Sunday, November 26, 2006

Truism: Wherever you are, that's where you're at

This morning I was reading through the current edition of Commonweal, a lay-run Catholic bi-monthly that provides me with an inexhaustible source of spirit- and thought-provoking writing. Two of my favorite Commonweal contributors are John Garvey and Luke Timothy Johnson. Anybody who has heard me teach has heard me cite "Catholic biblical scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson". But John Garvey, an Orthodox priest who lives in the borough of Queens in New York City, is another favorite of mine. Just as I open First Things each month to the back to read Fr. Neuhaus' The Public Square first, I open Commonweal and look for a John Garvey article. Anyway, as many of you know, we moved out of the city last summer and I miss it terribly. As I drove into the city for yesterday's big game, it dawned on me all the more how much I miss the place and why I miss it.

Writing about a recent fire in his row house, Garvey ruminates on place, its importance, and our attachment, but not without discussing some of the spiritual implications of attachment: "Toward the end of his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes, 'I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.'

I learned recently, the hard way, how far I am from that state of being."

Then, as to place, he also looks to scripture:

"Psalm 103: 'As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; / for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, / and its place knows it no more.'

"That idea of being known by a place struck home. There was a kind of dialogue between me and this place that I had become used to, and it was more important to me than I knew. It had to do with the silence of morning, with the freedom I have to read and write in these rooms, with views of clouds and a red maple from these windows. Four days in a hotel room got in the way of that, and I found myself resenting it."

Personal geography is important. I love the schema Michael Mott uses in his biography of Thomas Merton, the title of which is a play on Merton's autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which is, of course, an allusion to Dante's Inferno, not Purgatorio or Paradiso ; The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (how's that as an example of Derridean inter-textuality?). Given the temporal nature of mortal life, are you content? Have you grasped the importance of being content and are you learning?

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