Thursday, January 04, 2018


I have a friend who organizes the month of 100 things each January. Her practice is to identify 100 things she owns she can give away or sell. It’s a small counter-measure against the onslaught of accumulation that seems a part of our daily lives, and especially strong over the Christmas holiday.

I’m not one of those who believes things are themselves bad. Although most of us wax and wane, first committing to lives of simplicity, then giving in and purchasing that book we’ve wanted to read. Our connection to things is neither perfectly pure nor particularly bad in and of itself. We are conflicted consumers, sometimes paralyzed by options, but we are also human and appreciators of beauty, and many of the most beautiful things are, well, things.

It might even be true that in an era when the stuff of life has become ever more ephemeral, residing in the cloud, digitally mediated, untouchable yet present, that the aura of things takes on even greater poignancy. My cashier at the grocery store today told me they only have a record player and LPs in their house—no CD player. Tactile board games have seen a resurgence the past few years, even outpacing video games on a fund-raising platform like Kickstarter.

Many of us in the new year have committed to more tactile practices of daily life. Face to face with friends more, online with Facebook less. Such changes can themselves be idealized, inasmuch as there are many goods that have come along with a shared life in social media, but the impulse to connect physically, to touch each other and physical objects, speaks to a real spirituality of material things.

All of this has left me thinking about the spiritual movement of our times, what we can call immanentism. Immanence is the sense that the divine encompasses or is especially, maybe even exclusively, present in the world itself. When we experience some material objects, other human beings, natural settings, we have this sense of immanence. We see the moon, the face of a friend, a landscape, or even an especially beautifully rendered video game or hear a powerful music composition, and we think, God. Divine. Wow.

In fact we need such a sense of immanence. With the lack of it, you have brinksmanship like that between North Korea and the United States, with two leaders threatening button-pushing on Twitter with little recognition that the material results of such nuclear action would be the murder of millions and the destruction of large swaths of our planet.

This then sends me back to the accumulation of things. We feel the weight of things themselves, their aura, in their immanence, their awe-ness. We also feel their weight in another way as an over-whelming pressure, too much stuff, stuff to get rid of, stuff we felt compelled to buy and then lost the love of almost immediately.

Newspapers exist somewhere here in the mix. They arrive new each day on the driveway, delivered and ready to read. They are then something to be recycled by the Monday following. There is something divine about a coffee and the newspaper at morning breakfast. Bagging them up to recycle is a burden.

The spirituality of every day life resides in this precise dialectic. Transcendence in materiality. The weight of too many things wasted, and periodically transfigured. The art of our life is in maintaining this balance, always with an eye to the beauty of all the immanent things freighted with freeing weight of transcendence.

No comments:

Post a Comment