“Beyond the Obvious”

Posted: March 29, 2023 in Uncategorized

“Beyond the Obvious”

The fool on the donkey receives the accolades of success, the adulation of the emperor, the recognition of real power, truth and enlightenment. Wait! Is this the wrong procession? Should this not be the other path? The one with the standards, the creaking of leather and the clinking of steel, the snorting of horses under bit of controlled aggression and might. What does this dichotomy mean? Which one is true? Which path is the right one?

On this sun roasted day are we witnessing a living testament that nothing lasts in the form it is first constructed or understood? In the shimmering light of a later time with the Forum and Coliseum silhouetted one behind the other and the Dome of St Peter’s lit by the golden shafts of sunlight is the signal of the dichotomy that the Rome of the time was accessible through what was about to disappear?  Is it possible that in the splendour, pomp, power and empire, the spiritual materialism become temporary specifics, have their moment and then are gone. That the human ideas and human endeavour find their fullest form as the beautiful ruin. The emperor on the back of an ass, the snorting of the horse, the heehawing of the donkey. The shouting of obedience as the waying of bits of trees. Caesar stands proud listening for divine transcendence and the bestowing of the future as the foolish lover hangs on to the ridge on the backside of the ass. Where is the truth here? Where is the beauty of this picture? What story is the one we should choose? And why? Is it power and powerlessness? Is it Triumph or Passion? Where, is the aesthetic? And what does that mean?

Bernard Meland says that “Being aesthetic means reaching out beyond the obvious and the useful to the vaster and richer content that environs us. This aspect he says, is the opposite of standardization. It tends toward innovation. It cultivates spontaneity, originality, deep insight, and broad sympathy. It gives dimension and intensity to life. The only way to achieve this aesthetic measure of life is by frequently exposing one-self to the awesome, the mystifying, and the inspiring. Live in the presence of that which gives altitude to emotions. Enter frequently into deepening contact with the wide cosmic expanse of life. Turn from the critical mood occasionally to see life in synthesis. See the world synthesized in a flower, a sea, or in a human being. Catch glimpses of the whole of reality. Contemplate your own life blended with the total movement of life. Envisaging these wider reaches of reality not only enlarges the scope of living, but it sensitizes our feel for life and beautifies its quality.” (Meland 1934:288)

Maybe the choice we have in this Palm Sunday reflection is to step back and look at the bigger picture. Recognise that the two options are real and that a third is to evaluate each in their ability to last and to enable across time and space.

Another way the dichotomy of our Palm Sunday stories might be to step back and contextualize them in today’s concerns? Perhaps the wisdom of poet Mary Oliver—another Pulitzer Prize winner might help in the context of a world facing the climate change implications. Oliver has a strong sense of place, and of identity in relation to it, as central to her poetry. Her creativity was stirred by nature, and her poems are filled with imagery from daily walks: shore birds, water snakes, the phases of the moon, and humpback whales.

“Just pay attention to the natural world around you—the goldfinches, the swan, the wild geese. They will tell you what you need to know.” (Franklin 2017)

When reviewing Oliver’s work one literary critic wrote: “Her poems are firmly located in the places where she has lived or traveled… her moments of transcendence arise organically from the realities of swamp, pond, woods and shore.” While, another commented: “At its most intense, her poetry aims to peer beneath the constructions of culture and reason that burden us with an alienated consciousness to celebrate the primitive, mystical visions of the natural world.” Pay attention!  Experience! Imagine! Such attention and experience comes, from being immersed in what is, and seeing the overlooked.

As another has said: we are cosmic and we are local. (Fleischman 2013:165) The natural world is all around us, and we are an integral part of it. Appreciation of the benefits of nature—of being at home in the universe and the environment in which we must fulfil our lives— is an ancient wisdom we are only barely beginning to regain, as the Earth heats, glaciers melt, rainforests are logged, and species vanish.

At times we will seek to critically understand and to use those environing realities. And a poetic response is often the most appropriate and shrewdest analyst of social concerns including frustrated hopes and political skulduggery. At other times we will respond appreciatively to the deep significance of these environings.

As Rex Hunt has said on another occasion: we need both the voice of the rational —to keep any community free from sloppy sentimentality— as well as the concern of the creative artist —the rich, deep, not entirely rational forms of expression shaped by metaphor, the poetic, myth and parable—to strike a chord and resonate within.

But it is at the level of the imagination that any full engagement with life takes place.
Thus, what is now required is a different religious sensitivity. In the case of the Palm Sunday dichotomy, the choice of path, the seemingly foolish clownlike no change Way or the obvious outcome driven, successfully clear option is the choice. The obvious real or the aesthetic beyond the real option. Today the choice is an obvious economically sound option or a natural spirituality or an ecological spirituality. Like the choice to walk the way of the obvious foolhardy idealistic expensive way the natural way is the thread that completes the tapestry of life. “Whether or not we believe that there is something more, nature is so significant that all our beliefs must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.” (Hefner 2008:x)

The Palm Sunday foolish path is religion born out of the sense of wonder and awe of the majesty and fearsomeness of the universe itself. (Berry 2014:74) But religion is also poetry—at least according to ‘geologian’, Thomas Berry.

In an interview with Australian church historian and former priest, Paul Collins, Berry claimed:
“Religion is poetry or it is nothing! How can a person be religious without being poetic? Certainly, God is a poet; it is God who made rainbows, butterflies and flowers. It is the most absurd thing in the world to think of dealing with religion in any other way than poetry or music… You cannot do it any other way.” (Collins 2010)

But then Collins went on to add: “Deprived of nature with its beauty, multiplicity, mystery, complexity and otherness, our imaginations would shrivel up, and we would lose our ability to perceive and experience the deeper feelings and intuitions that give real meaning to our lives. For nature is the source of our origin and the context of our continuing evolution and spiritual development. Without imagination we would lose all sense of ourselves as human beings.”

Life glows on! Such is the poetics of life.  All those many things and experiences which enhance life with mystery, colour, and fragrance!

“As we consider this Earth, our home, and we, our presence upon it, may we be moved to see ourselves as particles of the whole and walk in reverence.” (Vosper 2012)

I would put this; “As we consider and seek clarity in the relationship with this planet may we be moved to see beyond the obvious. To see ourselves as the embodiment of the more than the sum of the parts and walk with confidence into the discovery of the novel beauty of realization.”

“Eccentric Tree” by Diana Butler Bass (2016)

Eccentric tree,
lofty and lithe:
shadeless rod with
roughened fronds—
misfit wood.

You alone from forests of arborial majesty
offered expectant masses
sacred fans for fervid alleluias
and carpeting grace.

Gazing from holy height
Did you join the song?
Or bow in the holy breeze As the One rode by?

Perhaps in doing so, you redeemed your race:
For another of your kin, a more mundane timber, gave stake and beam,
But you gifted glory.


Berry, T. Selected Writings on the Earth Community. Introduction by Mary Evelyn Tucker & John Grim. Maryknoll. Orbis Books, 2014Collins, P. “Religion is Poetry or it is Nothing!”. ABC Religion & Ethics. 10 December 2010Eliot, T. S. “The Waste Land”. 1922. Poetry Foundation. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land>Fleischman, P. R. Wonder. When and Why the World Appears Radiant. Amherst. Small Batch Books, 2013Franklin, R. “What Mary Oliver’s Critic Don’t Understand”. The New Yorker. Books. 20 November 2017. <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/27/what-mary-olivers-critics-dont-understand>
Hefner, P. “Forward” in J. A. Stone. Religious Naturalism Today. The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative. New York. State University of New York, 2008
Logan, J. “The Resurgence of Life”. Poetry Soup. 22 March 2021 <https://www.poetrysoup.com/poem/resurgence_of_life_1340115>
“Meaning and Symbolism of Hyacinth”. Teleflora. n.d. <https://www.teleflora.com/meaning-of-flowers/hyacinth?promotion=AUGUSTWELCOME5>
Meland, B. E. Modern Man’s Worship. A Search for Reality in Religion. New York. Harper & Brothers, 1934
Monahan, J. “Bite into Poetry…” The Ledger. January 2005. <https://www.theledger.com/article/LK/20050111/News/608089277/LL>
Vosper, G. We All Breathe. Poems and Prayers. Toronto. PostPurgical Resources, 2012


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