Saturday, August 26, 2017


Nathan Oliveira (American, 1928-2010): Couple with Light, 2003


And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing
which would infinitely enrich your life:
the powerful, the unique and uncommon,
the awakening of sleeping stones —
depths that would reveal you to yourself.

In the dusk you notice the book shelves
with their volumes in brown and gold;
and you think of places where you traveled,
of paintings, and shimmering gowns
worn by women found and lost.

And suddenly you know: that was it.
You rise, and before you stands
the shape of a vanished year,
its fears and hopes and prayer.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, first two stanzas translated by A. E. Flemming, the third one by Oriana Ivy


The German the word for remembrance is “Erinnerung” — loosely speaking, sinking into the inner self, making something part of the psyche again.

This is a great poem about the shift to the second half of life. In youth, we are always waiting for the great thing: great love, first marriage, first “real job,” or the answer to our most urgent question — whatever it is that will be change our life.

Let’s ponder the wonderful first stanza, which I see as the “first half of life”:

And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing
which would infinitely enrich your life:
the powerful, the unique and uncommon,
the awakening of sleeping stones —
depths that would reveal you to yourself.

Yes, even the stones will wake. The trumpets will sound and wake up even the stones. The meaning of your life will be revealed.

And suddenly, Rilke says, it’s not the stones that wake up. It’s we who wake up: “the great thing” has already happened.

No, we don’t get all we want from life, but at least some of what we wanted to happen does happen — has already happened — and we didn’t know it at the time.

For me one insight was that what I wanted from America I actually had in Warsaw, and lost it forever: for one thing, living among educated people, in an intellectual community; for another, having access to a rich cultural life. Now, Warsaw was a lot more vibrant then than later — one of the paradoxes of the fall of communism; and of course there are wonderful things about living in California. Still, what an irony that certain things I wanted to happen had already happened —  in a country I left, expecting that everything would be better, more progressive, more advanced (. . . insert the sound of bitter laughter here).


Don't we often fail to appreciate what we have in youth, dreaming of something so much better? And take steps to chase those dreams we will eventually find lacking, not what we hoped they would be?


Of course, of course . . . That's one reason why youth is said to be wasted on the young. It takes the perspective of years to appreciate what we once had. The danger is that we may get to idealize the past. But the heirloom is always a bit chipped somewhere -- another lesson, if we live long enough. The point is to live in reality (some of it quite enjoyable!), rather than in a futile dream — in spite of all those silly self-help books that counsel otherwise.


“And suddenly you know: that was it.”

The first and the second half of life: living in the future, for the future, versus living in reality, with both more resignation and more contentment. It’s not quite so symmetrical, but it holds overall. And that is perhaps the greatest difference between these two stages of life: waiting and no longer waiting. True: you can perhaps never entirely “not wait.” But life is no longer filled with waiting for life.

For a while you may proceed along a path: the fulfillment of a vocation, the deepening of a commitment. But especially in regard to vocation and what might be called one’s “career in life,” in the end there is the awareness that nothing is any longer a stepping stone to anything else. Now you can at last savor the miracle of simply existing — against all odds, and after so much anxiety, fear, loss, hope and prayer.


What an essential truth in these lines! The tedium and anxiety of waiting replaced by remembrance and the appreciation of living in the present. A sense of completion without the grief of loss. Living in the present, savoring the world in the richness we have learned to see.

Eclipse crescents downtown Portland, OR; Andrew Caldwell


No longer “waiting for the great thing” means that we can at last become comfortable looking at the events and high points of the past. Yes, it has already happened: that was great love. That was the year of great creativity. That was the most fulfilling job. That was the best trip ever, richest in beauty and experience.

Remembrance is one of my favorites among Rilke’s poems. It redeems the past; it even affirms its greatness. It also confirms the insight that we can’t properly grasp experience until later, when it has become the past. Of course the past also contains a lot of pain and disappointment, and that used to prevent me from wanting to go near “reminiscing” — thus missing the good parts, the events quite worth acknowledging and savoring again in memory.

Interestingly, the relatively neutral good memories have come first: the beauty of hiking in the mountains, once hiking has become impossible. Then came the beauty of creativity — interestingly, in the context of my pathetic medical history: the multiple health problems, the surgeries, the pain, the pain, the pain. “Nevertheless, I managed to write some fine poems.” It seemed like a radiant statement on a banner. The power of “nevertheless” to save us.

Reviewing love relationships has turned out to be the most difficult. I generally don’t do that — I don’t look at photographs, I don’t voluntarily summon up memories. And yet spontaneous memories can recur — yes, there were beautiful moments, and they live on.

Life is such a mix of the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, pain and pleasure, that sometimes we wonder how anyone manages at all, much less gets to claim that on the whole they are happy, they feel blessed. One answer is that we practice selective recall. As one famous poet, Octavio Paz, pointed out, what counts is not what “really happened,” but what we remember — and how we choose to tell it.

But another answer is the one provided by Rilke: it really did happen. The great, life-changing thing we were waiting for has already happened. Love has happened. Marriage has happened, the good and the bad of it. Finding and fulfilling one’s vocation has happened. Amazing adventures and surprises have happened. All kinds of solemn and comic and interesting events have happened. We may have missed their importance at the time, preoccupied as we were with waiting for the future. But there comes a time when we can — and need to — acknowledge those events, and take what pleasure and meaning we may get from them. 


Another note on remembrance. Comparing memories with my sisters was interesting. One sister said “It’s like we didn't live in the same house with the same people!” The three of us are each only one year apart in age, so that is not the determining factor — and yet the very atmosphere, the mood and tenor of experience is recalled differently by each of us. To such a degree that what for one is remembered as tragic and painful, made little or no impression on another. Some basic facts are agreed on, edited this way or that, but the emotional tone, emphasis and meanings are different and particular to each.

So there is history . . . flavored and reshaped even in this small and personal arena. Imagine that on the scale of nations and the histories of nations . . . The stories are told according to the beliefs and biases of the storytellers — who won't accept their story is just that, a story, and not truth graven in stone. And so we have our current arguments on confederate monuments, morals, social values, justice and infamy.


Certainly. History is written by the victors, but in the US we have the peculiar situation where those who lost the Civil War for decades have been trying to win it on the sneak — not in the sense that they can restore slavery, but they think they can restore white supremacy. And now of course the neo-Nazis delude themselves that they complete Hitler’s project of eradicating anyone different — again, not accepting that Hitler lost the war, trying to reverse history, though this time Germany is a minor player and Russia a major one — and Islam the wild card that no one expected. Seventy-two virgins! — but only in the afterlife. It would be so funny if it weren’t tragic.

So the past isn’t even the past. And the present keeps changing the past, since the past — our own, or collective — is indeed a story, and it’s all in the interpretation. Insight can be a redeeming feature, though — even if again it’s just a perspective, seeing what we poorly remember with different eyes. I remember reading Rilke’s Remembrance for the first time in my late twenties, and it barely registered; then years later the poem was a revelation, and it helped increase my awareness of how certain major milestones in life (e.g. not just first love, but great love) were already behind me. And now I found it again, after yet more milestone experiences, and the insight that the great thing I was waiting for has already happened is all the more powerful.  


I remember this teachers’ mantra, especially in high school: “Your whole life lies ahead of you.” It vaguely irritated me then — as if what lay ahead would be wonderful, while already in our teens we knew better: it would be a mix of the good and the bad. Above all, it would be difficult. Still, we were indeed filled with waiting for “real life.” Would it start at graduation, when we received the strangely called “certificate of maturity” (provided we passed the maturity exam)? Given the many joke about the certificate of maturity, that couldn’t be it. Would it be the college degree, then, and the first full-time job? Would it be marriage? Childbirth? No one dared ask.

Then came the mantra that “life begins at forty.” That definitely had the aura of consolation. Women in particular seemed to dread turning forty (at that point I was in the US; in Poland, it seems forty was when women ceased to celebrate their birthdays and chose to receive flowers on their name day instead, as if the patron saint suddenly gained importance). Then “fifty is the new forty.” The most daring would even say, “Sixty is the new forty.” Baby boomers are supposedly “re-inventing aging.”

My personal solution, at one point, was to call myself “posthumous.” Since I was no longer an active poet, which had been my most “real” (at at least most intense) life, now I could enjoy a more Taoist-like life of not struggling. Now I could take it easy and just “be” rather than constantly do something. 

True, I no longer needed to “prove myself.” But life is never devoid of challenges and surprises. It’s never exactly easy — though easier in many ways than during the desperate years that were also the years of high creativity. The greatest surprise has been my realization that it was too late for despair. I could brood over all the disappointments — or I could concentrate on making what modest contribution I could still make — and on enjoying the years that still remained.

And a new mantra emerged: “I can cope with whatever life throws at me.” And another one: “Eat good food now because there are no restaurants in heaven.” That’s a metaphor. I know my readers will get it. 

The only heaven is right here: the heaven you perceive around you, in the beauty of the world, and the heaven you manage create for yourself. 

Finally, yes, the surprises. If I’ve learned anything, it’s this: whatever you imagine lies ahead, that won’t be quite it. In fact it may be something entirely different.

We should stay open to the odd, the unexpected, the unscheduled. It’s not so much a lowering of standards as a questioning of their purpose, and the various uses of love. ~ Barbara Holland 

Charles Sherman: The Heart of Infinite Love, 2016 (ceramic with copper and iron oxide patinas)

a darker view:

Life — the way it really is — is a battle not between Bad and Good but between Bad and Worse. ~ Joseph Brodsky

Along similar lines:

Tragedy is the clash of right and right. ~ Amos Oz


Here is an interesting image of "remembrance" that has recently come my way: In the archives of the Prague Castle; M. Peterka, 1958

And here is its companion image to whatever is carefully preserved in those archives, by Sebastian Bianek:

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” ~ Viktor Frankl

In my late teens I asked my mother, a scientist, how come all the animals sent into space died, in spite of extensive training, while humans routinely survive. My mother said, “That's because a human being knows the meaning of what he is doing.”

PEOPLE USED TO PLAY THE ROLE OF THE GODS (an interesting theory)

~ “Just as different actors play the same character — Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula — so in ancient times different people performed the role of gods such as Ishtar, Jehovah, Baal, Zeus, Apollo, Dionysus, and so on.

An original genius performs a dynamic leadership role that congregates people into a thriving nation, and once the originating person dies the society chooses a person to continue that role. The spirit of the Tribal God becomes immortal as each subsequent person assumes the role.

Buddha is played by the Dalai Lamas, Jesus is played by the Popes and the Patriarchs, and Mohammed was played by the Caliphs.
At first the new actor takes the same name as the original “god”, pretending to actually be them reincarnated, like all the men who played Zeus, then when people realize the actual first god-man is dead the actor acts as a substitute like the Pope as vicar of Christ, and now leaders playing god use a title of authority like King and President.

Always it seems we humans must appoint a leader for each group in the hierarchy of societies.

Over the past 10,000 years our Tribal Leader has evolved from God to Priest to King to President to reflect our growing awareness of the mortality of God, a fictional character we invent which is played by a person who leads the pageantry of power that sustains social order whose chief purpose is to organize how we breed children and grow food.” ~ Surazeus Seamount, posted on Facebook 

Velasquez, Pope Innocent X, 1650


A compelling presentation. It wouldn't surprise me if the "historical Jesus" was a fusion of 2 or 3 different men — one of them an apocalyptic nut (probably a genuine schizophrenic), and another more of the school of Rabbi Hillel. Wasn't seen as a god right away, but later there was no stopping it. Popes have turned out to be a very poor substitute as a “representative of Christ on earth” — though Francis has shocked us in a good way by trying to actually follow Christ’s teachings, thereby disgusting the conservatives.


~ “In the most recent study, Brick Johnstone studied 20 people with traumatic brain injuries affecting the right parietal lobe, the area of the brain situated a few inches above the right ear. He surveyed participants on characteristics of spirituality, such as how close they felt to a higher power and if they felt their lives were part of a divine plan. He found that the participants with more significant injury to their right parietal lobe showed an increased feeling of closeness to a higher power.

“Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self,” Johnstone said. “Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”

Johnstone says the right side of the brain is associated with self-orientation, whereas the left side is associated with how individuals relate to others. Although Johnstone studied people with brain injury, previous studies of Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns with normal brain function have shown that people can learn to minimize the functioning of the right side of their brains to increase their spiritual connections during meditation and prayer.

Johnstone makes the comparison to other kinds of disciplines; “It is like playing the piano, the more you train your brain, the more the brain becomes predisposed to piano playing. Practice makes perfect.”

While researchers have been focused on finding a ‘God spot’ in the brain, the new research suggests that it might be better to focus on the neuropsychological questions of self focus vs selfless focus. As Prof. Johnstone explains: “when the brain focuses less on the the self (by decreased activity in the right lobe) it is by definition a moment of self-transcendence and can be understood as being connected to God or Nirvana. It is the sensation of feeling like you are part of a bigger thing.”


This finding has been replicated: “Spiritual transcendence (i.e., emotional connection with the numinous/mystical) is a specific spiritual dimension that appears to be primarily related to increased selflessness associated with decreased RPL functioning.”

The work on meditating Buddhist monks and nuns at prayer showed a similar decrease in the activity of the right parietal lobe.

Why would this be of interest to a secularist like myself? Because as a poet acquainted with the creative process, and as someone who has often experienced awe before the beauty of nature, I have known for quite a while that the key is an intense focus on something other than the self. Singing, dancing, acting, gardening — all kinds of activities provide the entrance to that special state where daily cares are lifted and we often speak of the delight of “losing ourselves” in something. 


The murderer kills because he seeks “justice." ~ Steven Pinker (in a lecture on the culture of honor versus the culture of dignity)

Humans are moralizing animals, with a curious need to pass judgment on others and see that they get punished. Pinker studied the causes of violence, including the most common motive for homicide. According to police records, it’s not material gain; it’s “justice.” The killer is carrying out capital punishment; his victim deserves to die for this or that reason (cf “I want justice” in “The Godfather”)

Thus, the perpetrator sees himself as the real victim: the victim of injustice, which needs to be corrected. Society is also to blame, since it’s stacked against the perpetrator, who is thus forced to mete out justice himself. This is of course perverse logic, but it’s fascinating that criminals have a psychological need to see their actions as morally justified.

Likewise, wars tend to be justified using the language of moral principles. Pinker suggests we need to think of morality less in terms of blame and punishment, and more in terms of minimizing harm and maximizing flourishing.

It seems to me that when progressives speak of justice, it’s likely to mean human rights, equal opportunity, equal pay, etc. When conservatives speak of justice, they mean retributive justice: punishment, vengeance. Not in 100% of the cases, but it’s a tendency.

~ “God appears, in a whirlwind. Throughout the Old Testament, as Freud claimed, God takes the part of the angry father. Here he surpasses himself, by pointing out to the four men what he is and they are not: the creator of all things. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” He proudly inventories the wonders he fashioned. Most thrilling, perhaps, is his portrait of the warhorse:

    Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?

    Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible.

    He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. . . .

    He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.

    He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

“Ha, ha!” That is the spirit of God’s answer to Job. I am power itself, he says. How dare you question me?

Job immediately apologizes for challenging his maker: “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Now God addresses the three friends, who told Job that God is just. He punishes them for presuming to say that they understand his ways. Then he turns to Job and tells him that he alone has spoken the truth—apparently, that God is not understandable. For this, God rewards him.

The story is bewildering, from beginning to end. How could God, being God, allow Satan to seduce him into destroying a good man? More important is the moral: that we have no right to question him for doing such things. (God, for all that he says from the whirlwind, never answers Job’s questions.) Furthermore, the Book of Job seems to claim that all wrongs can be righted by property. If everything was taken away from Job, the problem is settled by God’s giving it all back, mostly twofold—fourteen thousand sheep for his seven thousand, etc. As for the ten dead children, in this case Job gets only ten back, but the new daughters are more beautiful than any other women in the land.

For people who take the Bible seriously as an explanation of life and as a guide to right conduct, all this is mysterious. It is certainly not the first instance in which God inflicts appalling misery on his people. In Genesis, he killed everyone on Earth except those on Noah’s ark. But Job is highly individualized—a person like us. He is probably the character in the Old Testament we sympathize with most closely. (David is his only competition.) Therefore, his struggle to go on believing in God is something that theologians and moralists have had to think about. Their conclusions are the subject of Mark Larrimore’s book.

Larrimore quotes a passage from Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759): “ ‘What difference does it make,’ said the dervish, ‘if there is good or evil? When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry about whether or not the mice are comfortable on board?’ “ Voltaire said that Candide was “Job brought up to date.”

Many philosophers, probably without meaning to, inched their way toward the same position. Kant said that all we could do with doubts about God was admit them. For Kant, Larrimore writes, “the book of Job shows that the problem of evil must remain an open wound.” Larrimore thinks that’s still true: that the dispute between Job and his friends epitomizes modern thought. There are no answers, only riddles.

In the face of that impasse, the discussion often shifts from content to style. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a number of people who wrote on Job—the German theorist Johann Gottfried von Herder, the Anglican bishop Robert Lowth—stopped trying to figure out God’s plan, and instead focussed on his poetry, whose sublimity, they felt, was meaning enough. Indeed, the ambiguity boosted the sublimity. This position was undoubtedly reassuring, but the new aestheticism could also be seen as a failure of moral seriousness. Furthermore, it placed God at a very far remove from humankind.

One of the reasons that Job complains so bitterly is that he thought that he and God had a relationship. Now it is sundered: “I cry unto thee and thou dost not hear me.”

His sense of abandonment is a great part of the poignance of the Book. But as the Enlightenment, whose efficient universe had little place for a punishing God, yielded to Romanticism, with its worship of passion, many thinkers had less need for a pleasant, companionable God. An excellent example is William Blake, who between 1805 and 1810 produced a series of twenty-one watercolor illustrations for the Book of Job. Blake did not need God to make sense. He wanted him to be a figure of pure energy, like the “Tyger, burning bright.”

In the twentieth century, the most pressing new influence on the interpretation of Job’s story was the Shoah, after which, Larrimore writes, Job “became Jewish.” The person most responsible for his conversion was Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor. Wiesel began lecturing about Job as early as 1946. He regards the Book as a great text, and a great torture. For many, Job epitomized the suffering of the Jews during the Second World War and also their perceived response to it, which, in the nineteen-sixties, Hannah Arendt described as going like lambs to the slaughter. As God played dice with his life, Job grieved and protested, but he didn’t take any action. This interpretation anguished Wiesel. An alter ego in one of his novels “never ceased resenting Job.” He says, “that biblical rebel should never have given in.” Eventually, Wiesel decided that Job hadn’t given in.

If, for many Westerners, the question of why God allows good people to be tortured is no longer a pressing issue, why is it that Job appears to be the most fascinating book of the Old Testament? I can’t think of a single character in the Bible, apart from Jesus or David, who is quoted more often than the dramatis personae of the Book of Job are.

This is without doubt due, in part, to the Book’s amorality. I believe that if you woke a lot of people in the middle of the night, and asked them why they cared about the Book of Job, they would name the most troubling, least sympathetic character in that document: God. He, not Job, is the star of the Book, and though he is not loving or fair, that seems to be part of the attraction. Once God appears and speaks, you are almost blown to the ground. “Hast thou an arm like God?” he demands. Then, in a rolling magnificat, he names the things that he has created: the earth, the sea, the night, the light, the constellations, the clouds, the winds, the dew, the rain, the snow, the hail, the frost, the thunder and lightning. He goes on to the animals: the goats, the asses, the hinds, the peacocks, the ostriches, the grasshoppers. In two celebrated passages, he describes with pride the monsters he created: Behemoth and Leviathan, Behemoth’s counterpart in the sea: “His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.” God’s description of the warhorse is even more exalting, because this creature is unquestionably real, not fantastic. Likewise the eagle: “She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.” She brings pieces of flesh back to her children. They feed on the blood.

God’s speech slaughters the moral, the what-should-be, nature of the rest of the Book of Job. It is the knife flash, the leap, the teeth. And despite, or because of, its remorselessness, it is electrifying. It is like an action movie, or a horror movie. Of course, Job is important in the story, but today he seems the pretext, the one who is like us, and makes the argument that we would make. As for God, he makes the argument that, at least as far as nature is concerned, is true." ~


Again I return to this rich article, this time pondering what Milosz said: that the modern tendency has been more and more to equate god with nature, and nature is amoral: “Everything devours everything.” There is no justice, not even some veiled sort we are too inferior to grasp. It’s pure, amoral power: the warhorse, the Leviathan, and the Behemoth.

The Book of Job could be understood to present god as nature. That’s just how things are — it has nothing to do with what you deserve. Justice is a human concept; the sense of fairness does not exist in nature — except, to some extent, in all social species (wolves, elephants). Once you have a group, cooperation becomes important, and a certain degree of altruism (or call it simply “caring”) serves the survival of the group.

But that’s not good enough for humans. We want bad things to happen only to bad people. But that’s just wishful thinking. The world is not just, and humans must live with that reality. There is no just ruler of the universe who will “wipe out every tear.” Fortunately there are many others who understand the frequently random nature of suffering, those on whom we can count to extend not blame but consolation. 


That tremendous bully of a God in the book of Job does represent something I see as an uncomfortable truth. We are not the apple of any God’s eye. Complaints of unfairness and undeserved misfortunes refuse to see the randomness of things, instead demanding an infantile world of “fairness” — of rewards to the deserving, good and obedient, and punishment for the undeserving, disobedient and unruly. This is a childish vision that in no way mirrors nature. Clinging to this false idea is a comfort . . . daddy’s  watching over me, I am his beloved child, I will be protected and rewarded for my devotion and good behavior. All untrue, but a sheltered hiding place for those unable to see or accept that we are merely incidental, and not the core and reason for the universe.


Pagan cultures had the notion that even the gods were subject to Fate . . .  which was different from the Hebrew idea that god is just and rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, so if you got sick, or your crops failed, you must have sinned and were now being punished. Note that Job’s “comforters” try to convince him that either he must have sinned, or one of his children. Science has been liberating us from this habit of blaming the victim, but the idea returned with a vengeance with the popular New Age belief that we attract misfortune with negative thinking. Cancer? You must have thought you don’t deserve perfect health. Lost your job? It’s not the economy, no; it’s that you were afraid you’d lose your job. Thought crime.

One way or another, people have a hard time accepting randomness. Doing so would make them kinder, and being kind is actually a pleasure . . .  but it has to be discovered, and someone has to set an example. Some months ago, on a weekend, a neighbor of mine who happens to be an electrician repaired my garage door opener for free in about ten minutes, saving me hundreds of dollars — but what I most remember is how happy he was to be performing this kind deed, how radiant. He must have felt so good about himself . . . if only more of us had the skills and the opportunities . . . we wouldn’t think of worshiping a Nazi-like deity. 

But the Book of Job at least acknowledges the uncomfortable truth that bad things happen to good people — in that sense it’s a book of wisdom. Another wise book is Ecclesiastes, which is shockingly secular and ends by telling us to work with dedication (“whatever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might”), but also to “put on a clean garment” and enjoy life.

~ “With billions of people intersecting, interacting globally, continuously, we can figure that billion of things bounce off each other globally, continuously. Good things, bad things, unpredictable things, kind and terrible things, strange and unexplainable things.

But the Law of Large Numbers degrades to nonsense when we try connecting dots for personal meaning and comfort. We want the dots to spell a message that we, among all people on earth, are special to God. That's when Jesus shows up on toast. That's when a hurricane kills dozens in New Orleans — because — as Pat Robertson put it — God hates gays.

People connect dots for personal reasons. A family survives a tornado in Kansas that blows their neighbors off the map, and they declare on national TV that God answered their prayers. Too bad about the neighbors.

Since time began we have been story telling, pattern seeking, meaning making animals. But religious dots, like history, are connected only by survivors.


Chris Kammal, a Florida paramedic:

“I work as a medic fireman. I see death and mayhem routinely. I have run thousands of calls over the last 23 years and so many of them were people in extreme crisis, or already dead when we got there.

I was asked the other day if I've ever seen miracles or things that can't be explained. My response was that I see many things beyond explanation but never anything miraculous. The miraculous implies that forces outside this world intervened, defying the basic principles of nature. But there's no evidence that the laws of physics have ever been suspended to save someone who was standing in the way.

A tree falling on a child doesn't reverse course because a mom cries out to God. There's no evidence that the universe has ever been manipulated by outside forces — in spite of ancient mythology or miraculous bible stories.

I've seen cars recognizable only by their tires, yet everyone came out alive with light injuries. I've seen cars with only moderate damage, with everyone dead.

I've seen a college freshman waiting at school for his mom to pick him up, but before she got there another driver had a heart attack, jumped the curb and killed the kid. Random is the rule.

The universe does not care who you are, where you come from, how religious you are, or how much money you have.

We are all potential victims. Of course, good information and alert thinking help avoid problems before they happen. But you can't always avoid a drunk barreling the wrong way in your lane, or a tsunami that washes 430,000 innocent people to their deaths.

When you are at wits end, or your life is on the line, or you're down in the foxhole of war, you might or might not pray. It helps people transcend the circumstances they're trapped in. When people pray, it can ease the stress in their minds. They need hope, even if it's fantastical. Personally, I think it's no different than doing a line of coke, or smoking a joint.

It's my belief that if more of the world embraced the truth of randomness, we would spend less time being afraid of imaginary, omnipotent gods in the sky, and spend more time helping our fellow human beings.” ~


No, there is no cosmic justice. But now and then we get to see “poetic justice” — as when a preacher who’s been blaming natural disasters on gay rights gets his own house destroyed in a natural disaster.


“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” ~ Mark Twain

ending on beauty:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

~ Adrienne Rich

~ not the philosopher kings (there aren’t any, and those who may have come close were a disaster), but ordinary shoppers at Home Depot, buying tomato seedlings and baby peach trees. Or by those who share their beautiful photographs, like Haley Hyatt.

No comments:

Post a Comment