For some reason I always look forward to this day, woke up before dawn in the cool darkness thinking about Advent retreats I did in years past, the long meditations spent reading his poetry, thinking my way slowly through his writings and letters. The Feast of St John of the Cross, perhaps the most gifted and paradoxical of mystics.
In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire to have pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at knowing everything,
Desire to know nothing.
A friend said to me in some surprise the other day that she realised after six months of meditating that almost everything she thought she knew about herself (the stable ego, the solidity of consciousness, the persisting self in a persisting reality) was wrong. ‘There is a kind of flux that we resist,’ she said. ‘There is this funny kind of spaciousness that opens up or constricts. There is the emptiness of mind, when the thoughts just fall away. And then there is this phenomenal love that comes in from nowhere and just blows me away. Never experienced anything like that before.’
John of the Cross ‘In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.’
From the sublime to the depths! Found a link to a fascinating new book out on the history of gin, which is of course closely bound up with both alcoholism and social chaos as well as the respectable sipping of G&T by Anglican clerics.
Dutch sailors helped gin — known then as genever, a sweeter version of the spirit we’ve come to drink — make its way to England. That country’s 18th-century gin craze was not far behind.
Mr. Barnett is good on the social upheaval gin brought to England, formerly a mellow beer culture. This was “a new kind of drunkenness,” he writes, “wilder and more socially destructive.”
He piles on the condemnations of strong spirits from the temperance-minded. This was “pagan alchemy,” a “black art.” Gin was “a street drug cut with industrial byproducts.” One writer called gin “a fiery lake that sets the brain in flame.” Another called it “liquid madness.” In 1806 a New York newspaper wrote that gin “fuddles the head.”
Gin was said to lead to prostitution, poverty and worse. Horror stories circulated, like the one about the woman who became so sodden that “she fell on the fire, and was burned in so miserable a manner, that she immediately died and her bowels came out.”
Mr. Barnett is wise to detect a class component in this tumult. Gin was seen as ignoble in 18th-century England. The attacks on gin, he posits, were part of a campaign against the perceived “ indolence, indecency and indiscipline of the lower orders.” Gin joints were gaudy; they attracted a rough clientele.
The second half of “The Book of Gin” shifts largely to the United States, where Prohibition made gin sexy — the drink of modernity. Where once upon a time gin was sipped neat, now the cocktail came into being.
“The history of respectable gin-drinking,” Mr. Barnett writes, “is very largely the history of the cocktail.”