Tuesday, September 14, 2010

UUA Meditation Manuals 1961-1969: A Journal

Click here to read an introduction to this project.



PARTS AND PROPORTIONS by Arthur Graham (1961)

About the book:
Dimensions: 4 in. x 9 in.
Contents: Writer’s Comment, 43 meditations, Artist’s Comment
Cover: This meditation manual’s unique cover has a cartoon drawing by artist Ralph Kniseley. I will reproduce the artist’s comment in its entirety:
My cover design touches on some of the chapter headings of Arthur Graham’s manual for meditation. It suggests a tenement fa├žade. In the doorway is a couple sharing their fate. The woman’s eyes are closed in thought, while the man peers out passively but with hinted ruthlessness. The painter at the lower window pauses from his creative struggle to gaze into the street. Above in his window, another man looks at his precious potted flower, his only contact with nature.

Discussion:
In the introduction, Arthur Graham shares his ideas as to what meditation is supposed to do. He argues that meditation should not work to produce “a disciplined achievement of a tranquility which will yield spiritual rest and reassurance.” Instead, Graham views life as “a complex, dynamic, scintillating depth-experience” and suggests that, “Meditation should aim at the understanding of life in all its nuances and the enjoyment of its deep emotional satisfaction through recapitulation of its experience.”

In his 1961 manual for meditation, Graham provides us with 43 poems (many of which rhyme) that he counsels “are more meaningful when read aloud. Somehow the sound helps the sense.” He divides these poems into six different sections: Man Alone; Man in Nature; The Demons; The Social Prison; Beyond Thought; and, The Living Soul.

In these meditations there is a persistent view that life’s purpose is bound up in ceaselessly striving, yearning, and struggling. Graham’s view of life seems to be strongly influenced by existentialism. His language and imagery evoked the writings of Albert Camus, especially Camus’ famous essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” In the poem “Return to the Universe,” he writes,
May I see the clouds forming
Ever new heavens,
And aspire to strive to them;
For this is the destiny of man.
May we fill our destiny in hope.
And from “Common Destiny,”
So we would pray for a sense of common destiny
Which arises in our will to be sharers
Of the burden of all mankind, and
Sharers of its total victories and defeats.
Of interest is Graham’s section on “The Demons.” The demons are temptations. (Presumably, this is a nod to the trials and temptations that Jesus faced during his forty days in the desert.) The temptations that Graham names are fascinating: The Easy Thought; Self Enclosure; Ego, Undifferentiated; Anxiety; Self Pity; Fear; and, Death. In this section Graham’s philosophy of life is clearest. From his poem, “Death,”
Well, sing the tune with vigor then!
Chant out its tale to mortal men!
Across that lapping void no guide?
Then set the course on this bleak side.
And, from his poem, “The Easy Thought,”
We wish a world within our minds,
A pleasure-giving barony
Over which we rule; where life is kind;
Ease, our responsibility.

This fantasy but cuts us off
From the hard, the challenging and real.
The limped mind can never doff
Its ease to serve the great ideal.
One of the things that I am interested in as I embark on this project is how the understanding of the connection between nature and spirituality has changed within Unitarian Universalism over the past 50 years. Although Graham does include a section entitled “Man in Nature” he understands nature quite differently than a Mary Oliver, a Rachel Carson, or even a Henry David Thoreau. For Graham, nature is simply one of the locations of man’s eternal striving, aspiring, and searching. His poetry is focused on the horizon, the heavens, and the courses of the stars.

Quite unlike the meditation manuals before it, Parts and Proportions is not explicitly a Lenten manual. However, it does conclude with a resurrection of sorts. The last poem in the collection is the wonderful “Miracles Repulsed.” Graham begins this poem with the lines, “We would open every tomb / Where man lies dead to life.” Graham interprets the tomb as a turning away from life and urges his readers to willingly enter the fray of living,
No soul set free. No kingdom to come.
Just death and darkness to faithless ones
Who resisted always the twin miracles of conviction and labor,
Who failed to struggle with the stone.
One of the things that surprised me most in this manual for meditation was that Graham mentioned current events. We will see, in the next meditation manuals, that there is far less reference to current events. My colleague Jake Morrill informed me that Arthur Graham served our congregation in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That might explain “The Long Path,” a poem about evolution that pokes fun at the evolution trial in Dayton, Tennessee. (In a companion poem, “The Short Path,” Graham seems to cast each day as an ascent of man in miniature.) Likewise, the poem “Jesus” focuses on Jesus as a universal figure. Jesus is seen in Gandhi, Saint Francis, Albert Schweitzer, and Martin Luther King. And, Jesus can be and is intended to be us as well if we “cast off the aloof, vicarious observer role.” Interestingly, Graham tells of King behind bars in the Atlanta jail—Birmingham won’t happen for another three years!

5 Best Meditations:
1) Miracles Repulsed
2) Jesus
3) The Cynical Mechanic
4) Child’s World
5) Paradox

I read Parts and Proportions between September 9 and September 14, 2010. I posted this commentary on 9/14/10.

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Here are links to read about UU Meditation Manuals through the years. [Links will become active when they are available]:
Click here to read an Introduction to this Project
Click here to read about UUA Meditation Manuals from 1970-1979
Click here to read about UUA Meditation Manuals from 1980-1989
Click here to read about UUA Meditation Manuals from 1990-1994
Click here to read about UUA Meditation Manuals from 1995-1999
Click here to read about UUA Meditation Manuals from 2000-2004
Click here to read about UUA Meditation Manuals from 2005-2009
Click here to read about UUA Meditation Manuals from 2010-2011
Click here to read about Unitarian Lenten Manuals from 1955 and earlier
Click here to read about Universalist Lenten Manuals from 1955 and earlier
Click here to read about CUC Lenten Manuals from 1956-1960