Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Barchester Chronicles

Septimus Harding
Originally uploaded by
Seeking Tao

Mr. Harding is a small man, now verging on sixty years, but bearing few signs of age; his hair is rather grizzled, though not grey; his eye is very mild, but clear and, bright, though the double glasses which are held swinging from his hand, unless when fixed upon his nose, show that time has told upon his sight; his hands are delicately white, and both hands and feet are small; he always wears a black frock coat, black knee-breeches, and black gaiters, and somewhat scandalises some of his more hyper-clerical brethren by a black neck handcherchief.
Anthony Trollope

Last night I discovered the 1982 BBC production of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers.

I was delighted and intrigued by the character of Spetimus Harding described here in an essay by John Lett.

Trollope wasn't greatly interested in Christianity. But he did give us here something which is very rare: a portrait in literature of a really good man, which isn't boring. The Warden, The Reverend Septimus Harding, may not be a very good clergyman; but he is rather a good saint, a true Christian, and absolutely convincing. He loves the cathedral, and the music in the cathedral. He loves his daughters and his little flock in the Hospital, the bedesmen of the almshouse. He has an absolutely instinctive understanding that God is love, and I am tempted to say that that is almost all the religion he knows.

I was intrigued also by how the Warden, when upset and forced to speak his mind, moves his left hand over his heart and there unconsiously fingers the strings of the cello he so loves, while his right hand draws a nonexistent bow adamently back and forth. When traumatized, music swells within this man.

At one point, after confronting the Attorney General of England, Sir Abraham Haphazard, Septimus finally expending all he has to say, looks down at his hands and apologizes for the strange mannerism.
To me, this last gesture only demonstrates Septimus' sanity and self awareness.

But, I sat bolt upright in my rocker when Septimus Harding in the depths of his struggling with the morally of his part of the right and wrongs of Life uttered these words:

“I know that ultimately we cannot understand. But, I also know that we must try.”

The loud clap of Adyashanti describing the nature of enlightenment seemed to jerk me up and I hit the pause button and wrote down the words. Yes.

The Nothing that is Everything is beyond our comprehension.
Living in the present moment we know zippo about what will unfold next.
But, we have to live out this kind of balancing act,
for in the next moment the non-existent future will be here...

So, Sunday morning I am at the computer trying to share some of this mystery, and as you know my Sunday routine includes the radio – ostensibly for some classical music.
But, come 7 a.m. Christa Tippett’s Speakiing of Faith puts an end to that.

Listen to what’s playing in the other room:

I am looking on benches and streets, in logic and code. I am looking in the form of truth stripped to the bone. Truth that lives independently of us, that exists out there in the world. Hard and unsentimental. I am ready to accept truth no matter how alarming it turns out to be. Even if it proves incompleteness and the limits of human reason. Even if it proves we are not free.
(Janna Levin)

In 1931, Gödel shook the worlds of mathematics, philosophy, and logic with his incompleteness theorems. He showed that some mathematical truths can never be proven or, as he says in Janna Levin's novel, that mathematics is perfect, but it is not complete.

To see some truths, you must stand outside and look in. This notion also held deeply unsettling human implications. It posited hard limits to what any of us can ever logically, definitively know. (Christa Tippett)

The program then continued…
MS. TIPPETT: …how does the messiness of just of experience… not just …what we can know, but just how life unfolds, how does that impinge on, kind of, the ultimate reality of what we can know and achieve…

MS. LEVIN: … we should never turn away from what nature has to show us, … we should never pretend we don't see it, because it's too difficult to confront... I don't understand other attitudes that want to disregard certain discoveries because they don't jell with their beliefs. … one of the painful but beautiful things about being a scientist is being able to say, 'It doesn't matter what I believe. I might believe that the universe is a certain age, but if I'm wrong, I'm wrong.'
There's something really…thrilling about being committed to that.

Which is just another way of coming around to Adyashanti’s insistence that spiritual inquiry requires dedication to “What’s really True.”

Even though we cannot really know – at least not with our intellects.
But we have to try. Because
The Truth is what we are.
The Truth is what’s looking out our eyes.
Septimus Harding, knew this.

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