29 November 2008

Under The Spreading Chestnut Tree...


“Maximum subjective richness.”

William James is my favorite thinker not only because he presaged many of the ideas of the 20th century, but he was also a splendid writer. The phrase above, in an essay that changed my theological life, contains in three words what spirituality is supposed to accomplish.

“Maximum subjective richness.”

And it worked. My mind is a hothouse of thoughts, notions, feelings, memories, insights. What goes on between my ears is mostly far more interesting than what happens out in the world. Sound arrogant? Well, remember it is how I see it from my own limited vantage, but more than one poet – Blake and Dickinson and Millay come easily to mind – realized the mind is not bound by gravity or time or even reality.

“Maximum subjective richness.”

One reason I love early morning is that I can linger in the liminal world (Gary Wills’ notion) between dream and reality. Hardly a morning comes where I do not arouse with a dream still in mind, and if I resist getting out of bed for a bit I can hold on to it awake.

“Maximum subjective richness.”

A key reason I love to walk to work instead of drive is that this allows me to be in the world and also to think about it. Unlike driving where you need and should attend to traveling, walking can be second nature. This allows me to notice things. I travel the same path most every day, but there is always something I did not see or hear or smell before. As I go along, these play upon my thoughts, begetting little freshets of understanding. Some may turn into full blown ideas, but mostly they are simple little things.

“Maximum subjective richness.”

But as lovely as this is, there is a downside. Insularity for one. All this richness means I rarely need more stimulation. I find myself shutting things out just to keep the noise down and the dust from getting too thick. It’s a jungle in there, and who needs more of that?


Self absorption is the other. James rejected philosophies that were purely interior. A real philosophy had practical, living, outcomes; hence the term pragmatism. For the last year or two or three I have been struggling to put all this spiritual wealth to work in my life. Like a blacksmith, I have to heat it and work it, hammering my rich thoughts against the anvil of morality. “What should I do with this?” is my constant question.

This is not quiet, serene, or tidy work, sadly. Not for me, nor for my church.


But I have lost weight!

1 comment:

Revwilly said...

You and I are exact opposites. I need the stimulation of the world/others around me. I have no creative energy otherwise. I know little of "maximum subjective richness". And I've gained weight!