The term a la carte Catholicism has been used to denigrate those who pick and choose from the tradition, selecting only what nourishes, challenges, and heals them. On the other hand, nobody goes into a restaurant and chooses everything on the menu.
I do not trust the Catholic Church with Eros. I never did, even when I was a priest. The Church does have a pathological fear of the feminine. It would sooner allow priests to marry than it would allow women to become priests. This awful mistrust of the feminine goes all the way back to Genesis, where Eve is blamed for offering the apple to Adam. And the doctrine that a woman, after giving birth to a child—the most beautiful thing a human being can do—has to go to the Church to be cleansed: this is a demonization of women that I cannot understand.
All extremes create a mirror of themselves. So when you have the demonization of the feminine, you also have the creation of the ideal feminine type: Mary as the perfect woman, on whom no stain of mortality—or complexity—was allowed to fall. None of the awkward, subtle, different, or dark faces of the feminine were allowed near her image. I think it’s a shame, and it has consequences. I think the Church is in danger of losing women. As I’ve said for the last twenty years: if tomorrow all the women in the Catholic Church decided to walk, the Church wouldn’t last three months.
... the country seems divided into two extremes. In the absence of a strong middle ground, the political pendulum will always swing too far to either side. By “middle ground” I don’t mean the status quo. I mean a true balance that is autonomous and authentic. That’s why we need responsible media and good conversation and universities that are open-minded and not already loyal to one side or the other. Plato said that to practice philosophy is to follow the question wherever it leads. Loyalty to the voyage of the question will create a wise middle ground and protect us from extremism.
Fear is the greatest source of falsification in life. It makes the real seem unreal, and the unreal appear real. In The Courage to Be, the theologian Paul Tillich draws a distinction between fear and anxiety. Anxiety, for him, is this diffuse worry that has no object or point of reference. This is the atmosphere right now in the U.S., the land of the free and the home of the brave. There is a huge anxiety just under the surface.
Fear, as distinct from anxiety, has an object and a point of reference. Tillich says that in order to handle anxiety, you have to translate it into a fear that has a definite object. Then you can engage with it. Part of the intention of growth is to overcome one’s fears.
... most things that are true and lasting have a symmetry between inside and out. Your outward relationship toward your beloved, if it is not mirrored internally by a loving relationship with yourself, is reduced and limited. You end up scraping from him or her what you are not giving yourself. But if you are nourished at your own table, you do not need so desperately to be fed by someone else; consequently, you can be free and open with that person.
This is true of our relationship to the world as well. When you approach even the simplest object, the depth that you see in that object will be proportionate to the depth you bring to it. One of the most interesting philosophical movements of the mid-twentieth century was hermeneutics: the science of interpretation. The key question in hermeneutics is always “How do you approach a text?”—and philosophers use the word text broadly. It could be restated as “Through what lenses and apparatus do you look at something?” You should be constantly aware of your own act of approaching anything. When you know what you are putting into it, and what you are taking from it, the text—or object, or person—has a better chance to meet you as itself.--
Solitude is the sense of space as nourishing. What usually happens with solitude is that people equate it with loneliness, which frightens them. But I don’t know anyone who has a good friendship or love relationship in which there are not long periods of solitude.
I think it is more interesting to be with somebody who still has his or her wilderness territory—and by that I don’t mean bleak, burned-out, damaged areas where wounding has occurred; rather, I mean genuine wilderness. Upon seeing that in the other person, you promise yourself: One thing I will never do is try to domesticate her wilderness. Because the authenticity of her difference and the purity of her danger and the depth of her affection are all being secretly nourished by that wilderness, as all of my spirit is being nourished by my own wilderness. There is a great tradition in the U.S., even more so than in other countries, of the solitary person going out into the wild. It’s a shame that this model is not now being revived for the voyage into our inner wilderness.
Frequently the most fecund time in a relationship is when you run into the “otherness” of your beloved, an otherness that you cannot calm or accommodate by means of your affection, love, or understanding. This otherness is actually set against you. But when you exercise patience and develop a hospitality toward this otherness, something deeper gradually emerges between you.
The challenge is similar in the writing life. I believe that a writer has to develop skill and craft first, then go to the biggest barrel of darkness or silence he or she can find and wait for something to come up. You must have craft so the quality of your writing will be proportionate to the importance of what will arrive on your table. But craft alone isn’t enough. You can develop a great ability as a writer, but if you write about insignificant matters, your work will interest nobody.
Sadly, many people view darkness as the enemy rather than the threshold, the invitation to become something more. In Beauty I write about sculpting a block of stone being akin to shaping yourself: your calling in the world is to keep refining yourself until you find the secret form inside you. We should consider life primarily as an invitation to become who we are. Most of the time, when we think of becoming something, we have a plan to better ourselves: “I want to lose this sense of inferi ority” or “I want to make my life easier” or “I want to call off my inner Dobermans, who are chewing up my insides.” We all have these problems we want to get over, but that is so bloody limited. So what if your childhood has its quota of damage? Wouldn’t it be healthier to say, “OK, my wounds deserve to be recognized and healed, but they also need to be placed in a more dignified context”? We should ask for the strength to push forward into deeper graciousness and sophistication. One way to do that is to recognize respectfully the places where your negativity appears. They are great clues to the location of the treasure troves in the deep inner caves.
In the creative world, true brightness is seldom found. Sometimes you get a perfect poem that comes all at once and you do not have to work on it, but such visitations are incredibly rare, a form of grace. Brightness in a poem or a painting or a piece of music usually has to sweat its way to the top through caverns of darkness. And when it comes to the surface, you can still see in it the beautiful shadow of the dark journey it has made.
The imagination is not interested in two-dimensional reductionism or naively pitting one side against another, dark against light. It is interested in the place where the two sides meet, and what they give birth to when they cross-fertilize each other. That is the heart of creativity: it is not fantasy, not invention. Creativity is listening in on the places where the opposites are dancing with each other.
Creativity is about opening up to your own originality and allowing it to come forward. As the French poet Rimbaud said, “I have no ancestors.” You will never write a poem that someone else has already written. We are all such strange worlds. We are more than human. Each individual is an opening where the eternal is breaking through, a portal where things go out and come in.
... every one of us dreams, and a dream is a most sophisticated artistic vision. It is said that when the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky slept, he hung a notice on his door that read, “Poet at work.” You people your dreams with characters, settings, images, plot, and you present it to yourself. You are both the creator and the audience for it. As the Talmud says, “A dream that has not been interpreted is like a letter that has not been opened.” So if you can dream, I believe you can create.
Second, we were all children once, and when you were a child, you lived in an imaginative world. That childlike side of us never dies. It is always there.
Third, the nature of creation is that it is constantly growing and becoming and emerging. And we are the stuff of creation. So, in a sense, it is in our nature to be creative.
Fourth, the act of knowing is a function of the imagination. All knowing has an imaginative element in it. We don’t see the world as it is at all. Our consciousness always co-creates everything we see. So what you are seeing is not just out there, on its own. You are always seeing it through the lens of your own thinking. Therefore, you are co-creating the world, whether you like it or not.
The ego is hard to handle, because it is elastic. If you enter into straight combat with it, it will bend every which way. When I hear people talking about overcoming the ego, I’m inclined to smile and say, “Best of luck to you with that particular battle."