[have been asked elsewhere to write about belief. i use religious language a lot and that’s seen as exotic. i don’t mind – i mean, it’s what i got – but i don’t want to pretend that catechism, my sight, my practice, or serenity are noteworthy. i’m talking like this because it’s how i talk,n ot what i know… following, notes. bomb attack in central derry yesterday, maybe two hundred yards from where I was working; that’s the still amazing-to-me and surprisingly-mundane under painting today.]
Belief is when we stop caring. Belief, firm, is nothing. From it we may advocate, we may add or debilitate; in itself, it is perfectly indifferent, a space free from anxiety, because nothing is owned or argued. It is prior to challenge, and it offers no challenge. If one absolutely believes, for example, in the equality of all persons under the law, one does not argue the ground of this belief, except to reconcile others to it – but the belief itself is axiomatic, absolutely initial (one may even believe first in equality – which is mathematical and apart from the human – and then applied to persons). This space (of not-caring, of nothing) will always sit inside our affections, perceptions, biases… but it doesn’t need our feelings, and the closer we get to it the more our feelings seem like a kind of argument we don’t have to make; the belief is with us and doesn’t profit from our justifications. You can’t argue to or from a belief; it reveals itself. It is that by which you are called, (called by that which speaks in an untranslatable language from an utterly alien place).
I believe in nothing, in two senses. I’m finding wonderful articulation for the mystical brand of nothing outlined above in Marguerite Porete (burned at the stake, and sure, why not – a full-out threat to Force)…
“Such a Soul no longer loves anything in God, nor will she love anything, however noble it may be, if it is not soley for the sake of God and for the sake of what God wills, and for the sake of God in all things and all things for the sake of the love from God. And through such love is this Soul alone in the Pure Love of the love of God. Such a Soul is so transparent in understanding that she sees herself to be nothing in God and God nothing in her.”
So on. This “nothing” business, then, is straight out of Porete, but also out of the usual gang – Avila, John X, Ignatius and Lorca, the Beatles of Spanish Zen. When writing is working it doesn’t mean anything, it happens.
The other kind of nothing: I absolutely distrust my ability to read the world; I don’t make fetish of my opinions. Or, I do, and crash again and again.
They finished putting the plywood up at the bank a couple of hours ago. A bomb went off in central Derry-Londonderry yesterday, blowing out a window (no one hurt), with six more threats called in. I’ve been in Ireland/UK before; I grew up with a very sentimental understanding of the North – trusting that there were two sides and one solution, and that any thinking person could blink a couple of times and see the way forward. There is a way forward, I believe this, and this belief leads to patience and patience enables practice… I know that what I formerly held as a belief was actually just a tight nest of reductive myths nursing a dead egg – a false history masquerading as potential. Things are much more complicated here than I’ll know. That doesn’t mean I should turn away (just had a sandwich next to the blown up bank; there’s no change to the conference schedule; a bomb goes off and there’s still a place to get ice cream) –
But I guess I believe that in the face of violence, testimony, trauma – I just won’t ever absolutely get it (I won’t get someone else’s trauma; I probably don’t get my own); I won’t “understand,” except as a principle of approach. When understanding stops approaching, and arrives, it should be disbelieved.
A better word for understanding is faith. Faith is the public or civil self – the self, consenting to be in the world – admitting to being beheld. One might be public to something not-human, but whatever it is, it’s not you and not yours.
One can’t be only public. Faith is your self, given to view (Christ at the resurrection very deliberately eats a piece of fish; he’s not an image, not an idea; he is God in the form of one particular human). Faith is the principle of motion that sustains action (the capacity to love, to continue giving oneself away, moving away from biography) from the infinite point of nothing.