Energy is not simply one commodity among others; it is the ur-commodity, the foundation for all economic activity. It follows laws of its own – the laws of thermodynamics, notably – which are not the same as the laws of economics, and when the two sets of laws come into conflict, the laws of thermodynamics win every time.
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Energy is different. Once you turn the energy content of a few million bushels of grain into a pyramid, say, by using the grain to feed workers who cut and haul the stones, that energy is gone, and you cannot turn the pyramid back into grain; all you can do is wait until the next harvest. If that harvest fails, and the stored energy in the granaries has already been turned into pyramids, neither the market economy of goods and services or the abstract system of distributing goods and services can make up for it. Nor, of course, can you send an extra ten thousand workers into the fields if you don't have the grain to keep them alive.
Catholic Charities DC, the social service arm of the archdiocese, received $16 million of its $23 million budget last year through governmental contracts.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “The church’s demand is outrageous. If ‘faith-based’ charities cannot or will not obey civil rights laws, they ought not benefit from public funds.
“I am amazed that church officials would threaten to stop helping the disadvantaged because they are being asked to treat all citizens of the District fairly,” he continued. “They seem to have lost all perspective. How strong is their commitment to helping the poor if they’re willing to take this hardline stance?
“If Catholic Charities drops its participation in publicly funded social services,” Lynn concluded, “I am confident that other charities would be happy to pick up the slack.”
One wonders how many abject demonstrations of the fact that faith-based funding is a horrible idea are going to be necessary. Sadly, the answer is probably: quite a few.
I promised ("threatened" is a better word, for many of today's readers) recently to blog more about reading poetry. Again, if you're not someone who enjoys poetry, skip these posts; they'll only convince you that poetry is "difficult" and "dry," when, in fact, good poetry grabs your guts and leaves you whirling, like a good, but mysterious, dance partner. Good poetry does what good ritual can do, picks you up, takes you "elsewhere," and then gives you the shock of realizing that "elsewhere" is "here," that the familiar world is en-chanted and in-spired. So first you should experience poetry that you like and, then, only later, much later, should you read about reading about poetry. It's like reading about reading about dancing.
Here, however, for those still reading (maybe she'll say something; one never knows, she occasionally does) are some thoughts from Adam Kirsch concerning why the poetry of our age is not "religious" poetry but, rather, "poetry of the [E]arth." I'd like to think that this is so, despite Mr. Kirsch apparently believing that only people with penises can write poetry.
Ours does not promise to go down in literary history as a great age of religious poetry. Yet if contemporary poetry is not often religious, it is still intensely, covertly metaphysical. . . . the rise of the poetry of earth. This poetry—our poetry—prefers to imagine the artist not as a creator, but as a witness. It has a strong sense of ethical obligation, holding that the poet must serve as a bearer of memories and perceptions that history would otherwise sweep away. Whenever a poet is concerned with giving things their proper names, or with remembering what everyone else forgets, or with seeing nature so intently that it seems to yield up secrets, he or she is practicing this sort of Heideggerian poetry.
What makes the poetry of earth so challenging to write is that poets are instinctive world-builders. The artistic imagination is instinctively imperial, seizing on things seen and turning them into occasions for symbol and metaphor. (Think of all the poems that have been written to wrest the bird's song away from the bird and turn it into a symbol of transcendence, freedom, or passion.) Clearly, resisting this tendency requires an austere ethical discipline. But for the poetry of earth to be more than a bare catalogue of things seen, for it to achieve the linguistic and emotional richness of great poetry, requires a specifically artistic discipline as well. The poet of earth must use language to make us notice what we usually ignore, the way Van Gogh draws our attention to a humble pair of shoes; but he must avoid constructing the kind of coercive, tendentious myth that Heidegger builds around those shoes.
In Seamus Heaney's great sequence "Squarings," the poet is constantly brought up against the difficulty of this poised restraint. From the beginning of his career, Heaney has been an earthy poet in an obvious sense. His poems are often set on farms or in the countryside, and his rich, saturnine, consonant-heavy style is designed to give spoken language a corporeal weight. But in "Squarings," as he tries to enunciate the metaphysical propositions that have always guided his work, he becomes a poet of earth in a specifically Heideggerian sense. The first part of the poet's task, he makes clear, is to remain attentive to what most people ignore. "Make your study the unregarded floor," he adjures, and the whole sequence is full of concrete, sensual images: "Scissor-and-slap abruptness of a latch./Its coldness to the thumb. Its see-saw lift/And drop and innocent harshness."
Heaney is unrivalled at this sort of "study," which carries out the Heideggerian task of bringing "beings to word and to appearance." But in "Squarings," he insists that capturing the sensual world is more than an aesthetic activity; it also has a spiritual significance. At certain moments, "seeing things"—the title of the 1991 book in which "Squarings" appears—means seeing through them and beyond them. Heaney's poem is a record of such epiphanies, moments when the sheer fullness of the earth seems about to overflow into spirit: "A phenomenal instant when the spirit flares/With pure exhilaration before death."
For Heaney, however, the poet can only be true to such exhilarating moments by respecting their strangeness. That is why the word "epiphany," which Joyce famously used, does not quite fit Heaney's conception. The word comes from the Greek for appearance or shining-forth; in the Christian calendar, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the appearance of Christ's divinity to the Magi. But for Heaney, a post-Catholic poet, it is by no means clear that it is God who is shining through the earth, filling it with His glory. All he can honestly say is that the earth itself appears to shine; recording that radiance is the farthest he can go in the direction of prayer. That is why the language of Heaney's epiphanies is consistently negative, a matter of warding off conclusions and explanations. His sacred moments are those when "Nothing prevailed, whatever was in store/Witnessed itself already taking place/In a time marked by assent and by hiatus."
"Nothing prevailed" might be the Heideggerian poet's description of paradise: an instant of perfect restraint, where every being is allowed to be simply and wholly itself. This sense that "nothing" is more than an absence—that it can be a positive force, whose advent is to be welcomed—appears again in the work of Charles Simic, another poet deeply indebted to Heidegger. In his early poem "White," Simic succeeds in capturing this paradox as well as any poet has. "Out of poverty/To begin again//With the taste of silence/On my tongue," Simic begins, immediately plunging into the paradox at the heart of the poetry of earth. For if the poet's calling is to let beings be, then anything he says about them is a kind of violation of their integrity; the best poetry would have "the taste of silence." Later in "White" Simic returns to this problem in a startling, homely, yet philosophically dense image: In the inky forest, In its maziest,
Murkiest scribble Of words
And wordless cries, I went for a glimpse
Of the blossomlike White erasure
Over a huge, Furiously crossed-out something.
The whiteness the poet seeks is an absence, but also the trace of a presence. It is the white not of void but of erasure, the silence not of muteness but of reticence. In these lines, Simic succeeds in capturing some of the genuine strangeness of Heideggerian poetry, with its self-cancelling assertiveness. It is a contemporary version of the medieval via negativa: only what cannot be said is worth saying.
If Heaney and Simic demonstrate the exigent power of the Heideggerian mode, Billy Collins demonstrates that mode's comfortable decay. The poetry of earth succeeds only when it manages to make the earth itself strange to us, so that we can perceive it in its aloof beauty. When the poet allows the earth to remain familiar, however, his praise of it becomes mere praise for the familiar—for everything that is undemanding and reassuring. That is the note Collins strikes in "Earthling," where, after imagining what it would feel like to be heavier or lighter on other planets, he concludes: How much better to step onto the simple bathroom scale, a happy earthling feeling the familiar ropes of gravity,
157 pounds standing soaking wet a respectful distance from the sun.
Collins turns the very name of earth, which was an enigma to Heidegger, into a synonym for all that is "simple" and "happy." But he too is drawn, by the common impulse of our poetic moment, to the question of how poetry can do justice to the earth. In their different ways, many of the best poets of our time are trying to make us not just understand but experience the truth Heidegger stated in "The Origin of the Work of Art": "At bottom, the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extraordinary."
I'm not at all sure that either Heidegger or Kirsch understands anything at all about Greek temples. What do you think? And yet, of course, at its base, my entire life is composed of the simple, moment by moment experience of the truth that "[a]t bottom, the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extraordinary." You should, really, you really should have seen the dried weed/grass that I passed this morning on my way to work. I stopped, and it made the SUV behind me angry, it did, and cried, "You're amazing and lovely!" to that dried weed, sparkling in the cold Autumn rain. One of these days they're going to commit me; I know that they are.
One wonders if Mr. Kirsch has never read Mary Oliver, , Adrienne Rich, Barbara Spring. They, too write Poetry of the Earth, and their poems are more involved with the Earth than with the weight of penised-Earthlings standing on scales, giving truth to theories of gravity.
Let’s imagine a world without the Judeo-Christian command to love one’s neighbor. Let’s imagine a world in which every individual is not made in the image and likeness of God. Let’s imagine a world in which the gods can be even more capricious and wicked than their own worshipers. Let’s imagine a world in which wars were neither just nor unjust, but instead just a fact of life. And let’s also remember—because we don’t have to imagine—the Peloponnesian War, a war that needed no competing Gods to produce a casualty rate unimaginable today. (It would be as if 44 million Americans had been killed in the European and Japanese theaters of Word War II.)
What's oddest about the post isn't its lack of logic, although that's rather pronounced, nor its ignorance about modern Paganism, although that, too, is rather pronounced. What's oddest is the need to demand -- even when one must create specious examples to back up that demand -- that monotheism is so much better than polytheism. If xianity works for the author, fine, good, that's nice. But why the need to compare and create lies that allow the author's religion to "win"? It's the true oddness at the root of monotheism. You want to worship just one god; fine. What's at the root of your need to put down my gods?
It's that time of year, again. What we need to be doing, what our bodies and souls feel programed to do, is to go inward. Think about our lives. What changes do we need to make in order to be who we are meant to be? What are we doing that is working and we should emphasize? What no longer helps us to manifest "this god" in the world and can be let go?
Yet, all around us, there's a ramping up. Lights! Stuff on Sale! Holiday parties to plan! Stuff to buy (buy, buy, buy!). Thanksgiving is a mere way-station on the way to secular xmas, which must be merry (merry! merry! merry!). It's as if the culture deliberately sets out to discourage our need to go inward (not a lot of money to be made off of people walking in the woods and thinking).
The only answer for it is to: go inward. Go for the walk in the woods instead of the mall. Sit and stare at the fire instead of the television. Breathe. Sleep. Ignore the frentic hype. Plug in your earbuds and ignore the 700th version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" or the (especially odious) "December to Remember" commercials. Where will you go today for a walk in silence?
Photo by the author. If you copy, please link back.
Since before the Civil War, the nice progressive men have been explaining to women why we had to wait for our rights. First it was to free the slaves. Then it was to win WWI. Then it was so we could get Civil Rights for African Americans. Then it was so we could end the war in Viet Nam. Now, it's so we can get a health care bill passed. It's odd how we can't multitask. But I'm old enough to detect a pattern here. And I don't fucking like it.
Most of us, most witches, don't, however much we might imagine that we long for it, live in a snug little cottage deep in the woods where we spend all day long doing witchy stuff and posing like the heroines in Waterhouse paintings. We live in apartments in big cities and we have jobs and families and bills and Blackberries and computers and a million distractions and a million demands on our time.
And it's easy, too easy, to come to a place where it almost seems "natural" to have "everyday life," and, then, on the 8 Sabbats and an occasional time or three when we decide to do some "real magic" to address a problem, to remember that we're witches. And, that's ok, if that's ok, you know what I mean?
But there's more to living the life of a witch than the occasional festival, spellcasting, purchase of another tarot deck (repeat after me: buying stuff is not a spiritual practice). And one of the simplest ways to deepen as a witch is to engage in a daily practice: Center. Ground. Breathe. Pull back into the center spot in your belly all of the millions of strands of yourself that you've spun out into the universe. Connect, or more accurately, remind yourself of the connection that you have to Earth, Sky, Fire, Water, Center. Remember that you are a spiritual being having a physical experience and that both of those aspects matter. Remind yourself that the way to respond to this work assignment, this demanding child, this reckless, inconsiderate driver, this insane politics of war, this demand on your time is as a witch. Check: Are you, as a manifestation of the Goddess, doing the work for which the Goddess manifested?
If you can stop and do that throughout your day, you're a witch whether or not you've studied a year-and-a-day with Lady MeadowStarFox, ever danced the Spiral Dance beneath a full Moon, ever grown a single herb or worn a pentacle or consumed Cakes and Ale.
Set the alarm on your iPhone. Program pop-up reminders on your laptop. Wear a bracelet or a ring and do your practice whenever you notice them.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."