• Tag Archives Jesus
  • Narratives With Depth and Power

    Spring                                                           Bee Hiving Moon

    Here is why I think the ironically evangelical atheists have it wrong.

    Today is Good Friday (though I’m not clear how it ever got that name), the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth.  It’s also, this year, the first night of pesach, the night Jews celebrate the angel of death passing over the first born of Jewish households enslaved in Egypt.

    No matter the metaphysics you claim, no matter the beliefs you hold, no matter the faith you embrace these are powerful, heart deep and deeper stories.  They are narratives you can build a life upon.  And millions, hundreds of millions have.

    Take a working class man, a man who earns his living with his hands, let’s say a Toyota mechanic.  Imagine him struck dumb one night with the power of love.  So struck that he leaves the garage behind and goes forth into the countryside and into the cities claiming that before anything else we have to love one another.

    Imagine, further, that he gets a following, a few at first, maybe 12, then a few more, Continue reading  Post ID 13732

  • Humanism

    Fall                                                      Waxing Autumn Moon

    Spiritual Resources for Humanists.  Been thinking about this from an odd perspective.  Humanism is often characterized as anti- or post-Christian.  It is, of course, easy to see why this should be so in such Christian marinated cultures as those of the United States and Europe.  Easy, yes.  But accurate?

    Think about it this way.  If there were no monotheism, no polytheism, no reaching out beyond the natural world to a supernatural (anti-natural?) realm, then raising a Christian theology would be seen as anti-Humanist or, maybe, post-Humanist.

    If you, like me, find the idea of a God out there, beyond us and our world, no longer viable, then we have to consider that there has not been a God out there right along.  That means, further, that Christianity, Islam and Judaism, among many others, have never had their metaphysics right.  In other worlds there was no God in Israel, Ephesus, Corinth or Rome.

    In that case, humanism is counterpoised not to a deity, but to a story, rather stories, about deities; narratives that, like kudzu in the south, overgrew everything, changing their shapes and appearance until all that could be seen was a green, viny realm.

    These are narratives with a great deal of power, narratives that inspire devotion, sacrifice, even war, yet, for all that, narratives not substantially different from the very best fiction.  The difficult part to keep in focus here is the difference between the narrative as fiction and the history of the narrative’s power.

    In other words, even though the Biblical material, from this perspective, has the same metaphysical punch as Hesiod and Ovid, compilations of Greek myth and legend, the historical actions of those who imbibed this narrative from their birth and acted on it in complete confidence of its veracity is nonetheless real, just as are the actions of Periclean Athens, Sparta and Corinth.

    The historical depth and reach of Christians cannot be dismissed as fiction and reveals, in it all its vitality, the true force of myth and legend.  A story like the passion of Jesus, because it includes compassion, sacrifice, redemption and the defeat of death, resonates energetically with daily life, in particular the daily life of those on the wrong side of history.

    Nietzsche recognized this and called Christian morality slave morality, a morality meant to bring down the strong and the good, a morality meant to turn on its head the way to power. ***

    We do not have to give up the mythic power of the Christian story as humanists.  No, we can reach into the Biblical material and read these narratives with the same keen eye and open heart that Christians do.  We don’t have to buy the notion of Olympus to be inspired by the story of Hercules, saddened by the story of Orpheus and add depth to our understanding of  fall and spring through the story of Persephone.

  • Let There Be Darkness

    Fall                                                Waxing Harvest Moon

    Let’s try darkness again.  In Taoism the familiar Taiji makes my point about the essential and complementary nature of light and dark.  Taoism gives equal weight to the yin and yang* represented in the taiji, the small circle of yin within the yang and of yang within the yin, emphasizing the Taoist belief that all things contain their opposite to some degree.  So, one part of my argument simply notes that light and dark are both necessary, necessary to each other, nothing apart from each other.  In the Taoist taiji they represent the dynamic movement of heaven to which all things must conform.

    In our Western cultural tradition, though, light has taken precedence over darkness, both in a physical and in an ethical sense.  Jesus is the light of the world.  Persephone goes into Hades and the earth mourns her absence until her return when it blossoms into spring.  Eurydice dies and Orpheus goes to the underworld to retrieve her.  Dante’s Divine Comedy finds Dante wandering, lost in the dark wood of error, before he begins his descent, guided by Virgil, into the multiple layers of hell.  The traditional three-story universe also reinforces these ideas:  Heaven above, earth, and the infernal regions below. Milton’s Paradise Lost follows the rebellion in heaven and the casting out of Lucifer, the Morning Star, into hell where he builds his enormous palace, Pandemonium.  Our common sense understanding of death involves hiding the body beneath the earth.  Why?

    Coming out of the spiritualist tradition represented by Camp Chesterfield (see below) death involves a transition into the light, the spirit world.  Ghost Whisperer, a TV program, uses the trope from this tradition, as dead souls are led into the light.  It is, perhaps, no wonder that darkness, night and the soil come off badly in our folk metaphysic:  up and light is good; down and dark is bad.

    I wish to speak a word for the yin, symbolized by the moon, the female, the cold, the receiving, the dark.  The moon illustrates the taiji perfectly.  In the dark of night, the moon, yin, reflects the sun’s light, yang, and offers a lambent light, neither yin nor yang, but the dynamic interplay between the two.  So we could look for art that features the moon as one route into the positive power of darkness.

    Also, any seasonal display in a work of art, whether of spring, summer, fall or winter can open the question of each season’s value, its role in the dynamic of growth and decay, emergence and return.  This can lead to a discussion of the importance of the fallow season, the season of rest, the earth’s analog to sleep.  This can lead to a discussion of sleep and its restorative powers.

    Art work of mother and child, or especially, mother and infant, can stimulate a discussion, in this context, of the womb, of the fecund nature of the dark where fetuses and seeds develop before their emergence into the world of light.

    Similarly, death focused works of art can open up a discussion of birth and death as dynamic moments of change, yin and yang of human (or animal) development.  This could lead to conversation about the Mexica (Aztec) belief that life is the aberrant condition and that death is the vital, regenerative moment; we are here, goes one Mexica poem, between a sleep and a sleep.

    Winterlight festivals represent a western imbalance focused on the light, the yang, and a tendency to cast the yin in a negative light, something to be avoided or eliminated or held in check.  As I said previously, this is understandable given the pre-historical science which made the return of the sun doubtful and therefore terrifying.  Many of these festivals are, too, our favorites:  Christmas, Deepavali and for a different traditional reason, Hanukkah.

    In my own faith tradition, roughly pagan, I look forward to the dying of the light and celebrate as my most meaningful holiday, the Winter Solstice.  Of course, I also celebrate the return of the light that begins on that very day, but first I immerse myself in the long night, the many hours of darkness.  This affords me an opportunity to acknowledge the dark, to express gratitude for its manifold gifts.   In this way my idiosyncratic faith has a ritual moment that honors the taiji, utilizing the cues given by the natural world.

    To find art that emphasizes this aspect of darkness I plan to walk the museum from top to bottom, searching for images and objects that can help our visitors understand that when they celebrate the festivals of light that darkness is the reason for the season.  I would appreciate any thoughts or ideas.

    *In Chinese culture, Yin and Yang represent the two opposite principles in nature. Yin characterizes the feminine or negative nature of things and yang stands for the masculine or positive side. Yin and yang are in pairs, such as the moon and the sun, female and male, dark and bright, cold and hot, passive and active, etc. But yin and yang are not static or just two separated things. The nature of yinyang lies in interchange and interplay of the two components. The alternation of day and night is such an example.