ethics, rejoicing, and fire alarms

Is is a rainy morning here in Pensacola and it makes me grateful that I don't live in Seattle.  I couldn't deal with rain all the time.  I've been on something of a posting hiatus the past couple of months.  I generally just haven't felt terribly inspired.  So, I've leaned in and alas, the muse emerges through the fog.  Three thoughts on this Monday morning, as has become customary.

1.  I had a discussion with friends last week about the role of ethics in theology.  And thereafter stumbled onto an entry by Thomas Merton in Conjectures which further piqued my interest in this question.  Merton's suggestion being, that essentially, a strictly ethical bent to theology reduces faith to little more than utility.  And that the inevitable result is the tendency to spend all of our energy measuring (and arguably attempting to control) the behavior of ourselves and others.  Admittedly, there exists a tension between ethics and the infinite.  There must be the immersion in mystery and grace.  Perhaps this is why the Eucharist moves me in an inexplicably profound way.  In any event, I have been prompted to pick up the copy of Bonhoeffer's Ethics which has sat waiting on my shelf for several years.  Yet another divine appointment.  I am fascinated by Bonhoeffer's opening suggestion that at our origin, all we know is God.

2.  I made my way through Kelsey Grammer's memoir, So Far, last week. I'd read it maybe ten years ago.  It is a great, easy read.  More than anything else, I was drawn to his varied adventures and dogged determination to seek the good.  He wrote of having penned words from W.H. Auden's, Atlantis, before he'd ever read them, "Stagger onward rejoicing."  All the more reinforcing my suspicion that often times, beauty, poetry and otherwise, drops out of the ether and perhaps strikes more than one inspired soul at a time.

3.  Several years ago, I read a wonderful little essay wherein the author wrote of his refusal to wake up to loud noise and bright light.  He and his wife made the decision to wake peacefully, usually to a fire and music.  It was like someone flipped a switch for me.  I realized for the first time in no uncertain terms that I needed to start my day similarly.  It's too hot to have a fireplace here most of the time, so candles do the trick along with a carefully selected playlist of music and some reading.  And so I rose this morning intending to start my day this way.  Until I set off the fire alarm, which apparently zapped what was left of the nine-volt battery in the smoke detector.  So a chirping accompanied the few minutes of reading I could manage before I gave up.  But a lesson is here.  That even in our attempts to center and be still, we will sometimes find that things go differently than planned.  I'll leave you with Auden, and a photo I took last night of some great Christmas lights and the setting sun.  

Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Thundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Dismissal everywhere,
Stone and now, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.

Stagger onward rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Even to have been allowed
Just to peep at Atlantis
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.

Atlantis, excerpt


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