Monday, January 30, 2017

Art of Repetition with Variation



Repetition has a trickster quality, at first take seeming almost inartistic; and then, if we can shake off a bit of presumption, of presumed superiority, if we recognize our kinship with the noodlehead, we just might be positioned for awakening to a deeper level of feeling or understanding. Godly qualities like peace, justice, and love contain layer after layer with access available only by patient walking, step by step, through experiences and reflections that develop ability to see the hand of God and hear further into the Voice. Robert Alter’s chapter on repetition in The Art of Biblical Narrative reminds us of the power of the word that anticipates the phenomena of creation. He quotes Martin Buber on the biblical convention off “Leitwort”:
"a word or root-word that recurs significantly in a text, in a continuum of texts or in a configuration of texts: by following these repetitions, one is able to decipher or grasp a meaning of the text, or at any rate, the meaning will be revealed more strikingly" (p. 93).
Alter illustrates with the transition from Saul to David as King involving variations on the words “listen,” “voice,” and “word.” Saul, perhaps as a model for most of us, was rather slow to hear the word that said “to listen is better than sacrifice” (I Sam. 15:22).
My experience in teaching Good Stories continually proves the gift of re-telling. For example, we circle around a theme or character type and call this “amplification.” The Lazy Jack story was added to Good Stories to amplify Epaminondas with the way each fails to adapt. And then the so-called Lazy Man in “Buried Treasure” (also called “Tatema”) came in more recently to amplify Lazy Jack. The Tatema character allows us to move deeper into the strange way humans devalue persons and miss the gift they hold because the so-called lazy person is the one who stops the runaway horse and gets the silver coins that the Working Man only sees as stinky mud. 
But it took this sixth or eighth repetition for me to feel a particular value, an affection, for the Working Man whom on earlier takes I’d dismissively seen simply as a rather crass materialist. This time, when applying the strategy of taking the whole story inside as well as making external applications, I appreciated the connection between the two characters. The working man delivers the treasure to the horse-stopping man’s house. Like Lazy Jack’s ethic of showing up at work day after day even when he’s devalued each time, the working man does the grunt work. The two figures in Tatema are called compadres (Wilson Hudson, Healer of Los Olmos, p. 128-) suggesting a connection even stronger than friendship. 

I’ve been so fascinated with the one who dramatically stops the horse, that I’ve missed listening to the message from the worker. This time I began to realize that I might want to feel more appreciation for the part of me that just shows up. To be on-time for over a hundred beginnings of a semester and almost every class session in those forty years—while not the breath-stopping moment—still has merit. If we’re going to advance peace and justice, both on the inner and the outer spaces, complementary roles need to be valued, even when they fuss and just “don’t get” each other.