Kierkegaard’s Eleventh Hour

Reading Kierkegaard this morning.  Went to bed too late to be up comprehending Kierkegaard, but the great phrase “to will one thing” is on my mind.    So I’m reading the online version of Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, and am stopped at the 2nd chapter.   Kierkegaard says remorse always comes at the eleventh hour, no matter when it comes.   He speaks of two guides, one that calls us toward God (who is the one thing), and one that calls us back from wandering, calls us back from sin.   This second guide is remorse, and Kierkegaard says when remorse speaks, it is by definition a moment of danger.   Delusion is the danger, and delusion left unchecked becomes perdition.

“…for when remorse calls to a man it is always late.”  Soren Kierkegaard

Purity of heart is on my mind this morning.   Not the purity of heart we’ve come to associate with various lustings after illicit things, especially in matters of sexuality, but the purity of heart that suggests clear sight, a lack of delusion.   Purity of heart that suggests clear intention, uncompromising commitment to the faith of the heart, whatever object that faith may have as its subject.  Purity of heart that suggests that the work of the day will be undertaken in ease, knowing that all is settled, intention and effort aligned.  Purity of heart that is unconcerned with results, knowing that “the one thing” will result in that which it will result in, and little more can be said.   To think we are in control of results is to step into delusion, and purity of heart is lost.

All this is abstraction.

And yet.

As I said, I’m thinking of “willing one thing.”  My remorse is that all too often, I will far more than that.  It’s one of the great temptations, the willing of many things.  It’s easy to do these days.  I sat in a classical FM station’s library yesterday, and there were shelves and shelves of CD cases, all lined up, calmly waiting to be chosen.  I thought of all the music, all the willing, all the life that was contained in those little plastic jackets.  I marveled at the poor guy who had to do the programming, having to choose from the vast array of composers, compositions, arrangements, and renditions.  All these choices crowded into the hours of the day, each of them crying, “Will me, will me, will me!”   Even great projects, artistic and humanitarian, clamor at us, grasping, grabbing, like all those stories of orphan children chasing rich visitors.

And finally, in my coffee conversation with my good friend this morning, we talked of the immersion that comes when the mind is given over to one particular thing in creative contemplation: painting, writing, directing.   My own experience is that the creative mind “willing one thing” drops into a place of deep river running, smooth, uninterrupted, powerful, at peace.  Multi-tasking destroys this; more and more research is beginning to suggest, at a brain level, just why this is true.

Turning around, letting things drop, betting eleventh hour remorse makes for new dawns, as willing the many becomes willing the fewer, maybe someday the one.

Long, concentrated creative contemplation and work.   It’s what I do best, where I find flow, where I sense the One’s greatest pleasure.

Do it more…


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  1. In order to understand the book, you must, in fact, will one thing – the understanding. (This concept is closely related to Simone Weil’s concept of Attention, if you know her ideas.) The Japanese film “Ikiru” is wonderful illustration of Kierkegaard’s idea in this book. The “I” disappears from the Will when it wills one thing. The I and the Will become One. The Good is the One Thing, and willing it is an action, which is related to the vocation of the person who wills. When the heart is pure, the Will is One, and remorse is absent.

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