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  • Look for me another day. I feel that I could change.
    July 25, 2013

    From September 2010

    What I do these days, supposedly, is study ancient texts. Not many of them. Just the tiniest handful, written mostly by some hill people about three thousand years ago. And part of what I study is the history of interpretation of these texts. We watch the sacred text as it perseveres, steady and reliable, held aloft by human hands above a crowd rushing beneath it, the hands changing so quickly as generation passes it to generation that any single pair is little more than a flicker in the time-lapse film of the life of the world. (For some reason I imagine this crowd of humanity at a train station in the 1940s on brown film, moving on and off the platforms in long overcoats, and all the women are wearing hats.) What for the songwriter is a hymn about a king’s victorious plundering of his enemies becomes for a later audience a hymn about an ancestral prophet  and for an even later audience, a hymn for the recently appeared Messiah. The words, held aloft by their black ink from the blank page’s limitless potential for alteration, remain constant, while meaning rushes and swirls beneath it all in time, it seems.

    The parallels with so much else in life need hardly be stated. (And yet what are these internet tablets for, if not the inscription of things which need hardly be stated?) Memory is a strong parallel. I visit the memories of powerful moments in my life to find that the memory remains the same, but the meaning at this point in the narrative is different. I re-visit memories to which I have often returned only to find that the meaning of my own remembering is different from the previous remembering, which itself was an act of meaning that differed from the original. So many aspects of life offer similar parallels: the meals I eat, the conversations have, the people I am bound to, the letters I write, the prayers I pray. All of them so remarkably constant as if sacred and preserved by some unchanging nature, it seems, while beneath them, meaning tumbles and rushes without pause, and I am scrambling to catch my train.



    An Email To My Coworkers
    December 2, 2011

    Subject: Important ice cream opportunity
    From:  
    John Daniel Raines
    Date:
    December 2, 2011 5:34:38 PM CST

    Hello, coworkers!

    I’m wondering if anyone is free who would work for a couple of hours tomorrow afternoon, from about 2:15-4:15. You’d be covering that part of my shift. Let me know if you’re free and willing. I will buy you ice cream. Think about it.

    Sincerely,
    John



    The Impeded Stream
    November 30, 2011

    “It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have begun our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

    Wendell Berry, Standing by Words: Essays



    (Re-)un-nothinged
    November 21, 2011

    Nothing is that which cannot be imagined sensibly. It is also, in a sense, what is happening this weekend. And the two definitions overlap here: at what is unimaginable, or at least was. The unimaginable happens sometimes. It is the nihilo, “ex” which we came. It goes by other names, and some are well-rehearsed on this blog. It prompted me to embark on a google-facilitated refresher course in the annihilation of matter by antimatter. Which is a misnomer, really, because matter isn’t annihilated, but more likely turned into gamma rays: beams of light so glorious that we cannot see them; so powerful that they pass through us like plated bullets, leaving exit wounds in our DNA. And that gives us cancer, or it makes our children sad and strange to us. So in that sense, antimatter’s effect on matter is a type of nothing, but not the material kind. The google search which brought me around to reading about antimatter actually began with the question, “what is nothing, philosophically speaking?” Google is apparently my first resource for such questions. Results were weak. I ex-ed out of the browser and took a shower. I decided to settle for definition up there at the top. No A=B equations fit well. Defining nothing is like failing to fill in the left side of the equation while searching for the right side (  =?). Nonsense. I gave it up. Nothing is not even zero, you know. I’ve heard old men refer to it as “zero with the ring knocked off.” I find that phrase ironically apt as a description of what is happening this weekend. That is not a thought I linger on, though. There is too much nothingness to that thought. I don’t want to fill my mind with nothing. I want to fill it with God. Day by day I am being renewed within, though without I am being destroyed. So I look with hope to what I cannot see — what is eternal. For this body that I wear is hardly better than nakedness, and I would not be unclothed, but rather further clothed. I would be devoured, but devoured by life.



    Thou art…a litterall God…a metaphorical God too.
    October 4, 2011

    For the past week or so, I’ve been enjoying the poetry of Kimberly Johnson, author of the collections Leviathan With a Hook, and A Metaphorical God. I recommend her to you. I especially enjoyed the epigraph to A Metaphorical God, this eponymous quote from John Donne:

    My God, my God, Thou art a direct God, may I not say a litterall God, a God that wouldest bee understood literally, and according to the plaine sense of all that thou saiest? But thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no profane misinterpreter abuse it to thy diminution), thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too; A God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such Curtaines of Allegories, such third Heavens of Hyperboles, so harmonious eloquutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinewes even in thy milke, and such things in thy words, as all prophane Authors, seeme of the seed of the Serpent, that creeps, thou art the Dove, that flies.

    John Donne, Expostulation 19
    Devotions upon Emergent Occasions