Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Thoughts on T.S. Eliot's, "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

In the autumn of his life, Prufrock is facing an existential crisis in which he is confronted by his futile and meaningless life. He and his world are stagnated by yellow fog.

He assumes that he will have more time, but is afraid to think about how long he has left to live.

He thinks that he has known everything that there is to experience in life: time, relationships of all kinds, music, women…
But he considers himself at the moment of death when he is added up, dissected, examined, and he asks this question of himself: Have I experienced the depth of life? Do I know despair, loneliness, poverty, joy, true passionate love?

He has never dared to live the messy business of life or allowed himself to be dirtied by an immersion into the fullness of life’s experiences, but rather, he has preferred a surface existence.
He is not a prophet and so cannot know when he will die but he is sure that the time he has left is less than what he has already lived. He consoles himself with the thought that he was likely better off not risking and wrecking his comfortable life for the experiences of despair, joy and love. By the end of the poem, he tentatively asks the questions: What do I mean? What is my meaning? What does my life mean? He tells us that when others try to interpret his life, they will get it wrong. Without really wanting to, he has come to the conclusion that he has lived an unexamined life. Now he is even afraid to dream about being drawn into the world of imagination lest human voices call him back and cause him to drown in his own meaninglessness.

Prufrock seems despondent and unable to face his present reality. Yet, there remains the fact that Prufock is having these thoughts in the autumn of his life and not upon his deathbed. The truest existentialist finds the reason for life at the end of life. Prufock has the very great gift of an existential crisis before his last moments of life. For Prufrock, life can change direction. The audience is not given the satisfaction of knowing what Prufrock does with his questions. We will never know whether he seized his life and lived with more depth of experience. But there is hope in the telling of Prufrock’s interior story that a soul once drawn from itself will not likely return to its ingrown state. Once awakened to questions of meaning, a soul craves the exercise and does not lightly return to sleep.

Text copyright 2008, Athena Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Beauty and Objectification

A recent conversation with a friend set me thinking about beauty and objectification.
To set the stage; my friend is a particularly beautiful woman. She is comfortable with her biology. She is not intimidated by others. She likes to dance, but this last fact was the source of a recent spousal disagreement.

Her husband will not dance with her at a club. He suggests that she is in a better environment dancing in the midst of her girlfriends. He admits that he does not want to look like the guy who scored the ‘babe’ in front of all the other men who have ogled her the whole night. He feels that other men objectify her when she is dancing and that if he were to dance with her, he would be a participant in that objectification.

Well, I was disturbed by the implications of this conversation.

My own personal narrative prevents me from feeling a similar freedom to enjoy my body and the space it inhabits. I have never given myself this freedom for fear that someone might objectify me; for fear of someone wishing to possess me.

And, then I thought of all the women who cover themselves for religious modesty. I became angry for my own loss and angry that my freedom to be happy in my own body was taken from me for fear that someone might not be able to control himself. And, why must a woman cover herself and be modest if the problem of her sexual attractiveness is not her own but that of someone who cannot take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. If men cannot keep their thoughts honourable, why must women hide? By hiding our selves, are we not saying that men are incapable of taking responsibility for their thoughts and actions? Do we then objectify ourselves by covering up in order that the only ones might objectify us are our husbands?

If there stands a beautiful rose bush in full bloom, whose fragrance fills the meadow and whose colours testify to the creativeness of the universe, do we rush to cover it so that only he who finds it can enjoy its beauty? Or, do we proclaim its beauty and honour it as something touched by God. Only a very selfish person would cut the blooms and claim them all for themselves. In cutting the bush to possess it, the beauty and the life of the bush is destroyed. So too, in covering the bush is the loveliness of the thing diminished. What fault has the bush committed by being beautiful? Why should the bush pay the price for the immaturity of others? Why blame the bush for the actions that that others may make against it?

My friend is very beautiful and lovely. Her frame and demeanour testify to the creativeness of the universe. She draws attention because she is beautiful and others cannot help but notice. Her husband should dance around her and be thankful that her biology is a wonder to behold. He should not make her ashamed for being beautiful. She has done nothing to incur such a judgement. He tells her that he is embarrassed by her when he excuses his own objectification of her behind a thinly veiled accusation. He blames the objectification of others for his own rejection of her beauty, sensuality and sexuality. He feels that he is the only one entitled to see all of her beauty and would rather sulk in a corner because others are looking at her with desire, rather than proclaim her beauty and honour her as a creature touched by God.

What is wrong with this world of ours? Why can we not honour the beauty that is around us? We all have a right to show who we are without the fear of being cut down or covered. We all have a responsibility to treat that which is beautiful with respect and reverence. We all are beautiful, every one.

Text copyright 2008 by Athena Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

How to be a Fundamentalist

From a convert to liberalism: A Cautionary Prescription

1. Read all documents of faith in a literal way and do exactly as the text says. Do not wait for other interpretations because a good fundamentalist can be directly linked to God through the text. Interpretation delays action and shows a lack of faith. The text tells you what you should do. Do exactly what it says.

2. Anyone who does not live a life that is directed by your faith text, is unworthy of your consideration. Do not talk to them or show them hospitality or help them. In fact, do not like them. They are not significant because they do not want to know what you know.

3. Seriously consider the possibility that God has chosen to speak directly to you through your faith text. Consider too that you alone have received God’s true message. Consider these things so that you can feel important and special.

4. Do not for a moment consider different opinions about your faith text. You read it. You understand it. Others must not be close enough to God to understand your faith text the way that you do.

5. When other people disagree with you, they are persecuting you. Persecution for the sake of your belief is noble and should be endured. Do not wreck the positive payback of persecution by changing your mind. Persevere. You are the right one.

6. Do not let your faith be diluted by a temptation to gloss over particularly harsh passages of your faith text. Your faith text is an all or nothing document. You have chosen to follow all of it without convenient omissions.

7. Remember that God chose you to understand your faith text. You are God’s chosen one. God only gives ‘the right’ understanding of his words to his chosen ones.

8. Remember that you are the special ones that God will reward when everyone else gets their ass kicked at the end of time.

9. Remember that the world is in the mess it is because people do not agree with you and God’s revelation of his ‘Word’ to you.

10. Remember, you get to go to heaven for this!

Text copyright 2008 by Athena Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed by any means, either in whole or part, without the express written permission of the author.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Does God Answer Prayer?

For Leah.

Any call to God is a reach (however small) toward the “divine other.” The “divine other” may be God and may be simply the space outside of one’s self. A prayer is a call from within one’s person to somewhere outside of one’s person. Any time someone looks outside of themselves, they are open to another reality. A prayer acknowledges that ‘I’ cannot live in isolation. A prayer opens a person to their surroundings and invites new resources and possibilities. A prayer creates the opportunity for a person to receive from the ‘divine other.’ In essence, a prayer, by virtue of what is does to a person, opens one to the bounty of the universe. A prayer answers prayer. A prayer invites the truth of the universe to enter into an individual. A prayer takes a person from self-sufficiency to a place of receiving.

I think that God gives a person grace to pray. I think God brings us to a place where prayer begins to flow from us. I think God leads us to prayer and then allows us to see that the bounty of creation is ours. The miracle is that we are lead to pray. The work of God happens before any words of prayer are uttered. The answer to our prayer is part of the working of the universe. The fact that we pray is the work of God. Before we pray, God moves toward us. As we pray, we move toward God. Prayer is the miracle. That we pray is the gift from God.

So, yes, one can say that God answers prayer, but the miracle and the true gift from God is that we pray in the first place. God gives us the grace to pray and therein is the miracle and the mystery of faith.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Making Bread

Making Bread: A Meditation
By Athena Graves


I love the yeast. It is so unassuming when it is poured into the warm water; small light beige pellets that sink and stay in little lumps all huddled together at the bottom of the cup. They sit and become fuzzy and soft and then, slowly at first, one or two will jump to the surface of the water. Then without much advance warning, larger groups will explode to the top, leaping and fanning out into a bubbly top. Its growth is so exuberant and its smell, the smell of life: life-giving life. And I love the yeast because it makes me wait ten minutes before I can start anything. What a beautiful life-giving life-form.


The softness of flour amazes me.
Marvel –
the hard grains of wheat pounded and ground into something so soft. Given a breeze or rough handling, its particles would fill the air of a room. Yet, in its ground and battered form, there is a paradox alive in its brokenness. When poured into the yeast and water, the flour is like a two-year-old. It resists mixing. It says,
“I was broken and separated and I WILL NOT readily be joined to anything else.”
But by gently coaxing and blending, the flour yields and enjoys the mixing of its parts so that eventually it finds again some of what held it together, and in this rediscovery, begins to cling to itself and enjoy being part of a larger whole.
To a point, the flour allows more of itself to be blended, but will only submit to gentle blending; any rough handling incites its rebellious nature and the flour wills itself around the room. Those who work with this gentle mixture know that patience and understanding are required during this stage of the journey.
The flour, yeast and water reach a balance and the flour itself decides when enough has been added. When the kneading begins, the mixture sticks and asks for a small amount of flour to be added and eventually as the kneading continues, it will stop asking and yield to the rhythmic push and fold. I knead the way my grandmother did. I learned from her because my mother never made bread by hand. I do not even look at my own hands when I knead the bread, preferring instead to see her lovely, knobby, blue-veined hands. I miss her very much every time I make bread. The ache and loneliness for her is replaced by sad and sweet remembrance. Making bread is an act of remembrance for that lovely and generous woman who graced the world with her presence for eighty-nine years.

This kneading time opens my mind and purges me. If bread is to be made at all, this time must be completed and only the dough will tell when the time is ripe for rising. I find it so profound that the dough is ready for rising when a lightly dragged finger across its mound feels identical to a new mother’s first caress of her new-born’s skin; or to the slightly sticky sweetness of a sleeping child’s cheek.

1st Rise

The rise requires stillness and warmth. (Don’t all of us require these things at times when we are growing most?) Again, the dough itself will decide how long it needs for growth and only asks for occasional checking; for the most part, it asks to be left alone.

2nd Rise

Punching down the dough after its first rise seems cruel and heartless. Yet, the dough quickly falls after the first big air bubbles are squished empty, as if knowingly submitting to this momentary setback. Pliant yet elastic, the dough is formed into two loaves and to cradle these in one’s hands is like holding a sleeping kitten. These are gently tucked into two loaf pans and again left alone to grow; but this time, their growth will be stronger and will not again need to be reformed or controlled.

And the life giving smell as the yeast and flour expend themselves is more lovely than all of the gifts bread can bring. And who can resist that first hot crusty slice still warm as the butter melts and slides over it?
Very few! mmm! Very few indeed.

Text copyright 2008 by Athena Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed either in whole or part, by any means, without the express written permission of the author.