Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Felix culpa!

Just this once, I'm not going to go on about just how very much I love the felix culpa passage from the Catholic liturgies. I want to share a very odd, somewhat amusing thought, which came to me on Sunday. I was attending quite an interesting class regarding Leon Kass and "Wisdom in Genesis." Kass' approach, in this context, is to both provide a new English translation of Genesis, and to explore its text from a literary perspective - looking away, for the moment, from the commentaries and doctrine.

Naturally, I have read and heard Genesis on countless occasions, and indeed am making a very thorough study of this book (as part of my studies) this term. When I was hearing of some of the Kass treatment, I had an odd thought. In the first creation account in Genesis, Adam is rather like a small child - silent, and totally innocent - where, in the second, he and Eve have the knowledge of good and evil. I'm sure all Christians have learnt to dwell on 'the fall' (and redemption through the cross, millennia later) since childhood. Yet it struck me that humanity would not have had much of a life had we remained as Adam was in the first account - we may as well have spent our lives in carry cots! Yes, felix culpa! :) (Forgive me - I am aware that Judaism does not have a concept of the 'fall' in the way that Christians do.) Knowledge of good and evil (for both are part of this life) is what is involved in maturity, discretion, the use of reason and will that allows us to respond to God, and to love one another.

Augustine, who perhaps was the most prolific theologian (in history, but especially about the fall), always was pining for Eden, and the use of reason and will, the intuitive inclination to embrace the divine, which we would have had without falling from grace. But what capacity would there be for wisdom, love, discretion, and so forth without mature knowledge?

Some time soon, I just may expand my site to include not only the mediaeval but other reflections - and, when I do so, I'm fairly certain there will be some essays on the Pentateuch, because this Christian is shouting "Eureka!" at many points in her study of the Jewish commentaries on Torah. For today, I wanted to share a few of the notes I scribbled as I was engrossed in Ellen von Wolde's "Stories of the Beginning."

Ellen van Wolde underlines what is fundamental in the Hebrew scriptures: The key is not how humans deal with God, but how God deals with humanity. The speaking and acting God, not the human perspective, is central in Genesis.

  • Humans alone are made (not after their own kind, but) "in our image." The human point of reference, therefore, is God, not themselves. We are "as" in God’s image – but God has no image. The passages offer no concrete information about God.

  • Hebrew Tselemen – Image: This term is never used for a concrete, visual representation, but for Sign. (As the ark is the symbol for Yahweh’s footstool on earth.)

  • Genesis 1 – the transcendence of God is evident. The only continuity between God and creation is God’s Word and the emerging creation: these point to God.

  • Human is created to be God’s image in a world where the transcendent creator cannot be present.

  • Unlike beliefs of the neighbouring religions of the ancient Near East – God is not present in nature, or a nature god. Nor are humans created to serve gods, but to make God present in creation.

How about just a little more?

Genesis 2-3 is "a garden story with a distinctive framework. Its centre is the relationship of humans and the earth. It is beneficial for the earth, not for man, to be expelled from the garden."

  • Tree of the knowledge of good and evil: Yada (knowledge) is based on experience. Good and bad are not ethical designations, but two poles of a totality of such knowledge.

  • "Knowledge of good and bad (of everything) indicates a general capacity for discernment." The term is used in that sense in II Samuel 19:36, Deuteronomy 1:39, and in writings from Qumran.

  • Adam and Eve "know that they are naked," that is, come to years of discretion.

  • Ancient Near Eastern belief was that a snake (shedding its skin) symbolises a life that constantly renews itself.

  • As a creation story in the Hebrew tradition – Nakedness and clothing are climactic, showing the beginning of culture.

Quite wonderful, is it not? Between reading this excellent work, and then James Alison's works on 'original sin through Easter eyes,' I think I'll be forgiven for just one tiny bit of covetousness - I should like to have just three or four insights of this quality before I'm laid to rest.

Ah, those wicked Teletubbies!

Those of you who wish a more intelligent overview of how I feel about nonsensical efforts to 'protect our children' may find enlightenment in a previous post entitled Decency, Thy Name is Legion." My mind is too boggled by today's headlines, about a protest in Poland that Teletubbies are 'promoting a homosexual lifestyle,' for me to be at my creative peak.

I am pleased to say that my exposure to Teletubbies has been quite limited. I daresay that those who watch this programming, which is aimed at those who are not old enough to talk, are not pondering the intricacies of sexual orientation at the moment. Indeed, they are at about the stage of development, as far as matters sensual are concerned, where they will cry when they are hungry without yet being able to identify that it is hunger that is making them cry.

My inclination is that those who are heading this campaign in Poland are at about the intellectual level of those who are of an age to watch Teletubbies. (If my readers will forgive an irresistible, dreadful pun to follow...) I think, first off, they need instruction in the construction of logical arguments, and the recognition of how predicates are definite. (For example, God is Love does not mean Love is God.) With satellite television and the Internet presenting so many images daily, perhaps our Polish friends mistakenly thought "One who carries a handbag must be a queen."

Though this is not directly related to the controversial programming, I had a thought prompted by an e-mail I received last week. (When one has one's own domain, one often receives massive amounts of spam, but also serious enquiries about one's essays. This e-mail was from someone who must have noticed my interest in Christianity but not in, for example, Chaucer and the courtly love tradition.) The writer assumed I'd like to join some campaign to protest against the lack of 'clean entertainment.'

I shall never be accused of any lack of propriety, and have no taste for the pornographic. However, my love for the arts, literature, theatre, opera, poetry, etc., makes me well aware that the surest indication that an 'artistic' work will be abysmal is the tag that it is 'for the whole family.' I'm not the first to say that good art reflects truth. If one has to make all characters 'role models,' with role models apparently being asexual adults who would cringe at the sight of a glass of wine and whose artistic expression is limited to playing hymns on the piano with one finger, and has to avoid the weakness and complexity of human nature, there is no truth, much less art.

Just this weekend, I did a bit of unwinding and reread Susan Howatch's "Absolute Truths." (I love her Church of England series - in fact, it's better theology than one can find on shelves so designated, let alone most novels.) Charles, the character who is the main focus in this volume, is a dedicated bishop and theologian, whose faith and values are undeniable, but he falls into such messes as do most of us when we are faced with conflict, bereavement, and fear. Though there is nothing remotely pornographic in this book (and in fact no explicit description of sex at all), there is one incident of Charles' having sex with a woman he does not know well - an incident more tragic than 'shocking,' because it shows the depths of despair and sorrow he is feeling from his wife's recent death. As with the other books in the Church of England series, the theme is redemption - and there is no turning the head to the sort of awareness that one is in a muddle which leads one to embrace the need for a Redeemer.

So, one could not even write a strong story of redemption and dedication to Christ, of forgiveness and healing, in this model. (For the record, most sins in this world are not related to sex - but those concerned 'for the whole family' turn from any sign of adults being other than perfect. I suppose they are so terrified that their children will come under bad influences that they want to maintain the fiction that they themselves are perfect.)

The Teletubbies nonsense is hardly unique. There are enough Internet sites which would make one think Walt Disney was the prime corrupter of youth; that the Proctor and Gamble logo of the man in the moon was demonic; etc., etc., that I can see bizarre undercurrents of fear. Now, fear in itself can be quite valuable - members of a fire brigade would be goners the first day on the job did they not have a natural fear of fire. But distorted fear makes one see goblins that do not exist, and then burn with fury towards those who supposedly created them.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

When 'green' does not refer to the environment

In recent years, I have had the good fortune to become acquainted with the writings of James Alison, whom I consider to be one of the most outstanding living theologians. I'm without the energy, at the moment, to discuss his work on 'original sin through Easter eyes' or his development of the mimetic theories of Rene Girard. Yet, in a nutshell, two ideas which James sets forth I find rather unbearably true (and this because it is difficult for us to admit that the commandments' ending with an exhortation against covetousness is a structure leading to the biggest of spiritual problems, not an afterthought after all the juicy sins were taken.) He sets forth how much of human desire (in this context, not the enjoyment of the goods of creation, but envy,frustration, and rage) is built on coveting what others have which we see as lacking in our own lives. He also presents a superb image of how Jesus eliminated the old, pagan religions, based on scapegoats and placating, by becoming a scapegoat himself.

I can see, in my own life, where much jealousy is based not on the 'whole picture' of what another seems to possess, but on the pain of seeing a lack in one's own life. Perhaps the married envy the supposed freedom of the unmarried, or the single the companionship of marriage - and this though the former cherish their spouses and the latter are glad to be without the responsibilities.

My readers know of my love for 1960s rock music, and how I sometimes find it a convenient manner in which to express emotion. (Yes, I normally preferred the opera - but there are days when the Beatles seemed to capture my own era far better.) I'm probably the last person on the planet who remembers an obscure Simon and Garfunkel song, "Richard Cory." It goes on about Richard's wealth, power, style, and so forth - and ends with the surprise that he 'put a bullet through his head.' Well, I suppose we all know, from the tabloids if nowhere else, that wealth and power are not guarantees of happiness or even sanity. Yet, when my own poverty was paining me most, I would sing out with the refrain, "I work in his factory. And I curse the life I'm living, and I curse my poverty, and I wish that I could be Richard Cory."

(Franciscans are not supposed to admit that they ever curse their poverty, but you heard it hear first.)

Oddly enough, when I did come to know some people who were relatively wealthy, there were many aspects of their lives which I did not desire in the least. As material goods go, I'm basically contented with a certain frugal comfort (who else do you know who used her small inheritance to buy a wheel of Stilton?) Nor do I have the slightest desire for the endless working hours of some wealthy people - who hardly get to enjoy what they do have. And I like 'social' contact to mean 'friends' - not obligations or networking. The envy was far more subtle. I had the good fortune to have an education, and pine for the days when I was an operatic singer, a gifted writer and researcher, one who could go on in four modern languages, etc., etc.. What made me jealous was that, coming from a working class family, I ended up forced by necessity into jobs which I not only hated but were such a strain as to harm my health. (I shall note that there undoubtedly are women out there who would envy anyone who had been a department head.) I was bitter that I did not have the freedom to pursue the areas that I loved - that being chained to that desk all those years not only kept me from using my genuine gifts but left me so emotionally spent that I was too worn out to pursue them in the evenings.

I envied the rich their choices. Yet I wonder if too many of them really have the options - or use them if they do. I was only looking to have enough to 'get by,' and to use my talents in a limited fashion, fulfilling and enriching to those I knew but no road to fame or fortune. Perhaps a wealthy woman whose gifts were for the arts and humanities might have been forced into a business career, just as I was, because it has a higher price tag. In fact, it may have been worse, because she may have felt a need to never be contented but always seek further wealth and prestige.

Please excuse me if I sound self absorbed. I'm using an example from my own life merely because it is that life which I know best. :)

Envy does poison us. We may be unaware of this, but, when jealousy has us in its grasp, we can see our interaction with others as if it were a competition. Many of these 'contests' are really stupid, as we would realise if we stopped to glance at the essence. Yet they are highly painful. When others envy anything they believe we have, they will need to find some form of attack. Our own envy leaves us blind to our own treasures.

The spiritual life is neither a matter of achievement nor a contest of any sort! Am I alone in seeing it as if it were at times? (Rhetorical question, of course. Anyone who has ever lived in a convent saw the 'contests' for who was the holiest, most abstemious, most likely to wear knickers that had big holes in them to prove the commitment to poverty, first to be up to say good morning to Jesus when others languished in bed till only an hour before dawn...)

I personally think that, where recognising a sin, honestly faced and leading to repentance, can be helpful even if we feel humiliated, the jealousy we do not see is destructive. (Before this seems self righteous, it is a problem with which I've always had to deal.) I know, in my own life, that much of the jealousy comes from my own pain and frustration. I can live with my past sins - because I am in awe of the Good Shepherd who led me from them, and drew me to repentance when I did not even see the importance of this as yet. (Come now - did you really think that those who have no major problems with chastity never had to face a need for major conversion? The sins I had to face were harder to recognise and far less fun.) What is hard for me to face, in middle age, is that I, who had promise in my young adult years, would have no hope of being remembered for anything other than being... well, she worked in an office, didn't she?

Here, we Christians are called to a Eucharistic life - a 'sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.' Envy, frustration, and the like not only cause problems with our relationships with others. They keep us from the altar of sacrifice (not, as James Alison well states, the old pagan placating and violence - but that Eucharistic emphasis I just mentioned).

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Back in those Myers Briggs days...

Note to my readers: The link to the Myers Briggs information, which I provided in the heading, is not an endorsement. I merely added the link in case anyone was not familiar with the concept.

When I was seeking entrance to the convent, during the 1970s, and attending endless 'workshops' and the like then and during my convent time, in certain circles one would think the Myers Briggs tests provided insight of a level normally achieved only at Mount Sinai or in a confrontation with the Risen Christ. Younger readers should be aware that, though all of us were as 'relevant' as it gets in those days, it was an era which preceded the current culture of the self help aisle. Educated people (and nuns were in that category) all had some exposure to Freud and Jung (I have no fondness for psychology, but overall it is an area with which some familiarity was necessary). Though I personally think Jung was a Gnostic, the books I have from the 1950s, when priests and religious somehow thought the miserable, atheistic Freud was something of a god, make Jung's insights seem close to refreshing. At least a cross, room, or tale of martyrdom on Saint Catherine's wheel could be seen as something other than a symbol for sexual organs.

As I've said in the past, one problem today with speaking of that era is that many common ideas, to which one was exposed in talks with religious, articles in little known magazines, books written by resigned priests, and 'enlightened' presentations at gatherings where major superiors preached on the religious life as obsolete (and somehow opposed to the 'universal call to holiness,' an idea which caused controversies from the earliest Christian centuries but was widely believed to have been hatched afresh c. 1971), can only be either memories or anecdotal. The documents, such as existed, were not 'official' and are long gone. "Official documents" never treated of much of what was on people's minds. I doubt anyone would find links to such missives as were common then - they'd seem so dated as to be quaint.

One major change, not only in religious life but especially affecting those in such communicites, actually had a very positive element. I may laugh at the unwise extremes to which my generation went in being 'open,' but it was an improvement over 'polite conversation' and excessive formality such as we witnessed in childhood, where people could talk all afternoon and say nothing about themselves. Religious were taught a certain reserve, and this had a valuable element, but it could be taken to extremes. The silence, refraining from speaking of oneself even in the most 'normal' situations (for example, one could not comment on a book because it meant one had read it), 'custody of the senses' (fine in church, but outside easily confused for everything from shyness to arrogance to flirting), and the rule that one never complained (even if one's appendix burst in the classroom) even to one's Sisters, made for great artificiality. I know this was not universal, but can say that, in the community in which I lived, though were were not terribly strict about silence it meant little, because we could not say anything that had any substance or revealed anything about oneself.

All of a sudden, the trend was to share one's personal feelings, failings, unhappiness, and so forth indiscriminately, supposedly to build a bridge rather than a wall between oneself and others. Going from silence to such a stance was a problem, the more because those who previously were not to speak of themselves at all had no way to have learnt moderation and prudence. (...of course, at this age I can see that moderation and prudence are hardly surplus commodities... just login to any Internet group for examples.) As well, religious congregations tended to be focussed entirely on the needs and 'ways' of the community. Individual traits, ideas, even talents (unless the community had dire need of that last), were unimportant. In fact, it was not unusual (and certainly was true in the noviceship I witnessed) for candidates to be stripped of any sense of personal worth and self confidence. (One could not even wash lettuce leaves without being told one did it all wrong.) I saw a strong tendency to seek to reduce adult candidates to the level of small children, as if this would cause 'trust' (ahem!) and dependence and therefore foster obedience.

This long prelude leads me to the Myers Briggs trend. Such tests were common in religious communities and inter-community gatherings. I well remember one gathering I attended where everyone wore a name tag, with one's MBTI profile (mine is INFP, BTW) under one's name.

I shall admit that I found review of the profiling interesting in one sense. Though each of us is very different from one another, I had not realised that a huge percentage of people prefer ways that I find oppressive and stifling. For example, far more people are of a personality type which likes rigid, imposed structure. The 'introverts' such as myself, whose source of energy is ideas, are forever misunderstood by the 'extroverts' (source of energy in social interaction), who think we could be as wonderful as they are if we only put our minds to it.

Before proceeding, I'll add that one major problem with MBTI was that the terms used in the profiling have a totally different meaning than they do in the vernacular. Introverts are not shy - judgers are not judgemental.

It had always irritated me when I saw intelligent people convinced that they could accomplish nothing unless they had to be constantly accountable to some authority (or, more so, a group.) I saw this as either a capitalist gimmick (manufactured need to place money in the authority's pocket) or a way of controlling. When I saw how many people, especially those in fields such as education, actually needed that 'group motivation,' it at least led to some understanding.

But the 'down side' was that classifications such as this could lead to people's being 'boxed.' As well, even if INFPs are only 1% of the population, we do exist - the majority does not rule. It is not that the majority being of other classifications means we need to be fixed.

Personality testing and the like did grow much out of hand, but it is somewhat understandable. When one was taught that one's personality had to be wiped out for one to be open to Christ, it could give a weird impression that who were are as individuals is not valuable in the divine scheme.

Enough for today... but, overall and not only in relation to MBTI, I would caution others to never assume that statistics prove anything in human relations. That 85% of people thought this or that does not mean that the other 15% are less valuable or need to be changed.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

A fantastic fool exits this world

I was just visiting a theology forum on which I participate, and a discussion was in progress about the death of Jerry Falwell. It will come as no shock to my readers that Falwell was not anyone whose career or 'doctrine' I would find enlightening, though what I have seen of his 'teachings' is a plethora of intolerance, rash judgment, superiority, and, frankly, nonsense. What I find incredible is that he apparently touched something in the hearts of others who, rather than being appalled, saw Falwell as some sort of moral leader.

Why, you may ask, would I even dignify this man with an entry on this blog? It is merely because, with his being in the news this week, I am recalling a statement he made, in late 2001, which would have filled me with ire... if it came from one with more intelligence and logic. Falwell's reasoning was, at best, on a par with Neanderthal man, or perhaps Lucy. But he suited his bizarre logic to the 'spirit of the moment,' in the wake of Osama Bin Laden's attacks on New York and Washington DC.

As a prelude, I shall mention that much of what greeted the '9-11' attacks, insofar as religious comments are concerned, was not particularly logical in the first place. I must make it clear that I am in no way minimising the horror and devastation of the attacks, nor that they were a horrible tragedy. I was in New York on 11 September 2001, and shall never forget the sight. But, in the aftermath, I recall a New York television programme which consisted of interviews with prominent, intelligent clergy and other religious figures. I was puzzled by how some of them spoke of their faith being shaken, as if they could not comprehend how God could allow this to happen.

Allow this to happen? Sadly, mankind has a distressing record for cruelty, destruction, horrid acts of war, etc., etc., since the exit from Eden. I would imagine, for example, that the clergy who were interviewed have heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just to mention two examples of thousands which come to mind if one has the slightest sense of history.

It would be unjust to compare these distinguished religious figures with the likes of Jerry Falwell, but that Falwell's nonsense could have any appeal at all, to anyone, undoubtedly came from others' wondering 'how could God let this happen?' I suppose that, when devastation is at one's own doorstep, the pressing immediacy of it all makes some wonder.

It is at that point that even the vaguest sense of Falwell's argument parts company with any logic of which I am aware. His premise seemed to be (1) North America had previously had a divine 'veil of protection,' which prevented previous attacks on its soil. (To my knowledge, both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans remain intact - that these protected the continent from, for example, bombing in the previous wars is most fortunate but hardly indication of a superior society of some kind.) (2) God had lifted this 'veil of protection' because of homosexuality and abortion.

Thinking one's own land superior (in God's sight) certainly has precedent in history - but it is all the more bizarre in Falwell's case, because, pompous and smug though such an idea is in any case, in the past it had a flavour of 'church and state acting as one,' where Falwell is in a land where sectarian protestant denominations number in the thousands, yet the 'separation of church and state' seems to be regarded as a fifth gospel, and undoubtedly one superior to the other four. There is, as well, certainly a history of homosexual acts and abortion as being considered particularly heinous sins (...the atomic bomb is a far newer invention) - though even the strongest adherents of "God rewards the good and punishes the wicked" would have seen this as applying only to those who committed or were directly involved in a particular sin, not everyone who happens to hold the same passport. Even if, for the sake of argument, since Falwell clearly thought this to be the case, one thought that homosexual acts and abortion were abominations, homosexuality and abortion are as old as the human race. Granted that abortion's being legal is a recent development, I would be hard put to think of where, throughout the western world at least, it is not legal today - or, God help us, even mandatory in some cases.

Falwell's thinking he'd named the worst of sins did not seem aimed at reaching out to others in Christian love, or of concern for their repentance. (Note that I am still 'ravelling the thread' of his thinking this was the most critical matter, and the sins such as to cry out to heaven for vengeance, so much so that God would see to it that Osama whacked two major US cities to punish those who 'allow' what has been part of humanity's practise since Paradise.) It was a calling to those who equally find themselves to be superior, to crush and hate those who do not share his 'morality.'

I do not believe in abortion, but Falwell's noble nation, where health care costs, a lack of benefits for those who are not wealthy, and so forth could indeed drive women to have abortions who would not do so were they less than desperate. I can understand, since genuine research into human sexuality is extremely recent, that, in times when it was believed that everyone was 'straight,' and that homosexual activity was an aberration forced on the young by devious elders, it could be seen as heinous. Today, when it is understood that homosexual orientation (a concept which is only a century old - and a situation thought to indicate mental illness until only 40 years ago) is a part of someone's psycho-sexual development, why would someone's seeking love and integration in such circumstances be considered wicked?

More and more, I can see where Francis of Assisi had the right idea. Even if one does see sinfulness (though Francis was far more concerned with his own weakness than that of others - would the day come that this were common!), one does better to preach the contrary virtue than to condemn those whom one finds to be lacking in the same. To begin such a war as Falwell would (...don't get me started on the war begun by his friend Dubya) is a ticket to superiority, pride, and hatred, where one can be blinded to one's own sins because at least they aren't those sins.

But the Falwell argument did not leave me aching to hear only Christian preaching... I also was wondering, in the face of such 'logic,' "Plato and Aristotle, where are you?"

Monday, 14 May 2007

Very quick note to my readers

Our team member Father Gregory's blog, though it always is interesting, is a rare treat at the moment. Those of you who love the planets, as I do, will undoubtedly be fascinated by the last few entries. The Humpty Dumpty article is brilliant as well. You may click the link in this entry title, or access Fr Gregory's profile from the side panel as usual.

Dilemmas for eternity

The jokes about how the scholastic theologians debated how many angels can dance on the head of a pin would seem to me to be quite dated (... about seven centuries dated), but indeed they do endure. Actually, I have yet to find that exact debate, though there were many debates about angels, including speculation about whether they defecate (needless to say, I am not interested in the conclusion, and cannot recall the consensus.) It's usually Thomas Aquinas who is cited, but the rare Franciscan who embraced scholasticism tended to be worse yet - John Duns Scotus could leave one reading the same passage twenty times and wondering where to find the point. One cannot list on exam papers, of course, that those such as Thomas and Duns Scotus (or such neo-Thomists as Karl Rahner, who was brilliant and totally confusing in his language as well) were so deeply 'into' prayer (therefore aware that it was all straw in the end) that they were contented with God's being essentially unknowable. I believe that those who have caught one of the deeper glimpses of divine glory would recognise the limitations of our vision and expression.

I've been studying Philosophy of Religion in depth. I believe that embarking on these fascinating and stormy seas (...longing for sight of a man who walked on water) is what reduced me to such confusion that I actually had my cat write the last blog entry. Very recently, I have been pursuing the chapter about Eternal Life. So far, I have three conclusions. (1) Scientific advances, and the natural outgrowth of having to refer to physics, relativity, atoms and the like tend to make the old questions about angels and whether mice sacramentally communicated if they nibbled at the Eucharist seem tame. (2) Nothing brings forth the ego (I just might mean that in the vernacular sense, but don't tell on me) more than debates about whether my identity could survive, whether I would be 'me' whilst disembodied, whether I am greedy if I want more than to live in only the divine memory, or whether one should care about surviving personally. (3) I'm beginning to think it would be more restful, and perhaps more coherent, to be a Buddhist (or a Hindu at least.)

Unlike the other members of my blog, both of whom are gifted in matters scientific, I have no talent for the least understanding in such areas. I have read the works of great scholars (theist, atheist, revisionist, Thomist, whatever) on the topic of eternal life these past weeks, and indeed am enjoying the arguments, the more when they refute one another. (Dare I admit that a rogue such as Bertrand Russell shares my occasional cynicism about humanity? Or that it never before occurred to me that Thomistic views of the afterlife do not include a concept of society, where one meets old friends and possibly is shocked at the sight of old enemies, because, being the man of prayer, Thomas would not have stopped to pout at any idea that the company of God would be insufficient?) I have pondered everything from whether the resurrection makes sense, whether it alone makes sense, whether it is absurd, or whether the Platonic vision (I don't recall Plato's believing in a Creator, or thinking the material world was all that wonderful...) refutes the Christian and Jewish emphasis on the material. I'm so unlikely to ponder the scientific that I nearly laughed at one argument which not only hinged on how identity is physical and must have atoms interacting with other atoms but, funnier to me, proposed the resurrection as absurd because where would we all fit?

I recognise, of course, that in laughing at such things, without being able to construct an argument or refutation of same here, I am revealing myself as a standard, dumb Franciscan. However, as usual when my intellectual side comes to the fore (actually, it always does), and I become a 'dualist' (in the sense only of sounding like a Franciscan perpeptually arguing with a Dominican), I am on verge of conceding that, as far as the philosophical arguments go, I still think Thomas' is the one that makes the most sense.

Now, I must find arguments which can back up my own view, which is more along the lines of the Cappadocians. I see eternity (however we exist, whatever spiritual bodies we have, whether we are disembodied in some dream world or tripping over one another at the general judgment) as meaning constant growth and awareness. I do not see it as static - but as white hot love that cannot be quenched. I see it (well, of course) as constantly increasing, intense knowledge of the divine, which will only lead us to realise, again and again, that the more we come to know, the more we realise we know nothing. (Of course, I also believe that, when the very much alive Jesus of Nazareth said, 'the kingdom is here,' he did not mean one must be dead to enter eternity... somehow or another, it already is here.)

There's no sarcasm in 'somehow or another.' I believe in the Incarnation, resurrection, ascension, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. I haven't the slightest notion of what any of it means. I'm about to outline an argument, for my eventual exam (at the university, not the general judgement), about our continued, personal existence - and I am hard put to even define what 'life' or 'soul' or 'God is. I find myself sympathising with 'revisionist' philosophers (theists, not Bertrand Russell), because, though they put it in a more subtle fashion, they don't see what is so wonderful about this earth and all of us that they assume it reflects a hankering for the divine - but, at least, they agree with me that an afterlife of reward or punishment is rather dismal.

Eureka! Deep down, the Christian (and other theist) philosophers know that nothing, about eternal life or any element of 'proofs' for God's existence, is possible, beyond conceding that a concept is philosophically coherent and feasible. The Fathers of the Eastern Church would wonder what the commotion was about in the first place, and just recommend the Jesus Prayer. The Buddhists would wonder, first, why we are asking such questions, and, second, why we are so concerned with maintaining our personal identity... I can deal with just about anything except Immanuel Kant and morality proving God's existence, or any theory which says that hankering for eternity means that we must have it round the corner.

Anyone interested in a paradox for the day on the grass roots level? I don't think 'experience' proves anything... yet my entire life centres on worship, and that in a tradition of such experiences as burning bushes and witness to a crucified man who rose from the dead. :)

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Creativity reigns - Essay in memory of Leonora

My cat, Leonora, and her cyberspouse, Lemieux, both have gone to the Rainbow Bridge during the past few years. In her memory, and, it is hoped, for the delight of other cat lovers, I should like to reproduce an essay which Leonora composed when she was a regular contributor to the (now sadly defunct) CLAW: For Cats Who Reign site. So, here is Leonora's "Creativity Reigns."

It is common knowledge amongst us kitties that we are so incredibly adorable that the world is our oyster. What may not be generally known is that we literary types constantly spin tails (excuse me, tales) in our imaginative minds, and that this can lead to some odd situations. I shall relate a few from my own experience.

In adventure mode, I was climbing to the top of Mount Everest. Slowly I moved upward, the massive peak becoming ever more perilous to scale ... the many obstacles cleared with my avid paw... Upward, upward ... eager to plant the CLAW flag at the summit...Just then, the Christmas tree toppled to the ground, and I was fortunate to get away with only a few minor scrapes and a bad case of jitters.

When the fantasy plot beckoned, I became Morgan le Fey, lost in fairy enchantment. Yes, I must lead Arthur to the Grail! Ah, let me summon the Sight - I must look for direction in the lake ... so I peered into its swirling depths .

Had anyone flushed, I would have found myself exploring the topography of the sewer.

Another time, I was a fearless explorer, who a time machine had transported to the age of the dinosaurs. I entered a darkened cave (knocking over the set of Shakespeare which I wouldn't notice because Shakespeare was not to see the light of day for many millions of years after my journey.) I peered into the abundant foliage outside the cage, caught the reflection of the light on the ponds (which had something much like my treats on its surface), nobly looked upon the landscape for the first sight of apatosaurus and triceratops (I mix periods without qualm). Suddenly, I heard the thundering steps of the T-rex - and my ample body became as a streak of light flashing through the sky!

It was only my bratty "cousin", Mums's four-year-old niece, showing off her new Barbie shoes, but the general effect, on a slightly neurotic kitty, was devastating.

Creativity reigns - but no one remembers to tell that it gets one in much trouble now and then!

Leonora also composed this poem, written from the point of view of a d*g:

Jabbering, drooling, and snapping at naught,
Longing for approval when I do what I ought,
Inwardly, I indulge a secret wish ...
Though I slobber, and pant, and beg at my dish.
I long to be elegant, long for thoughts sublime,
Wish independence of thought could be mine.
I submit to the humans, indeed, I shall beg,
Indiscriminate in taste, I snuggle every leg.
Yet for all of ugly behaviour, at that,
Deep within my heart of hearts,
...I long to be a cat.

I think Francis of Assisi would have permitted one to imagine that one meets one's pets in the afterlife - so, RIP, my elegant feline couple, till we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge. I'd like to think that Leonora and Lemieux are pulling the goddess Freya's chariot right now.