The Eckhart Tolle of Space

“The Future,” to those of us who ponder spatial-temporal relations during staff meetings, is equivalent to the mirage of “Humanity,” an illusion questioned frequently by authors over time and on this Porch. And it works in the same ironic sense that Dostoevsky most famously exemplified when he said, in the mouth of Ivan Karamazov, “the more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular.” This is perhaps most poetically exemplified by John Cowper Powys:
 [T]here is a very interesting and very curious phenomenon to be considered here, and it is this. It has become both a matter of historical psychology, and also a matter for some of us of personal experience, that simultaneously with any extra-powerful recognition of the “equality of all souls ” there recedes and withdraws and lessens and dwindles, almost in ironical proportion, a person’s warm, kindly, friendly, over brimming, humorous delight in being nice to his wife, his family, his parents, his children, his brothers, his sisters and his neighbors. It would almost seem sometimes that the more a person realizes the “equality of all souls” and the more he sets himself to struggle for it and fight for it with every weapon in his control, the less pleasant, easy, friendly, forgiving, indulgent, lenient, unexacting he is in his relaxation with the people he sees every day. That all souls are equal is a legitimate and inspiring doctrine, but for some queer psychological reason it seems to vampirize and suck the life-blood out of our “bowels of compassion.” It seems to corrupt our kindly reception, for instance, of Cousin Jane’s stertorous breathing and of the repulsive way Uncle John swallows his porridge.[4]
Now, if the person who loves humanity tends to be a royal biatch or bastard to his neighbor, in similar fashion the lover of the future tends to despise the dishes in the sink and all the poetry of life associated with the words “our daily bread.” But I’m getting ahead of myself… SPACE:  We philosophers of the chaos of everyday life have found workable the division between three sets of spatial concerns:  1) “The World”/”Humanity” 2) “The Local” and 3) “The Person.” I mentioned the tradition of critique of that bugbear called “love of humanity” but, for our related love of “the World,” we do well to keep in mind Bill Kauffman’s distinction between Arbor Day and Earth Day: “the difference between planting a tree in your backyard and e-mailing a machine-written plea for a global warming treaty to your UN representative.”  Run from these people, folks! As for “the Local” (as I think you can now follow), it is at its best as one pole opposite the ferment of “the Person,” (analogous to “the Day” and “the Now”), and is, as such, the scene and engine of real action in this world.  And though our best writers on “the Local” such as Wendell Berry and the aforementioned Mr. Kauffman are so obviously attuned to the ferment of “the Person,” my object in these remaining lines is simply to make this other pole, (“the Person”) more explicit and to name its Tolle[4]. The Tolle of space is, in my estimation, the historian of Medieval culture Gerhardt Ladner and his work, The Idea of Reform is his Power of Now. Ladner, in studying the history of reform documents makes a distinction between the peculiar, personal Christian “reform” and a host of other renewal movements such as revolution, rebellion, and rebirth/renaissance. His magisterial and lucid study reveals that the best service one can render to the world is this same “reform” in the form of repentance and the turning-around (“metanoia”) of one’s own heart.  Now, this is a very literal “brighten the corner where you live” philosophy that starts, not at the volunteer fire department but in the even more local abode of the human flesh with an engagement with and conversion of the self.  It is effected through repentance which, though admittedly more difficult than a flight from the self into “the Now,” (hence its lack of comparative popularity), is not the self-flagellation that it’s often made out to be. It is in actuality the sad-bright journey that the Prodigal Son took home back to his Father, (and to himself). Mind you, this conversion of “the Person” conducted in isolation from its complementary pole “the Local” runs the risk of one becoming a scrupulous, self-righteous wing nut, just as the reform of “the Local” in isolation from the pole of “the Person” creates what could best be called the “school- board crusader,” a person who thinks all the world’s ills from bullying to drugs to the infield fly rule can be solved by the schools. Oh, that the reading public gave as much time to Gerhardt as Eckhart and to The Idea of Reform as The Power of Now.  And God save us from the curse of our unseemly love affairs with abstractions such as “Humanity,” “the Future,” and, “the World.”  Yes, yes, dear reader, a bit of this is hyberbole, but remember that, as Leon Bloy said, “hyperbole is the instrument to distinguish between insects and the instrument that brings us closer to the stars.” There is indeed a sense in which you can love such abstractions as “Humanity” and “the Future” but, in the name of decency and for the love of all things holy, please keep your embraces brief! –- Michael J. Sauter is father of four teens and pastoral administrator of his local Catholic parish, St. Luke the Evangelist, in rural Upstate New York. – 

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