The Ethos of Possibility


Night before last, I dreamed of a guy who’s been showing up in my dreams lately. He’s not terribly threatening on a visceral level, but his intent is to kill me. It’s not malicious particularly, and when I see him coming, I am more curious than afraid. He can’t be described but is easily recognizable. Needless to say, he’s not getting the job done.

Then last night, I dreamed of being in a music circle of some kind, and I was given a drum, and though I tried to play as best I could, the result was nothing but muddled and clumsy. Nonetheless, I was really happy to be in the circle, and my frustration at playing poorly was pretty benign. Given my high levels of pride, my contentment was a bit of surprise.

Finally, when I woke up, I had the strange sensation that I needed to read a particular book. It is a book that is a bit beyond me, a book that I struggled with for a week years ago, just to get through the introduction. But it rocked my world, and it gave me one of the central images of my thinking about theology and Beauty. So for once, I jumped up, being completely obedient to the impluse, and headed for the coffee shop, book in hand. I suppose it’s interesting to me because the book doesn’t really get me down the road on my to-do list, my list being a bit like that Psalm 23 cup–it’s overflowing. The lack of blogging is not exactly the fault of the to-do list…it’s more like the mindset of to-do list doing is not the kind of mindset that leads to brooding and blogging. Techne trumps poesis. Doing happens while the why goes underfunded.

Anyway, back to the book. Monday morning, I had a conversation with a friend in which the book came up, and it reminded me how much I miss the ethos the book creates. Ethos…good word that, suggesting the fertile ground needed to make crops grow. I talked with some folks Sunday about ethos, what it would mean to create an ethos of community. I read years ago about creating an ethos of inspiration, the writer reflecting on the seeming coyness of inspiration, that it cannot be commanded but only coaxed. And my book of the morning, The Community of the Beautiful, by Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, creates for me an ethos of possibility that begins in Glory and ends in praise, a journey that has at its heart theological aesthetics. Garcia-Rivera sees all human work and activity as necessity, completing a cycle that begins with Glory issuing from God with it’s singluar aim the human heart.

What moves the human heart?

This question is the heart of the book. And I suppose that’s why it called to me this morning. Indeed…what does move the human heart? My heart is moved more and more these days, beauty shimmering with surprising regularity, emerging almost daily at some point in my travels. Whether it’s at the bedside of a woman in rehab who’s had deep wound care sideline her for months at a time, or in multiple conversations with like minded folks who just want to find the tenuous connection that gives there art and life God-gifted meaning, or when I sit with a godly couple married for 61 years and they tell me in even voice stories to put my life to shame, or even if it’s in the full-scale assault of new temptations, new ways for the enemy to blow-up the God-work in my life,–in all of this and more, my heart is in my throat more than it used to be, and I count that as a good thing. How ironic that in my preacherly work, folks look to me hoping for some answer, and in reality, I can only offer them the dynamic of the questions opening up to more fullness. I know, I know…to the desperate, the beauty of the question’s shape is not that interesting.

So here I am with my book, longing for a community of the beautiful, not even sure what Garcia-Rivera means. Sure he means nothing American or commercial or fashionable, but is instead after something far, far greater.

Me, too…I hope…

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