Friday, 28 October 2011

The Occupy Wall Street Carnival

I am currently reading ‘A Secular Age’ by Charles Taylor.  The author distinguishes between the modern self as ‘buffered’ and the earlier mode of existence as that of a ‘porous self’.  The earlier society – before the secular age, society was in an equilibrium which was maintained by specific release mechanisms which allowed those in the lower ranks of society to release the tension i.e. blow off steam that resulted from the controlled life imposed by the church and state.  Such things as Carnival, the feasts of misrule or boy bishops allowed for the existing world to be turned upside down for a brief period and in that way maintained the equilibrium of the exiting universe.

Taylor holds that all structure needs anti-structure.  By structure he emphasizes the code of behaviour of a society which is defined by the different roles and statuses and the associated rights and duties, powers and powerlessness.  These structures of course exist in a secular society comprised of many ‘buffered’ selfs. 
It occurred to me that in totalitarian regimes as the Taliban that maintain control using harsh measures  the equilibrium is maintained through equally harsh public spectacles such as stoning of adulterers and other sinners.  These events take the place of Carnival of past eras in the only way that is acceptable to the regimes. 

Likewise in our secular culture of the Western world the anti-structure is maintained through public events such as football matches or other sporting events with accompanying hooliganism or riots such as the recent Vancouver post Stanley Cup events.  I believe the ‘Occupy Movement’ is a manifestation of the need for modern anti-structure where people become aware of the increasing economic inequities for which there do not seem to be established anti-structure ceremonies built into society.  Governments seem less willing to provide the means to address inequalities therefore the Occupy Movement Carnival has sprung up in response.  It remains to be seen if the movement will peter out naturally and the equilibrium will be re-established basically unchanged or it will lead to structural changes that will mitigate the need for spontaneous economic Carnivals.  Perhaps the masters of Wall Street should consider setting up organized feasts of misrule on a regular basis which will satisfy the needs of the 99% underclass.  Or perhaps government officials will throw a few symbolic representatives of the 1% to the lions of the legal system and give us a release of a mandatory perp-walk with the accompanying prison time instead of time in the public stocks. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Name of All Things

In the beginning was the Word according to John but according to Genesis God said ‘Let there be light’.   The name - that is where it all begins.  So it was a word – or words - a declaration

But where do I really begin this story?  With the power? With the secret? With the name?
I guess after all I must begin at the beginning.  Names have always been at the beginning.  After all the name is just a word and in the beginning was The Word – at least according to John.  Was the word a name and a name the word?  Of course it was a word but was it the word?  The beginning in the Beginning was not a word - it was only the beginning.  From the beginning began the many beginnings according to the Book or at least one particular book which would not be a book until much later: the formless void that was the earth, the darkness that covered the face of the deep, the wind that swept over the face of the water.  The water?  Where did that come from?  It too was one of the beginnings.  And then another word – light – let there be light - another beginning.  The dome, that also was there at the beginning.  God made the dome.  Did he do that also by the word?  The Book does not say that He did.  But does that mean that it was not so?    In any case there was the dome that was declared (another word) to be the sky.  And apparently so it was – for so the book declared.

After all these beginnings there were many more.  God made the light separate into the greater and lesser; the land from the water; the day from the night; the days and season and the years.  In the sea were the fishes.  On the land was the vegetation, and the swarms of living creatures – the birds of the air, the animals creeping and wild of every kind.  Finally there was man and then inevitably man’s helpmeet – woman.  All these were beginning and if John is to be believed there was the Word and the words for each of these beginnings. 
It was not until the second creation that we are told things were named.  The man and the woman were named – Adam and Eve they were named.  The man Adam was given the authority to name all living things.  “The man gave names to all cattle, and every bird of the air and every animal of the field” (Gen 2: 20).  This is the first time the power to name was passed on – name became what – a co-creator – for to name is to create.

Later we have another beginning with the beginning of the covenant between YHWH and a man, Abraham.  I know there was an earlier one signified by a rainbow but that was with all creation.  This one was with one man – at least in the beginning.  His name in the beginning was not Abraham.  It was Abram, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”  The name now signified the relationship that now existed between God and man. 

So here is the beginning of beginnings – at least in the version we know and many believe in.  It began with a word that was a name and beginning followed the beginning with names for everything.  Yet the beginning is not the only beginning.  In each one a name - the name was the power and in some the name was secret.  Let us look at another Beginning and the role that name held in that beginning.
In that land in which the chosen people were enslaved and that sheltered the Holy Family, Egypt, there is another account of another beginning.  In that beginning all was darkness.  There must have been darkness in story of our beginning recorded in Genesis as we are told darkness covered the face of the earth which was a formless void until God had to declare that there would be light.  But I digress somewhat.  In this beginning rather than a formless void there was only a great waste of water called Nun.  Out of this water and darkness arose a great shining egg Re.  I will not ask how it could be shining in the darkness that must be left to the Gods.

We are told that Re was all-powerful and that power and the secret of it lay in his name.  That name we are told was hidden and the power lay in its secret.  Further all things could come into being merely or not so merely by Re speaking the name of that thing.  An so things were named; Shu the first winds, Tefnut the spitter of rain, Nut the sky, Hapi the river Nile the source of fruitfulness.  Re named all things on the earth and last (and some might say not least - but I would not say that) he named mankind.  Thus there were men and women and of course children in Egypt.
Re then took the shape of a man (sounds vaguely familiar) and more than just a shape as after becoming the first Pharaoh and ruling for a millennium or more became old.  OR could it be it is our shape that requires us to grow and grow old?  As a consequence men no longer feared (obeyed?) his laws.  It ever was thus.  Re became angry at the disobedience - the ... shall I dare say sin?  And they no longer feared him and thus were no longer (if they ever had been) wise. 

What then did Re do?  Did he send a flood as some other deity might have?  No, he did what seems to my mind a more thoughtful reaction; he called together all the gods and goddesses in council.  In his wisdom he asked Nun the eldest of the gods what he should do.  The response was not unexpected, “send them a glance of your eye in the form of Sekmet and destroy them” Not quite a flood but still destruction.  Sekhmet was one like a lion whose chief delight was slaughter; whose pleasure was in blood.  All whom she saw she slaughtered and tasted their blood to her pleasure and delight.
The Nile now ran red with blood as in the other plague from another tradition.  And yet Sekhmet was not satisfied and continued to slaughter the inhabitants of that sad land.  Why you might ask did Re not insist that she stop the slaughter?  Well it turns out that once she was on the rampage nothing - not even Re could stop her blood lust. 

Re’s heart softened as the sight of all the slaughter.  In his anguish a plan arose.  He bade the women of Heliopolis brew the sacred drink beer coloured with the red of ochre which was brought from the isle of Elephantine.  The tainted ochre was poured onto the ground to a height and depth of nine inches.  Sekhmet believing the red tinted beer was blood drank her fill and more than her fill until she could drink no more.  From that day it has been told that Sekhmet could kill no more.  And indeed from that day she never slayed another man.
Once more Re ruled over all the lands of Egypt.  He ruled until the time came in which it was ordained that he should withdraw to the heavens and in his place a younger god should rule.  Yet Re refused to yield his power.  In growing old he no longer grew and as a result had lost his wisdom.  Re continued to reign and none could challenge him.  None could remove him from the earth as long as his power remained.  This would happen only when his secret could be revealed – the secret that was his name.

Re continued with the gift of the gods which was mortality.  He became old and older still.  He became very old in the way of old men.  He stumbled as he walked and drooled as he spoke.  His spittle fell on the earth.  Isis, one of the younger gods whose time it was to rule the earth, took the spittle and made mud where the spittle fell.  She kneaded it and formed it into clay.  This spittle was not used to make the blind see or to form humankind – it was too late for that. 
Instead of a human being she formed Uraeus, the first cobra.  Isis placed uraeus in the way of Re, on the path which Re trod each day.  Uraeus bit him in his most vulnerable place, his heel.  The venom like the poison which coursed through Achilles veins, flowed through Re.  Unlike Achilles, Re did not die but did cry out a great cry which rang out across the earth and sky.  This cry was so great that the gods hearing it came to investigate its source.  Re, finding his voice, pleaded to the gods for help.  He had been stung despite the secret power of his secret name which protects him.  As they could not help him the god called all the others of their kind who had powers to heal.  With them came Isis who held the power to revive the dying.

This time it was a god who was betrayed by the serpent and was threatened with expulsion from the earthly paradise.  The goddess Isis offered to heal Re if he would reveal his secret name to her.  Re in his stubbornness revealed all his names; maker of heaven and earth, builder of mountains, source of waters, light and darkness, creator of great Nile, Khepera in the morning, Re at noontide and Turn in the evening.  But he would not reveal his Secret Name the Name of Power which still lay hidden in his heart.
Isis bided her time until the time was ripe, for she was the source of all patience, until she enticed Re with promises of release from his torment.  At last Re responded with a great cry, “let the Name of Power, my Secret Name pass from my heart to the heart of Isis.  However, swear that you will reveal it to no one save the son which you will bear so that the name will remain with him.”

And so the Name passed from Re to Isis and so too Re passed from his earthly paradise and ascended to the heavens.  There he passes across the sky by day and crosses the underworld of Amenti by night.  With him he takes the souls of the dead.
Here our tale must end as it began with a name named at the beginning and named at the end of all things.  So my children remember and learn the power that the name holds and do not use yours carelessly lest you name reveal more than you know (particularly in this age of social networking and identity theft). 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Poem 'The Heart Hears'

The Heart Hears

Be still my heart
And be in awe
Of the eternal presence.

Be still my heart
And know the mercy
Of God

Be still my heart
And receive the grace
That is freely given

Be still my heart
And hear
The heart of God

Be still my heart
And hear the silence
In the restless grass

That moves within
The eternal restlessness
Of Your eternal heart

How can you know
That God is within
Unless you hear
The silence
That is God?

Meditation on Victims of Goderich Tornado

Psalm 77

1 I will cry aloud to God; *
I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; *
my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;
I refused to be comforted.
3 I think of God, I am restless, *
I ponder, and my spirit faints.
4 You will not let my eyelids close; *
I am troubled and I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old; *
I remember the years long past;
6 I commune with my heart in the night; *
I ponder and search my mind.
7 Will the Lord cast me off for ever? *
will he no more show his favour?
8 Has his loving-kindness come to an end for ever? *
has his promise failed for evermore?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? *
has he, in his anger, withheld his compassion?
10 And I said, ”My grief is this: *
the right hand of the Most High has lost its power.”
11 I will remember the works of the Lord, *
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12 I will meditate on all your acts *
and ponder your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy; *
who is so great a god as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders *
and have declared your power among the peoples.

When I heard of the destruction in Goderich I was on vacation in the eastern Canada.  I checked information on line and saw pictures of the destruction and devastation that had been caused by the Tornado.  I was shaken by the might of nature which can be released with little or no warning and how fragile are the works of human hands in the face of such power.  It is always humbling when I experience this and I am always thankful that such events are rare in my experience.

My next thoughts were of the wonderful old church which had been severely damaged by the tornado and I was afraid that it was the Anglican Church that I had a connect to.  St. George’s Goderich is the Parish of a classmate and I had attended his ordination at that church and had been a guest preacher there on another occasion.  I wondered how I would deal with St. James Parkhill being destroyed and could not imagine all that would be required to deal with such an event.  

I had a great sense of relief when I heard that it was not the St. George’s but the United Church.  This reaction was mixed with a sense of guilt at feeling relief at the expense of others.  Perhaps this is a small experience of survivors guilt that people who have survived when those around them have perished or been severely injured. 

It is also a reflection of human nature in which it is much easier to respond to a request for help for someone or something which we have a connection to.  If we see and recognize the face of the one in distress we are more ready to respond with compassion and generosity than if it is some faceless person in some land we have hardly even heard of.

And yet we are called as Christians to respond to those in need – not just those who are friends and neighbours but to those who we do not see as our neighbours.  This of course if the challenge that Jesus gave to the lawyer who asked who is my neighbour?  The response was the example shown by not the priest or the Levite but the example shown by the despised Samaritan. 
Our neighbours are not just the Anglicans in Goderich or Roman Catholics or Presbyterians or United Church members or even Christians but all who are affected by disasters and other afflictions.  They are not just whose in Goderich  - although today they are particularly our neighbours - but all who are in need whether they show us a face that reflects ours and is cute and sympathetic or looks strange and unappealing.  Jesus has shown us that all the world is our neighbour and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Let us pray

Oh, God Heavenly Father and Lover of All

In faith we acknowledge your care for all you creation; your sons, daughters and children. In hope we trust in your divine providence of giving us wisdom and courage as we face the challenges in life. In love we invoke your help and guidance during these difficult days of death and destruction in Goderich and all places where natural disasters wreaked havoc.

Our is a prayer of thanksgiving for once again reminding us that ours is an imperfect world, that heaven is not on earth and that nature tells us once again that we are not in control.  Ours too is a prayer of repentance for calling upon you when we are in need and desperation but forgetting you in favourable times and pleasing occasions. Ours as well is a prayer of petition as we say:

Grant eternal peace to those who lost their lives. Help those who are injured and heal those who are sick in body mind or soul.

Encourage those who suffer the destruction of their homes and properties, and to once again arise and rebuild their future.

Bless all those who extend their helping hands to those in need of food, shelter and clothing, who share their time, talents and resources with others.

Inspire more people to be neighbours to all in need, convinced that the more they are for others, the more they are for you.

Spare us from other natural disasters and devastations if this be according to Your will and for our own spiritual good.


Monday, 3 October 2011

Blessing the Animals

We had the blessings of the animals yesterday. It was a case of where two or three four footed creatures are gathered together Christ was in our midst. I have attached some pictures of the events. This morning I have been reflecting on the our animal companions and how they part of modern life and the Christian attitude to them. I must admit that I am neither a dog nor a cat person although the cats who have been in my life seemed to instinctively believe that they had a spiritual bond with them that I was often not aware of. At times I have had uncharitable thought about the resources that are spent in our society on pets (or animal companions as they are now referred to in full political correctness). As someone who on occasion spent small fortunes on pet care I have wondered could that money not have been better spent on the poor and underprivileged. Of course I also hear the echo of Judas’ words when Mary was so extravagant in her anointing of Jesus' feet with expensive oil? And on reflection that is the key. Are we on Judas’ side or Jesus’ side? There are aspects of lives that cannot be measured in dollars and cents but rather in sense and sensibility. If that was not true probably no one would be a Christian as there is little monetary payoff in belonging to an organization that in which the collection plate is passed around every Sunday.
I was reminded yesterday that animals provide much comfort and companionship in people’s lives. I believe they are so pervasive in society because they are earthly example of what God offers us – unconditional forgiveness and grace and mercy. This was well expressed in a reflection on St. Francis’ life by Father Patrick Tuttle: “His contemplation led him to consider the delicate nature of humanity’s freedom. As he did so, he noticed that the creatures around him were less free than he was. They seemed to obey the will of the creator perfectly. While he sensed periodic inhumanity in himself, he never sensed that same betrayal of nature within creatures. His fascination inspired him to understand his own nature that he might obey it as the animals obeyed their nature. He blessed them for their beauty and obedience. They taught him, and led him to seek God’s will for his own life.” Let us remember to give thanks for the blessings which people receive from their non-human companions in all shapes and sizes and species.