the circularity of wishful thinking: eulogy for fr Bruno
(Several of you asked for a copy of Chris Lorenc’s eulogy from fr. Bruno’s funeral. Here it is, thanks to Chris)
I keep thinking that Bruno has one more thing—or maybe many more things—to say to us. I keep expecting that when you process into the chapel [spoken to the monks] that Bruno only keeps not appearing because he’ll be last—vested and presiding—which means that soon we’ll all be sitting on the edge of our seats leaning forward to try to catch each quiet new word again.
I like very much—it’s become very important to me—what our friend Pico Iyer says about reading. That it’s the deep attention of the writer that calls up in us—to experience it—our own deep attention as readers. Or listeners.
There is a beautiful capital in the romanesque abbey at Vézelay of two men milling grain. It is an age-old image of wisdom. Not gathering because the gathering has been done. And not yet the appearance of a new body. But rather that long steady and quietly focused inward turning. The capital is sometimes called the “mystic mill.” and it’s important and necessary that there are two figures in it. One man pouring grain into the mill. And the other carefully collecting—or catching—the flour in a pouch. They are often read to be Moses and St. Paul respectively. But they could equally be each of us, I think, because wisdom is a reciprocal relationship, or as Bruno might say, participative. And so I imagine the two figures often trading places.
No, it won’t be a book this time. Or even a homily. It will be more like a conversation we tease out of Bruno by questions and answers. Our own thoughts and speculations and anxieties prompting in him new thought and his deeply wry humor and comfort and hope which always had strength and conviction in it. He wrote about the future of wisdom after all. And he always listened as deeply as he spoke.
Few of us will end life complete. And maybe that’s the gift of how things are meant to be. Not even Moses knew the whole story. And he only knew the promised land by forecast. In re-reading the epilogue to The Future of Wisdom I’ve been struck by how self-aware Bruno’s been about this necessary incompleteness. He’s speaking specifically about The Future of Wisdom but what he says has wider implications. For instance he speaks of “major limitations…which derive from an isolation which is partly a matter of personality and partly a matter of circumstances.” And then he says that it will be up to us—his readers and his friends—to decide if whether what he attempts to demonstrate is “the result of a real and significant convergence or whether it merely reflects the circularity of wishful thinking.”
I pause at this image of circling. It takes me back to the “mystic mill.” You might have caught that neither figure in the capital at Vézelay is turning the wheel himself. One pours grain and the other collects the flour. The wheel of the mill is a cross inscribed within a circle, a mandala—Bruno would’ve loved that. It is Christ himself who turns the wheel within us. And that circling is an image both of contemplation and introversion. And it’s our task—it’s always our task—to decide whether we’re going to allow that circling to just keep burrowing deeper into our own psyches or whether we’ll allow it to spring, to uncoil, into something like a comet. Into something like a new galaxy.
“In our present situation,” Bruno continues, “it is often better to be wrong than to be timid. We move forward by successive approximations.” And he concludes his epilogue—but again there are wider implications—by saying, “I have gradually become aware that the value of this work may be measured, finally, in its success in outlining the space of opportunity that lies before us.”
And I ask myself: isn’t that what he was always doing? Whether in the way he opened scripture or in the way when we met with him that he was always opening a space of opportunity within us and in front of us?
And so on one hand a necessary incompleteness. A space of opportunity that we must step into ourselves. And which we haven’t stepped into yet. That’s why it’s opportunity. And on the other hand a completeness that’s already arrived.
Here’s Bruno the poet writing—at just about the same time he was writing his epilogue to The Future of Wisdom—about being in Big Sur which he calls “the growing edge of the world, the tip of history as it moves West.”
If you stand on a coastal high point in the evening, when it has become dark, you may be treated to a breathtaking astronomical exhibition. By some magic, the complexities and trivialities of earthly reality have been swept away, and you are at the center of a conversation of heavenly bodies in a different, nearly metaphysical world, a theatre of ultimate simplicities. Yet the simplicity is that of primal beauty. The moon has come so close that you can nearly reach out and touch its cool, luminous face, and you are suddenly a privileged cosmologist free in space. Wordless, you note these unearthly wonders, this intimacy of luminous bodies.
And yet we’re stunned to hear that there’s something more—as if there could be something more than what we’ve just heard.
And so we may be called to a further pilgrimage, to some inner country that we have not yet seen. There are possible diversions and dangers as well. The sheer overwhelming beauty of nature in some special place may allow us to conclude that the kingdom of heaven is already present, and to become passive dwellers in a paradise that quickly begins to fade around us. Within us, however, is to be discovered a free, imaginative power which has been given us so that we can actually bring forth the beginning of a new creation. And the beauty of this nature which is ever fresh—ever newly cleansing itself as if in the spring of an imperishable morning—the warmth of this summer air that sets free an unspeakable hope within our hearts, [is] the promise of another summer toward which we are invited to look: a summer that will, at last, permeate the whole of us—body and soul—as we burst into an undying bloom.
One stage of our relationship with Bruno—and Bruno loved stages—is coming to a close. And our new relationship with Bruno is just beginning.
We live among a great cloud of witnesses.
Thank you, dear friend and monk and brother.