The Search - John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents an article “The Search” by John Samuel Tieman.

A young man asked me about my “spiritual method”. I responded with a line from Matsuo Basho's “Narrow Road To The Deep North”. “I, too, went to bed amidst the howling of the autumn wind and awoke early the next morning amid the chanting of the priests.”

After almost seventy-five years, I have learned so little in life that I’m not sure if I can impart anything except sure methods for garnering angst. As for a spiritual method? Do I pray? Yes, I pray. But my way of praying is not much of a method. To me, it makes no difference where I start prayer or how I pray. It matters that I start and that I pray. But, except for the view, I find little difference between praying the “Hail Mary” in the St. Louis Cathedral before a statue of The Virgin, or praying the “Hail Mary” in Kyoto before a statue of Kuan Yin. I do like the mosaics in St. Louis.

Focus helps. It helps when I do a rosary or a litany or make love to my wife or make sacred lyrics on my harp of paper. Yet focus is vastly overestimated. Better to pray the prayer of the prematurely senile. Draw circles in the dust. Let Jesus stretch out on the couch. Imagine the Buddha doing “The Times” crossword. I like to meditate upon the “Nicene Creed” because, in truth, I find it strangely vague.

You want method? Here’s method. Doubt everything. In the end, you will be left with a faith born of vast questions. Keep the questions. Let go of the exhaustion. Find comfort in never getting a burning bush. Miracles are for the uninitiated. What is best in life is the question. An answer is just a rescheduling of confusion. In other words, method is good place to start. Indeed, method is truly central. But once you’re done with the center – You really want my advice? – nowhere is the only place to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to the great saints. Aquinas. Thomas More. Gandhi. MLK. Teresa of Avila. But there's only so much I can do with that. I am left to marvel at friends of long standing. Bert of Belleville, Illinois, his wisdom dinners with fried catfish and hush puppies. Sally of south St. Louis, her late-night Friday stories. Bert and Sally have no answer. Their only method, their Eucharist, is sharing a six-pack with buddies.

My point is this. Today, that's my spiritual method. Meaning no method at all. Just wonder. Just awe. And dinner with friends. A search for beauty in which the search is always fruitless and the beauty always present. It's the closest I come to God. The story of my life I could frame as a search for beauty. For all that, when I find beauty, I often find it in places where I never search.

I spent decades searching the artists and philosophers. Rainer Maria Rilke found beauty in the feather of a peacock. Richard Hugo saw it in the red hair of his waitress. Gerard Manley Hopkins gave “glory to God for dappled things”. Ennio Morricone captured beauty exquisitely in his “Gabriel's Oboe”. I thought to myself that surely in the search, in the method of searching, surely there's God at that point of arrival. But it seems, when I work for it, that's when it seldom happens.

When I was a young man, I had a print of Vincent Van Gogh's “Starry Night” on my wall. I read books about Van Gogh, studied his life, motivations, his artistic influences, his violent relationship with Paul Gauguin, his significance in history, his battles with belief and disbelief. I was moved by his letters to his brother. Then I finally saw “Starry Night” at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City. I was surprised by how small it is. That's it. I was surprised by how small it is. Maybe two feet by three feet.

So, I've given up the search, the method. My only method now is to let the search find me. The other day, I heard Hilary Hahn. I had no preparation for the concert. I hadn't even seen the program. She played Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64. With the very first note Hahn played, my wife whispered, “Oh, my God.” And I said, “My God.”

2024.07.01 / 09:52
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