Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cold Spring

I really have nothing much to write about here. I have much on my mind of late, but none of it really of posting value here.

Spiritually I am in a cold Spring, much like our weather has been. That's all I will say about that.

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Watching a recent "period drama" of BBC origin, as a military man I was reminded that things we do in service now (standing to attention when the CO enters the room, saluting) are essentially (with martial modification) just the courtesies that ordered society used to do as little as 75-100 years ago (and in some cases less) -

1. Stand when a superior enters the room (ahh . . . I suppose we have no superiors anymore, eh?), such as the head of household, or even just the eldest present;

2. Stand upon a lady entering or departing;

3. Greet others with a salute (tip of the hat, bow, curtsey, what have you)

What are now a military peculiarities were once just good manners exercised by most.

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As a child I very much liked LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy. While the fictional world she created had a cosmology which cannot be said to have any relationship to a Christian view of the world, she provides grist for strong questions to be explored (perhaps the best part of LeGuin's writing is her ability to create the contextual situation so as to get at questions that are in her mind, and ours).

In one scene near the end of The Farthest Shore, the Archmage Ged stands at the "dry river" in the land of the dead, speaking with Cob, a mage who has sought to save himself above all other things, out of fear of death, and has woven such great magic that men are drawn to his nothingness, the wells of wizardry have gone dry, and men have gone mad, being drawn to his same lust for avoidance of death:

"I was in Paln," he said to Ged, "after you, in your pride, thought you had humbled me and taught me a lesson. Oh, a lesson you taught me, indeed, but not the one you meant to teach! There I said to myself: I have seen death now, and I will not accept it. Let all stupid nature go its stupid course, but I am a man, better than nature, above nature. I will not go that way, I will not cease to be myself! And so determined, I took the Pelnish Lore again, but found only hints and smatterings of what I needed. So I rewove it and remade it, and made a spell- the greatest spell that has ever been made. The greatest and the last!" "In working that spell, you died." "Yes! I died. I had the courage to die, to find what you cowards could never find: the way back from death. I opened the door that had been shut since the beginning of time. And now I come freely to this place and freely return to the world of the living. Alone of all men in all time I am Lord of the Two Lands. And the door I opened is open not only here, but in the minds of the living, in the depths and unknown places of their being, where we are all one in the darkness. They know it, and they come to me. And the dead too must come to me, all of them, for I have not lost the magery of the living: they must climb over the wall of stones when I bid them, all the souls, the lords, the mages, the proud women; back and forth from life to death, at my command. All must come to me, the living and the dead, I who died and live!" "Where do they come to you, Cob? Where is it that you are?" "Between the worlds." "But that is neither life nor death. What is life, Cob?" "Power." "What is love?" "Power," the blind man repeated heavily, hunching up his shoulders. "What is light?" "Darkness!" "What is your name?" "I have none." "All in this land bear their true name." "Tell me yours, then!" "I am named Ged. And you?" The blind man hesitated, and said, "Cob." "That was your use-name, not your name. Where is your name? Where is the truth of you? Did you leave it in Paln where you died? You have forgotten much, O Lord of the Two Lands. You have forgotten light, and love, and your own name."

Earlier, Prince Arren, Ged's (known by his use-name, Sparrowhawk) young charge and companion, explains his fear of death and Ged discusses what seems to be wrong with the world:

"I betrayed-" he said, and stopped. "I betrayed your trust in me." "How so, Arren?. "There- at Obehol. When for once you needed me. You were hurt and needed my help. I did nothing. The boat drifted, and I let her drift. You were in pain, and I did nothing for you. I saw land- I saw land, and did not even try to turn the boat-" "Be still, lad," the mage said with such firmness that Arren obeyed. And presently, "Tell me what you thought at that time." "Nothing, my lord- nothing! I thought there was no use in doing anything. I thought your wizardry was gone- no, that it had never been. That you had tricked me." The sweat broke out on Arren's face and he had to force his voice, but he went on. "I was afraid of you. I was afraid of death. I was so afraid of it I would not look at you, because you might be dying. I could think of nothing, except that there was- there was a way of not dying for me, if I could find it. But all the time life was running out, as if there was a great wound and the blood running from it -such as you had. But this was in everything. And I did nothing, nothing, but try to hide from the horror of dying." He stopped, for saying the truth aloud was unendurable. It was not shame that stopped him, but fear, the same fear. He knew now why this tranquil life in sea and sunlight on the rafts seemed to him like an after-life or a dream, unreal. It was because he knew in his heart that reality was empty: without life or warmth or color or sound: without meaning. There were no heights or depths. All this lovely play of form and light and color on the sea and in the eyes of men, was no more than that: a playing of illusions on the shallow void. They passed, and there remained the shapelessness and the cold. Nothing else. Sparrowhawk was looking at him, and he had looked down to avoid that gaze. But there spoke in Arren unexpectedly a little voice of courage or of mockery: it was arrogant and pitiless, and it said, "Coward! Coward! Will you throw even this away?" So he looked up, with a great effort of his will, and met his companion's eyes. Sparrowhawk reached out and took his hand in a hard grasp, so that both by eye and by flesh they touched. He said Arren's true name, which he had never spoken: "Lebannen." Again he said it: "Lebannen, this is. And thou art. There is no safety, and there is no end. The word must be heard in silence; there must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss." Arren clenched his hands and bent his forehead down till it pressed against Sparrowhawk's hand. "I failed you," he said. "I will fail you again and fail myself. I have not strength enough!" "You have strength enough." The mage's voice was tender, but beneath tenderness was that same hardness that had risen in the depths of Arren's own shame, and mocked him. "What you love, you will love. What you undertake, you will complete. You are a fulfiller of hope; you are to be relied on. But seventeen years give little armor against despair... Consider, Arren. To refuse death is to refuse life." "But I sought death- yours and mine!" Arren lifted his head and stared at Sparrowhawk. "Like Sopli who drowned himself-" "Sopli was not seeking death. He sought to escape from it and from life. He sought safety: an end to fear- to the fear of death." "But there is- there is a way. There is a way beyond death. Back to life. To life beyond death, life without death. That is what they seek. Hare and Sopli, the ones who were wizards. That is what we seek. You -you above all must know- must know of that way-" The mage's strong hand was still on his. "I do not," Sparrowhawk said. "Aye, I know what they think they seek. But I know it to be a lie. Listen to me, Arren. You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor any thing. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose... That selfhood which is our torment, and our treasure, and our humanity, does not endure. It changes; it is gone, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease, to save one wave, to save yourself? Would you give up the craft of your hands, and the passion of your heart, and the light of sunrise and sunset, to buy safety for yourself - safety forever? That is what they seek to do on Wathort and Lorbanery and elsewhere. That is the message that those who know how to hear have heard: By denying life you may deny death and live forever! -And this message I do not hear, Arren, for I will not hear it. I will not take the counsel of despair. I am deaf; I am blind. You are my guide. You in your innocence and your courage, in your unwisdom and your loyalty, you are my guide- the child I send before me into the dark. It is your fear, your pain, I follow. You have thought me harsh to you, Arren; you never knew how harsh. I use your love as a man burns a candle, burns it away, to light his steps. And we must go on. We must go on. We must go all the way. We must come to the place where the sea runs dry and joy runs out, the place to which your mortal terror draws you." "Where is it, my lord?" "I do not know." "I cannot lead you there. But I will come with you."

For some reason I find a glimmer of great truth in this discussion - and an apt analogy to the sickness which seems to pervade our society today. We have, in so many ways, a culture which is so fearful of death that we wish to give up everything for prolongation of "life" or escape from death - the sort of Kurweil-like desire to live by any other means than to accept that we must die.

Now, again, I say 'glimmer' because I, of course, would not agree with this sort of cosmology - but I do think there is something that we must accept about the reality of this saying of Jesus: "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." As St. Paul says: "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die." Sometimes I think our Christianity becomes more like Cob and his followers - escape from fear of death by denying death and living forever! A sort of fairy tale view of salvation. The recent debacle of the Harold Camping predictions were of this sort - the "true believers" would be raptured and escape the destruction to follow.

The Way of the Cross, and back from death to life is, like in the Earthsea story, over the Mountains of Pain, if it is any way.

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