Meyer, Merton & Me; from nothing, something

It’s another one of those “happy synchronicity” days. Today’s theme: from nothing comes something, and the depths and mysteries that dwell within that fact.

Dick Meyer rarely writes a piece lacking in chewy food-for-thought. A few weeks ago he invited everyone to gnaw on a mildly acidic appetizer wherein he searched for reality in a world full of baloney. Today he serves up the main course, and it’s pretty rich stuff that deserves a slow, appreciative consumption.

Meyer is clearly tired of the incessant fault-finding, fact-checking and generally dyspeptic grumbling directed toward the press by some – particularly (I suspect) by bloggers – but he is not averse to looking at some aspects of broadcast and print journalism (and mass communications in general) and how they are affecting society. He sees much negative effect, particularly in terms of the vapidity of popular culture. Not only is there “no there, there,” he finds, but what there is – illusion, fakery, frummery and noise (“sound and fury signifying nothing”) is sprung from…nothing. From the aching void – the vacuum – which our own natures abhor.

He writes: Modern man, Kierkegaard theorized, was making the world vague, vacuous and homogenized. “In order that everything should be reduced to the same level, it is first necessary to procure a phantom … a monstrous abstraction, an all-embracing something which is nothing, a mirage — and that phantom is the public… such a phantom can develop itself with the help of the Press.”

Kierkegaard’s (essay) “The Present Age” [lengthy excerpt can be found here - admin] was a very early but still very modern theory that the press, “advertisement and publicity” — the media — were seriously screwing up the world and making life less meaningful.

He addresses some of the thoughts expressed by readers of his last column and writes, “…many readers felt it was comical and absurd that a pompous ass like me would try to write about something weighty like authenticity on a medium as ephemeral and superficial as CBSNews.com…But I also agree with the obvious: “The media” as a whole is a bad actor in all our land’s fakery, no matter how hard many of its practitioners try to do good work.”

Ultimately, Meyer does promote what is useful within media, but not before acknowledging the many ways we are driven into mad frustration by its ability to form the illusion of “something out of nothing,” and worse, how media manages to propel society on the strength of the illusion. His lays down a thoughtful and interesting challenge to the reader, to look more deeply at our own complexities. To, in a sense, use media in precisely the way I have used his column today – as a means of expanding one’s own explorations – rather than simply being used (or driven) by it.

That is an unusual, even visionary and subversive challenge. One which conceivably could, were we each to take it up, divert and reconfigure the thrust and power of the press. I urge you to read The Media, Super-Sized in its entirety, but not just yet. Don’t go away. I’m heading somewhere with all of this, so stick around.

Commenting on Meyer’s piece Couric & Co. editor Greg Kandra found lots to digest, too, but Meyer’s ruminations turned his thoughts to Thomas Merton, a hero of his, who anticipated Meyer by some years. He hauls out this delicious quote from the monk of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky:

As long as I assume that the world is something I discover by turning on the radio . . . I am deceived from the start.

Kandra expounds, “Merton clearly grasped something so many in our secularized age have forgotten: that what we can trust, and what is true, lies in what we believe. It goes beyond what we read or hear or watch. In Merton’s Catholic sensibility (fed, as well, by his interest in Buddhism), our sense of the divine – or, if you will, The Divine — calls us to a deeper understanding and recognition of the world around us.” He then quotes a lengthier passage from Merton which contributes greatly to the “happy synchronicity” I mentioned earlier because – once again – the quote touches on the “nothing” that creates the “something” – the Divine Spark. So, when you’re done reading Meyer, go read Kandra. But not just yet!

It is the season of Advent, and these two men rang my bell this afternoon by, in different ways, touching on the very thing I’d spent my morning contemplating – the Incarnation.

The Book of Genesis – written ages before the birth of the Christ – says (paraphrasing): “In the beginning all was empty and void; God’s spirit moved…”

The Gospel According to John, written well after that event begins (paraphrasing, again) with this marvelous prologue: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God – through him all things were made; without him nothing was made. What was made through him, was life…”

And then, in Luke’s Gospel we read of the virgin’s womb, empty and void, full of nothing. God’s spirit moved and there was something, and the something was both created and Creator.

All was empty. All was nothing. Nothing was empty. Can “nothing” be “empty” if it is full of the intention of Creation?

The earthly Incarnation of the Creator God, sprang forth from a Word, a breath, from nothing, and perhaps of all the lessons we are to learn from that – and from the Nativity of the Christ – the greatest is that while there are many illusions, there is no “nothing” – only possibility and potential, wherever life is formed, received and nurtured. We are the “nothing” of stardust – a compilation of vapors and base minerals. Within us resides all of Creation, and the Creator as well. But deep, so very deep, within.

A sculptor will tell you that he cannot add anything to a stone that is not already there, that he simply uncovers what is there, extant within it. A chunk of stone is full of nothing. Under Michelangelo’s Intention of Creation, a chunk of stone was full of David, of Moses, of the Pieta.

An archeologist will tell you that the further down you dig, the nearer you get to an origin. You must keep looking deeply.

There are illusions everywhere in the world, and by all means, Meyer is correct (as is Kierkegaard) in suggesting that the media is a vast creator of much that is illusory. The media finds a “nothing” and tries to create “something,” but most of what it creates is barely sustainable through a news cycle, and trends are simply disposable thoughts, formless “nothings” briefly masquarading as “somethings.”

And as such, they perhaps deserve less of our attention, these illusions, and less of our fealty, by which means they derive too much power.

Read Meyer. Read Kandra. If you can, read Kierkegaard. And think about reality and illusion, authentic creation and mere proof-sheets.

And if you can, read Rick at Brutally Honest, who is also contributing to my happy synchronicity today, as he realizes that faith too, is “something” come from “nothing,” in a manner of speaking – at least nothing one can control.

Related:
Immaculate Conception 2006 (continues this theme)
Our Instincts Serve Us Well
Stargazing with Merton, and Rambling Along

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    This post is more filling than a dinner at Peter Luger’s or Uncle Jack’s.

    Though I meed to digest these ideas, I would like to make an initial comment.

    Kierkegaard was born into a middle class family- unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries he did not have share many of the same struggles.

    While not making a direct comparison (for obvious reasons), his upbringing resembles some later religious ‘interpreters.’

    Meyer writes, “Modern man, Kierkegaard theorized, was making the world vague, vacuous and homogenized. “In order that everything should be reduced to the same level, it is first necessary to procure a phantom … a monstrous abstraction, an all-embracing something which is nothing, a mirage — and that phantom is the public… such a phantom can develop itself with the help of the Press.”

    On more than one level, Kierkegaard’s journey was personal, and not necessarily one seeking communal needs he might not have understood.

    Fascinating post. More later.

  • jtm

    The Vulgate offers this tantalizing parallelism about being and not being:

    Jesus is arrested in the Garden, the guards ask him THREE TIMES, are you Jesus? and Jesus answers each time:

    EGO SUM
    (I am)

    Minutes later, the guards outside Pilate’s gate ask Peter, are you a follower of this man? and each time Peter answers:

    NON SUM
    (I am not)

    The only thing I’m not sure of is whether Peter says NON SUM or non cognosco or something like that – I don’t have my vulgate with me but still, the structure is interesting.

  • GJMiller

    Fascinating post indeed – and just one more in the list of many, many reasons that you should be the winner of the Awards! You are brilliant, insightful and kind – a rare and delightful combination of qualities.

    Not to mention that you’ve introduced me to my new addiction – Bryn! For that alone you should receive all manner of awards.

  • Pingback: The Anchoress » Blog Archive » Stargazing with Merton and Rambling along


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X