Holy Thursday: Looking at the cat.

I heard a clip of Northrop Frye discussing Easter today on CBC radio. Frye wrote, among other wonderful books. “The Great Code”, in which he showed the vast structural underpinnings of English literature to be those of the Bible. His position: that while the branches have grown away from the trunk in complex and intricate ways that are not apparently biblical, we are always telling and re-telling that core story.

On the clip I heard today he was discussing the mythological parallels with the Christian story. Gods who were incarnate, died, and were reborn. Very old vegetative mythologies where the grain must die to sprout again. Old matriarchal religions in which, as he tactfully put it, the divine mother stands in a very different relationship to the dying and reborn young deity than was the case in Christianity. The even older cannibalistic sacraments of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the same young god.

None of this is new to me, but it’s all a cat I’ve put away in a bag. I hear it scritching in there from time to time, but it’s easy to ignore. Mr. Frye opened the bag today and I am, with some trepidation, looking at the cat, How does one hold that information – and it’s true; those mythologies have existed – and still stand in relation to the living Lord, Jesus, dead, resurrected, as real and touchable as the man whose grocery cart I bumped into this morning?

I can see where there might be some intellectual ways to frame it. Humanity is programmed for this one. We’ve been wating for it forever. Ripples from the impact of Jesus roll backwards as well as forwards in time. As we have grown and evolved always we have been orbiting this one central story, that God was born into human flesh, died, and was born again.

I have children. I love them probably more than I have ever loved any human being. If it was required, I’m reasonably certain I would die for them. Pure biology. I’m DNA’d for the preservation of the species. I’m a male. I’m expendable. They aren’t. Male animals are programmed to die protecting their young. Or at least some are; just a few clicks of the DNA trigger and I might equally see them as breakfast.

There’s a context in which that’s all true, but when I stand in relation to one of them all that stuff is swept away by love. It’s bigger than any narrative, and DNA is just another mythology, really.

Subjectively I know that Jesus is real. I can’t prove it any more than I can prove that I am real, but I know it in the same way. I know that he came to bring me home. He had to negotiate with death to do it. when I stand in that place the narratives are of secondary importance. Maybe the naming of the correspondences is a two-way street. We just bring them to the altar of God living and reborn, and the intellectual play of it, which can’t take anything away from him, since he owns the whole playground, just becomes part of worship.

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The Bloody Slipper: Amputitng our Toes for Redemption.

The glass slipper wouldn’t fit either of the sisters. One took a knife and cut off her big toe. The other cut off her heel. By the time Cinderella got to the shoe it must have been full of blood. These stories get bowdlerized over time. In our civilization we prefer the violence to happen offstage. We’ve also chosen, via Walt Disney, to make the step-sisters ugly and stupid.

I’ve been hanging out with the shadow side of myself a bit these past few days. It’s tricky, because that side of me isn’t full of joy. He’s tired and often depressed. The stigmata of childhood injury stand out very clearly on his body. His thoughts are often dark, and the dogs of mayhem open their eyes and regard him with interest.

But you know, he’s not he, he’s me. I still keep a certain dissociative distance by using the third person singlular, but it’s a pretty flimsy device. No matter how sharp the knife, I can’t really cut him off to make the glass slipper fit. The result is that it only appears to fit, or only fits sometimes.

I know this guy. I can deny him the right to a first person singular, and maybe that’s okay, but I don’t think he can be redeemed until I can be him. I don’t know that parts of ourselves that we disidentify with, that we lock away, ever allow for the touch of the Holy Spirit. Who are we to decide that parts of ourselves are other than God’s work? Maybe by naming them so, we hand them off to the other guy, who’s only too glad to make use of them.

But part of me thinks that just to wear the slipper for a bit is worth it. To be in that light only for a little while maybe justifies the amputation or imprisonment of that shadow self, that maybe it’s what, necessary?, inevitable? to hand him over to the other guy so I can dance with the Prince for a little while.

I know this guy. I can deny him the right to a first person singular, and maybe that’s okay, but I don’t think he can be redeemed until I can be him. I don’t know that parts of ourselves that we disidentify with, that we lock away, ever allow for the touch of the Holy Spirit. Who are we to decide that parts of ourselves are other than God’s work? Maybe by naming them so, we hand them off to the other guy, who’s only too glad to make use of them.

But part of me thinks that just to wear the slipper for a bit is worth it. To be in that light only for a little while maybe justifies the amputation or imprisonment of that shadow self, that maybe it’s what, necessary?, inevitable? to hand him over to the other guy so I can dance with the Prince for a little while.

Venus Setting

Last night I went to take out the garbage. It was seven-thirty, and still not dark. The south-western sky was aqua and peach, a conversation for clarinet and solo voice, sweet, soft, and penetrating. I can’t see very many stars these days, and even for the brightest ones I can only catch them out of the corner of my eye. If I really want to see anything I have to look away from it, kind of like you do when you’re bird-watching and don’t want the bird to know you’re looking at it. Venus swam there in the pastel wash of light, slipping away over the shoulder of the world as it turned into darkness.

The pain and sweetness in equal part were overwhelming. I want a life where I can look at Venus head-on and see it, where I can watch the summer stars wheel, Cassiopeia and Andromeda, Perseus and the great wing of Pegasus, the ruby eye of the Scorpion. I want to light a fire beside the lake, lie on the sand, hear a loon and oh my, an owl. I want to sleep by the creek rushing down to the lake with its thousand icy voices.

I don’t dare to long for the things I long for. But I’m afraid that if I don’t, at least sometimes, cry out for freedom and push my poor atrophied wings against the bars, my heart might turn to a black stone, a black hole, an inrush of fury, a ‘no’ that would be very hard to take back.

The trouble with falling is that there’s no end to it, no point at which one hits the ground, feels for broken bones, or, more fortunate, is obliterated by the impact. The fall is forever, a fractal infinity of falling and the scary part is, once you were really falling you might not let yourself know it, carry on making tea, chatting on the phone, a brittle simulacrum, a narrative that you hold to make life manageable for your friends.

These are dangerous waters.

Spring Train: Fire and Rain.

It’s spring. Cloud, wind, flashes of sun, the snow gone, everything looking a little scruffy. It’s very dry; there’s less than half our normal snowpack in the mountains. Without a lot of rain we’re looking at a fiery summer.

At night I sit on the back steps listening to the big creek half a mile away roaring down to the lake. It’s a wonderful sound, between a rush and a roar. The Steller’s jay whose territory is outside my bedroom window has become noisy and territorial, screeching, barking, making all kinds of odd reptilian hisses and clacks, a rusty hinge turned predator.

It all feels a bit remote to me, a bit like something seen down the wrong end of a telescope. Forest fires? Maybe. Climate change? Probably. Neighbours with motorcycles and midnight barbecues and industrial-strength speakers? No doubt. But it’s all somehow over there. Seen out of a train window as I pass by.

It’s nice enough, in its way. Things fuss me so much less than they once did. Unflappable, or just old?

My life isn’t about any of these things any more. There’s a conversation going on, and at their worst these are distractions. I am experiencing my life as being held by God, released by me. I’m sure about this; sure that it isn’t just sanctimonious chit-chat. In some way I’m kind of disappearing. The personal data, not that there are, God bless us, all that many, are of such little account. I like it when I feel well and happy, but I don’t much care when I feel sick and tired. I really like it when I sleep well, but it’s not that big a deal when I don’t.

the thing that stays real, and maybe gets more real, is love. Maybe that’s because it isn’t coming from me. As my own needs, reactions, state of mind, become less important I am more able to be a proper conduit. My good qualities, the ones that come with the gene pool, of steadiness, strength, patience, and intelligence, are so easily put to use now.

Downside? I look back with grief, horror, disbelief, at the stunning and outrageous stupidities of years gone by. “We have done those things we ought not to have done, and left undone those things we ought to have done.”

Maybe it’s winter’s end in my soul as well. Dry, dusty, scruffy, inheld breath, waiting for rain, sun, even for fire, coming out of one more winter.

Pain

The question before me now is: can I use physical pain to feed the fire? Theoretically that should be an easy yes, but these theoretical constructs always look better when their practice is miles away, some interesting excrescence on the horizon, inevitable, but not very immediate.

I have a few pretty good owies right now, sufficient to keep me from sleeping. Everybody gets owies; it’s no big deal in itself, and certainly not something to get into an argument with God about. As I write this people are living, and dying, in agony, horror, and despair. And I lie in my comfy bed in my peaceful house in this sleepy little town in the mountains sleepless because I hurt.

Every morning I thank God for what the day holds, and for what the day before brought me. It seems logically inevitable that I need to be able to thank him for the pain as well as the goodies. I say, and I believe, that I live in the palm of His hand.

It doesn’t make the pain go away, or hurt less. It’s very engrossing when it comes and I don’t know if it’s possible to stand outside it and look at it objectively, see it as a large and obstreperous thing that is not me. My own way is to let go and drop into it, try to get to the centre. To pray for its removal at that point seems a distraction. While I’m in it there’s no subtext or marginalia. Just pain.

But afterwards, among the exhaustion from two nights with very little sleep, there’s an odd sense of work completed, of sprung-ness, and a nebulous, fluid kind of happiness that I think wouldn’t be there if I’d fought the pain.

The Old Catholics use to say we should offer up our pain for the holy souls in purgatory. I’m not sure about the ‘holy souls in purgatory’ part, but it does recontextualize pain as something we are doing, that has a positive value in itself.

The prayer then isn’t “Lord, take this moment away.” It’s “Lord, let this moment be of use. If each moment is a bead, and pain is a hot wire we need to insert through the heart of each moment, then let it be that one end of the string is in my hands, the other in Yours.”

Free Will: It’s not who we are, it’s what we are.

Grieving hard for my brother has brought me back to questions of free-will and forgiveness. I see his life clearly. He didn’t have a good start. Fetal alcohol issues gave him very poor judgment, massive dyslexia, and a mess of social and emotional secondary issues. None of that was his fault. They led him to do harm to others in a variety of ways, and each time it happened he was very sure that he was right, that he was doing the best he could, and that in some way someone was treating him badly. His actions were a direct result of who he was.

Following this, of course, come thoughts about myself and my own life. I dodged the fetal alcohol bullet, but took direct hits from post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse, and neglect. While I was there watching out for my little brother, no one was there watching out for me. Late in life now I look at all of it, of the expanse of seventy years of being me, and for sure I see immense damage. I see that my children wear the bruises, that injury is not discrete, not contained in a single life, that the harm is generation. And yes, I was always doing the best I could, working with what I could understand. Lost in some ways, in addiction, in some kind of dissociation, in the coils of PTSD, not seeing what was true, but always doing the best I could.

So how does one ask forgiveness for things one didn’t cause? My life made me what I was, and that’s never a person’s fault. The disturbing conclusion has to be that it’s not what we do, it’s what we are that causes harm. If I had perceived any kind of choice to do differently, of course I would have.

And still chasing this, I find that it’s not what people do to me that is hard to forgive; it’s the realization then of what/who they really are that’s so terrible. It’s not coming to terms with what they did; it’s how on earth they could have done it.

I’ve learned not to take credit for the good things I do, but to give it back to God. How does this work for the bad ones?

Death of a little brother.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my brother’s death. John Moore was 63 when he died of pancreatic cancer. It was quick enough. He was ill for a couple of months and then at Christmas became very sick indeed. He was in Florida at the time, and hurried back to Toronto. He flew to Buffalo and took a bus from there. Given how ill he was by then it must have been a truly horrible trip.

The tumour had been growing for some time, pushing into his intestine, which is what had been making him so sick for the first months. They didn’t see it. From diagnosis to death was less than a month.

He was my only brother, and till he died I called him Little Brother. I don’t think either of us could have made it without the other. We each came away with our own wounds and our own chronic damage, but I can only imagine how much worse it could have been if he hadn’t had me to watch out for him – we lived in dangerous and depraved circumstances and by that time there was no one else to watch out for him. And I don’t know how I would have got through without his innocent, pure, and unconditional love. Five years younger than me, in a way he was perhaps my first child.

So where is he now? Somewhat battered by life, brain-damaged from fetal alchol issues, he was definitively not a Christian. He was often angry, capable, like our father, of irrational violence. Yet he took his estranged and divorced wife into his home and nursed her by hand as she died of long and utterly horrifying (to anyone but him, who just loved and held her) Lou Gehrig’s disease. That two year vigil, poking holes in the membrane that would seal her throat, helping her cope with vast bedsores, all of it woke something in him. Yes, but after that even more definitively not a Christian.

What happens to people who die denying Jesus? I knew my little brother, in some ways as well as I knew myself. I know the damage that was done to him, and I certainly have a clearer idea of that than he did. I know his life wasn’t his fault, and that the pain and damage that came through him to the people in his life weren’t of his creation. I remember that little boy, fierce fierce blue eyes, utterly resistant to tyranny at no matter what cost, standing in front of my father, full of fury, commanding him not to hit me. Pure and clear and sharp as a diamond.

If there’s Heaven, and I don’t feel clear or sure about what that might be, how could he not be there? He suffered lots, and he found a way to transcend it by selfless love.

Jesus, those little children whose mothers brought them to see You didn’t know Your name. Nor did my little brother. I just want him to be with You. How could I ever imagine a Heaven where he wasn’t allowed?