Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Heavenly Community

"No one can possibly go to heaven alone--or it would not be heaven."

So concludes a paragraph from one of the Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, Franciscan author and speaker. He does not explain. And he sounds very certain.

Of course he expects the reader to figure it out by considering the overall reflection:  that the spiritual journey is from isolation to connectedness. Every relationship with people, animals, other cultures, and God is a manifestation of love.

But what about heaven?  We may die alone, I think Rohr is saying, but to enter heaven is to be part of a community of souls who experience a fullness of joy because they are unconditionally loved.  Those who have read beyond the Inferno of Dante know that the poet shows the souls in Purgatory working and singing together on their way to Paradise--in marked contrast to the isolated souls in Hell--and that once there, they are "seated" in a vast, circular  amphitheater, united in their relation to God, whose love they reflect.

So however we imagine heaven to be, it is not a place of loneliness and isolation. Sartre in "No Exit" famously suggested that Hell is other people. In fact, Hell means being cut off from others, from love; and it seems to me that quite often such a hell is experienced on earth. We imagine heaven as something totally different.

To paraphrase St. John of the Cross: I don't know what it will be like there; I only know a great love awaits me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Being a Magpie, Proudly

Writers are invariably magpies, it seems to me, or at least the ones I admire are: they collect things--quotes, facts, ideas--and put them to new uses in their writing. Without feeling guilty.

I don't feel guilty about saving articles and ideas and borrowing them, as I did today when I found a valuable statement by the late poet J. D. McClatchey on "desire" that I used in completing the preface to a little forthcoming collection of my stories, called "Departures and Desires."  If I had not come upon the McClatchey piece, I would not have thought of the many implications of desire and their relevance to my stories. I am grateful to him just as he would be glad to know his readers are influenced by his words.

Writers must take whatever bits of inspiration they can find. Often, the results are worth publishing.  When I began a comic story called "Losing It" five years ago, I was conscious of following a plot device used by James Thurber--and I hoped readers would see my indebtedness and not accuse me of plagiarism or, more likely, weak imitation.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I gather ideas from others and comment on them, trying always to give credit, building something new from the scraps: this is the kind of literary magpie made famous by T. S. Eliot in his "The Waste Land."  I  believe Eliot said something like,  "All writers borrow; good writers steal."

Anyone who studies Shakespeare knows how he borrowed lines and ideas from the books he found and, with his lively imagination, turned these borrowings into his memorable verse plays, which are utterly original even in their indebtedness to other works.  This was the traditional way of doing things and still is for many authors.  Yet some writers of fiction assume that creativity means starting from scratch and inventing everything, as if divorced from literary tradition. No wonder they experience writer's block.

Harold Bloom addressed this issue in his book "The Anxiety of Influence."

When we consider our debt to our language and to all we have read, such a notion of total originality is na├»ve. Every fiction writer, no matter how many rules and structures he changes or invents, is making use of what I call creative borrowing, the appropriation and transformation of what we have absorbed in reading. 

I, for one, owe a great debt to the community of writers, living and dead, who continue to feed us.