Hold It All

The Spirituality of Photography by Cami Kasmerchak

Cami gave me permission to share this essay.

I remember first becoming interested in photography a little over 10 years ago. At first, photography was simply a way to capture moments of family and friends, but over the years it has morphed into much more than that. Photography has changed the way in which I engage with the world. It has forced me to wrestle with ethical questions. It has propelled me to pursue adventure and experience. I now understand photography as a form of creative expression, a catalyst for social change, and a deeply spiritual practice. Through photography, I can be connected to the past, grounded in the present moment, and aware of the future all at the same time.

My Grandpa Harry gave me my first digital camera back before smart phones and selfies. I never saw him that often growing up, maybe a handful of times throughout a year. He lived alone with his dog Co-Co three hours away in northern Wisconsin and was generally a closed-off person (read: alcoholic with PTSD). On holidays and my birthday he would send me a card with Kodak prints of Co-Co out swimming in the river and a black sharpie arrow pointing to where her dot of a head was bobbing above the water. “Co-Co,” he would write, making sure I didn’t mistake her for a log. Sometimes he would send pictures of roadkill he found on the back country roads of Wausau while roaming around on his scooter. He hardly ever responded to letters I would write or expanded on more than the seasonal sentiment in cards, but he always included pictures. It didn’t matter that these pictures were kind of weird and sometimes gross. He captured what he found interesting and meaningful, and that’s all that really mattered. My freshman year of college, my Grandpa Harry died from lung cancer and even though he had been living much closer for about two years prior to his death, I still didn’t feel like I really knew him. Photography has been the way I continue to reflect on him and our relationship even after all these years. Whenever I talk about photography, I have to talk about Grandpa Harry because he was intertwined in the beginnings of my passion for it. He gifted me both with my first equipment and an example of the freedom to notice what you notice without judgement. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Speaking Truth to Power Makes No Sense”

Noam Chomsky, The Common Good  [1998]

Brandon,

I first read this collection of interviews between Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian twenty years ago. The interviews were from the second half of the nineties, the Clinton years when the UN/US sanctions on Iraq were decimating thousands of Iraqi children each month and people like Madeline Albright justified it.  The following are some passages  worth understanding…

Mark

Truth to Power:  “Speaking truth to power makes no sense.  There’s no point in speaking the truth to Henry Kissinger — he knows it already.  Instead, speak truth to the powerless — or, better, with the powerless.  Then they’ll act to dismantle illegitimate power.” 158 

Prophets:  “True prophets like Amos — ‘dissident intellectuals,’ in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of.  Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert.  The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either.  Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.”  148

Looking for the Magic Answer:  “When I speak to elite audiences, I constantly get asked, What’s the solution.  If I say obvious things like Pick your cause and go volunteer for a group that’s working on it, that’s never the answer they want.   They  want some kind of magic key that will solve everything quickly, overwhelmingly and effectively.  There are no such solutions.  There are only the kind that people  are working on in Massachusetts towns, in self-governing villages in India, at the Jesuit Center in Colombia.” 152

Illusion of class harmony:  Like in the faculty departments, “we’re all in this together.”

Business Week Survey:  “95% of the people — there’s a number you almost never see in a poll — said corporations have a responsibility to reduce profit for the benefit of their workers and the communities they do business in.  70% thought businesses have too much power, and roughly the same number thought business has gained more by deregulation and similar measures than the general population has.”  61 Read the rest of this entry »

An Introduction to Simone Weil: Concentration Is Consecration–Spring Class 2019

Humanity is divided into two categories—the people who count for something and the people who count for nothing.

To believe in God is not a decision that we can make. All we can do is to decide not to give our love to false gods.

Today it is not nearly enough to be a saint, but we must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment, a new saintliness, itself also without precedent.

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French philosopher Simone Weil has been described variously as a “utopian pessimist,” a “mystic of passion and compassion,” a “cross between Pascal and Orwell,” a “Catholic Jewess,” and, by French writer Albert Camus, “the only great spirit of our time.”

In this spring class, we will learn about Weil’s life and work, and let these interrogate our own. We will explore selections from Weil’s classics books, Waiting for God and Gravity and Grace, which will serve as promptings for examining our own spiritual path through journaling and correspondence.

Essentials:
Simone Weil, Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us
Notebook and pen
Curiosity, attention, openness Read the rest of this entry »

Concentration Is Consecration

Sri Eknath Easwaran distinguishes two kinds of spiritual reading: that of instruction and that of inspiration.  Simone Weil’s book, Waiting for God, is an example of the latter, as  it is fecund with material for examining one’s life and path. Reading her brought to mind  the  Buddhists Thich  Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Hindu Sri Anandamayi Ma,  and  Catholics Dom Pedro Casaldáliga and José María Vigil who espoused “political holiness.” Her essay “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” is superb.

I offer a short selection  in what follows…

Method of investigation— as soon as one has arrived at any position, try to find in what sense the contrary is true.

Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent, although practically no one is conscious of it.  

I love the saints through their writings and what is told of their lives … I love the six or seven Catholics of genuine spirituality whom chance has led me to meet in the course of my life. I love the Catholic liturgy, hymns, architecture, rites and ceremonies.

I fell in love with Saint Francis of Assisi as soon as I came to know about him. Read the rest of this entry »

The Way It Looked in 1987

A huge amount of work obviously remains to be done, and as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza enters its third decade one realizes that the magnitude of liberation required can only be accomplished by great and concerted effort. The thing to be remembered, however, is that nothing–and certainly not a colonial ‘fact’– is irreversible. There are greatly encouraging signs of a notable change of attitude in numerous Israelis, and some of their Jewish and non-Jewish Western supporters. The Palestinians have since 1974 premised their political work and organizing on the notion of joint community for Arabs and Jews in Palestine; as more Zionists see the wisdom of that option, as opposed to continued militarization and inconclusive war, there will have to be more joint political and scholarly work by like-minded people. This collection of essays is presented in advancement of that goal.

–Edward W. Said, New York, July 1987
Introduction to Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, with essays by Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Christopher Hitchens, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, and others.

Fiddling with the Archetypes

Gary Snyder, The Real Work: Interviews & Talks 1964-1979

I first learned of Gary Snyder in fictionalized form as the hero Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. Therein, as in real life, the character was at work on translations of Hanshan. I went on to read Snyder’s translations, as well as those of Burton Watson, and committed many of the poems to heart.

From The Real Work I’ve culled the following passages on the theme of poetry, which may be of interest to my friends who love reading poetry, spend time doing any kind of writing, and make effort at going through their days in states of equanimity, compassion, sympathetic joy, and all-around friendliness.

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The thing that keeps me from someone else’s poem from working for me most often is too much ego interference, too much abstract intelligence, too much striving for effect; there’s a lack of contact with the inner voices. 4-5

I’d emphasize the importance of a sense of community, a need for the poet to identify with real people, not a faceless audience. There should be less concern with publishing, more with reading. A reading is a kind of communion. I think the poet articulates the semi-known for the tribe. This is close to the ancient function of the shaman. It’s not a dead function. The poet needs a long view. He can’t just plan in terms of a few poems to be done immediately. He may be eighty years old before he’s ready to do his masterwork. The creative imagination doesn’t stop growing like the body. It keeps growing and getting ready to strike deeper into the basic relationships between the personal perception, the social ritual movements, and nature. Poetry is a life’s work. 6

Or like the great enlightened poet saints like Milarepa or Zen Buddhist masters who wrote poetry. They wrote poetry at the height of their delight, the sheer play of their being. 19 Read the rest of this entry »

Disponibilidade

I first learned this Portuguese word from Mev, when she worked in Brazil among so many radical, radiant Christians. Here’s how she defined it in her book, The Struggle Is One: “a disposition of openness in which one is accessible, available and willing to be inconvenienced by the needs or requests of another person or event.”

This came back to mind this morning as I was reading a column by James Mustich, whose recent book, 1000 Books To Read before You Die: A Life-Changing List I browse almost daily. Here’s the pertinent citation he makes from Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café:

In his essay, “On the Ontological Mystery,” written in 1932 and published in the fateful year of 1933, [Gabriel] Marcel wrote of the human tendency to become stuck in habits, received ideas, and a narrow-minded attachment to possessions and familiar scenes. Instead he urged his readers to develop a capacity for remaining “available” to situations as they arise. Similar ideas of disponibilité or availability had been explored by other writers, notably André Gide, but Marcel made it his essential existential imperative. He was aware of how rare and difficult it was. Most people fall into what he calls “crispation”: a tensed, encrusted shape in life — “as though each one of us secreted a kind of shell which gradually hardened and imprisoned him.”

May we daily discover the wonders of being available for others.

 

Ale Vazquez

Share the Wealth with Priya Sirohi: Find Out Who You Are and Do It On Purpose: On Leaving Academia

I am currently a former SLU grad undertaking her PhD in Rhetoric at Purdue University. I am also in the process of transitioning out of academia and pursuing a job more filled with light and positive people, and less with toxicity.

The subject of my Share the Wealth this weekend is a description of the path I’ve had to walk before realizing the true nature of academic work, and what I do or do not count as valuable labor. The process has led me through tough extremes and equally rewarding self-discovery. I will conclude my presentation with a group writing exercise. Please bring some paper and a writing utensil!

Join us
Sunday 17 February
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Priya begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Marty and Jerry King
830 Demun Avenue, 3rd floor
Clayton, MO 63105

The Long Trail behind You

Shirin Ebadi, with Azadeh Moaveni, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope

But a personal story is more powerful than any dry summary of why a given law should be changed. To attract people’s attention, to solicit their sympathies and convince them that these laws were not simply unfair but actively pathological, I had to tell stories. Iranian culture, for all its preoccupation with shame and honor, with all its resulting patriarchal codes, retains an acute sensitivity to injustice. The revolution against the shah, after all, had premised itself on the ethos of fighting zolm, or oppression; it was a revolution conducted in the name of the mustazjin, the dispossessed. People had to see how the dispossessed had now become the dispossessors. [111]

Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is an inspiration of staying in the struggle for the long haul. Unlike 4-5 million other Iranians, she stayed put in the Islamic republic and worked from within to offer humane resistance to the religious fundamentalism that would deprive her of her own career as a judge. She is both a strong feminist, using her lawyer skills to advocate for women in a system that sees them as merely half the value of men, and she is also a faithful Muslim, although one different than those Khomeini wanted to hold up as a role model for women. She is also a dissident, who was willing to take strong stands, oppose the Republic’s interpretations (not defame it), did jail time, was on a death list, raised her daughters, did the proverbial twice as much work as the man, and stayed put. The authorities weren’t going to drive her away. Read the rest of this entry »

Festival of Kissing, Festival of Touching

Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces

Marginalia and Notes, February 2001

I read this book because, like Arenas’s The Color of Summer, it exemplifies a style and structure that I wish to adapt for my second book: short, compressed, packed chapters, thematically linked over the course of the book by numbers, with ample illustrations, mixing autobiography, journalism, “theology,” history, lyricism.

Addition to Jack Kerouac, shorter, the better. Consider, fracturing further currently long chapters.

A part of me died with him. A part of him lives with me. [What for a dedication page?]

Think of all the words I can include, with examples, in my Lexicon chapters.

Depending on layout and format, consider using little photos (of Mev, even) .

Tell my story; no, tell your story.

Do some chapters, like his The Function of the Reader, on “Reading.”

NB: keep the chapters short. 23

Chapter: Voice. And, Voiceless. Check synonyms. Read the rest of this entry »