The Lenten season led me to an uncomfortable examination of my life. Not that anyone’s examination of their life is meant to be comfortable. I’ve poured over the classic texts of a number of wisdom traditions and have never found any that proclaimed, “Blessed are the comfortable,” or “Thou shalt be comfortable.” Quite the contrary.
In the spirit of the season, I attended a day-long retreat entitled Responding to Fear and the Crises of our Time with the Spirituality of Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton, led by Franciscan friar, Father Daniel P. Horan, OFM—more about that a little further on.
By the end of the retreat, my mind was going a hundred miles an hour (when I open my eyes in the morning, it’s usually idling somewhere between 35 and 40 MPH—ask anyone who has been in my vicinity when I awaken). I had just a few hours to calm down before going to the theatre with friends
I’m not entirely unused to such leaps of culture and consciousness.
“Take more time, cover less ground.”
My father’s taste in art leaned toward landscapes of the southwestern desert, hand-woven Navajo rugs, Native-American pottery and beautifully detailed Hopi Kachina dolls.
In the late sixties when I was living in New York, my parents came to visit. I booked a room for them at the Warwick Hotel located down the street from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
My wife and I had a studio apartment on West 76th between Broadway and West End Avenue. If the light was right and you squinted and you had a properly romantic view of life, you might have described our apartment as Bohemian. It wasn’t; threadbare would have been a more accurate description. Our neighborhood, which is now completely gentrified and pricy, was at the time called Needle Park; wasted addicts prowled the streets and needles and syringes were common in the gutters of the neighborhood. On the bright side, many artists, young actors, musicians and writers lived nearby. Rents were rent-controlled and cheap.
“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.
“But there is another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”
–John Berger, Ways of Seeing
When I am asked what it is exactly that I teach, I say that I teach people to see. I use archetypes, myth, metaphor, and mostly film, to teach people how to see symbolically and impersonally.