The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mark Morris' Mozart Dances

The great choreographer George Balanchine created only a handful of dances set to the music of Mozart. His reason for this was the excuse that Mozart's music is too perfect. And indeed it is. If one stops to listen to anything of Mozart's, from a chamber piece to a symphony, from an aria to a Mass, one will realize that Mozart is always dancing in his music. There is a lightness there, a celestial playfulness, that marks all of his work. As one very astute reader once commented on this blog:

When the angels play before the Throne of God, they play Bach, but when they play for their own pleasure, they play Mozart ... and God eavesdrops.

Mark Morris then, has tried to chase this divinely inspired sound with his new work, Mozart Dances, which received its West Coast premiere last week at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. While Morris is definitively one of the most prestigious choreographers working today, his newest work does not quite grasp the spirit of Mozart's music. This is by no means due to the fact that he is a bad choreographer or that he does not understand the dynamics of human movement. Many of the moments in his newest work were filled with elegance, grace, and style. At points he did meet Mozart's piano concerti and sonata right in the realm of Platonic Beauty.

Playfulness is indeed at the center of Mozart's music, but it is a very serious, very solemn playfulness. It is the playfulness of a traditional village feast, of a royal court, and of the most solemn liturgies of the great cathedrals. It is one that knows what it is but aspires to more. It knows its limitations yet continues to carry itself with much gravitas. It is like an altar boy dressed in an oversized cassock, fidgeting with the candle in his hands and trying not to giggle.

Morris' playfulness is far removed from this traditional world. Watching Morris is a bit like reading Jacques Derrida: you don't quite know what you're looking at. The godfather of deconstruction at times can write very serious passages analyzing the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, and then right in the middle of it drop an untranslatable pun that would make a high school locker room blush. Derrida could be considered philosophy, literature, poetry, gossip column and social critique all at the same time, which is to say that he is in reality none of these things. In a universe where meaning is constantly being created and fluctuating, everything is possible, which ultimately means nothing of substance ever really exists. The last thing that one could do then is to take oneself seriously.

And that I believe is at least vaguely being hinted at in Morris' aesthetic, and I would not be the first in pointing this out. If there is a problem in his work, it is that there is too much that can be considered gratuitous. In one gag, the dancers formed two singal file lines, one male dancer being at the end of them. Then another male dancer runs through them and jumps into the male dancer's arms as if he were a child jumping into his father's arms. Everyone chuckled. It was genuinely funny. But what did it have to do with anything? What did the emergence of the women do in the second part of the piece; an emergence of about ten minutes that for me ruined the mood and balance of the dancing?

Like all postmodernists, Morris likes to subvert dichotomies. In the first portion of the three part work, only the women dance. As AG pointed out after the performance, there was barely any chemistry between them, not even of the camaraderie that can be found on the playground. This was be followed by the second portion, where the men carried each other, moved, and interacted in an almost sensual manner. (Indeed, the only notable pas de deux of the night took place between two of these gentleman.) Hanging around the artisitic community, one should expect this type of subversion of sexual mores. And I do, if it has a point. Morris' subversion, however, just made everything disjointed and out of place. By the time the women and men finally interacted at the end of the piece, the mood was already spoiled. The fact that he failed to "end with a bang" also did not help matters.

I may very well be in the minority in my observations. The house was at times roaring with approval. This of course is the Bay Area, and as many have observed, if Morris has a fundamentalist stronghold, it is definitely here. His kind of thinking is in line with the cafes filled on Sunday mornings with people chatting and reading the culture section of the San Francisco Chronicle. They are smart but not serious, cultured and wearing flip-flops, passionate about the important issues but not dogmatic. These people need entertainment too, and Morris shows them who they are in their deepest psyches. But even when his "number one fan" sitting next to me couldn't stop chuckling for half the piece at all of the choreograpic gags, one should really ask how much transcendent value this type of art really has.

I wouldn't be so harsh on Morris' new work if I didn't think it had potential. God knows that I have sat through much worse. That is why I am even taking the time to think about it: if it were complete garbage, I would just ignore it. As with all other examples of postmodern art, there is a fear of uniting, self-giving, and following through. There are elements of beauty, elements of passion, and longing for that which is beyond, but it never goes far enough. It is always disjointed, ephemeral, and unable to make an unabashed profession of faith in Beauty. Mozart's playfulness made him one of the greatest theologians of this Faith. Morris has a great deal of potential, if he would only say "yes" to the Beautiful, without gags or agendas.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Untitled #2

Vinculum quippe vinculorum amor est.

-Giordano Bruno

(For the bond of bonds is love.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Near Hiatus

Dear Readers,

Finishing up school, work, looking for a real job, and other considerations are forcing me to cut back on the attention I pay to this blog. Please only expect two or three posts a week from here on out. Once I land a job where it looks like I won't have to wait tables right after I finish my degree, I expect to be able to pick up a more desired pace to my posting. God bless and keep me in your prayers.


Arturo Vasquez

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On the Occasion of a Wedding...

For F. and R.

Renaceré Yo

Renaceré yo piedra,
y aún te amaré mujer a ti.

Renaceré yo viento,
y aún te amaré mujer a ti.

Renaceré yo ola,
y aún te amaré mujer a ti.

Renaceré yo fuego,
y aún te amaré mujer a ti.

Renaceré yo hombre,
y aún te amaré mujer a ti.

-Juan Ramón Jiménez

La estación total
(Canciones de la nueva luz)

(I Shall Be Reborn

I shall be reborn a rock,
And still woman I shall love you.

I shall be reborn as wind,
And still woman I shall love you.

I shall be reborn as wave,
And still woman I shall love you.

I shall be reborn as fire,
And still woman I shall love you.

I shall be reborn a man,
And still woman I shall love you.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

More Reflections on Indigenous Cultures

What most worries daykeepers about people from Europe, and specifically about missionaries, is that they confuse the Earth, whose divinity is equal to that of the celestial God, with the devil. As daykeepers put it, "He who makes an enemy of the Earth makes an enemy of his own body."...

At one end of the Popol Vuh the gods are preoccupied with the difficult task of making humans, and at the other human are preoccupied with the equally difficult task of finding the traces of divine movements in their own deeds...

In theory, if we who presently claim to be human were to forget our efforts to find traces of divine movements in our own actions, our fate should be something like that of the wooden people in the Popol Vuh. For them, the forgotten force of divinity reasserted itself by inhabiting their own tools and utensils, which rose up against them and drove them from their homes. Today they are swinging through the trees.

-Dennis Tedlock, from his introduction to the Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life

Some thoughts:

1. It's a pity that the Maya sage mentioned above does not realize that the Christian God is both Lord of Heaven and Earth, but perhaps that is the Christians' fault. Christianity was imposed on them as the religion of the conqueror and the religion of the Other. As I mentioned in this post, however, our ties to the Earth may be more than we care to acknowledge. We may be living (and thinking) unnaturally and therefore, un-humanly. Of course, please don't ask me to elaborate, since it's just a question.

2. The Popol Vuh was originally transmitted as a book of hieroglyphs that were "performed"/interpreted by "daykeepers": older sages who knew the meanings of the signs. Only with the Spanish conquest was it finally written down phonetically. Sacred texts in the ancient world always passed through someone who was older and wiser; reading was always communal. One can reason then that this is the nature of all sacred texts according to how we human beings act. To argue the text against the community is thus a very new and strange phenomenon.

3. The Quiche Maya in Guatemala are described as still practicing their pre-Columbian devotions to their gods. However, they often begin even these rites with a Pater Noster or Ave Maria. This type of syncretism should of course be discouraged, but what type of syncretism do we moderns take part in that is imperceptible to our eyes? How many times do we pray before the altar of secularism, pluralism, and universal skepticism? Maybe the Maya do not perceive the contradictions in their religious practices. Then again, maybe we do far worse. We tend to not, in many cases, see the hand of God in all creation. Maybe in that sense, our society is de-evolving.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

From: In the Upper Room

A ballet by Twyla Tharp

Music by Philip Glass

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Dinner Monologue in Three Parts

The exercise of meditation is an attempt to control inner discourse, in an effort to render it coherent. The goal is to arrange it around a simple universal principal: the distinction between what does and does not depend on us, or between freedom and nature. Whoever wishes to make progress strives, by means of dialogue within himself or with others, as well as by writing, to "carry on his reflections in due order" and finally to arrive at a complete transformation of his representation of the world.

-Pierre Hadot

During the first glass of wine:

It's not that I think that math and science are inferior forms of knowing. Not at all. It is just that I have come to the conclusion that that is the only knowledge that our society will acknowledge, and from there comes our problems. We live in the intellectual dictatorship of quantity, and that ultimately has nothing to do with truth, and everything to do with facts.

True enough, I do not have a knack for math and science, and perhaps that gives me some bias in these things. I have a real problem dealing with quantitative reasoning. But to have to develop an apologia for math and science in our day and age is a bit like all the Catholic theologians trying to develop a "theology of the body". Sex in and of itself is its own apologetic. People will not stop having sex if you don't develop a theology for it. People, however, will stop praying if you don't develop a theology for it...

It's an issue of balance. It is because we have marginalized and ceased to develop the intuitive side of thinking that we are in the impasse we are in now. We have completely excluded the metaphysical from any form of certainty, and thus we really don't talk to each other anymore. We merely batter each other with facts. Therefore, nothing can any longer be determined. Not the sanctity of human life, nor what the proper end of man really is. It is a matter of developing all aspects of human thought, not just of emphasizing those which our society excels at.


Me veo puro polvo
Cruzando la llanura
Las vacas las casas la lejania
Son polvo
Polvo de sol que no soporta el ojo vivo

Hundo el pie en el agua invisible
Que de repente brota y corre
Sobre la arena

En el cuenco de mis manos
Subo el agua hasta mi boca
Lo que bebo es una estrella pulverizada

-Luis Garcia Morales, De un sol a otro

(I see myself as pure dust
Crossing the plain
The cows the houses the distance
Are dust
Sun-dust that cannot stand the living eye

I dip my foot in the invisible water
That suddenly flows out and runs
On the sand

In the hollow of my hand
I bring the water to my mouth
That which I drink is a pulverized star)

On glass of wine #3:

...The attitude of any thinking Catholic in this day and age must be one of humility. That I think is what the Second Vatican Council taught, and I think that is the non-controversial aspect that we all must agree on. If I have problems with a very small sub-sect of Catholic discourse (mostly on the Internet) it is with people who do not seem to understand this. When the Vatican has shut down the Inquisition, the laity must not take it upon themselves to fill in the perceived gap. Dialogue with the world must mean a profound discernment on how we approach people. [Note: If people are belligerently anti-Catholic, I am of course not against charitably pointing out the errors and prejudices in their reasoning.] The fact is, we are living in an extraordinary time, and pretending to re-erect the intellectual bastions of Counter-Reformation Catholicism will only serve to make us seem like ostriches sticking our heads in the sand. The Counter-Reformation is over. Get over it...

For me, if someone is looking, that is what is most important. If someone has the smug attitude that they have "found it", or even worse, they don't care, that is what is most worrisome to me. The heroes of the Gospel were all seekers. When they found the truth, they clung to it [or Him]. But we are always in the process of finding. We are always the Phoenician woman, the Greeks, the Samaritan woman, the Good Thief...



Siento a Dios que camina tan en mí,
con la tarde y con el mar.
Con él nos vamos juntos. Anochece.
Con él anochecemos, Orfandad...

Pero yo siento a Dios. Y hasta parece
que él me dicta no sé qué buen color.
Como un hospitalario, es bueno y triste;
mustia un dulce desdén de enamorado:
debe dolerle mucho el corazón.

Oh, Dios mío, recién a ti me llego,
hoy que amo tanto en esta tarde; hoy
que en la falsa balanza de unos senos,
mido y lloro una frágil Creación.

Y tú, cuál llorarás tú, enamorado
de tanto enorme seno girador
Yo te consagro Dios, porque amas tanto;
porque jamás sonríes; porque siempre
debe dolerte mucho el corazón.

-Cesar Vallejo

(I feel God walking in me
As with the afternoon and the sea.
With him we all go together. It becomes night.
With him we set. Orphanhood.

But I feel God. And it almost seems that he
Is dictating to me I don't know what good color.
Like a nurse, he is good but sad;
He gives forth a sweet disdain of a lover:
his heart must ache much.

O my God, I have only recently arrived at you,
Now that I love you so much this evening; today
In the false balance of breasts,
I measure and weep a fragile Creation.

And you, which one will you weep for, love-struck
From such an enormous twirling chest,
I consecrate you God, for you love so greatly;
for you never smile; for your heart
Must always ache much.)

Glass of wine #4.5

God doesn't make my life make any more sense than someone's who doesn't believe in God. Water is not more wet, nor are colors more vivid. To believe in God is a decision. Yes, after you make an act of faith, everything begins to make more sense on one level. But on another it can make things seem more absurd.

The smallness and absurdity of the universe for me at least is not an intellectual barrier but rather an intellectual starting point. That's where I begin to believe. The fact that I am a small, mortal carbon based organism standing on some lukewarm rock floating in a seemingly infinite universe is the reason I believe in God. Unlike the positivists of the nineteenth century and those who think that only those who do not have electricity should believe in a God, I know that my intellect is no match for this physical cosmos I see around me. I am a profoundly limited being, and I have to grope around to try to make some sense of it all...

I guess it's easier for me since I grew up in a profoundly Catholic atmosphere. The Truth was passed down to me as was language, foods, and other family traditions. In that sense, I can be very tolerant of unbelievers since I have always been around them but still anchored in my heart to the Faith of my home. I assent to it now because I have justified it to myself intellectually, but only because I have reflected on what the Delpic Oracle said: Know thyself. And for me that is why I am Catholic: it is the most human religion. I know, a Hindu could also easily say that. But we have a religion that says that the fundamental way to understand this cosmos is through love, that God is love. How we think and how we feel in our heart is the secret to unlock everything. That is love. That is the Cross, a sacrificial love. We are the answer. It's right in here. [Pointing at my chest]


A voice from the corner of the tavern last night
Called, "Sins are forgiven. Drink wine."

The Divine Pardon performs its own purpose:
The Guardian Angel causes good news of compassion to come.

God's grace is more than our sin.
Why do you divulge a sealed subtlety? Keep quiet!

This raw sense to the wine-shop take,
From the ruby wine to bring its blood to the boil.

Although union with him is not to effort granted,
O heart, try you all that you can.

It's a case of, my ear and the curl of the friend's tress;
My face and the dust of the wine-seller's door.

Hafiz's licentiousness is not a hard sin
For the ruler's fault-concealing kindness;

Arbiter of the Faith, Shah Shuja, he who made
The Holy Spirit the earringed slave of his command,

O King of the Throne of God, grant his wish,
And from the danger of the evil eye preserve him.

-from the Collected Lyrics of Hafiz of Shiraz translated by Peter Avery

Saturday, September 15, 2007

And You Think You've Had a Bad Day

This is the precredit sequence from Powaqqatsi, the second in the qatsi trilogy. the twenty year artistic collaboration between Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass.

Powaqqatsi is a hopi word meaning "life in transformation" but in one of his interpretive definition Reggio informs that a powaq is a sort of hopi vampire, and that Powaqqatsi is a sort of life about to be assumed or vampirised. One wonders what the end effect of free trade will be in this context, but it does nothing to take away from the beauty that this film captures of a way of life that may be nearing its end.

-"alogos" from YouTube

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Unspeakable

If then the end having been repaired to the origin and the issue of things having been made to resemble their beginning, he restores that condition which rational nature once enjoyed... so that all the consciousness of evil has departed..., when there is nowhere any death...,nowhere any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all.

-Origen, De Principiis

In my mind, the most poignant theological points come from the anecdotes from the lives of the saints. There is one in Dal Gal's biography of St. Pius X that I will only paraphrase here. In this episode of St. Pius X's life, he was still merely the bishop of Mantua. He was riding in a carriage with a seminarian then studying in his years of theology. When passing a Jewish cemetery, the seminarian asked the prelate whether it would be at all beneficial to pray for those departed Jews who had not known Christ. At this, the then Bishop Sarto uncovered his head and began to recite a De Profundis.

He then explained to the seminarian that he should be very zealous when it comes to his theological studies, but at the same time he should remember that the mercy of God will always transcend all that he could possibly know.

In this vein, to dare to hope that all are saved for me is a bit obscene, in the original sense that it is "off-stage". We have no right to say anything about this here or to second guess the promises and ways of God. There are certain things that should never be said, and for me this is the most significant one. How will the good triumph forever if there is still evil? How will God be victorious if He still has enemies?

In love, there are things that we expect but we should not talk about them. One should expect the smile, the kiss, and the gift. But one should do this with trust and silently, not trying to reclaim what we think is fair. God is the greatest lover, and He will exceed any of our expectations of what the world to come will be like. But, pace Von Balthasar, to muse about it out loud is a bit of a mood spoiler.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

God and Free Will

And this calls into question the entire project of American Catholicism over the last centuries: the ongoing quest to convince the predominantly Calvinist culture that we Catholics are Christians too. I think that we have granted far too readily that Calvinists are Christians in the first place.

I found the above cartoon and quote in this post on the Lion and the Cardinal blog, and as usual it was a catalyst in articulating many things intersecting in my own mind. What I am formulating is not something original, nor is it something that I have not posted about on this blog before. Nevertheless, the lesson is an important one and worth repeating.

Man's role or lack of it in his own salvation is one of those theological issues that we will never fully comprehend, and errors regarding it, not matter how well and logically thought out, can bring about disaster in terms of relations between God and man through Christ. No theory of divine sovereignty, predestination, or total depravity can impune upon the fact that God has created us as children, not robots. He has made us so that we might freely choose to love Him and not merely carry out a rather bizarre cosmic morality play in which none of us can deviate from our part. This entails freedom: a real and complete freedom. Just because the human mind cannot reconcile these two poles of existential action does not mean that one does not exist or is superfluous.

An extended quote by John Clark Smith from his book, The Ancient Wisdom of Origen, can further shed light on what I am trying to say here:

...Freedom is fundamental to God's way and is spread throughout existence. Freedom for Origen is so encompassing and powerful that it can even oppose God and one's own nature. God does not create a divine creature to serve him mindlessly; he creates a creature who is truly free, who can become in his own way and his own realiziation divine and a friend of God or, if he wills, a slave to the devil. For Origen, the creation of a truly free will is an act only God could fufill. And regardless of how bad man becomes, how low he sinks in his sin, he is never beyond the freedom of God and man to act and change. Evil by definition is impermanent.

The second dimension is Origen's view of God... Origen's God is indeed the Father of the New Testament, the Supreme Perfect Parent whose every decision involves raising his sons and daughters to be complete and to love out of love and respect, and the Model through his Logos rather than only a judge, a tyrant or a source of misery. Such a God creates an existence that balances more on his hope in and love for his children, and on his infinite ability to create contexts in which his children will change, than on any form of coercion...

This, we can say, is a summary of the true Christian idea of who God is. In the disputes of the Calvinists and Jansenists, we see the human intellect becoming an Icarus trying to fly too close to the divine Sun of the mystery of how God acts, and thus they plunge into their own idolatry of the meaning of the cosmos. As we all know, heresy is the result of wanting to learn too much and not respect the various shades of mystery inherent in all the aspects of Christian doctrine. It is only when we respect these mysteries such as free will do we truly live the trinitarian life of the Church, in humility and self-awareness of our limited capabilities of understanding the things of God.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Music for Buses - XI

The last bellow
of light-

The sky begins
To cry fireflies
With the fog-

What is the nature
Of those tears?

And what collapses
The strangeness
Of seeing?

Fallacy of windows
And neglected paper:

Evening gallops.

Two streams
Down the street
Lead to my revelation
Of you...

O cherubic kiss,
Tender and bright!

The lie and the song,
The footprint of night!

-Arturo Vasquez

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Eternal Return

If I could wait
A thousand lives
For only one embrace
And with you to arise,

I would count all the stars
That dance in the sky-
In their centers I would be born
And at their tips I would die.

If I could sit
For a thousand years
Casting off all sorrow
And vanishing all fears,
I would wait for you to awake
Neither distraught nor forlorn;
I would destroy all my pride
And vanish all scorn.

If I were a great stone
That withered into dust,
In you I would hope,
And in your heart I would trust:

Life, time, breath, all
I could transcend,
A love growing greedily
Sings a poem without end.

If I could wait
A thousand lives...

-Arturo Vasquez

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On Philosophy

The Christian experience is so completely different that it has no need to enter into competition with philosophy. When theology holds fast to the view that philosophy is foolishness, the mystery character of revelation will be much better preserved. Therefore, in the face of a final decision, the ways part.

- Martin Heidegger, cited in Jean-Luc Marion's God Without Being, pg. 62

Saturday, September 01, 2007

For AG

La Oreja de Van Gogh - Rosas