Holy, Holy, Holy! Praise as Resistance

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"We are all guardians of joy and responsible for making life's beauty visible and audible". - Dorothy Soelle

At theology school this year I was introduced to the work of the 20th century theologian, mystic and activist Dorothy Soelle, and I was really moved by her book The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance In it she made a point that created a sudden and powerful gestalt shift that struck me deeply- giving praise to Silent_Cryef4life and creation can be a form of political resistance.

I spent my twenties at university immersed in the postmodern milieu, and I was an angry critic of much of what I saw in the world around me. The cancer, the 'Third World' death squads, the clear cuts, the addiction and the wars, the exploitation and the soulless skyscrapers, the superficial desires and the rivers of pop. It could all go fuck itself. I was typical of a certain part of the postmodern ethos, in that I shared a certain dark view of the world, a cynicism, a gloomy negativity toward modernity and capitalism and all that it had wrought. This wasn't all I was, but I was also definitely this, and it wasn't until I read Soelle's statement that something clicked for me- all of this outrage was the exact flipside of a deep love for the world, for life, for Earth and all its inhabitants.

It was the beauty of the world that was motivating me, it was the presence of the holy pervading everything that tore at my boundaries and raptured my heart, and it was this that made me throw my angry fist in the air and cry- enough! But it somehow never occurred to me that I could also voice this positive dimension, this praise Allen-Ginsberg-02for creation, as a form of political resistance. But this is exactly what Soelle encourages us to do. And it strikes me that at this time in history- where a new world is trying to be born, where the future beckons us through the gusts of the global maelstrom- praise of life and creation could be very important for inspiring a successful passage through to the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.

One of the greatest examples of praise as resistance that I know of is Allen Ginsberg's A Footnote to Howl. Ginsberg's mad and courageous joy have inspired my life deeply, and in the audio below he reads his Footnote to Howl with some kind of force. So whether it's in conversation with others, on social media, in community organizing or at protests, let's remember to also give voice to the beauty and joy that's all around us, to that which is holy, holy, holy, holy, holy!



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  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Monday, 13 February 2012 18:57 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    I love this Trevor, and your epiphany that your indignation is the flip side of your love for it all, and for the promise of it all that you showed up for, and that the fires indignation and love together bring forth the future that our hearts long for...

    Did anybody else wonder about Ginsberg apparent loss of energy as the poem wound down? Or was it the emergence of reverence? Or sadness? As his poem of praise and celebration deepened was it accompanied by an inevitable grief. Joy and sorrow woven fine, as Blake put it?

    In the same way, the pursuit and expression of deep pleasure (what a soul wants) is subversive. Our social systems are actually strangely aligned against dropping into pleasure, praise.

    Thanks Trevor

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 14 February 2012 22:35 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    thanks for the words Bruce, and I appreciate you presencing the dimension of grief within Ginsberg's reading of the poem.

    It's funny you should bring that up, as just the other day I went to an information session with a group called Boys to Men, who mentor at-risk teenage boys and help provide a container for them to grow and open and work through their inner life at a crucial time in their development. The representative of the group was talking about anger and rage (and how that's dealt with when it arises), and he mentioned that in his experience anger at its source is usually either grief or fear, both of which are emotions that society has taught men to suppress.

    So I mention love in this piece as the flipside of my anger, but there was/is also profound grief there too now that I reflect on it. (for instance, I find it hard to communicate the type of pain I feel when I know tigers will soon vanish from this earth). And again, reflecting back on it, I found the part at the end when Ginsberg is getting so emotional, basically in tears, one of the most moving parts of all. So thanks for opening me up consciously to that dimension of this too, I suspect I could personally do a lot more work exploring that inner dimension. cheers Bruce.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 15 February 2012 22:58 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    This dimension of grief that Bruce highlighted reminded me of something by Joanna Macy that I read recently. She writes:

    "How do we live with the fact that we are destroying our world? What do we make of the loss of glaciers, the melting Arctic, island nations swamped by the sea, widening deserts, and drying farmlands?

    Because of social taboos, despair at the state of our world and fear for our future are rarely acknowledged. The suppression of despair, like that of any deep recurring response, contributes to the numbing of the psyche. Expressions of anguish or outrage are muted, deadened as if a nerve had been cut. This refusal to feel impoverishes our emotional and sensory life. Flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic. We create diversions for ourselves as individuals and as nations, in the fights we pick, the aims we pursue, and the stuff we buy.

    Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to permanent war, none is so great as this deadening of our response. For psychic numbing impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more crucial uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies

    Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh was asked, “what do we most need to do to save our world?” His answer was this: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”


  • Comment Link Miriam Friday, 17 February 2012 06:19 posted by Miriam

    Thank you, Trevor!

    "And it strikes me that at this time in history- where a new world is trying to be born, where the future beckons us through the gusts of the global maelstrom- praise of life and creation could be very important for inspiring a successful passage through to the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible."

    I couldn't agree more. Let's go and praise all out.

    In deep appreciation for your putting into words what stirs underground, easily overlooked, yet once noticed and seen, there to grab hands with and give a voice, a body, a heart to.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 18 February 2012 20:03 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Thanks Miriam, means a lot coming from someone who's such a leader in the work of praise, gratitude and the appreciation of the world's beauty.

    I just now went and read your recent article on the HuffPost, and I was struck by the uncanny overlap with what I've written above (!). I appreciate this passage:

    "As we grow up (as in "waking up"), our awareness increases. We become more and more conscious. We see more, and we feel more. Not just the good, beautiful and true, but also the deepest grief, suffering and ugliness. The illusions are stripped down. What's on the other side is not always pretty.

    Ken Wilber aptly points out that awakening does not mean reaching a state of constant bliss (as is often put forward as a "promise" of enlightenment). Waking up means feeling more of... everything.

    However -- and this is a key distinction Wilber makes -- waking up also means that our capacity to bear the content of our increased awareness, to hold space for It all, also grows. As I become aware of more, as I see and feel more, the container that I am also grows, and I can be present to "It All" with courage, clarity and compassion. That's fair. A saving grace, really".


    I like how later you say that in your experience to stay present and open during the "interim time"- where we're increasingly feeling the pain and suffering of the world but still can't quite hold it yet- "has a quietly committed, even fierce energy to it". There's a powerful (spiritual) warrior quality to that that resonates, and reminds me of the conversation currently happening on Bruce Sanguin's article 'I Want to Be Jason Bourne'.

    You also write that to make it through that stretching open of ourselves and the pain in lets in, that we "gratefully receive and be held in the positive, the laughter, delight and humor showing up in others around us and across the planet. This also helps keep things in perspective", which of course dovetails nicely with my piece above.

    I pulled out Matthew Fox's book 'The Hidden Spirituality of Men' this morning to look at his chapter on The Spiritual Warrior, prompted by Bruce's Jason Bourne article. In it he describes 'The Four Steps to Spiritual Warriorhood' and I was surprised to find the following passage, so thought I'd finish with that here. Thanks again Miriam.

    "Step One: Via Positiva

    The Via Positiva is the way of celebrating life. Of seeing the world with its beauty and goodness, its grace and generosity- and being always open to seeing more. This is the way of reverence, respect, gratitude. It is the way of original blessing, whereby we live out the truth that the universe and life itself, for all their struggle and pain, have birthed us as individuals and as communities with what we need for happiness and for sharing of the joy. This all spiritual warriors need to undergo many times and in many places and on many occasions and under diverse circumstances" (91).

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