I feel transparent. Surely they will be able to see through me.The Handmaid’s Tale
I have been reading The Handmaid’s Tale and watching the TV version. I am not sure if that is confusing me or making it a little easier.
This morning I thought of Immanuel Kant:
Kant’s formulation of humanity, the second section of the categorical imperative, states that as an end in itself, humans are required never to treat others merely as a means to an end, but always as ends in themselves.Kanthian ethics
Part of the objectification of people is using them for their usefulness. We rank people according to how they may serve society and we reward those who are more useful and punish those who are not useful. The Handmaids are simply a more extreme example of how we trend people as a means rather than an end.
I feel my uselessness. No skills for the greater good, sickness dragging down and costing society, without purpose or end. I am very forgettable.
No answer or insight! Simply that people are much more than their usefulness.
I am reading (and watching and listening to) The Handmaid’s Tale. The premise is intriguing – a religious state trying to cope with the modern world. I know that the author names it a feminist novel but I think it has something to say about the objectification of all people. When a person – any person of any gender, race, religion, etc – is elevated (or discriminated against) due to one aspect of their personhood, society has a serious problem. I sometimes think of celebrities we celebrate for being good at sport or music – we have elevated them to “gods” for one aspect of their personhood and then we are surprised when the rest of them does not measure up.
While reading the book I have Kierkegaard’s words floating around my head:
The levelling process is the victory of abstraction over the individual. The levelling process in modern times, corresponds, in reflection, to fate in antiquity.
We place the individual below many things: community, rules, morality, even religion. And tell people that by surrendering themselves to the idea, they become somebody. Rather than telling them that by being you, you become “you”.
I think I will enjoy the book. It is a good distraction at the moment from life – an escape.
Have I shared this plan of an anchorhold before? Anyway, here it is:
The book I am reading makes mention of the various parts of the anchorhold: the parlour and the window with the black curtain to speak to outsiders, the servants’ quarter and the window for food, and the window into the church with the kneeler and view of the high altar. All very vivid to me at the moment. I feel a little like I am in that anchorhold with Sister Sarah. And, in case you have not worked it out, that is me – I get completely lost in books.
Thursday is the day I read a novel. It is sort of like a “sabbath day” (or maybe a “desert day”), that is, a day I try to rest a little more.
So I have been reading The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader. I have a romantic nature and quickly get emotionally involved in books. Not just novels! I fall in love with people in history and find it extremely hard to think of my life without them. But even after a few pages, I have fallen in love with this book. I know it romanticises the anchoress life, and do not get me started on using “anchoress”, but the book feels deeply personal to me.
It makes some points early on. The anchorite lives alone but not without help from other people. The book describes the maids that help Sister Sarah. In a very medieval cast system way, the anchorite has servants do their domestic duties. In fact, Richard Rolle in his rule describes there being two servants – one older and one younger.
The anchorite has contact with the outside world. There is a window inside the cell to look into the church and one outside to allow the anchorite to speak with spiritual disciples. In the book, Sister Sarah makes time to “instruct” her maids in the faith – she reads to them!
So, bringing all that together – I have Zoom, books, and a microwave. I do not have disciples – to be honest, I have no desire to instruct anyone in anything. And I have silence! I am trying to work on the inside silence. Yet I already have some extremely silence.
I am going to read a little more of the book. Sink into that world and try not to lose my heart!
I have been reading a book that had moved me. Okay, that is not usual! It has made me glad and sad in equal measure.
The book is Living the Hours: Monastic Spirituality in Everyday Life. The authors are, I think, involved with Monos which is the UK organisation for “new monasticism”.
So here are a couple of takeaway points from my reading so far:
- New Monasticism – vocation verses vacation?
- Four Pillars: Prayer, silence, balance, and study
- Living a rule
- Monasticism as the context for being human
It is an interesting read.
I have had more time to read. I am a little of a shatter-brain reader – when something takes me I like to simply sit and think. (Or pretend to think!) So sometimes I read a huge amount and sometimes only a sentence.
I have been reading Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God. I have not read much about the emerging church movement so the book has been a nice introduction. I am more of a new monasticism type person.
I am struck, again, how Kierkegaard is way ahead of his day. He is one of a kind, a single individual, far apart from the crowd. Maybe he is the original new monastic religious? I would like to read more about the emerging church movement! And I want to read more about and by Kierkegaard.
As an aside (completely off-topic): I wonder what Kierkegaard would make of me? (How egotistic!) Would he sit with me in a cafe and drink coffee (and smoke cigars)? Or would he walk past me in the street?
So what are you reading?
I have been reading a book about Margery Kempe. And, I admit, I am somewhat taken with her. The context of her life – medieval England – is interesting. And the changes in spirituality and theology that her life reflect are extremely interesting.
Kempe was known as a person whose spiritual emotions often overflowed. Again and again, she is removed from places due to her weeping. While I see that this may be contextual, I also envy that depth of devotion. My natural disposition is to intellectualize everything. But I have learned that if I keep ignoring my emotions they have a habit of finding their way out.
The book, Margery Kempe: A Mixed Life by Anthony Bale, looks at some of the devotional items that were important to Kempe. Among these is a ring with the inscription, “Jhesus est amor meus” (Jesus is my love). It is very-Kempe to have such a devotional item and, as with others, to ascribe magical powers to it. Yet I really like the plainness of the sentiment which I often find missing in modern spirituality. Yes, I am in love with Jesus – that simple and that complex. Again, how intellectualised my faith often is and how without emotion when, in reality, it should be full of emotion.
I have added the book to the Reading List.
I have decided to keep a list of some of the books and articles I have read in the last month or so. So go to Anchorite Reading List.
Aelred of Rievaulx, in his Rule of Life for a Recluse, laments that some anchorites like gossiping:
… their purpose no longer to being to arouse desire but to gratify it.
I think that is also true for a lot of reading in a modern context. People read all the time – online, on their phones, emails, etc. In a sense, anchorite solitude is all about space to read. But read well! Reading to “arouse desire” for Jesus. Not reading to pass the time or “gratify” a base desire. Reading to move closer to Jesus.
I think people of faith should make more time for reading to arouse desire. Not just the Scriptures or the Prayer Book – both of which should be a very important part of every day. Lectio Divina should become a part of every Christians’ day.
Also good Christian books. Our tradition is overflowing with good reading material for which a whole lifetime would not be enough to read. Guided reading – with a spiritual guide – would be a magnificent place for people to feed their spiritual life.
Sorry if that is a little preachy.