I tried a response to why I don’t ever mention Fr Stephen’s excellent blog, Glory to God for All Things. It was technical and not very accurate. The accurate, but less impressive, answer is that I write (or try to write) as a break from exactly what Fr Stephen is most concerned with — when all the intuitive, noetic, prayerful, watchful, thankful sorts of thoughts are too much. If I were going for that, I would be meditating or prayer-hiking on a mountain somewhere. Actually, I had meant to go to Svaneti on Sunday, but haven’t worked up the energy for it yet. I’m conserving personal energy by staying home and reading, writing, and generally not doing anything too difficult, rather than wandering around in a strange town looking for lodging, or standing by the side of the road trying to read Kartuli lettering fast enough to catch the proper marshutka. I’m taking introvert down time, and have spent a lot of time reading about things like self-replicating 3-d printers and supersymmetry, but probably can’t say anything about them that you don’t already know. I could write a book review on the last novel I read, but it would have to be from memory, since I lost my kindle on a Turkish bus, when the driver realized I had missed my stop and randomly dumped me on the side of the road in an unfamiliar town. Fortunately I happened upon a Turkish/American man and his Iraqi partner, who were working at a nearby hotel, who were going to the same bus stop I needed.
In any event, what this is really about is that I haven’t got anything in particular that I need to do, and which seems worth doing, and which I’m able to do. In other words, I’m not employed and am too clueless to figure out something for myself. This is, apparently, an affliction on much of my generation. Even in relatively poor countries like Sakartvelo we’re faced with a world where nothing is obviously needed, or even wanted, and no strategies for seeing beyond the obvious. Money is obviously wanted, but that’s not much available, and doesn’t provide work anyway. After some 17 years of school, the main thing a graduate is able to do alone, without equipment and assignment guidelines, is read, write, think, and question.
I’ve heard much hand-wringing, including from people I respect, about “this generation,” and none of it has been especially helpful. It tends toward the “why can’t you just get a job, marry, and raise a family?” side of things. Which doesn’t help anyone, and mostly results in hurt feelings. “Because I don’t know where to go for sound guidance in these matters.”
One can say: we spend too much time on disembodied activities like reading, writing, and facebooking. Ok, that’s a start. Then one may ask: what’s available to me, wherein I am doing something that is worth doing, and is more connected to my actual community and the physical world? Depending on the person and their environment and experiences some possibilities may present themselves: sing in a choir, make felt toys, study iconography, crochet blouses, carve figures, make fancy meals, tie prayer ropes, and so on. They may, then, have a marxist twinge come back at them (I mean this in the best possible interpretation of Marx): there’s no obvious space available for such things. Their natural space already taken by objects from factories, printers, and other people who have already made more than enough of whatever it is, and wants to sell them. Reading and writing are reassuring because they don’t need that kind of space. They don’t need to physically exist somewhere.
This all has a sort of blinding affect. There may still be spaces where the thing that one is able to make is wanted, but it’s too hard to see amidst all the junk we’ve accumulated, and perceptions that have become insensible to the place of things in our homes and lives. I have two suitcases worth of stuff, and it’s already too much. All the buying and selling and making begins to become repulsive to feeling. This leaves the question: what am I to do with this? In my own case I studied art education in college, and taught art and design. Which was alright, but I couldn’t deal with it very well, and couldn’t love it.
So I suppose the questions from my previous post are more personal than I like to admit, and at the same time, if I put them in their personal form, I feel like I will be attacked, if not by an actual internet troll, at least by the inner critic who takes after the internet trolls, accusing me of being self-indulgent, undisciplined, selfish, and all the rest; screaming at me about how I’m part of the problem, because I haven’t settled down with a stable job and a family, and implying that my questions are imaginary, because they’re so common in the post-industrial world.
Some of this, of course, is the result of personality. There are obviously very many people who are willing to carve out a niche for themselves, offering “artisan” something-or-others. It sort of goes with how I don’t want to speak up unless I know someone’s going to listen, and how I very much dislike competition in games where I don’t have a lot of time to prepare and work out my entree. But just because it comes out in certain personalities more than others doesn’t mean it’s imaginary.
This being my underlying question, I suppose it makes sense that I wouldn’t be much drawn to Fr Stephen’s writing as a way to approach an answer. If I’m coming at this question from the side of: I have an insufficient and off-balance relationship with the material world, because I don’t know how to productively contribute to or participate in that world, then “dwell in the heart” does not answer that question. It answers a different one, to be sure, but not that one. That would result in: move to a monastery where you can put all your energy into dwelling in the heart, and will be relatively sheltered from the causes of your perplexity. Which is often an Orthodox solution to many perplexities concerning how to be Christian in the world — if one asks “how am I to be intensely Christian in to world,” many people will say that it’s a failing proposition, and it’s better to not be really in the world.
But I don’t think that’s what I meant.