Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?
Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?
I spent some of my childhood in rural Oxfordshire, not far from Wittenham Clumps, a pre-roman, iron-age fort comprising two grassy hills, the taller of which had a copse of beech trees on top. Some distance beyond was the River Thames with a broad weir, 18th century lock and a medieval watermill which to this day pounds the dark water beneath its large oak wheel. As a child I loved to explore the countryside, cycling, clambering, eating blackberries from the hedgerows, sometimes throwing myself down in the middle of a vast wheat field or, in winter, walking across an expanse of untrodden snow.
On one such occasion, I came across a rabbit dying from what I later understood to be myxomatosis, a disease deliberately introduced into nature by practical-minded humans to control the rabbit population. I knew none of this at the time, just that the little creature was in terrible distress, breathing quickly and heavily, it’s badly swollen eyes oozing pus, it’s furry body soaked in sweat and covered in superating tumors. I was afraid to touch it; I think it was too sick to feel any fear of me. I sat in the ditch with the dying creature for a long time.
Now this will sound melodramatic – but I will say it anyway: crouching in that ditch it was as if I had somehow become the rabbit, and the rabbit’s pain had ‘entered’ into me. (Nonsense! Such identification with – or empathy for – an animal, is unlikely in a boy of 10, and this whole story must simply be the colouring of memory!) But the intensity of the experience was, I believe, quite mystical. It was as if the animal’s suffering – once contained by the ‘wier’ of it’s solitary pain, now spread out like a river, flooding through invisible waterways and into me. In voodoo, in the tribe-totems of the native americans, in shamanic trance, in animist and other traditional beliefs systems, we can unite with the spirit of an animal, or the animal may enter us.
“Dama is … a joint where the living, the ancestors, and the animals of the bush meet to transact the deeper relationality of Dogon mythical thought… One’s animal kikinu (spiritual principles) can manifest in one’s eyes, and a skilled expert can determine one’s animal, or totemic, ancestor. The interrelationships of inner ancestral and animal dimensions are principles of personhood important during the Dogon maturing process… masks came from yénéu, the spirits of the bush and its animals … One of the cardinal beliefs in the traditional religious heritage of Africa is the interconnectedness of all that exists … for this reason certain objects in nature, such as animals and trees, feature in the spirituality of traditional Africa and are treated with reverance. Human faculties of consciousness, will, and purpose are attributed to objects with life, and thus communication between humans and other forms of life is possible.”
From “A Communion of subjects: Animals in religion, science and ethics” by Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton
Of course, to the scientifically-minded among us, this is all nonsense. So was this then perhaps merely an over-active childhood imagination, or a stress-induced, psychotic experience of sorts? The disorientation, intensity of feeling coupled with a sense of unreality and the disruption of normal time, suggest this might be the case. Yes, that must be it.
I stayed with the rabbit and only left some time after it had stopped breathing. My shoes and shorts were wet and muddy from the ditch which was used to bring water along the course of the hedgerows and into the fields. Returning home, I was met with my father’s anger and a telling-off from my mother because I had been gone so long. Somehow I had lost all sense of time in that ditch – I could have been there for a moment, a day, longer even. I didn’t try to explain, I couldn’t explain and there was no need to explain. Returning home after dark, I distinctly recall a sense of complete calm. Though just a boy, I understood at some level of my child-consciousness that I had experienced the sacred.
I was born in 1963, the Chinese year of the Water Rabbit.
“Animals share with us the privilege of having a soul.” ~ Pythagoras
When religions abandon love, their gods become monsters
Supralapsarianism (also antelapsarianism) is the view that God’s decrees of election and reprobation logically preceded the decree of the fall while infralapsarianism (also called postlapsarianism and sublapsarianism) asserts that God’s decrees of election and reprobation logically succeeded the decree of the fall.
The logical order of God’s decrees in Calvinist theology is the study of the logical order (in God’s mind, before Creation) of the decree to ordain or allow the fall of man andreprobation in relation to his decree to elect and save sinners. Several opposing positions have been proposed, all of which have names with the Latin root lapsus meaning fall.
Supralapsarianism (also antelapsarianism) is the view that God’s decrees of election and reprobation logically preceded the decree of the fall while infralapsarianism (also called postlapsarianism and sublapsarianism) asserts that God’s decrees of election and reprobation logically succeeded the decree of the fall. The words can also be used in connection with other topics, e.g. supra- and infralapsarian christology.
Many Calvinists reject both lapsarian views for various reasons. Herman Bavinck rejected both because he sees the entire system of God’s plan of salvation as organic with each part mutually dependent and determinative, rather than some parts “causing” others. Other Calvinists (and many non-Calvinists) reject the lapsarian views because they perceive any particular ordering of the decrees as unnecessary and presumptive speculation. Critics of lapsarianism often argue that it is impossible to conceive of a temporal process by which God, in eternity, issued decrees, and it is impossible to know the mind of God without direct, scriptural documentation.
You may ask why I have shared this somewhat arcane definition, given that it is difficult to understand and that most people I know could care less. Well firstly, I simply enjoy the sound of the words. antelapsarianism – say it aloud – wonderful isn’t it? and infralapsarianism – is that antelapsarianism with a special red light? These words are just so suggestive of all sorts of things completely unrelated to “The Decrees of God” (whatever that means). Is antelapsarianism about “lapsing”? Something to do with the inhabitants of Lapland? Or is it to do with lapsidaisical – itself a corruption of lackadaisical – “lacking spirit or liveliness, idle or indolent especially in a dreamy way”?
I have also shared this definition as a point of departure: I find it interesting that well-meaning (and some not-so-well-meaning) men and women through the centuries have presumed to know not only the Will of God for the world, but in addition to have what appears to be a self-appointed, almost ex officio claim to Knowing The Mind of God and His Will for me. And often as not the individuals making these claims are either unsavoury characters (the proverbial Watchtower-weilding JW duo in their tatty suits at the door) or at least largely ignorant of their own theological traditions. The assumption here is that I do not know the Will and Mind of God (which admittedly I do not) and they do. The certainty with which it is proclaimed is always disconcerting if you are like me, a thorough-going pyrrhonist, “doubting even my doubts”. The trouble with such vehement certainty is that without exception it casts me – and you – (and most of the inhabitants of this planet for that matter) in the default position of the Ignorant, Unbeliever, Heathen, Wrongdoer, Transgressor, Infidel, Evil Other, Outsider, Kāfir.
For me – and for you – to question this presumed knowledge of The Mind and Will of God, is to land us in dire straits both here and in the afterlife. The tacit assertion that They who Know are going to heaven and We who do not Know are excluded – has always been a precursor to intolerance and a conceit that would have caused Jesus to fashion a whip and turn over a few tables.
Ar y dechrau cyntaf, dyma Duw yn creu y bydysawd a’r ddaear. Roedd y ddaear yn anhrefn gwag, ac roedd hi’n hollol dywyll dros y dŵr dwfn. Ond roedd Ysbryd Duw yn hofran dros wyneb y dŵr. A dwedodd Duw, “Dw i eisiau golau!” a daeth golau i fod. Roedd Duw yn gweld bod hyn yn dda, a dyma Duw yn gwahanu’r golau oddi wrth y tywyllwch. Rhoddodd Duw yr enw “dydd” i’r golau a’r enw “nos” i’r tywyllwch, ac roedd nos a dydd ar y diwrnod cyntaf.
The text above is an example of Welsh (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg), a member of the Brittonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales (Cymru). The varieties of Brythonic spoken in different parts of Britain, and by Brythonic-speaking migrants to Brittany, began to develop into separate languages: Welsh in Wales, Cornish in Cornwall, Breton in Brittany and Cumbric in Cumbria.
As a child my family would spend our holidays in South Wales, my father having been born and raised on Penrhyn Gŵyr – The Gower Peninsula – home to menhirs from the Bronze Age and crumbling medieval castles.
I remember my grandfather’s soft, lilting welsh accent, and my aunt speaking the mysterious-sounding, ancient language. I remember the beauty of the countryside and the rugged coastline with names perfectly suited to a schoolboy’s imagination: The Mumbles, Worms Head, Arthur’s Stone. I was fascinated as a boy by the fierce-looking red dragon on the national flag, and I imagined my ancestors now lost in the mists of time: Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Romans, Normans, Druids, Celts.
Did you know that beer was critical to the birth of civilization?
“What is the meaning of it, Watson? said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
My heart can take on any form:
A meadow for gazelles,
A cloister for monks,
For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka’ba for the circling pilgrim,
The tables of the Torah,
The scrolls of the Quran.
My creed is Love;
Wherever its caravan turns along the way,
That is my belief,
― Ibn Arabi
Ibn ‘Arabî (1165–1240) can be considered the greatest of all Muslim philosophers, provided we understand philosophy in the broad, modern sense and not simply as the discipline of falsafa, whose outstanding representatives are Avicenna and, many would say, Mullâ Sadrâ. Western scholarship and much of the later Islamic tradition have classified Ibn ‘Arabî as a “Sufi”, though he himself did not; his works cover the whole gamut of Islamic sciences, not least Koran commentary, Hadith (sayings of Muhammad), jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, and mysticism. Unlike al-Ghazâlî, whose range of work is similar to Ibn ‘Arabî, he did not usually write in specific genres, but tended rather to integrate and synthesize the sciences in the context of thematic works, ranging in length from one or two folios to several thousand pages. Nor did he depart from the highest level of discourse, or repeat himself in different works. The later Sufi tradition called him al-Shaykh al-Akbar, the Greatest Master, a title that was understood to mean that no one else has been or will be able to unpack the multi-layered significance of the sources of the Islamic tradition with such detail and profundity.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: First published Tue Aug 5, 2008; substantive revision Mon Feb 10, 2014
In the hussle and bustle of the workplace, the marketplace, the shopping malls at Christmas, in the frenetic Everyday with it’s glitzy advertisements and distressing news reports, I find myself rereading the poem Before the beginning of years by the Romantic poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909). The last four lines I find particularly poignant:
He weaves, and is clothed with derision; Sows, and he shall not reap;
His life is a watch or a vision
Between a sleep and a sleep.
Swinburne was the archetypal Romantic poet, “blasphemous and depraved” in the eyes of prurient Victorian society. For me, his words express something essential about the mystery of existence; the Vedic Māyā – the Illusory and Unreal – comes to mind. How is it that the profane can express divinity?
The poem in full:
Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance, fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And life, the shadow of death.
And the high gods took in hand
Fire, and the falling of tears,
And a measure of sliding sand
From under the feet of the years;
And froth and the drift of the sea;
And dust of the laboring earth;
And bodies of things to be
In the houses of death and of birth;
And wrought with weeping and laughter,
And fashioned with loathing and love,
With life before and after
And death beneath and above,
For a day and a night and a morrow,
That his strength might endure for a span
With travail and heavy sorrow,
The holy spirit of man.
From the winds of the north and the south,
They gathered as unto strife;
They breathed upon his mouth,
They filled his body with life;
Eyesight and speech they wrought
For the veils of the soul therein,
A time for labor and thought,
A time to serve and to sin;
They gave him light in his ways,
And love, and space for delight,
And beauty, and length of days,
And night, and sleep in the night.
His speech is a burning fire;
With his lips he travaileth;
In his heart is a blind desire,
In his eyes foreknowledge of death;
He weaves, and is clothed with derision;
Sows, and he shall not reap;
His life is a watch or a vision
Between a sleep and a sleep.
“Every single human soul has more meaning than the whole of history.”