49 Comments
Feb 18Liked by Jack Leahy

Thank you, Jack, for this magnificent post, which gives me much to ponder.

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I've heard Charles Eisenstein talk about why intentional communities often don't really work. He says that for community to happen, we have to actually need each other. Community is something we want, but it is hard as well, and it seems that the desire for it is, by itself, not enough to sustain it. We have to actually *need* it for our survival. And of course today we don't need it for our survival, because we can pay for our own place and pay others to deliver our food, etc.

But obviously we only appear to not need others, because we can't actually survive in any way on our own. It is just the need has come to be mediated by money, which creates the illusion of not needing others, the illusion that we can have everything that we want. I think that one of the things that will have to happen for change is that we will have to actually need each other again.

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Great Post, there is much to ponder here but I'm going to pick up on the bit about community. This concept is a half-remembered dream, it seems to me. I live in a small village and the problem we increasingly have is that everyone wants what they want, and has no consideration for the wants or needs of others. The view of community is "people who agree with me and do what I want". We have forgotten how to be a community and that is, to my mind, because we have no common values or societal structure now, we have only "my truth". Christianity used to provide that structure, the glue which held us together. But that kind of structure means sacrificing "my truth" to "the truth" and no-one wants to do that. Community can be likened to a rose garden - fragrant and beautiful but roses also have thorns. Everyone wants the pretty flowers but not the thorns that go with them.

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Feb 21Liked by Jack Leahy

Spacious unknowing: out of the dark and deep, new human beings and new world's are fashioned.

Only someone who knows that they don't know will shine the light within on the darkness. This is the make up of 'conscious of being conscious'. Your writing on these subjects are filled with inquiry ~ spacious unknowing. Thank you, Jack. I am happy to have found you on substack.

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Feb 18Liked by Jack Leahy

Nice to hear from you, Jack! This post made me think of Dougald Hine's book, At Work in the Ruins. Although you were not advocating work, but rather stillness and silence, I get that. One of the tasks that Dougald identifies for us to do here in the ruins is "practicing being human together."

This may be due to the fact that, as you say, you are not inclined to optimism, and perhaps I am a little more inclined to it... or just lucky; You sound a little too discouraged or downcast or hopeless, or something. I mean, if we are people of faith we know that things are in God's hands and that things are as they should be, and we are loved. Are you sure you have done all you can to 'exit that door' so to speak? Maybe some satisfactory way will open up for you to live as fully human with other humans somehow. I am still working to get away and simultaneously experiencing much of what you wrote about. I feel like my efforts have not directly brought about what I intended but something is slowly moving toward whatever it should be for our family. That may be the farming idea or it may be a renewed commitment to the flawed place and people we are now with. The unknowing is certainly like a desert. I feel unsettled in one way but in another the utmost tranquil certainty that it will be Right.

Love this line:

" There are all kinds of ruins and all kinds of ways to live in and among them.¹⁷ The question, as I see it, is not if we will live there but how soon we will do so, and in what sort of desolation?"

--Clara

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Thank you, beautiful post. I had a fight with my father about these things, about writing and reading on the internet, about searching for silence and about wanting to do something to help. But, trying to do something to help means for me reading and writing online, because I do not have a real, physical community where to do so. Community is a word that sometimes makes me gag. It is used too much and has lost meaning. I am a foreigner in a foreign land full of other foreigners trying to adapt to a foreign culture that tries to impose on us how to live and tells us that everything we knew until now is wrong because it is different. We are all lost looking around trying to find solid ground to stand but cannot find it. Our ground is too far away. Community, in this global world, we only find it online, even if it is not real. Villages and small towns are like faraway fairytales of which we are excluded. So, even if the internet community of Substack is a fantasy, it is something.

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Mar 10Liked by Jack Leahy

Hope you are well. Is the gestation of your next writing close to bring finished? I just read through the comments here, you have attracted an erudite group! 2 Peter 1:2 has been meaningful to me today. One of the effects of the Holy Spirit that happen is a generation of a simultaneous knowing of the Father and the Son. Cross reference John 4:14 and John 17:3. It happened in Acts 7:55-56. You receive a strengthening love in a vibrant quiet.

I just realized as I write this I have been given the privilege of having blocks of time in my life where I can be uselessly with God and not have it be an inconvenience to the real needs of others. So I realized I am not being an irresponsible waster of time like other times in my life where that would have been the case. So I will not endeavor to fill these blocks of time with entertainments , working on the to do list, deeds of service to others. All of which I do plenty of in any case.

Freedom! “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”

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When you were at the monastery, did y’all ever study Romans 13? Love to hear the analysis in light of where we find ourselves right now. Either that didn’t age well or I’m misinterpreting it.

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Feb 21Liked by Jack Leahy

Jack I don't know if you have ever come across the Irish continental philosopher William Desmond, I think he can give us a helpful diagnostics of wider world at large, and maybe even open up a path forward, in his writings he coins the phrase the "double face of modernity", when Desmond speaks of the 'double face of modernity', he claims it manifests itself in a twofold process off the "objectification of being and the subjectivisation of value', what Desmond means by this is as follows,

Being is objectified in that it is neutralised or devalued or evacuated - emptied of any value or goodness in itself - and made into a "merely empirical" mechanism. The subjectivication of value comes about as there is a "revaluation" of value in terms of human self-determination that comes to see the supreme value as freedom understood in terms of human autonomy - ultimately flowering to reveal its core in the will to power.

Or to put it differently,

The objectification of being serves the purposes of the subjectification of value (for there is no other value but that imposed upon the world by human power), while the subjectification of value drives the objectification of being (for humans cannot be truly autonomous if there is any value or good other than which they create). The end result is an instrumentalized ethos in which being has value only insofar as it serves human will to power.

So the objectification of being turns being into nothing but an empty mechanism of which we can instrumentalist for our own ends, but by creating this oppositional stance between being and goodness, being and worth, all our values are nothing but valueless, which opens the world up to a form of nihilism, because as Desmond concludes, if we uphold this oppositional stance in relation to the ethos of being, this can only lead to the end result of that the only value in the universe is the product of worthless humanity's inherently valueless valuations.

I feel that this is a pertinent prognosis of the world at large because this be honest the god of the world today is 'autonomy', we can do whatever we please, we can abort a fetus because it is my body, I can go against my biology and say yes my biology may signify I'm a man, by my gender says I'm a woman, I can have the right to say when I should die, or we talk about climate change and how we need to change are ways, but if there is no correspondence between being and goodness then really why should I care, because there is so much pain, suffering, evil in the world and this be honest if the world has no thought about me why should I have a thought about it and so on and so on, or in other words, I am an autonomous human being, I am the master of my life, my body, but as Desmond points out if being is nothing but an empirical mechanism, of which there is no correspondence between being and goodness, then these so-called worth statement which affirm me, my autonomous self are also worthless, valueless, fictions of our own making, so the only means by which we can have worth, is if being and goodness are one, but if this is the case then we have to then come to the realisation that there is no autonomous self, that itself is a fiction, because are being is a gift, are being is borrowed, we do not have ownership of ourselves, and by coming to that realisation of our impoverished-ness, then that might be the means for us then to see the worth in one another, and open us to different why of being which is not about acquisition, but to see each other as gift, which will open us further to the gift giver our creator, who is the ground of our being, because that creator is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

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Thank you for the idea of silence as holy uselessness. Utility is greatly overrated and has a splintering effect. Whereas silence is whole and just is.

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Feb 19Liked by Jack Leahy

Just came across this from Andrew McLuhan's Substack. It is from a very little-known Marshall McLuhan essay published in a very little-known journal ‘Neurotica’ in 1955:

“The process of renewal can’t come from above. It can only take the form of reawakened critical faculties. The untrancing of millions of individuals by millions of individual acts of the will. Psychological decentralization. A merely provisional image of how it might (not how it should) occur could be formed by supposing every mechanical agency of communication in the world to be suspended for six months. No press. No radio. No movies. [No smartphones. No Internet.] Just people finding out who lived near them. Forming small communities within big cities. It would be agony. All psychological drugs cut off. No capsulated thoughts or melodies. To say that anything like this could never happen, or that it should never be allowed to happen, is a remark worthy of those mesmerized practical men who are efficiently arranging for the obsequies of our world’s mind and body alike. If something like this doesn’t happen it is quite plain what will happen.”

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Feb 19Liked by Jack Leahy

Thought provoking. I think community does exist: I participate in several thing I would call community. But what doesn’t exist for me, in a sense that I can grasp it with my mind anyway, is a community that encompasses all those smaller communities. It’s like I have little ways of belonging amid the ruins, along with others. I don’t know if we consciously recognize each other as part of some metaphysical reality, but we can recognize and participate in the work we do together.

Is the bigger sense of community possible? When I look at my family history, both sides, for the past 100 years or so (I don’t know much more) it looks like everything breaking down. There is no obvious, better way my forebears were doing things that I should emulate. Or even if they were doing something right, why did it not last beyond a generation?

On the other hand, I could see my various family, and my husband’s family as well, because now we are connected, as survivors. Of something. And perhaps my children can carry on surviving. Which, as Alice Munro reminds us, is not the same as being miserable. It is much more interesting.

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Thanks for these beautiful thoughts, Jack. I have worked for nearly three years now with a nonprofit media org focused on progress. In that time, my belief in anything resembling absolute human progress has tanked. It is, in my humble opinion, an entirely incoherent concept. And yet I work away, confined to the screen-world each day, searching for the stories in the news that I know my org will hail as progress, doing my best to suppress my own opinions, as they simply have no place at an org that promotes an ideology I don't much believe in. Insofar as I do believe in progress, it looks more like what you've written about here than the tired and maddening (to me) matters of "growth" and "abundance" and biotech and AI and DEI and all that. I don't mean to imply that there's no good in *any* of it, or that there's no such thing as things getting better. It's just that good and bad, better and worse, are, as far as I can tell, inseparable, reductive, and subjective.

This leaves us, then, without absolute progress, and without absent absolute regress, and with only changes and trade-offs. In such an existence and predicament, I think (assuming one's basic needs are met) the contemplative life is where it's at. It is for me at least. To be, as you put it, an owl among the ruins.

In Karl Ove Knausgaard's beautiful novel The Wolves of Eternity, he shares this quote from Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, which I think sums our big-brained species up pretty well (although I find myself interpreting it differently across the days): "However much you feed a wolf, it always looks to the forest. We are all wolves of the dense forest of Eternity."

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Feb 18Liked by Jack Leahy

Praying for you. I think we could be good friends.

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Feb 18Liked by Jack Leahy

A beautiful meditation; for which, much gratitude. Ivan Illich had seen this coming; his thoughts on silence can be found here: http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1983_silence_commons.html

On darkness and revelation, there's Henry Corbin's meditation "Theology by the Lakeside" which presents the vision that guided his lifetime exploration of mystical Islam. Tom Cheetham has it on his Substack "as variously as possible".

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Re: "Learning to see in the dark" - "Silence is naturally present." [Martin Laird] "Awareness is the eye of silence." [Martin Laird] "When you come to the conclusion that…awareness…does not dwell in or take support on anything whatsoever, rest right there." [Gerardo Abboud] "The silent mind knows that what sees the fear, the pain, the inner chaos, is free of the fear, pain, or chaos." [Martin Laird] "In the very natural condition of your mind, that state of things as they are, there is not the slightest taint, obscuration or anything considered impure that needs to be eliminated or expelled." [Gerardo Abboud] "Therefore, with trust and conviction, with joy and determination, remain in silence and rest in composure." [Gerardo Abboud]

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