MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Posts Tagged ‘Beauty

God The Artist

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Photo: Getty Images

To guide us from afar.
How did you think of a clean brown pool
Where flecks of shadows are?

God, when you thought of a cobweb,
How did you think of dew?
How did you know a spider’s house
Had shingles bright and new?
How did you know the human folk
Would love them like they do?

God, when you patterned a bird song,
Flung on a silver string,
How did you know the ecstasy
That crystal call would bring?
How did you think of a bubbling throat
And a darling speckled wing?

God, when you chiseled a raindrop,
How did you think of a stem,
Bearing a lovely satin leaf
To hold the tiny gem?
How did you know a million drops
Would deck the morning’s hem?

Why did you mate the moonlit night
With the honeysuckle vines?
How did you know Madeira bloom
Distilled ecstatic wines?
How did you weave the velvet disk
Where tangled perfumes are?
God, when you thought of a pine tree,
How did you think of a star?

— Angela Morgan

Written by MattAndJojang

May 29, 2017 at 5:19 pm

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Finding God on a Baseball Diamond

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Baseball as a Road to God

John Sexton, the President of NYU (New York University), teaches an unusual course on baseball and spirituality, which became the basis of a book he wrote in 2013 entitled Baseball as a Road to God.

The course started out when a student, who knew about Sexton’s love of baseball, remarked: “I understand you’re a big baseball fan. I think the sport is silly and I don’t understand why anybody would waste time on it.”

He replied: “You are among the great unwashed,” then issued a challenge to the student: “If you will read twelve books that I choose next semester, I will direct you in an independent study at the end of which you will realize that baseball is a road to God.”

The student accepted the challenge, and it didn’t take long for word to spread. Other students wanted, too, to take the course; it eventually became a seminar that Sexton has been teaching for the past ten years.

The course (and the book) is based on the work of theologians like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Michael Novak, Robert N. Bellah and Johan Huizinga. At the same time, it also discusses the work of baseball novelists and writers like Robert Coover, W. P. Kinsella, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

But, more importantly, it draws on Sexton’s love for baseball and his personal experiences.

He writes:

My NYU course and this book are attempts at exploring the basic building blocks of a spiritual or religious life, finding them, perhaps surprisingly to some, in an institution associated with secular life. The nine innings of this book are an assertion—an affirmation—that there is a meaningful dimension of the human experience (whether seen in what we recognize formally as religions or in a secular pursuit called baseball) that cannot be captured in words. Francis Bacon once observed, ‘The best part of beauty is that which a picture cannot express.’

What he is talking about is best illustrated by an experience he relates at the start of the book.

The date: October 4, 1955. It’s Game 7 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the basement of my family’s home, my friend Bobby ‘Dougie’ Douglass and I knelt and prayed with all the intensity we could muster, grasping between us in dynamic tension each end of a twelve-inch crucifix we had removed from the wall. … We prayed before a radio instead of an altar, which broadcast the sounds of Game Seven of the 1955 World Series instead of hymns. … For three innings, time had slowed; but in that moment it froze: The Brooklyn Dodgers had won the World Series! Seven decades of waiting were over! Dougie raised his arms in exultation, releasing the crucifix, whereupon the laws of physics drove the head of Christ into my mouth, chipping my front tooth. I wore that chipped tooth, unrepaired, as a visible memento for nearly fifty years.

He concludes:

October 4, 1955. For me and millions of others, a sacred day. Why? Hard to put into words. Impossible to capture completely in our limited vocabulary.

“Hard to put into words.” “Impossible to capture completely in our limited vocabulary.”

In other words, the experience can’t be fully described in words and can be summed up in one word: ineffable, a word which is often repeated in the book.

Many years ago, the psychologist, William James, uses the same word to characterize deep spiritual experiences. He describes it in the following way:

The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect.

The ineffable cannot be defined; it reveals itself in moments of intense feeling in baseball as in religion.

Another word which often comes up in the book is hierophany, a concept borrowed by Sexton from the religious historian, Mircea Eliade. Simply put, the term means the manifestation of the sacred in the world. Often it is associated with sacred places, like the Stonehenge, the Kaaba, the Western Wall or St. Peter’s Basilica. But can a baseball stadium be a place of hierophany?

Sexton answers in the affirmative:

For some of us, a visit to the ballpark is a move from one state of being—the more familiar one—to another. It is a transformation, evoking a connection to something deep and meaningful. This is more than the simple, surface observation that a stadium can be a church and the bleachers can be its pews; the stadium acts as what Eliade would call axis mundi—a channeling of the intersection between our world and the transcendent world, a place “sacred above all” that connects the ordinary and the spiritual dimensions. It is not that this evocative experience occurs for everyone in every ballpark every time; but it can happen to anyone, in any ballpark, anytime. In this place, magic can happen, and the fan can be transported to a space and time beyond, to an experience we know profoundly but cannot put into words.

But what about those of us who haven’t had such experiences? At the very least, baseball can teach us to slow down, live in the moment and appreciate the beauties of life.

To borrow Sexton’s words:

Fans occasionally do experience these moments as divergent from the ordinary, as connected to another dimension. Not all fans. Not even most fans. Not all the time. But for some fans, these special moments touch the part of us where the mystics live.

It is through a collection of such experiences that I and my students have come to appreciate the jarring proposition that baseball can show us more about our world and ourselves than we might have thought. Or at the very least, it can demonstrate the benefits of living a little slower, of noticing a little more, and of embracing life’s ineffable beauties…

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

August 8, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Wabi-Sabi: The Art Of Imperfection

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Tea Bowl at the Tokyo National Museum

Tea Bowl at the Tokyo National Museum

The Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi offers an inspiring new way to look at your home, and your whole life.

According to Japanese legend, a young man named Sen no Rikyu sought to learn the elaborate set of customs known as the Way of Tea. He went to tea-master Takeeno Joo, who tested the younger man by asking him to tend the garden. Rikyu cleaned up debris and raked the ground until it was perfect, then scrutinized the immaculate garden. Before presenting his work to the master, he shook a cherry tree, causing a few flowers to spill randomly onto the ground.

To this day, the Japanese revere Rikyu as one who understood to his very core a deep cultural thread known as wabi-sabi. Emerging in the 15th century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all. In Japan, the concept is now so deeply ingrained that it’s difficult to explain to Westerners; no direct translation exists.

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Bringing wabi-sabi into your life doesn’t require money, training, or special skills. It takes a mind quiet enough to appreciate muted beauty, courage not to fear bareness, willingness to accept things as they are—without ornamentation. It depends on the ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being, to appreciating rather than perfecting.

You might ignite your appreciation of wabi-sabi with a single item from the back of a closet: a chipped vase, a faded piece of cloth. Look deeply for the minute details that give it character; explore it with your hands. You don’t have to understand why you’re drawn to it, but you do have to accept it as it is.

Rough textures, minimally processed goods, natural materials, and subtle hues are all wabi-sabi. Consider the musty-oily scene that lingers around an ancient wooden bowl, the mystery behind a tarnished goblet. This patina draws us with a power that the shine of the new doesn’t possess. Our universal longing for wisdom, for genuineness, for shared history manifests in these things.

There’s no right or wrong to creating a wabi-sabi home. It can be as simple as using an old bowl as a receptacle for the day’s mail, letting the paint on an old chair chip, or encouraging the garden to go to seed. Whatever it is, it can’t be bought. Wabi-sabi is a state of mind, a way of being. It’s the subtle art of being at peace with yourself and your surroundings.

–Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Written by MattAndJojang

May 25, 2016 at 10:09 am

Rest In Peace, Robin Williams

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Robin Williams

Saddened when I heard that Robin Williams suddenly passed away today. I hope he’s now at peace…

Here’s a quote from one of his movies, Dead Poets Society, which incidentally is one of my favorite movies:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

— Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

August 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

The Beauty In Ordinary Things

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Let us come alive to the splendor that is all around us, and see the beauty in ordinary things.

— Thomas Merton

Written by MattAndJojang

June 25, 2014 at 9:41 am

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What We Stay Alive For

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Dead Poets Society

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

— from the movie Dead Poets Society

Written by MattAndJojang

February 10, 2014 at 9:42 am

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Has Our Culture Killed Class?

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from Pinterest

from Pinterest

My grandmother, if she were here today, would be thrilled knowing her unwavering insistence on manners and etiquette were not lost on me. With perfect posture, hair always coiffed, nails always painted, she was perfectly composed. She believed in a classic, elegant attire with accessories to differentiate her looks — whether it be a handbag, scarf or jewelry, she always made a statement. That statement was simple, understated elegance. She was the picture of class.

I hear her voice in my head when I find myself appalled at the absence of class in our society today. She would surely roll over in her grave. Today she would be saying, ‘Never show your underwear in public. Leave something to the imagination. Put your phone down! Ladies don’t sext!’ They sure don’t, Grammy. Her advice would be endless given today’s culture, or she would be just plain horrified.

I am by no means a Proper Patty. My grandmother had many bones to pick with me, even as a three year old (‘you are never too young for etiquette’). But I was raised with a certain standard that I considered ‘the norm.’ Manners and class went hand-in-hand. One did not exist without the other. However, in today’s society, expecting ‘the norm’ is like looking for water in the desert.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but being ‘old-fashioned’ speaks to one’s character. It is common courtesy to hold the door for someone, give up your subway seat for someone older, pregnant, handicap and yes, gentleman, for a lady. It was understood phone calls were made after receiving birthday cards and thank-you notes were sent acknowledging gifts. When invited as a guest to someone’s home, you brought a gift. When you sneezed, someone blessed you. Saying please and thank you was expected.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve held the door for someone without receiving a thank you…how many sneezes have gone unblessed or the numerous wedding and baby gifts that I’ve sent without receiving written acknowledgement.

In the modern world, where sit-down-family-dinners are a thing of the past and children are being raised with a sense of entitlement, there is an absence of discipline and an abundance of self-centered behavior. When every child receives a trophy just for showing-up, consequences for a lack of hard work no longer exist. Instead, constant praise and rewards are given, perhaps overcompensating for our parent’s generation of ‘tough love,’ creating a society with overly high self-esteem. Throw in social media sites and their huge influence on our culture, and extreme narcissism has followed.

Inevitably, self-centered behavior breeds bad manners and tests our morality. So how do we integrate manners and class into a modern day society of ‘MEs’? What would my Grandmother say?

It’s your image.

The connection between manners and morality is becoming more apparent. How you present yourself in public defines you. First impressions are everything. Whether that public image is true, you have created it.

A cross around one’s neck and attending church on Sundays does not make one pious. Simply saying please and thank you certainly does not make one moral. But there is definitely a correlation between the well-mannered and the classy.

When your private life becomes public through social media, you open yourself up to judgment based on what you share with the world. Have you ever wondered why no one posts to Instagram from church? (posting to Twitter from a funeral is OK, according to Alec Baldwin) Instead, posting after Church when the real ‘Sunday Funday’ begins, with a drink in one hand, a dress barely covering ‘the goods,’ dancing atop a table. Because in the attention-starved culture we live in, the latter scenario garners more ‘likes.’ And, apparently God is not on Instagram.

Ladies, I’m not wearing the turtleneck or ankle-length skirt to the bar, but what happened to leaving something to the imagination? If you wear the completely sheer, leopard-print top with nothing but a very visible bra underneath, why wear the top at all? When you risk giving up ‘the goods’ by merely walking, maybe you could use an extra inch on that dress? And when your cleavage suggests that you should guide tours of The Grand Canyon, an extra button would go a long way. You may have just come from church. And you may not be the town tramp. But that is the image you portray.

Our icons used to be Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly…now we have the Kardashians. That doesn’t bode well for our generation. In the words of Ron Burgundy, ‘Stay classy!’

It is not always about you

We seem to feed into this generation’s sense of entitlement creating the egocentric narcissist. Have you ever been on a date and the other person talks about themselves incessantly? Or the ‘friend’ you bump into on the street and in the five blocks you walk together, never asks about you? Or the consistently late person who thinks your time is less valuable? I say to those people, ‘It is not always about you!’ Take an interest in others. Ask questions. Inquire about someone else’s life other than your own.

You may be beautiful, have the best this or the best that… But there is nothing more tasteless than the ‘selfie.’ Enough already! You may think you’re fabulous, but you’re certainly not humble. No one needs to see you in your sports bra showing off your abs, or bikini-clad, sporting the duck face.

By all means, take it all off and get freaky in the bedroom…or kitchen…or wherever your escapades take you. Just keep it private! A little modesty will go a long way.

Never flaunt your money

I recently saw an Instagram post of a Chanel-themed birthday cake. As I shook my head, disgusted, I wondered, is this how we are defining ourselves?

Money certainly doesn’t buy you class. There is nothing tackier than flaunting one’s wealth. It used to be uncouth to discuss the money you earned or labels you owned. Now we have the red carpet culture where the first question celebrities are asked is, ‘Who are you wearing?’ I’m guilty of it too, on occasion. But truthfully, I find the question to be tasteless.

The question used to be a faux-pas. Your status was recognized by how you were composed and the manners you elicit. You didn’t depict your wealth by the amount of monograms you wore. The label was on the inside. Now, we are walking advertisements for the brands we wear. The exclusivity and allure is gone.

At one time, if you were part of the upper class, most likely, you were predisposed to proper manners and etiquette. Currently, the lines between manners and class are unclear.

When “Keeping up with the Kardashians” has become the standard, needing and flaunting ‘stuff’ in excess has become the norm. Instead of hard work and praising others for their achievements, our culture has become a materialistic competition. Through social media, we are privy to luxury vacations, yachts, champagne, Ferraris, and frequent postings of Louboutins and Chanel bags. The mentality that ‘if they can have it, I can too’ has warped our appreciation for luxury items. We have become a shallow culture of excess, greed…and credit card debt.

When you’re 30 and live with your parents, maybe the Louboutins weren’t the smartest purchase? Maybe it’s time to look for your own home? Start paying rent and then see what you can afford. Or, just keep your purchase offline. This isn’t show-and-tell.

Be humble. What you own shouldn’t define you or anyone else. Your only competition should be yourself. The nice things you own and the travels you take should be a personal reminder of the hard work it took to attain.

Manners invoke Morals

One can certainly be polite without being virtuous, or have etiquette without morality. As children, we are taught manners with the intention of becoming moral or virtuous. The hope is that we internalize and rationalize etiquette to transform basic rule-following into genuine morality.

A civilization without basic rules is no longer civilized. These etiquette ‘rules’ or protocol, although vary from culture to culture, the underlying principles are the same. They give us concrete tools to communicate our moral attitudes effectively.

So as my Grandmother would say, ‘Remember to mind your manners!’ And if our generation doesn’t thank you, I will. Thank you. 

~ Rachel Jablow

Written by MattAndJojang

August 3, 2013 at 7:33 pm

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