Saturday, February 2, 2013

When What You Read Bleeds

Sometimes, the order and jumbling of books that come into our lives cause their meanings to bleed into each other, creating something entirely new that no author could possibly have intended.  I want to read into such experiences, feel somehow I'm being told something no one has found the words yet to say, but here, the universe offers... here are three books and what you need to know comes in between them, like overlapping colored plexi-glass discs.

For the last month or two I've been reading Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity (one chapter a week) and trying to separate for myself what the "church" has taught me religion/Christianity is and what the text/Jesus really says.  I know many people think he's a heretic (McLaren, not Jesus... although, I dare say Jesus is pretty heretical to many Christians) and discount him, but as in anything I read, there are some things that have jumped out at me.  One is the notion that as Christians, knowing how many people in this world go hungry/thirsty, and how many of our world's resources are given for meat production --shouldn't Christians choose to be vegetarian?

Additionally, I've also been increasingly put off by heaven and hell.  The Jews don't/didn't believe in them, so why is Christianity so wrapped up in them?  Punishment/Reward.  (Frankly the church has used abused them in the past for financial power, as well as other power.  Anyone think they still might be?  Have you been saved?)  Heaven and hell reduce our goodness.  They diminish our actions if we are only motivated to do good because of a reward or to avoid punishment.  I'm a fan of altruism.  So, I think what I'm going to do is behave as though they don't exist--that the kingdom of heaven is here now and it's up to me to do the work of making it real--real for myself, but more importantly, for others.  (I'll happily turn that "me" into "us" if anyone else would like to be so motivated.)

That's where The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery comes in.  No religious talk in this book.  But what it comes down to is summed up at the end.
"It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never.
Yes, that's it, an always within never... Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never.
Beauty, in this world."
I love this.  This is my new favorite notion of heaven.  The moments in this life of Beauty.  Whether that Beauty is created through art, music, human interaction... but it takes noticing, it takes work and creation.  And there, there, is another wonderful notion to me... creation.  I like to believe that's how we are created in God image, because we have the ability, the desire to create.  I think, when we remove afterlife, we focus on this life in a new way.

both covers are simply marvelous

Our emphasis doesn't need to be selfish and hedonistic just because we focus on life.  We can (should?) think about quality of life, quality of life for others (plants, animals, future generations)... our collective lives, our communities.

Here comes the other random book that has influenced these thoughts:  Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente.  No religion here either, but some wild (to me) Russian Folklore featuring Koshi the Deathless.  He's also known as the Tzar of Life who is in constant war with the Tzar of Death dividing the world into domains separated by a  hairsbreadth.  Their hold is all consuming, tenuous, bloody, painful.  There are eggs, and death, and resurrection, and keys, love, daughters, betrayal and it's all recycled, twisted like a pretzel and kept from the hungry so that the snake may eat its tail.  But how tenuous this life is while the only sure thing is our death.

So how do we come to terms with death?  Our inevitable death.

Hell, I don't know.  But I think it's somewhere in here, in valuing life, creating and appreciating Beauty, finding those moments of always within never -- that is our eternal life, creating heaven here, now, in this life.  Perhaps then, we can go graciously into death when that time comes, knowing the consequences of our life and choices are eternal in the life still living.

1 comment:

Britt Kaufmann said...

I should add that I highly recommend all of these books! McLaren may not be for you since it's pretty Christian and all, but the other two are great novels regardless of your god/no-god hangups.