Saturday, May 21, 2011

Splendor in the Ordinary: THe Bedroom

This is the last chapter of Thomas Howard's Splendor in the Ordinary!   I am going to post one more time after this to ramble on about what I learned, etc.    This chapter is about the bedroom.  Largely the master bedroom, I deduce, since it is described as the place of beginnings and endings, but some of it is about bedrooms in general. 

I'm just going to post quotes and then make quick comments.

The bedroom is the room of beginnings and endings. Here we are conceived, here we are born, here we sleep, and here we die. (That hospitals have now taken birth and death from the household is, like packaged food and air conditioning, convenient, but also, somehow, alarming. There lurks in our imagination the hunch that this is not how it should be. The bedroom seems to be the place where these beginnings and endings should occur).
Yes, it sort of does, doesn't it?   And I think the tide is slowly and hesitantly turning.  Maybe it's just the people I happen to know, but there are at least some homebirths occurring, and I know that more people with terminal illnesses are choosing to go home to spend their last days and hours with their families rather than undergoing sometimes horrific and futile extraordinary interventions at the hospital. 
“In my ending is my beginning,” said Mary, Queen of Scots, and we can see this paradox of beginnings and endings almost anywhere we look. The corn dying so that the ear may be born; the student at his graduation simultanously finishing and starting; the baby’s birth being at once the end of the only world he has ever known and the beginniing of a new one; or a Christian’s baptisim into Christ’s death signaling also the beginning of life
I was thinking about that in one of the first chapters, on doors. ... that every door has an inside and an outside, and when you exit one place you enter another.   Seems like a constant in our lives.    People like me get somewhat stressed by "transitions" and I suppose that is because any transition is two things at the same time -- an ending and a beginning.  And I prefer to have my life-altering events come in simple focus, thank you.  But it doesn't work that way.  

“unless that idea of ourselves being primarily cerebral or spiritual is not quite correct. And no Jew or Christian supposes that it is, since he agrees with God that the Creation was good. For it was earth and water and rocks and wood and flesh and blood, as well as spirit, that sprang forth at the Creation…
This is about marital intimacy.  The act of conception is considered to be a form of knowledge. .. seems strange that intimacy involves bodies, not just brains, but this is the way God made us.  He made Creation "good".  So that immediately eliminates all heresies and mindsets that consider materiality as "mere" or dualistically evil.
And Christians carry the idea further, believing as they do that God was incarnate in our flesh, thus raising that flesh to the heights of glory. And more than that, they look for the resurrection of the dead, which seems to imply that the whole story will not be finished until our flesh is somehow rescued from the refuse heap of death and restored to its proper place in the harmony of things….”
God did more than bless material Creation -- He entered into it Himself.   
“The high mysteries seem to be awkwardly attached to plain, visible, touchable things..”
Examples given:  the sacraments.  But it is true across the board.   "Awkward" isn't quite the word, in reality -- "awkward" expresses our incomplete way of seeing at present.   I have no doubt that in heaven, the relation of material to immaterial will become plain, and it seems to be plainer to saints than it is to the rest of us.   I still get shocked whenever I read Aquinas saying that supernatural things, invisible to our perceptions, are more certain and real in themselves.  God is far more real in Himself than we are in ourselves.  Of course I know that, but to realize it is a different matter entirely.  When I do really "see" that for just a half-moment, rather than accept that it is true on dark faith, it is blinding.  But it goes away too fast, and I am back to feeling that "awkwardness".
“…birth, like death, is bang on the frontier between what we can see and what we can’t. Science and imagination grope a few inches across that frontier; but even Scripture is oddly silent about the particulars.”
I suppose birth and death are places where dailiness and mystery are quite inseparable.  I've never heard anyone, no matter how secular and materialist in emphasis, that can speak of birth and death as ordinary.   They may reduce it to statistics, but then they are talking about something else, quantities, not birth and death themselves.  
“We sleep here. Nightly we return here to sink down, supine, as we will one day sink down into our graves. …The mightiest heroes..despite their strength, have had nightly to lie down, because they could not go on unless they did.”
Sleep is a nightly reminder of mortality.  You become aware of this if you try to follow the Divine Office -- the night Psalms evoking the terror, mystery and sorrow of night, especially waking up at night.   

“in this case we are obliged to remember with remorseless regularity our mortality. Not just once a year with ashes on our foreheads, but every single night we must admit it. But it is not just a bleak business of admitting weakness and defeat. Lo and behold, we find that our strength is renewed in these inglorious hours of repose. It is almost as though we have to become as little children, even infants in the womb, and be born again each morning; or as though we die and are raised again each morning to new life. A small daily reminder of the two great poles between which the thread of our life is strung
 This is the other side of the Psalms' references to nightly groaning and trembling and tossing.  It is the childlike dependence on God, the appeal to Him to bring peace and repose and comfort.   This can't come from inside ourselves -- only from without.  So every night is a chance to practice death and every morning is a new birth.  We're blessed that the ordinary diurnal and seasonal rhythms constantly evoke deeper truths about where we have come from and where we are going.

The fact that day/night and seasons practically disappear with our technological advances, especially in cities and in high-tech living, is probably one reason we as a society often feel so adrift and are so often reaching out tendrils in all directions, trying to find our grounding and direction.   I've been reading a lot of widely disparate books that mention that, recently, for some reason.   Not only Splendor in the Ordinary and Poetic Knowledge, but also The Shallows (about the internet), Margin (about our hurried lives), Undoing Perpetual Stress (about the physiological and emotional effects of living artificially), and one more I can't remember right now.  Oh, yes, Simplicity Parenting, about how cluttered our lives are and how the clutter obscures natural rhythms.  

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