Sunday, August 30, 2009

Death, Thy Sting

In 1st Corinthians, Paul quotes a passage from Hosea, as he explains the gospel. Where, O Death, is thy sting?, he asks. The prophet Hosea wasn't channeling a particularly hopeful message; it seems that God was frustrated with his disobedient children, and at that point in the book he's almost mocking them, via this morbid apostrophe. A slightly ironic beckoning of Death and his thorny powers.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?, asks the Almighty. The answer in Hosea Chapter 13 seems to be no.

Sheol, as David describes it in the Psalms, is a place of no memory; the wordless place we go when we die. David asks God if he might be spared from a seemingly precipitant death, and as he barters with God, he points out that we can't praise God when we're dead. If God wants any praise, he'd better leave us live.

No one remembers you after they're dead.

Paul turns Hosea's message on its head: the hopeless, ironic calling of the Reaper and his deathly sickle becomes a rather passionate, triumphant near-condemnation of death. The same tone and fervor of Mr. Donne, in the famous sonnet:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, 5
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 10
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

So, according to Donne, even death dies; after only one short stay in the sleepy grip of death, we wake to a new life. Paul agrees. Or, Donne with Paul agrees, and what Paul says is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because Christ first tasted death for us, because we have died with him, somehow, while we are alive-- the magic of the gospel-- therefore, when we do die, we are laid into the ground dead, and moments later (?) raised into a self, a body, that cannot die. We are "sown a perishable body," (this vegetable love of mine, like a tuber in the ground), and "raised an imperishable body."

At any rate, death is no meanly masked ghoul. We all toward death do tend today, and no one knows what dreams may come. Death might be different than anyone supposed, and luckier.

And even if it isn't.

O Love, be thou my balm if soon will come a death whose sting is not remembering. Be thou bright, for now, and clear.

O Sheol, what has Christ done to you?

When you come to pull the black coat over my eyes, I hope you'll find the name of Love on my lips.

Christian Panentheism

"In Him we live and move and have our being," says Paul to the Athenians, quoting one of their poets. Pan-en-theism means "all in God," rather than "God is all," which would be Pan-theism. In God, says Panentheism, everything is. All take part in the being of God, though all are not identical with God's being.

Which isn't quite the God of the old testament, who seems locational; his sphere of being does not seem to encompass all that is, regardless of whether he played a role in the creation of it.

All that is "is" because it takes part in some system of being, some sphere of being. My mug of Panera coffee is a mug of panera coffee because it takes part in a system of being, of beings plural, of which I am a part and apart from in as much as I am being individually from it. If by death, then by death; if by spirit, then by spirit.

Certainly much of my being is made for me.

And you Christian, who do you say God is? A ghost, whose chalky white shape might on some hallowed eve be seen wandering over graveyards? No, says Christian, he is not. A vapor, or a substance of any sort? No, says Christian, he is a Spirit. What is a Spirit?

If I cut off your arm, Christian, is your arm "you" as much as the rest of you? No, says Christian, my arm is not me. How much of you, Christian, would I need to remove before I removed you? You cannot remove me, says Christian, for I am not my body. What are you, Christian? I am my soul, says Christian. What is your soul, Christian? It is spirit, says Christian.

What is a spirit? The spirit of a team is the relationship that they share, the thing that is caused by their togetherness, in purpose and action and being. It is the being they share. The team's being is through the players, but the players are not identical with the team, its spirit.

What if all human being were to suddenly disappear? Atomic fallout, let's say, or global warming. My Panera mug of coffee left sitting on this stucco sill. It would no longer be a mug of Panera coffee, as it would no longer be caught up in human being, through which it has achieved that being. Do we believe it would be here at all? Yes, says Christian. Yes, says Atheist.

How would it be? It would still take part in a system, a physical system. An Is-ness. It would be a field of energy upon which forces would continue to play their role.

What does that mean? Nothing more or less than God.

Surely I've misspoken, somewhere.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Seagull

Just watched a BBC production of Chekhov's first major play. I'd never read or seen any Chekhov prior to this, and the only thing I knew of Chekhov at all was what Michael Ryan used to say about his loaded guns, and Dickinson a master of this principle.

Well, the play, the production, was as moving as it was slow. It looked a little like a soap opera--the lighting, the portrait-shots pulled in very close, the kneeling and begging for love-- but it had so much emotional force as to be incomparable. His craft in arranging the coming and going of characters throughout the 4 acts, their well-placed, well written lines-- the complexity of the relationships throughout-- is what came clearly forward to me, what seemed to me to be his gift. Reading his quotes now on various adware infested quote sites, I find he was very conscious of the difficulty of writing about ordinary people, and the value in it.

I've been studying for the GRE, so that I've had on my mind Chaucer and his miraculous conversion of Aristocratic Italian forms to a varied English verse and prose that highlighted a cross-section slice of all demographical layers. Thinking now of people, of Konstantin's and my own obsession with ideas, of what Konstantin says: that he has become cold and lifeless-- at the age of 27!--for lack of love.