Monday, July 19, 2010

A Violent Love

I came across a quote that spoke to me. It is by the tragedian Aeschylus (525-456) and as the author who quoted says, it intends to mean that the pain we suffer brings us wisdom.

that we must suffer, suffer into truth.
We cannot sleep, and drop by drop at the heart
the pain of pain remembered comes again,
and we resist, but ripeness comes as well,
From the gods enthroned on the awesome rowing-bench
there comes a violent love.

What strikes me is the "pain of pain remembered" as though we are made of finer stuff than we can know, and that the REAL person is arrived at through a process, perhaps of pain, but that we remember ourselves into being. We existed before birth, we will exist after death. And the state in which we exist out of life, in a place beyond life, is beautiful, healthy, and good. Immortal we are more than we are when we are mortal. As mortals we are always striving to remember our immortal state.

Ever have that experience of doing something, and the nagging doubt that you did it wrong, and that you knew better? There is a center to everyone that is good and virtuous and it seems that we spend our entire lives trying to live closer and closer to this center. Well, not perhaps everyone. Some people's voyages, in an unexamined life takes them further and further away from the center to make foul mistakes, to be a burden in this world to others, a fountain of sorrow and hurt.

Today I went to the bank and next to me was an old man giving the bank teller a very hard time. I've had many nice transactions with this bank teller and I know that he is a sweet young man. But the old man was not influenced by the courtesy of the baby-faced bank teller, instead he mocked him, he hounded him and he acted like an cantankerous egoist who was in a rush, and had better, more important places to be. As I walked away I imaged taking the old man's arm and saying to him, "what is the matter with you, why are you so upset?" I just got the feeling that the bank transaction, that was so distasteful to the old man, was just a symptom of a life lived on the verge of misery. Nobody could be as mean as he was being and be happy.

Another favorite part of the quote I discovered (probably a fragment of something much longer) is the phrase "violent love". The God I know has given me a mind that is present and robust at times but at times is very fatigued and distant. I am crippled. I am wounded. This is no different from saying I am mentally ill. It was of great interest to me that in this book I'm reading (Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God") there was a reference to the Greek divine craftsman, Hephaestus, who was a cripple. Their highest artist, the artist who all artists saw as a prototype, was a cripple. I find this intriguing. In a book I read about 15 years ago I remember the thesis statement that most creative people are in good mental health. But the Greeks recognized that something in the artistic mind is often flawed, for their Gods were after all manifestations of the forces of the unconscious mind.

One year several years ago, while my husband and I were vacationing in Maine, we happened to be at a restaurant when a famous painter and his entourage arrived. The painter was Andrew Wyeth's son, Jamie Wyeth and he was dressed in a tuxedo jacket. How he was dressed was a little eccentric, but being an artist who was close friends with the likes of the Kennedys (he painted president Kennedy when he was only 17) and Andy Warhol, he is the sort who can make up rules about style and life as he chooses. I asked my husband what he saw in the man's aura. "It is bright and very large" my husband said "but it has cracks in it". Having a cracked aura means that there is something slightly wrong with your brain. We haven't quite defined what the crack means (places where the light of the aura is absent) but it is associated with some type of dysfunction. When I am very sick with my mental illness cracks will appear in my aura, but happily, this is not the normal state for me. It astonished me that someone with so much force of personality (the man exudes this, I watched as he shook hands with several people he already knew at the restaurant) and such enormous creative talent could be flawed. But so be it, his aura was flawed. He is unlike most people who you will meet walking down the street who do not have cracked auras. To my mind Jamie Wyeth, like his father, is the term artist as one would define artist. A great man, a great talent. But to someone who is sensitive to the condition of the soul, like my husband, that night a hurt was revealed. Jamie has a slight crippling of the mind.

I think creative types are special recipients for God's violent love. The term to my sensitivity is almost a contradiction, like Shakespeare's oxymoron "angelic fiend". How does one love violently? It is most certainly benevolence mixed with pain. It is tonic that will do you good and cure your ills but tastes terrible. It certainly answers the question of why bad things happen to good people, or why there must be natural and unnatural disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti and the poisoning of the Gulf ocean by the BP oil spill. God loves with a slap and a hug. Wake up and be comforted.

That the Christian messiah Jesus had to die at a young age on the cross, a horribly painful death, is an example of God's violent love. "Life isn't fair", is a statement that some fundamentalist Christians would discourage you from believing. "there must be a cause" they say. They name the cause the devil or some sin of mankind, but God's hand acts in only clear cut ways, no ambivalence. There is vengeance and there is forgiveness. God turns away from man, or God rewards with abundance. Or, as it seems in the church I attend, God's love is steadfast and perfect, it is only you who do the turning away from or turning toward.

It was a pagan who envisioned our condition on earth as a case of having been loved violently. And it was a pagan who saw that a person is like an onion, with layers needed to be peeled away to discover what was always present.

I feel that in me is a greater person that I have yet to meet. The longer I live, I pray, the more I'll meet of her. I don't know yet how to incorporate this quote into my life as a Christian, but I must do so, because the quote seems so true to my experience.

I cannot believe that mental illness does not carry with it meaning and purpose. Or at least, in order to live with it, you must give it some sort of value which is not negative.

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