January 22, 2010

As seems to be the case of late, I arrived behind my time, so this will be a short post. As I took my place around the fire, Carl handed me a tin of Dunhill Black Aromatic tobacco. He later confessed he never knew it existed.  Apparently he found it in a store, covered with dust, and estimated it to be about 12 years old. It didn’t have much of a fragrance but I filled my pipe and lit it. After a few puffs, I realized it was the best aromatic I had ever smoked, with a fruity, almost floral taste. Alas that it is no longer available.

Because it has been on the public mind lately, we talked of earthquakes. Paul asked Jerry what he thought of TV evangelist Pat Robertson’s  statement about the earthquake in Haiti. Jerry hadn’t heard Robertson’s statement but he said, “I can tell you before you even say anything that I’m going to disagree with him.”  According to the BBC, Robertson made the following comment January 13 on television:

“They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

Robertson’s comment was soundly reviled by all of us.

And since we were on the topic of earthquakes, we had a few stories of California earthquakes. Jerry described a quake in which he watched the ground heaving and rolling like ocean swells. And, on a more humorous note, he was once on the 25th floor of a hotel when a quake hit, and as the room swayed and the television burst through its doors and came toward him, he shouted  “Jesus I’m coming!” because he thought it was the end.

It was mentioned that there will be an upcoming lecture by Wheaton College English prof Alan Jacobs called “Learning from Clyde Kilby.” Kilby was a professor at Wheaton College known for his scholarship on the Inklings and his founding of the Marion E. Wade Center. Jacobs was my favorite professor at Wheaton, and I can attest to the fact that his lectures are worth hearing.

Since I’m on the subject of Kilby, he once gave a lecture in which he outlined what he called “A Means to Mental Health.”  I recently read it and found it enlightening,  so  I offer it here:

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities.

4. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

5. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

6. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

7. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

8. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”

9. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

10. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.

11. If for nothing more than the sake of a change of view, I shall assume my ancestry to be from the heavens rather than from the caves.

12. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

Well, I will arrive early next week in hopes of catching the conversation that I have missed the last few Thursdays, thus making these posts more substantive. Thanks for reading.

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~ by Mark Neal on January 24, 2010.

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