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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/8/16

Surprised by Joy

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Message Kevin Tully
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Doe at Little Lyndon's Tree
Doe at Little Lyndon's Tree
(Image by Kevin Tully)
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I've spent almost my entire life close to the ground. By ground I mean the natural environment. I viscerally and intrinsically dislike Las Vegas, Shopping Malls, Disneyland, most new construction and climate controlled football stadiums. As a landscaper and carpenter I've been tactilely connected to the stuff of Gaia. A large amount of this stuff worked and manipulated -- pine trees milled into 2X4's; ornamental plants, the result of hybridization. I got called "Nature Boy" by a customer years ago. But, how close have I really been to "Nature," all these years? I guess it depends on one's definition of Nature.

The Christian World defines nature as something to be conquered and lorded over, exploited. The Conservative World defines nature as a commodity. The Indigenous world defines nature as "Mother" or something we don't have words for. My "Nature" has been a synthesis of all of these.

I discovered Nature in the residential wilderness: Re-imagining pill bugs and anoles as beasts or buddies in an imaginary farce or tragedy. Pondering the possible uses for a fleshy, foody, therapeutic seeming jade plant (Crassula ovata) fallen, top heavy, broken and oozing some undiscovered resource. Making a pact with my buddy concerning our new pellet guns -- we would shoot one of every bird in the neighborhood; awe and self loathing rolling over us in waves as we pondered our first trophy, a brilliantly crimson cardinal. At eleven years old planting corn and beans and squash in the back yard much to Dad's, the Banker's, bewilderment. Becoming a horny toad rancher.

The natural world is indisputably under assault. Most importantly,what difference do economic growth, guns, Iran, prayer in school, Apple's latest toy, abortion, immigration, gay marriage and God matter if the natural world collapses? What if there is no Heaven. What if the Creator already gave it to us?

What if the Creator gave it to us and we have all been consciously or subconsciously aware of this gift at some point in our lives?

Christian Apologist and Novelist, C.S. Lewis, explained what happened to me in my backyard pondering pill bugs, tending the growing corn and ranching horny toads in his memoir 'Surprised by Joy: the shape of my early life': "I call it Joy. 'Animal-Land' was not imaginative. But certain other experiences were... The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult or find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to 'enormous') comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?...Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... The quality common to the three experiences... is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is."

There is no mention of God or Heaven or Faith in Lewis' explanation of his aesthetic awakening. There is "a currant bush." There is only Creation.

Annie Dillard in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, 'A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek' describes a similar scene, experience: "When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw "the tree with the lights in it." It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing that like being for the first time see, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I'm still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam."

There is no mention of God or Heaven or Faith in Dillard's explanation of her aesthetic awakening. There is a "tree with lights in it." There is only Creation.

The Capitalist Man centered world view is slowly dying. This present election cycle is at its core the struggle of certain men and women against Creation. I have always been taken by the Christian concept of "denying Christ." Like everything, this concept is up for interpretation. However, for me and for many it means denying Christ in others -- actions failing to mirror proclamations. Corporate quickened Right Wing Conservatism is presently in a battle to have the denying of Creation win the day. Denying the rights of others in Creation is unrecognized nihilism.

Getting out of bed in the morning, getting your child off to school, feeding the dog, watering the plants, greeting a neighbor are all acts of living bound up in the miracle of Creation. Creation is all encompassing; one act, one preference cannot be successfully extricated from the whole.

I believe most everyone has had an experience like Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis and myself. This is the first installment in a series of interviews I am going to try and have with, hopefully, a varied assortment of folks concerning their aesthetic awakening. My definition of aesthetics being what Santayana, Emerson and Thoreau defined as a "lived aesthetic." A combination of Nature and Spirit. I am going to steal from C.S. Lewis and title the series, "Surprised by Joy."

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Kevin is an Artist, Writer, Carpenter and Gallerist in Texas.

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