Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rolling Through

The long-predicted thunderstorms are finally rolling through.

It's Ralph Waldo Emerson's birthday.

Q: "Where's Waldo?"

A: "Somewhere over the Over-Soul."

If you are not already in love with Yael Naim, as I am, hurry on over to Susan Rich's blog, The Alchemist's Kitchen, and click the youtube here to see the music video for "New Soul."

I've been reading Noah's Compass, a novel by Anne Tyler, for my book group.  I love her work, always so human, compassionate, and quietly hilarious, and always so clear; she has a prose style that renders her invisible, like a good theatre director! We just watch the play, or read the story, caring about the people and what happens.

In fact, I finished it outside yesterday, in sunshine, before the rain came rolling through overnight.

There is only a glancing reference to Noah, the ark guy. Other Bible stories are mentioned, by way of a Bible coloring book. But here's a snippet of dialogue that demonstrates Tyler's humor, spot-on observations of real life, and ability to be deeply provocative in a subtle way that resonates later, or on re-reading:

"Louise, what's the meaning of the Joseph story?"

"Which Joseph story?"

"The coat of many colors, the slavery in Egypt--what are people supposed to learn from it?"

"They're not supposed to learn anything," Louise said. "It's an event that really happened. It's not made up; it's not designed for any calculated purpose."

"Oh," he said.

(This is Louise's father asking, and deciding not to pursue the conversation further, after babysitting the boy with the Bible coloring book.) The sentence, "They're not supposed to learn anything" made me laugh out loud, in a choked-in-the-throat kind of way. That's exactly the problem, isn't it, with a literal and fundamentalist interpretation of the great stories from the Bible (or any religious text). The conversation stops.

Progressives cannot talk to fundamentalists. Too often, atheists and agnostics assume anyone who goes to church or reads about religion must be a fundamentalist, or some kind of literalist. So the conversation halts there, too.

Of course we are meant to learn something! Of course there are helpful and harmful "calculated purposes," all around. Open your eyes! Etc., etc., laughing and choking.

So I do like Ralph Waldo Emerson's idea that we can intuit what's out there, in terms of a spirituality, or a moral or political philosophy, from Nature. No one text or one spiritual or political leader has to teach it to us, or could. The conversation is ongoing, and scientists and historians and political philosophers and poets participate in it, too. And marvelously funny novelists.

5 comments:

Hannah Stephenson said...

I definitely want to read that now. I loved Anne Tyler's "A Slipping-Down Life."

Kathleen said...

Glad to hear it, Hannah! I've read several of her books, but not all, and need to get to the library for more!

David Ponyboy Hill said...

Below is an Emerson quote that I particularly like. In some round-about way, it connects with your entry. (Or maybe not. Maybe I just wanted to post the quote, as its wedged in a brain crinkle in my noggin.)

It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

Kathleen said...

I think it does fit, Ponyboy! And reminds me to be sweeter, if not perfect!

nene said...

I comprehend little, understand less, but I do, 'intuit', that I get pleasure in reading all y'alls contribution to my 'soul food'.

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