is to purge the brain of toxins that accumulate as a result of thinking and feeling during the day. This suggests that meditation should have a hygienic affect as well. And then there are those studies that show the differences in the brains of people who don't meditate and monks who do. Buddhists who meditate seriously are said to have strong powers of focus and concentration. Meditation is simply good for your mind. I'm hoping that meditation can help my OCD, also help me gain more control over my life. If you can control your mind, you can control yourself.

In the book Brainlock, it says that when an OCD symptom occurs, one part of the brain is erroneously signaling to another part of the brain that something is wrong. Paradoxically, therein lies an insight for me. I wonder if my OCD was my brain's way of saying to me that something is wrong with my life and by extension, with the mind that controls it. And once the symptom became ingrained in me, I was stuck with it.  Having read Brainlock, I know that a psychiatrist would have a field day with that one. In my case, I suspect that my OCD was like the Biblical handwriting on the wall, something which appeared after things had gone too far, and which, like King Belshazzar, I refused to heed. My OCD was like a road sign that read, "You just missed the last exit before dysfunction."  By the time I developed this behavioral OCD, I had already passed the point in my life when I should have made necessary changes. My OCD was like the Idiot Light on the dashboard of your car which lights up to tell you that you are too low on oil, and if you continue driving, you risk doing serious damage to your engine. In my case, the idiot, me, kept driving, and the damage has been done.

It is too much to hope that meditation can change all this completely though I would love to be proven wrong.

I started doing centering prayer again two days ago. With my initial attempt, I found it annoying to meditate for more than thirty seconds--my brain was insisting that I find a distraction. But I applied a little self-discipline, and after a minute or two, I my brain settled down. I've meditated for the two previous days in the morning and evening, for at least twenty minutes. Proud of myself! Each time, it seems to take less time and effort to get in the groove. I have been using the word mercy as my sacred word. The religious (Christian) purpose of centering prayer is to focus on God's interior presence, to rest in God, and be open to the prompting of the Divine within us. Meditation is not an end in itself, just part of how I am undertaking the spiritual journey of life.

This morning, I had intended to meditate for twenty minutes again. I procrastinated for long time, but once I started and my brain settled down, it became effortless, even physically relaxing.  When I finally opened my eyes, I saw that an hour had passed. I felt good about myself, and the whole interior of the house seemed bright and beautiful.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Quote from Herman Heese

"A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self. Now the bourgeois treasure nothing more highly than the self  (rudimentary as his may be). And so at the cost of intensity, he achieves his own preservation and security. His harvest is a quiet mind which he prefers to being possessed by God, as he does comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to that deathly inner consuming fire. The bourgeois is consequently by nature a creature of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule. Therefore, he has substituted majority for power, law for force, and the polling booth for responsibility."

Steppenwolf, p.52