Thursday, March 11, 2004

Lectio of the Flowers

Today's reading is from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven & Hell,
plate 8
. This epigram comes from a section of that curious work sub-titled "Proverbs of Hell." As long-time readers may recall, this blog has intermittently featured reflections on other epigrams from that work.

Although this is a "Proverb of Hell", I keep hearing echoes of canonical Judeo-Christian texts; for example, "Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting" (Ps 126:5, NAS). One statement seems like the mirror refection of the other. But it is, at it were, a somewhat distorted mirror.

I have long maintained that joy, in contrast to happiness, is a choice. That is to say, we generally say some external event or circumstance "makes us happy". On the other hand, we may choose to rejoice in response to an event. This choice is made when we engage our full being, full consciousness, with a stimulus (which may be internal or external). I suppose there is an element of vulnerability involved, that we may be open to opportunities to be "Surprised by Joy", as C. S. Lewis put it.

If I am on the right track when I speak of our vulnerability to joy, then the verb "impregnate" is especially apt. But one must not confuse vulnerability with passivity; if joy is indeed a choice, it is an active choice. We plant seeds of joy in our being whenever we make this choice. Blake's proverbs reflect an emphasis on energy, so I expect his emphasis here is on the generative quality of our actively choosing to be joyful.

Then: "Sorrows bring forth" In the context of "Joys impregnate", it would seem this means sorrow gives birth to – something. And here, the epigram begins to resemble a Zen koan: the logical mind cannot parse it. Yet, I will be so bold as to suggest what this epigram says to me today.

The union of these supposed opposites suggests that whatever "seeds" are planted by joy are brought forth during sorrow How can this be? Perhaps we build a reservoir of joy which can be drawn on during times of sorrow. With this hypothesis, joy is self-propagating; which is to say, it plants its own seeds.

Another possibility occurs. Choosing to be vulnerable to joy can become a habit; it may become, over time, our accustomed way of perceiving reality. And viewing reality through this lens may help us find joy even in sorrowful events. Thus, we may speak of "sorrowful joy" without contradiction.

Sorrowful joy may break the heart. It breaks the heart because we have assumed a habit of vulnerability. We may fear it for this reason. Yet, a life which is not vulnerable to the full spectrum of joy is not an energetic life. Such a life is not worthy of the word "life"; it is existence as a automaton. It is by embracing sorrowful joy that we come to experience our humanity holistically.

It is through the cracks of a broken heart that the light may come in, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen.

Blessed Gardener, I embrace the seeds of joy and sorrow planted in the world. Grant me eyes to see your presence each time my heart breaks. Grant me ears to hear your comforting voice Guide my hands to comfort others. Train me to inhale your presence in every nook & cranny of the world. Grant me a tongue to taste your wisdom, and to speak it boldly.
This I ask in your Holy Name. So be it.

Contemplate what this epigram might mean to you. Carry it with you through the day, let it grow with in you, then consider what fruit it
may have born in you by eventide.

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