Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Terry

I was hanging out with Terry last night, and he posed for me next to one of his tree friends. While I drew, we talked, and Terry was in an angry mood.

He said, "Humans are so fucking stupid. Aw, don't look so shocked, Puny. They are. Jesus got it right when he said that we're a bunch of compulsive sinners, that we reject the gifts of god and worship money and power. I'm taking a break, Puny. Pour that scotch."

So, Terry pulled on a sweatshirt and I poured us both a healthy shot of Ardbeg, water of life from the Isle of Isley, and we sat down under the tree to drink and talk. I'd had a rotten afternoon myself at work, and Terry's dark mood complimented my own.

"Humans are so stupid," he went on. We'd be hopeless without our angels. We waste our potential in the fruitless quest for security while drowning in the fear of death. Profit is king. The little children bow down before celebrity and wealth."

"Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers . . ." I said, quoting Wordsworth.

"Christians! Phooey! What a bunch of hypocrites."

"Drink up," I said. "We're losing the light."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Engage! Or disengage?

When Captain Picard instructed his helmsman to "engage" he was saying far more with that word than "move ahead." The order to engage meant that the engines would be powered up and connected to the awesome machinery that moved the great ship forward. The word evoked images of power and thrust, of gears with marvelous teeth, and steel, and appliances made of metals not yet invented all moving into place.

The word engage comes from the French engager meaning, to pledge, to place oneself under an obligation. From this, of course, comes the English word engagement, as in pledging oneself to marry. The word carries several other nuances of meaning, as in engaging a battle, embarking on a business, or as Picard used it, bringing parts of a machine together so that the wheels might turn.

When I use the world to describe my engagement with the world around me, I bring to mind all of those meanings. At once, I am pledged to this reality, and I pledge myself to be part of it, to care about it and act within it in ways that move life forward. I engage actively in this business of life. My engagement with the world is always, also, a tremendous challenge because my extreme sensitivity. I often feel embattled as I engage, assaulted by the human clamor and din and speed and the never-ending demands and constant pandemonium of life's battlefield. I am well aware that this war is never to be won—humanity is too deeply in thrall to the demons of greed and fear—and this, too, causes me pain.

Every day I desire to disengage. I want to go home to my bunny hutch and stay there, coming out only to forage for a bit of food. I want to disengage from the great battle and from the small, everyday tumult. I want to order, with the authority of a captain, "Helmsman! Full stop!"

Then a little voice reminds me that without the engagement of people like me, the world will fall to the dominators. I remember that quote often found posted on church bulletin boards, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" and I know it is my duty to stay engaged.

And then I say, "To hell with it! I'm disengaging anyway. I'm through. I'm not gonna care anymore. I'm breaking my vow." Except for my blogs, of course. I'll engage with the world that way, and with my art, and I'll engage with my kind friends and my beautiful children. So, I'm disengaging . . . except for the trees, of course, and the rocks and streams and all the nonhumans . . . Hey, when it comes right down to it, I don't want to disengage from life, only from the dominator life, and I have a right to jump that ship, don't I? Don't I?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book Review: The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, by Jordan Paper

This unassuming little university press book is a hidden jewel, and the only cross-cultural polytheistic theology I’ve run across. It’s no surprise that the project hasn’t been attempted before, since polytheism is always rooted in a particular experience of the world, and is, as Paper points out, the default human experience of the divine.

Paper teases out the commonalities across cultures in the polytheistic world view, and addresses the types of greater-than-human beings that make up the pantheons of traditional peoples. He also takes on monotheistic misperceptions of polytheism. In this last project, much to my delight, he debunks the common monotheist idea that the many deities are simply expressions of one godhead, a condescension that effectively denies the validity of polytheism.

I was glad to see that Paper did not allow himself to be limited by academic considerations, but choose to make this systematic study “confessional” and personal. Academic works, which demand footnotes and logical arguments, are not able to contain a system of belief that reaches beyond the rational.

Perhaps the most essential success of the book, however, is not discussed overtly, but informs the work throughout, and that is the animist reality underlying any polytheist experience. Polytheism, the relationship with the greater-than-human, is not possible if we don’t understand the nonhuman to have intelligence and soul, and those who insist on a one and only god, whether they identify as monotheists or not, are assuming a world that cannot live on its own, but must draw its power from “above.”

The animist reality is the living world, living rocks and waters, intelligent animals and plants, a sun and a moon who have eyes to see. If the world is filled with gods, this is to be expected, because an animist world is filled with beings of all kinds who are alive, sacred, powerful, intelligent, and ensouled.

Published by the SUNY University of New York Press, 2005. Available on Amazon or at college libraries . . . for almost $50.00 (!) and hard to find used. Kindle edition about $13.00. I found it at the university library.