attention and reverence

[more from Barbara Brown Taylor]:

According to the classical philosopher Paul Woodruff, reverence is the virtue that keeps people from trying to act like gods. “To forget that you are only human,” he says, “to think you can act like a god – this is the opposite of reverence.” While most of us live in a culture that reveres money, reveres power, reveres education and religion, Woodruff argues that true reverence cannot be for anything that human beings can make or manage by ourselves.

By definition, he says, reverence is the recognition of something greater than the self – something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding. God certainly meets those criteria, but so do birth, death, sex, nature, truth, justice, wisdom. A Native American elder I know says that he begins teaching people reverence by steering them over to the nearest tree.

“Do you know that you didn’t make this tree?” he asks them. If they say yes, then he knows that they are on their way.

Reverence stands in awe of something – something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the full extent of our limits – so that we can begin to see one another more reverently as well.

– Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

the problem with big

[Wendell Berry offers some thoughts on the predicament we get into when corporate industrialism leads to its inevitably inhumane scale of business – not an easy read but important to “chew on”]:

When people succeed in profiting on a large scale, they succeed for themselves. When they fail, they fail for many others, sometimes for us all. A large failure is worse than a small one, and this has the sound of an axiom, but how many believe it? Propriety of scale in all human undertakings is paramount, and we ignore it. We are now betting our lives on quantities that far exceed all our powers of comprehension. We believe that we have built a perhaps limitless power of comprehension into computers and other machines, but our minds remain as limited as ever. Our trust that machines can manipulate to humane effect quantities that are unintelligible and unimaginable to humans is incorrigibly strange.

As there is a limit only within which property ownership is effective, so is there a limit only within which the human mind is effective and at least possibly beneficent. We must assume that the limit would vary somewhat, though not greatly, with the abilities of persons. Beyond that limit the mind loses its wholeness, and its faculties begin to be employed separately or fragmented according to the specialties or professions for which it has been trained.

Wendell Berry, from his Jefferson Lecture, 2012

openness and commitment

[Ariel Castle just found this quote as part of her Europe studies – I thought I would pass it on. Chaim Potok, speaking on what he hopes his work will spark in students:]

“An openness to discuss all sorts of ideas. The conviction that no idea should be foreign to us. A willingness to debate without fear of consequences. At the same time, an acknowledgment that, as a civilization, in the end there have to be limitations; there have to be borders; there has to be some measure of what most of us will agree is the deviant in our culture. There has to be some way of living a day-to-day life in spite of the fact that the discussion remains fluid.

I think that’s the fundamental purpose of the university: to teach the student how to create a balance between an ongoing, fluid discussion about the nature of a culture, and the reality that when the student wakes up Monday morning he or she has to commit himself or herself to something. It’s one thing to discuss; it’s another thing to live.”

– Chaim Potok