The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon
Musings on Being and Becoming Human
Is This Is the Way the World Ends, with a Bang and a Whimper?
The year 2012 comes to a close ten days after winter solstice, anticipated by some with great expectations of cosmic movement based on a Mayan calendar prediction of apocalypse, and by most with small interest and great skepticism that anything beyond the everyday misery of politics and war, homelessness, poverty, restlessness, anger, and indifference could be on the horizon of anyone's world. Stress has become subsumed largely in a frenzy of shopping to celebrate...what? The advent of "the most famous baby in history," as one phrase in the news would have it? Is this the world that baby came to redeem?
On December 14, seven days before the purported end of the world, came news of the single-handed shooting of 20 children and 6 adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and we all--individuals, families, communities, nation and world--went there with CNN and other news media for a week of fulltime coverage, an event examined in such minutia and with such repetition that those watching writhed and cringed and fumed and cried to the point of exhaustion. From faraway China came another story of a single-minded assault on school children, in this case with a knife, and the topic du jour immediately went to whether guns, and especially assault weapons, should not be banned once again, based on the argument that if the Newtown children had been knifed instead of shot, they might have survived. Do we want to make adjustments in weapons used by people who have lost their capacity for human empathy, or do we want to address the conditions and beliefs responsible for that loss? Ironies bounce among media coverage of this pre-Christmas news like ping pong balls let loose without direction.
One of the many ironies is that so much compassion poured out around the 20 children and 6 adults shot at the school by the attacker. I have yet to hear of any real concern, let alone empathy, directed toward the mother murdered at home after a long-suffering life of trying to raise such a son and, remarkable in a culture that has made some headway toward treating the mentally ill as humans deserving sympathy, not one concern expressed for the misery and suffering of the shooter, who was sometimes referred to by the abstract epithet evil. No bells tolled for this mother and son.
As there was no room in the inn for Joseph and Mary about to give birth to Jesus, there seems to have been no room in this public conversation so far for the much-needed information in Carl Jung's map of the psyche, which includes a comprehensive look at what he called the shadow, a component in each human being that harbors potentials for outrageous suppressed behaviors, most of which we do not imagine ourselves to contain (the fact that we usually can contain rather than act out running amok is a sign of mental health). This insight, that we all have within us the potential for evil, may be why the baby Jesus, when he reached the years of his maturity and became a teacher, when an adultress was brought before him for approval of the Mosaic law that she be put to death by stoning, is reported to have said, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone." Imagine the shock in their falling back and her walking away! Another saying I haven't heard in a long time is this: "There, but for the grace of God, go I." If we cannot imagine that each person is made up of the entire spectrum of human potential and that we, too, are implicated in all human acts, then we cannot feel ourselves fully, and we may have to rely on CNN (or MSNBC or Fox News) to show and tell us how to feel.
The harshness of the world we live in certainly had come to the surface by December 21 of 2012, even if we escaped the apocalypse expected by the literal minded. The end of the world (or my world or your world) is an overwhelming subject, and what we offer here are not answers to its extremely demanding questions, but suggestions of some places to go (in heart and mind) for pieces of distilled and profound thought related to themes suggested by these conditions and events, pieces that may help you carry on conversation with yourself and others as you strive to make meaning of your world.
From Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, page 107:
We must not understand apocalypse literally, not as some physical destruction and judgment on the world, or as something that is going to occur in the future. The kingdom is here; it does not come through expectation.... The mystical theme of the space age is this: the world, as we know it, is coming to an end. The world as the center of the universe, the world divided from the heavens, the world bound by horizons in which love is reserved for members of the in-group: that is the world that is passing away. Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided, schizophrenic worldview, with no mythology adequate to coordinate our conscious and unconscious--that is what is coming to an end. The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth--that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us.
From the apocryphal Gospel of St. Thomas:
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
And this, one of the loveliest and most life-affirming pieces I know, from a book D.H. Lawrence wrote just before he died in 1931, Apocalypse, pages 110-111:
...the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human soul, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my own very self, I am part of my family. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.
So that my individualism is really an illusion. I am a part of the great whole, and I can never escape. But I can deny my connections, break them, and become a fragment. Then I am wretched.
What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.
Finally, to complement what Campbell says above, this too from Lawrence's Apocalypse, page 125:
The great question is, how deep is the need in men to belong to a nation, a self-governing group? It seems as if it were a shallow need. It seems as if we moderns might all of us be citizens of the world; as if, when asked what country we belong to, we might say: The world!
The question of what makes us human is a prescient concern now more than ever. That D. H. Lawrence could languish in the torments of death by tuberculosis and still cry out his love of life in this world is a triumphal cry for our humanity. Both Lawrence and Jung were appalled in their lifetimes at the extent to which we humans were becoming cut off from the natural world. How much more disturbed they would be at how we now have become absorbed into the thousand varieties of technology with which we spend our days and nights. We are already noticing how lack of direct human contact and development of intimacy with others may inhibit our ability to respond humanely. Some have speculated that such abortion or deterioration of our feeling lives may lead to crises like the Newtown massacre. I am touching here only on the extremities of what humans may do to each other, as we continue to engage in the neglect if not the outright destruction of vast numbers of our fellow creatures on the planet and of the planet itself.
We are indeed living in what the ancient Chinese referred to, ironically, as "interesting times." My hope is that we can find the images, emotions, and thoughts that will help us as individuals and cultures to navigate the journeys of our lifetimes. That could be accomplished by deep conversation and right action. By writing in depth and reading in depth, we could let our love of technology lead us back to ourselves and forward to each other in more profound ways. We might even rediscover the intimacies of speech. And we might realize the increasing rather than decreasing importance of the humanities in our school curricula and restore the teaching of arts and culture to their appropriate place beside if not in front of science and math studies.
Campbell, Joseph. Thou Art That. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2001.
Lawrence, D. H. Apocalypse, ed. Mara Kalnins. New York: The Viking Press, 1980.
The quotation from the Gospel of St. Thomas can be found in a variety of forms by Googling it on the Internet.
AT HOME here are writers speaking in a style more conversational than studied for an audience who might be seated on a front porch at night watching fireflies create random small rays to light up the listening, or in the dining room of an ancient inn with lamps and perhaps a hearth fire to kindle community.
It takes only one or two steps of the imagination to move through the dusk to the dining room at the inn or the porch of a house or, by daylight, to a backyard garden for picking grapes and for gossiping, a verbal mode associated with the term grapevine. We say I heard it on the grapevine, referring to rumor, advance news of interest to the community, sometimes scandal, always a dramatic story or piece of a story, circulating, making the rounds, lingering on the surface even when it suggests hidden things.
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