19 March 2011

Give Us This Day...

Lawrence, I would admit, at least in many of the essays I've read, has a totalitarian mind; he seems to believe that humanity needs authority. This is not an odd idea of course. And in truth, the democracy of the USA is authoritarian. Perhaps only Athenian democracy--while not inclusive of the whole, no votes for women for example--really was truly a type of "lottery" government of the people (demos). Any citizen (adult male who had completed military service) could be called to serve on a council and even be "elected" (ie, name pulled out of a hat) to serve as a judge. But I think it's probably true that we all take a thankfully mindless comfort in abdicating responsibility in much of our living. This is not unproblematic as you must be aware.

Though Lawrence is suspect in many ways, he is always incisive. From his essay on Dostoevsky's "Grand Inquisitor" he says of Dostoevsky that "we have to admit...[his] profound insight into the nature of mankind. Man can but be true to his own nature. No inspiration whatsoever will ever get him permanently beyond his limits." (p 234, Selected Literary Criticism) The Grand Inquisitor, Lawrence tells us, names the three "limits" of mankind.

1. He demands bread, and not merely foodstuff, but as a miracle, given from the hand of God.
2. He demands mystery, the sense of the miraculous in life.
3. He demands somebody to bow down to, and somebody before whom all men shall bow down.

Miracle, mystery, authority--these "prevent men from being 'free'."

Now, these are easy enough to consider as true. These demands play themselves out over and again. But it seems to me that the first demand, bread from the hand of God, must be the basic fault...the error that enslaves us, and that the rest springs--confusedly from there.

The essay goes on, in Lawrence fashion, making one point in several different ways as a way to cover all the angles should you disagree...but this one point is really simply an extension of the above demands but driving home towards the totalitarian need for an authority to give you bread. Your bread, the bread you grew, that he gives back to you as miraculous...and you thank him for it. The abstracted bread. And you forget that you can provide your own damn bread.

Here is the progression in Lawrence's essay (239-40).

...seed-time and harvest have been the two great sacred periods of miracle, rebirth, rejoicing....For it is the earthly bread as a miracle, a yearly miracle.

The earthly bread is leavened with heavenly bread. The heavenly bread is life, is contact, and is consciousness. In sowing the seed man has his contact with earth, with sun and rain: and he must not break this contact. In the awareness of the springing of the corn he has his ever-renewed consciousness of miracle, wonder and mystery: the wonder of creation, procreation, and re-creation, following the mystery of death and the cold grave....man must not, must not lose this supreme state of consciousness out of himself, or he has lost the best part of him....All this is life, life, it is the heavenly bread which we eat in the course of getting the earthly bread. Work is, or should be, our heavenly bread of activity, contact and consciousness. All work that is not this is anathema. True, the work is hard; there is the sweat of the brow. But what of it? In decent proportion, this is life. The sweat of the brow is the heavenly butter.
Miracle and mystery run together, they merge. Then there is the third thing, authority..."that which men bow down to"...They will bow down first, the Inquisitor saw, to the one who has the power to control the bread.

The bread, the earthly bread, while it is being reaped and grown, it is life. But once it is harvested and stored, it becomes a commodity, it becomes riches. And then it becomes a danger. For men think, if they only possessed the hoard, they need not work; which means, really, they need not live...

So that ultimately men bow down to the man, or group of men, who can and dare take over the hoard, the store of bread, the riches, to distribute among the people again. The lords, the givers of bread. How profound Dostoevsky is when he says that the people will forget that it is their own bread which is being given back to them. While they keep their own bread, it is not much better than a stone to them--inert possessions. But given back to them from the great Giver, it is divine once more, it has the quality of miracle to make it taste well in the mouth and in the belly.

Men bow down to the lord of bread, first and foremost.

Lawrence goes on to make statements about democracy failing the test of "heavenly bread." No great Giver and so no heavenly savor. You can see this leading into an understanding of a "need" for Jesus and then a need for an earthly Giver as a stand-in for Jesus until he returns. The Utopian "heaven on earth".

Again, the mistake comes with the first demand listed above. To not realize the gift is Nature and needs no other agency than work (and Thoreau would tell us even that work can be minimal). Life is Sweat; Heaven is Bread. But BOTH are in your hands.

Give yourself your daily bread. Or maybe better, go find some nuts and berries.

[As an aside, it seems interesting to consider the rise of Paleo diets in light of the "error" of the abstraction of bread...storage and control...commodification. The seeds of error in our minds, our conception of where the bread comes from--not the Giver who stores and doles out bread--not the grocery store...the wal-marts, etc.--also seems to lead us down the path of poor health. The disease of "extra-governance" in human systems and "heavenly" systems springs from our learning to grow and store food.]

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