A Comic Vision of
Great Constancy
Stories about Unlocking the Wisdom of Everyman
A Reading of “The Knight’s Tale”
and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

On Wisdom, Revelation, and Looking with the Eyes: A Letter to My Sister’s Friend, Flemming Rutledge

Part One: Introduction

And the country proverb known,
That everyman should take his own
In your waking shall be shown:
Jack shall have Jill;
Naught shall go ill;
The man will have his mare again and all shall be well.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act III, Scene 2)

Dear Reverend Rutledge,

On the 22nd of August Sally sent me Help My Unbelief for my 70th birthday. It was shortly before she planned to visit you, and it occurred to her that I’d find it of interest. I’ve now read the book, and I’m most grateful for her thoughtfulness. Her gift is the reason I’m writing, but I take full responsibility for this intrusion of a little brother. Sally has previously warned me about keeping correspondence with her friends short. It’s very good advice. Because your sermons address matters which concern me so deeply, though, I’ve been unable to do it. Thus I justify, rather sheepishly (in line with how you feel about sheep), overriding her rule.

Your sermons address the gift of a new creation, which is the underlying theme of both my books. That’s why my epigraph has Puck—prime minister of Oberon, king of the fairies—intoning a countryman’s comic vision of a new world over the four insensate lovers from Athens. They lie on the ground where they collapsed after their midsummer night in the wood. (Falling to the ground is a leitmotif in these essays.) Along with the complete exhaustion of their bodies and minds, his words usher them into the Great Sleep of Comedy. In these favors grows a readiness for the new day about to break.

While sharing a goal, we have worked in our professions with different audiences. Your sermons are intended for people in church who have come there to hear and to learn about the Word of God. My students were required by the state to be in the classroom. Even though the state also required that students pass an exam that regulated the objectives, the students’ own reasons for being there were much more diffuse. It took me awhile, but eventually I discovered that the government of my regime in the classroom was more successful when the curriculum allowed the students to study the three things with which they were most concerned—love, love, love (as the Beatles put it).

Because I was teaching in a public school and in a time (as now) when there were great sensitivities about church and state, I referred to the overall theme as wisdom. Wisdom, I found, could function as a middle ground for the pagans on one side of my classroom and the evangelicals on the other. Reading your sermons, I’m reminded that Paul has much to say about that which is a “demonstration of the spirit” as opposed to “the wisdom of men.” Paul was resolved, you point out, to know nothing but Christ crucified. Even though I was constrained in the classroom from talking about Christ crucified, I believe that the wisdom I have described is closer to an instrument and an instance of God’s power than to worldly wisdom. I have prepared these commentaries to see whether you agree.

Whether the power we describe is the same or not, our method of argument is very similar. We both have grounded our commentaries in specific texts. This is what I especially value in your work; I would understand anew the words of scripture, so lovingly preserved, that have been dulled by inattentive repetition and complacency. Just as every generation needs to read and understand them for themselves, the spirit behind them is more likely to come into being when we come to them again and again at different stages and in light of different trials of life.

Though the words are a translation, they are an inspired attempt (essay) to grasp the spirit of the original, the parent words of Paul in the Greek and, in the gospels, of Jesus himself in Aramaic. The study of specific texts, I realized after reading several of your sermons, is what you mean by theology, and it explains the importance you give it for your congregations. As a teacher and a writer I have employed the same method of presentation and argument only I’m interpreting the stories and the words of Homer, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. Then and now I would impress readers with the words and the significance of these texts.

Part Two: Vessels that Transmit a Comic Vision

And in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossip’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking th’ embarked traders on the flood;
When we have laugh’d to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following (her womb then rich with my young squire)
Would imitate, and sail upon the land
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act II, Scene 1)

The texts are important because they give voice to that which would be unspoken without them. I write of them in my first book that they are like “an ark for transporting its living cargo through perilous floods, and it’s as well built and seaworthy as any we are like to know.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place during a time when the countryside is flooded due to continuous rains.) Your sermons have prompted me to study once more the letters of Paul. Reading 1 Corinthians 15: 35-58 along with other passages, I’m reminded that Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s comic vision of a new creation undoubtedly derives in large part from them. Paul writes, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet,” and the spirit of these words resounds throughout their narratives as in the epigraph of the first section. I argue in both books that comedy as a literary form is entirely devoted to the faith that human beings can wake up and see the world and our life in it more clearly. Even Shakespeare’s tragedies affirm a comic vision. They act out that we who witness the tragedy must die, must give up that which we love most, but that this death is the seed of a new creation. The play is intended for us, the survivors; the dead need no instruction. After a brush with death, our eyes confront the fact that we still live. Whether this fact fills us with awe or terror is besides the point. Something hot and molten stirs at the core.

Narratives convey meaning cumulatively in scenes over time from a person’s life. Great poetry, like the unity of life and death in Michelangelo’s Pieta, conveys a revelation in the twinkling of an eye: with her right hand a mother holds on to the lifeless body of her son, but her left hand lets him go. The image reveals the relationship we have with the gift of life we hold so dear, which is our own and not our own. From studying the sonnets of Shakespeare I learned the power of images as a vehicle for meaning. When he writes “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, he is telling us exactly how to understand him. A summer’s day is the vehicle for expressing what he develops through the rest of the poem, the power of love that “gives life” to perishable goods like the “darling buds of May” just as Michelangelo’s representation of the two figures expresses the love and the peace of God that, in the midst of great suffering, passeth all understanding. Because Michelangelo and Shakespeare have directly experienced the love that’s their true subject, they invest their images with a power to reveal a new creation.

In the sermon on “Common Sense, or Christ Crucified” you write, “Not everyone will have the eyes of the heart opened. It is not by worldly wisdom. It is by revelation and faith.” The eyes of the heart opening is a metaphor for the great change that Paul describes. He is using the same image, and Puck uses it, too, in the first epigraph. It’s the heart waking up to love in a new way. We will not all sleep, for we can open our eyes and wake up (Or is it the other way around?). This is Paul’s promise as well as the promise of comedy. But what’s the catalyst? What’s the trumpet that wakes us? Is it only death? This question, I believe, is at the heart of Paul’s ministry, and you have appropriated Paul’s own answer to the question. The words of his letters and the passion, the spirit with which they are given, are the wake-up calls of the trumpet. As a preacher you are called to speak for him and the other evangelists. You are not preaching to the dead, but to those of us who still live. Also in this sermon you write that “faith is not common sense…It is power,” and we are taught by the power of the spirit to “understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” Putting these parts together, I conclude from your reasoning that revelation is the power of the spirit which reveals the gifts of God. Revelation wakes us up. Confronting our mortality wakes us up.

Part Three: Two Forms of Love

This sorrowful prisoner, this Palamon,
Was pacing round his chamber to and fro
Lamenting to himself in all his woe.
“Alas,” he said, “that ever I was born.”
And so it happened on this May day morn,
Through a deep window set with many bars
Of mighty iron squared with massive spars,
He chanced on Emily to cast his eye…

(“The Knight’s Tale” Part One)

O softly take me in your arms, I pray,
For love of God, and harken what I say.
I have here with my cousin Palamon,
Had strife and rancor many a day now gone,
For love of you, and for my jealousy.
And may Jove’s wisdom touch the soul in me,
To speak of love and what its service means
Through all the circumstances and the scenes
Of life, namely good faith and knightly deed,
Wisdom, humility and noble breed,
Honor and truth and openness of heart,
For, as I hope my soul may have its part
With Jove, in all the world I know of none
So worthy to be loved as Palamon,
Who serves you and will serve you all his life.
And should you ever choose to be a wife,
Forget not Palamon, that great-hearted man.

(“The Knight’s Tale” Part Four)

An inquiry into the power that wakes us into a new creation will also involve an inquiry into the nature of love. Here, too, we share a similar insight. You address it in the sermon called “The Faces of Love” where we learn that even the great, worldly-wise Mike Wallace needs to learn the difference between eros and agape. I’ve long been familiar with the phenomena described by these words, but in my teaching I employed the Latin terms, cupiditas and caritas, which are foundational concepts in Medieval literature. The mother of Michelangelo’s Pieta embodies the two. Cupiditas is the grasping hand, a love of some thing, and caritas is the open hand, a love of the whole from which the thing derives. More than anything else, the distinction between the two grabbed the attention of my high school students. I believe that this has to do with the fact that in English the word “love” stands for both, even though they are completely different states. For young and old alike, love is associated with an ideal state so they are blindsided by the pain and suffering caused by love’s identical twin. Now that our Christian culture is being deconstructed, a distinction critical in the education of the human heart has largely been lost.

Shakespeare wrote A Comedy of Errors fairly early, and its comic premise hinges entirely on the fact that identical twins share the same name. To double the confusion this would cause, Shakespeare added another pair of identical twins with identical names as the servants of the first two. Along with A Midsummer Night’s Dream I regard it as one of his greatest comedies. Instead of writing it off as a low form of slapstick and gimmickry, I take it as a parable on the whole question of names and the confusion that results when a word we use can be applied to two very different things, and especially when that word, like love, is at the heart of the human condition. (Conversations in our politics, for example, run aground and wreck themselves due to the fact that the words equality, justice, and freedom mean different things to the different parties. It will be a hopeless muddle, like that in A Comedy of Errors, until people can get to the bottom of the confusion.)

My interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is structured around Helena’s explanation for why relationships fail. Her disappointment in love has led her to conclude that “Love looks, not with the eyes, but with the mind.” Shakespeare agrees that looking with the mind is a problem. I make an educated guess that Paul’s lessons on worldly wisdom and Chaucer’s delightful fables contributed to his understanding because he borrows quite freely from both of them. Looking with the mind, they warn us, is a form of enchantment, a kind of sleep. It’s the sleep of an obsessive attachment. Chaucer wrote “The Knight’s Tale” to describe in precise detail the difference between cupiditas and caritas through the story of two young knights who fall in love (at first sight) with a beautiful girl. The first epigraph of this section describes the moment the first knight sees her. The second knight sees her seconds later as he jumps to the window to have a look. Prior to this they were blood brothers, deeply sworn to defend each other’s life and liberties. After their enchantment, they become bitter and deadly rivals (even though the girl doesn’t even know they exist). Their militant desire to possess her image represents the movement of mind and heart that characterizes cupiditas.

The enchantment ends for one of the knights when his heart is fatally crushed in a freak accident. After years and years of painful desire and separation, he will never possess the girl. Over the three days it takes for him to die, he realizes that he has only ever loved an empty image. The pain of this realization wakes him up even more than the pain of his wound. Since this form of love has proven to be an illusion, manfully he lets it go. This is what the second epigraph of this section describes. The opening of his heart that we witness is real, not imagined, and the woman receives it by opening her arms to embrace him. The tableau before us, the young knight in the girl’s arms—so similar to Michelangelo’s Pieta, represents a movement of heart and mind that characterizes caritas. When Shakespeare borrowed the plot lines and characters of “The Knight’s Tale” for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, like Chaucer he structured his story around a change in the hearts and minds of his characters from cupiditas to caritas.

Part Four: Desire

That very time I saw (but thou couldst not)
Flying between the cold moon and the earth
Cupid, all arm’d. A certain aim he took
At a fair vestal, throned by the West,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act II, Scene 1)

The inquiry into the nature of love in the last section leads perforce to an inquiry into the nature of desire—eros or cupiditas—in this one, for human beings are creatures of desire. Your sermons speak directly to me and, I’m quite sure, to your many congregations because you don’t shy away from confessing this about yourself. We all drive cars because we want something; we want to be somewhere. Desire drives the activity, but it can be quickly compounded. So you tell us the story of the time you made a wrong turn on the road. We all know how strong desire can lead to panic. To save time and to get where you needed to go, you disregarded a sign that a left hand turn was forbidden. Like you, I’ve made decisions like that which luckily or by the grace of God did not end in an injury to someone else or myself. Many of your sermons are devoted to the judgment Paul expresses in Romans that “God has consigned all human beings to disobedience—in order that he may have mercy upon all.” Paul might as well have written that God consigned us all to desire for things.

The ancients have described the phenomenon of obsessive attachment for thousands of years. Everyone knows about Cupid and the arrows that strike the eye with love at first sight. Oberon, the king of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, knows about a little western flower, the juice of which when placed on the eyes will cause a person to madly dote on the next thing it sees. But the play also includes characters who fall in love like this without the aid of the flower juice. Human beings fall into an obsessive attachment quite naturally. An infant doesn’t have to be taught or chemically induced to want something and then to fix his entire attention and all his energies on obtaining the object. The behavior may not change even if he’s been told a number of times that he can’t have it.

For as long as the stories about Cupid and his arrows out of the blue have been told, the story of Narcissus has shown the link between the arrow of desire and self-love. Here’s the problem with the arrow’s obsessive attachment: it’s an endlessly closed loop on a computer screen; a car stuck in the mud spinning its wheels and going nowhere; a dragon devouring its own tail because it’s hungry, feeding a desire that only renews itself, and never being satisfied. It’s the short circuiting of love, and it’s death in the enchanted mirror.

How did the story of Narcissus come to be told? We can only imagine. Just as we are born with an unearned bent for obsessive attachments, somehow from out of the blue somewhere human beings have had the unearned luck of hearing the story of Narcissus. The story in Genesis about the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden (by the sudden appearance out of the blue of the serpent) has much the same theme, and its placement indicates that the incident comes virtually at the beginning of our species. Since it’s an episode in the Bible’s history of God, we know that God has a hand in it along with everything else.

For the people of the book, desire is circumscribed by the story. We learn that the fruit was forbidden, that our parents and originals went ahead and consumed it anyway, and that they died as they were warned they would. The story carries a divine warning about valuing a part of creation as opposed to valuing the whole from which the part and we ourselves derive. In the Bible’s telling of it, human beings have been warned about this from the beginning, but this is especially true for the people of the book who have the story of Adam and Eve told to them in repeated rituals of membership. Now, we can’t claim ignorance as an excuse. Now, the overvaluing of a part, desiring it for ourselves, is sin, a failure to obey. Paul writes about this, of course, in Romans 7 where he tells us that “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.”

As members of our nation in the 21st Century, we are a people of the book whether we are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, or Spiritualists of any kind. We live in a culture that’s been shaped by the book; it’s deeply embedded, whether one likes it or not, in our institutions, in popular as well as high culture, and generally in our way of life. Nevertheless (as Paul likes to write), even though the culture—like the wealth of a great, great, grandfather passed down over the generations—continues to support us, we lose the real benefit of a story like that of Adam and Eve if we aren’t aware of the way it illuminates our own lives. As a preacher, you have been called to remind the people about its great power for good as the prologue for the good that Moses brought down from the mountain, the good that came from the passion of Jesus, and the good that came from Paul’s exertions to make his vision known throughout the empire.

Just as we can’t have a policeman on every street corner regulating our physical movements and just as we can’t have a preacher on every corner reminding us that the wages of sin is death, the burden of this work lies with us as individuals. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. It’s true for dogs as well; I’ve worked with both. And I’ve worked long enough to know the truth of it in my own case. People have to see these things for themselves, to feel them for themselves in the flesh. We pay a high price in suffering for ignorance and disobedience so there’s plenty of raw material ready to be seen in a new light. It’s waiting for the trumpet call, something that knocks our knowing off its axis of ordinary time and space. The wake-up call frees us to see things-as-they-are, people and things that exist in and for themselves not as objects for our own use.

Part Five: A Radical Leveling and a Wake-Up Call

At Neptune’s order Triton lifted up
His curved sea shell, a trumpet at his lips
Which in the underworld of deepest seas
Sounds Triton’s music to the distant shores
Behind the morning and the evening suns;
And as his voice was heard through land and ocean
The floods and rivers moved at his command.
Over all earth the shores of lakes appeared
Hillsides and river banks, wet fields and meadow,
As floods receded and quays came into view:
A cliff, then a plateau, a hill, a meadow,
As from a tomb a forest rose and then
One saw trees with lean seaweeds tangled
Among their glittering leaves and wave-tossed boughs.
It was a world reborn…

(The Metamorphoses Book I)

Ovid, Shakespeare, and the story of the flood in the Old Testament all compare the effects of an obsessive attachment to a great flood which reduces everything in the world to one level. The world is flooded by the emotions produced by attachment to the image. We can read about it in these texts, and we can see it play out every day in ourselves and in others. Reaching back to when I had to learn and actually compute fractions, shall I compare this fact about us to a lowest common denominator? The flood is a kind of death by drowning, but it’s also a leveling and a fertilizing that leads to new life when the living waters recede. Borrowing imagery from A Midsummer Night’s Dream which features a character named Bottom, I maintain that, just as ocean going ships must have a bottom that moves successfully through the water and won’t sink (like the “embarked traders” in the epigraph of the second section that make an appearance in Shakespeare’s play about a great flood), relationships require a secure foundation—an accurate assessment of our nature and the stresses to it from within and without—to survive and prosper. You devote many of your sermons to Paul’s assessment of our nature, this common denominator, and you encourage your congregations to accept a radical leveling in which “none is righteous, no, not one.” Paul’s exhortation is an invitation to join a human community on a sound basis.

Throughout my readings of Chaucer and Shakespeare I make much the same argument for a radical leveling. We all suffer from obsessive attachments (Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” compares them to prison cells just as Dante does), and comedy would set us free from them. Before I read your sermons, I saw it more as a secular mission. Now that I’ve read them, I gather that Paul’s mission is similar. You have convinced me that his letters are not about religion, for religion is about what we already know through our instruments of knowing, the world of Old Adam and desiring to know. Comedy and Paul’s letters are about the absolute foolishness of creation, the gift of life itself, the sense of which (we’re reminded in Job) lies too many fathoms deep for worldly knowledge.

Just as the mission is similar, the prison break in both is an outside job, a lightning bolt from out of the blue. You write in “The Once and Future Doctrine” that “our human wills are bound over to sin.” We’ll never be able to think or rationalize our way out of prison. The impetus for release has to come from outside the enchantment and the catatonia of self-love. God alone can “create a completely new situation.” To show how comedy effects the prison break, I borrow a famous routine from American burlesque shows. An unmindful pedestrian is reading a newspaper as he walks down the sidewalk. These days he could be reading his BlackBerry, but the situation is the same. The pedestrian has the idea, even if the words are painting a gloomy picture, that he lives in a world that’s secure and full of meaning as he absorbs the glib confidence of the writer, of the machine, and of the whole media universe. His reading, however, has distracted him from the reality of the banana peel that lies ahead on the pavement. In comedy life is always going to put a banana peel under the foot of a pedestrian absorbed in his “reading,” his obsessive attachments. The pedestrian’s release comes suddenly, like a lightning bolt and immediate thunder, from the darkness of what he doesn’t know.

Your sermons have jarred me into a better understanding of the serpent’s temptation in the garden. I’ve always had trouble with the knowledge of good and evil that he promised the fruit would deliver. Like any good salesman, he has put a glossy spin on his goods. It’s tempting to be like God and to know good and evil so we fail to see that the “knowing” he promised is Biblical knowing, not the clinical worship of an abstraction as in scientific knowing; it’s a man knowing the flesh of a woman, knowing his own flesh, and the overwhelming weakness of the flesh when governed by an obsessive attachment (for sex is just a metaphor for a million other forms of knowing). “Knowing” like “love” is another case of a word that can refer to different states of being.

Your sermons, I believe, are addressing the desire to know good and evil, to get to the bottom of it. You and Paul are warning us that it can’t be done. We can’t get on the right side of the law because we can’t get to the bottom of it (the bottomlessness we’re asked to confront by the voice out of the whirlwind). Biblical stories suggest that we’ll try anyway until we can’t. The bottom then comes into being as a gift that God and his creation provide, and this is the story both Chaucer and Shakespeare tell. It leads to the outcome Puck has helped to create (and over which he presides as in the epigraph of the first section) when the lovers’ helter-skelter midsummer night completely exhausts their powers to move or to think, and their “dreams” (their obsessive attachments) drop them finally into the Great Sleep of Comedy from which they awaken the next morning to find that everything has changed.

Recently my wife and I watched a series of Charley Chaplin films presented by Turner Classic Movies. One of them documented his early days in burlesque, his transition to films as a featured actor with the Keystone cops, and then his rise to power as a director and producer with total control over every aspect of his movie making. Side by side with his grace as a dancer, I couldn’t help but notice how the punch line of his comedy consisted over and over of a punch to the chest and a fall to the ground. There are no words to distract the visual image; it’s just Wham! and down the little tramp goes, again and again. A supporting cast of fall-guys and gals gets the same treatment. By knocking everyone down on the ground—the consequence of our common denominator—in a comic fall, Chaplin mined a rich vein that made him incredibly popular and wealthy. For all our striving to be socially upright, it turns out that humanity is secretly on the side of that which knocks us flat. Note, though, that the little tramp always gets right up, again and again; he is meant to be upright as well. So he leaves us in the end, a stand in for Everyman, loved by millions even if his walk is strangely out of whack.

The radical leveling of a wake-up call is essential to a comic vision. Those lightning bolts out of the blue that knock us flat are the cue for Wisdom’s entrance into our lives.

Part Six: On Seeing with the Eyes

How happy some o’re other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so,
He will not know what all but he do know.
And as he errs, doting on Hermia’s eyes,
So I, admiring of his qualities.
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes, figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere:
For ere Demetrius looked on Hermia’s eyne,
He hailed down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act I, Scene 1)

My lord, fair Helen told me of their stealth,
Of this their purpose hither, to this wood;
And I in fury hither followed them,
Fair Helena in fancy following me.
But, my good lord, I wot not by what power
(But by some power it is) my love to Hermia,
Melted as the snow, seems to me now
As the remembrance of an idle gaud
Which in my childhood I did dote upon;
And all the faith, the virtue of my heart,
The object and the pleasure of mine eye,
Is only Helena. To her, my lord,
Was I betroth’d ere I saw Hermia;
But, like a sickness, did I loathe this food;
But, as in health, come to my natural taste,
Now I do wish it, love it, long for it,
And will for evermore be true to it.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act IV, Scene 1)

In the first epigraph Helena struggles to understand why her relationship with Demetrius has failed. She concludes that love looks, not with the eyes, but with the mind. This is cupiditas. But there’s another way of looking, which Demetrius describes in the second epigraph. This is caritas, seeing with the eyes. My reading of Chaucer and Shakespeare is primarily concerned with epistemology. It contrasts scientific knowing, the grasping of objects, with the older, more Biblical knowing which respects and factors in the greatness of what we don’t know, of what we “wot not.” Properly understood, what we know is like an object in the brightly lit circle of a spotlight which puts everything else in the dark. Wake-up calls bring into being a more helpful common denominator—the knowledge that we don’t know everything, which is essential to relationships and civic life. As I explored the texts, I discovered that this study of epistemology led quite naturally into a study of ethics. How does the wake-up call about the greatness of what we don’t know impact our behavior? Shakespeare’s lines describe how it has changed Demetrius; his love has come home to Helena for good.

Once we see with the eyes, as opposed to the mind, we see the narrowness of an ego attachment. Most people will have a visceral reaction. “How stupid!” we think, after tripping over something because we weren’t paying attention. It’s embarrassing, and maybe the embarrassment in other more serious and chronic cases of inattention will be a reason not to acknowledge it, will be a reason to make it someone else’s problem. Maybe we see that; maybe we don’t. People whose eyes have remained open may see the suffering caused by the narrowing. The greatness of what we don’t know, however, may not be what we see so much as what we feel—especially if we have hurt someone we love. This is more likely because the people we love, whether we know it or not, are the people we are always around in the family or at work. The shame, the feeling about what we have done, is an intense kind of knowing. If looking with the eyes means acknowledging the hurt that ensues from the enchantment of looking with the mind, unless we are a sadist, a sociopath, a lotus eater, terminally careless, or some other kind of zombie, this looking will change what we do. If we’re behaving like a jerk, someone is bound to tell us so it’s not like we have to figure this all out by ourselves. There are signs, wake-up calls everywhere. But do we hear them? Do we hear Wisdom call?

By the nature of things only lovers can get hit with a wake-up call, and anyone seriously interested in this matter is a lover. The darkness of what we don’t know can’t be a bright and shiny object to which we obsessively attach, but we can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. Like the letters of Paul, comedy assures us that, as sure as day follows night and as sure as the nose on our face exists even though we can’t see it (without a device), a love of the whole exists, a love with an intention to make things new.

Part Seven: Envoi

I’m very grateful that Sally sent me your book and to have made your acquaintance through it. Sally and I grew up attending St. Christopher’s-by-the-River in Gates Mills, Ohio. You have given me an opportunity to reconsider once more the words of scripture we heard there, and I especially appreciate the way you bring the significance of the Christian calendar to life as the Sundays pass through the liturgical year. I was largely unaware of its deep structure. In my case, the zeitgeist of the 60s and the temptations of its newfangledness overrode the good embodied in the serious and subtle riches of this simple church. Still, a long life as a prodigal son is as good a preparation as any for a proper return to words that appeared to have slid off without sticking, like water off a duck’s back. But they did stick. It turns out they are indelibly printed. Thanks to the magnificent texts of our literature nurtured by those words and to writers like yourself, they are beginning to sink in.

As Sally has made a gift of your book to me, please accept my gift of a comic vision to you.

Sincerely,

Alan

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