I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Feeding Sparrows

Thanks to Dritanje at Rivertrain for pointing me in the direction of French Catholic writer and poet Christian Bobin. I started with The Very Lowly: A Meditation on the Life of Francis of Assisi, translated by Michael H Kohn. What a joy and revelation this book is, startling in its immediacy, poetic in its religion, liberating — even revolutionary — in its anti-materialism, in its attention to the humble and the holy poor, in its celebration of a careless, selfless, singing, childlike love of all things.

From as early as page two we are stopped in our tracks: We say, for example, 'Francis of Assisi'. We say it like someone sleepwalking, without coming out of the sleep of language. We do not say it, we let it say itself. We let the words come out. They come out in an order that is not our own, which is the order of a lie, of death, of life in society. Very few genuine words are exchanged in a day, really very few. Perhaps we only fall in love in order finally to begin to speak. Perhaps we only open a book in order finally to begin to hear.

The sleep of language! Something mystical is going on here, something beyond the reach of language. Language is suspect, duplicitous, is something over which we do not have complete control. Language does not serve our deepest purpose. True, deep language is perhaps only spoken between lovers, or heard in the echo of a book's hieroglyphs.

Francis believed instinctively in the equality of all living things: He (Francis) never experienced anything that was not in perfect accord with this belief in the absolute equality of every living being with all others, with the same dignity of existence allotted to each one — beggars, burghers, trees, or stones — solely in virtue of the miracle of having appeared on the earth, all bathed in the same sun of sovereign love.

God is to be found in the refrains of childhood, in the lost blood of the poor, or in the the voice of plain, simple people. All of these hold God in the hollow of their open hands, a sparrow soaked like a piece of bread by the rain, a sparrow chilled to the bone, squawking, a chirping God who comes to eat from their naked hands. God is what children know, not adults. An adult has no time to waste feeding sparrows.

All of us are significant, are worthy of our place in creation: One cannot say of anyone that he is insignificant, because he is called to see God without end. This quote (cited by Bobin) comes from the French mystic Marguerite Porete, who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church in 1310 for her heretical book The Mirror of Simple and Annihilated Souls.

16 comments:

Rubye Jack said...

Oh gosh, I just love the idea of the soaked sparrow chilled to the bone and a chirping God come to eat from the hands of children. This is just so perfect an idea.

The Solitary Walker said...

'He (Francis) loved watching the larks soar gracefully in the sky, but he described himself as a sparrow, a simple, brown bird, not showy... He modeled his simple, ragged tunic after this bird… He saw the sparrow (and really all birds) as being satisfied with one garment of feathers, rather than needing many different outfits.' The Sacred Heart Foundation

'The more stuff we have, the more clubs we need to protect it. Be free like the lilies and the sparrows.' St Francis

George said...

Loving the life, spirit, and teachings of St. Francis, as I do. I naturally loved this post, Robert. And, yes, words are always inadequate, even distorting, especially with respect to matters of ultimate importance. How is it that one can spend a lifetime in love with words, yet never be able to completely trust them? The book you quote from sounds quite lovely, and I'm going to see if I can locate it. Hopefully, Amazon can provide it to me. Again, a very inspirational post!

The Weaver of Grass said...

I too believe in the equality of all living things. I cannot understand why folk should be more upset when their cat catches a blue tit than a sparrow - both have a right to life.

Susan Scheid said...

That first quotation is gorgeous. So much language in a day that doesn't really mean. And that last line, "Perhaps we open a book in order to finally begin to hear." I've been reading Robert Walser's The Walk. That is such a book, too, and of course made me think of you. So glad to be back in touch, all thanks to you!

The Solitary Walker said...

George — yes, I recall your love of St Francis, and remember your visit to Assisi. You would love this book, I'm sure.

Words are slippery fellows, aren't they? Saying everything and nothing, as they do.

The Solitary Walker said...

Though some would say, Pat, that a stalking garden cat has less right to life than a blue tit OR a sparrow! (Not me, I'm just remarking.)

The Solitary Walker said...

As I wrote in a recent comment on your blog, Susan, I'm inspired by you to get acquainted with RW.

dritanje said...

Delighted to have introduced you to CB and, through your translations, you've introduced him to others. Here's another short quote from 'Self portrait...' "My way of reconnecting with the world is to separate myself from it in order to write about it".

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm delighted to have found him, Dritanje. (BTW, the translations are by Michael Kohn. However, I want to read the next book in the original French.)

Ruth said...

It seems this author is worth of his subject, if the quotes you share are an indication, and I'm sure they are. Imagine if every person lived even with half as much attention to nature's creatures as St. Francis! And that Porete quote ... we are all called to see God without end. A simple phrase that reflects the seer as much as God.

Nick said...

There is a real problem with language: it is labels, not the things of which it purports to speak - and therefore at best misleading, at worst far more duplicitous than that. Sometimes (perhaps always) you can only find the truth beyond language,in silence.

pilgrimpace said...

Thank you for this Robert. I'm committed for the next while to be reading Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, but I will certainly look out for this.

Andy

The Solitary Walker said...

Indeed, Ruth! Francis is my favourite saint.

The Solitary Walker said...

Language can be used for good or ill, Nick.

And, as human beings, language is what we have.

The Solitary Walker said...

Andy, I think you would almost certainly appreciate this book.