3. Reverence

Antigone in front of the dead Polyneices by Nikiforos Lytras

Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.  -Plato 

March 6, 2014

Job (continued)

28. And he said to the human race, The fear of the Lord that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.

 Perhaps fear of the Lord could be translated for moderns as reverence for sacred rituals and ceremonies, rather than shaking like a driven leaf before a terrifying Old Testament God. Where and how do we seek reverence?

 Plato in his  Protagoras  makes a distinction between creative power (techne) which is presented as superior to merely natural instincts (physis). For Plato, only the virtues of "reverence and justice can provide for the maintenance of a civilized society -- and these virtues are the highest gift finally bestowed on men in equal measure."

Paul Woodruff (Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin) in his book, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, assesses our understanding of the emotion reverence. He thinks reverence is missing from both modern society and in our discussions of the ancient cultures, especially Greece that so prized it.   His  definition of Reverence is:  "The well-developed capacity to have the feelings of awe, respect, and shame when these are the right feelings to have"   (Woodruff, p. 8) That is, respect for other people, shame is over one’s own shortcomings, and awe towards the transcendent.  Although Woodruff acknowledges the relationship between reverence and religion he argues that, "Reverence has more to do with politics than with religion" (Woodruff, p. 4). Woodruff  tries to separate a misunderstanding that reverent emotions can only be related to religion. Reverence  reminds us or our limitations; that human life is finite and that we recognize we cannot acquire absolute truth. Woodruff describes how reverence is often activated through music. He states the reverence cannot be expressed in a creed; its most apt expression is in music. He gives the analogy of a quartet playing a piece by Mozart. They embody reverence because: (1) The musicians have been engaged  harmoniously on a group project; (2) their project involved ceremony; (3) they have felt themselves largely without ego; (4) they have felt themselves to be part of a clearly defined hierarchy that was painless for all of them; and (5) they have achieved in the end a shared feeling of inarticulate awe. Thus art speaks the language of reverence better than philosophy does. Reverence is not dependent on religion, but true religious experience is dependent on the emotion reverence. For example in ancient Athens the people celebrated reverence in the belief that it is reverence above all that maintains social order and harmony. For the Greeks reverence was rooted in a religion that they lived every day. This foundation was critical because it motivated the people to act rightly, to be humble, and  to support society.  Thus reverence focuses on an ideal that transcends the scope of humankind. This ideal can vary from God, to unity, to anything else that transcends human capacity.  You must share a culture with others, and this must support a degree of ceremony. A reverent person listens to other people even when they are defective, as that is part of remembering that you are human together with them. Hubris is best understood simply as the opposite of reverence, in action or attitude.  In the play Antigone, Creon displays hubris by refusing to bury his dead nephew and this leads to tragedy.  In both plays (Oedipus Rex and Antigone) Oedipus and Creon interrupt religious ceremonies being conducted by women.  However, in Oedipus at Colonus, because Oedipus trespassed on the holy ground of the Eumenides, the villagers tell him that he must perform certain rites to appease them. Ismene volunteers to go perform them for him and departs, while Antigone remained with Oedipus. In this case Oedipus shows reverence for ritual and ceremony and is forgiven, perhaps, for his past transgressions.  

When attending funerals we expect ourselves and others to be reverent; the expectation feels natural, and yet the ceremonies take very different forms in different cultures. One way to experience reverence through art
is to listen to a Requiem. Here are several to choose from:

 1. Mozart Requiem

 2. Verdi Requiem

3. Faure Requiem

4. Dvorak Requiem

So, we should participate in complicated and refined musical experiences which can instill in us a state of spiritual reverence.  For others, it may come through participation in simpler rituals such as:

Sacred Harp Singing

March 9, 2014

AM My neighbor repaired and returned the power washer. Gunk in the carburetor he said.  Yesterday, I took the garden tiller to "Billy's Small Engine  Repair", Billy suspects gunk in the carburetor. (Thanks again federal government for putting ethanol in our gasoline.)  To get to Billy's you drive down a country road for miles, then turn down a dirt road in the woods marked Dead End. When you spot some trailers surrounded by a grave yard of rusted lawn mowers, tillers, and automobiles you have arrived. The driveway is paved with mashed soda cans.  Just as we unloaded the tiller and headed into the shop for Billy to make a ticket, an older woman emerged from one of the trailers and asked Billy if he wanted something to eat.  Billy said, "I'll take a sammich." She and I talked a bit about the weather. She had a midwest accent and said living down here was so much better than St Louis or Denver. I looked about at all the junk and the ramshackle trailers and said, "I agree, not so much traffic."

 Last fall he repaired my chain saw and charged five dollars, low overhead I guess.

PM I just drove the new golf cart, aka spray rig, to the pond and this time I was able to identify the ducks swimming about.

canvas back
      Canvas Back Duck