Yes it is sweet, but probably has nothing to do with reality. No one could look at Yahweh without dying, and even Moses couldn’t look at His face. People sacrificed their children to their gods — would they, if gods were kindly little old men? Jesus taught his followers to be afraid, very very afraid. People in all cultures have been terrified of divine powers. Arduous systems have been developed for making the transition out of this life — why, if it were so easy?
Our culture’s mythology tells us either that death is nothingness, and therefore nothing to be afraid of, or it’s a sweet and painless transition. The near-death experience research seems to confirm the latter. But I find it hard to believe, given all we know about other cultures.
But I do experience god’s love, and it does make me feel like a child with a loving parent. i don’t mean that god isn’t loving, just that there is so much more than that. Love depends on hate and hate depends on love, pleasure and pain are almost the same thing. It’s just infinitely complicated, and it seems to me our cultural mythology is extremely limiting. There is a sense of having triumphed over nature and super-nature, and the fact is we haven’t.
real, a couple of hours? an hour and a half? before J died, he saw something. I had made the mistake of sitting him up, thinking it would help him breathe easier. Since he’d pulled out of a nosedive 3 times before, I wasn’t sure until I sat him up that he was dying. But he got a look on his face like I’ve never seen on his or any other human face. It was frightening, but it wasn’t a look of fear. If I had to describe it I’d say it was somewhere at the intersection of horror, astonishment, outrage, wonder . . . he looked appalled, electrified. His eyes were wide open and they tracked something from left to right (or vice versa, I forget) more steadily than human eyes ever ordinarily can. And then he gasped once like a dying cat. (Pardon the comparison but that’s my frame of reference.) I went, “Oops, big mistake,” and laid him down again and put an oxygen cannula on him, and he squeezed my hand as if he was grateful for the temporary reprieve. But after that his fingernails were gray and his breathing was about twice as fast as normal until it stopped.
It has been such a long time since I considered it possible that dying leads to nothingness. If I thought that maybe I would be less afraid of it. The idea that we don’t have a mind, just a physical body, is so foreign to me now it doesn’t occur to me. And of course I know that’s what many smart educated Americans believe.
Yes, we will have to die before we know what that’s about. And it will be utterly different from what we have been used to here. Our perspective might change so dramatically that we forget who we are or were, in which case our self of this world might as well have stopped existing.
Somehow, I never got the impression that Jesus taught us to “be afraid, very very afraid.” Perhaps because the analogy that he used to explain God to his followers was “Father” — and so I pictured my father. Which meant God was loving; stern enough when it was necessary to teach responsibility, and willing to step back and let us grow into adults, but loving all the while. (And, incidently, led me to the conclusion that Joseph was one a heck of a good man.)
But fear? I suppose that, if I had ever been afraid of my father (and I have known some fathers where that would be an entirely understandable emotion), I might be able to see that. But as it is, no way.
“It’s just infinitely complicated,…” Which is totally why i love this so much, as well. It’d be the coolest if it all went down like that.
I don’t think it would be fear of an angry Father so much as fear that it is too late to right the wrongs of our lives– every day is a new day– every second a new chance to make different choices that may make us better people… until our lamps run out of oil and we’re left in the dark(that’s parable-ese, eh?). And we go something like- “Holy crap!!”
It isn’t other people that ultimately benefit from our higher-minded choices and sacrifices- it’s our own soul. People like Michael would(are) scoff(ing) mightily. That’s ok. I’ve got your back, Michael:0).
Karen, I would only add that think it likely that God is more interested in Michael’s behavior towards others than in his opinions on theology. A loving father can, after all, indulge his children in such things. (Sorry, Michael. I realize you will likely take offense, even though none is intended.)
When we think of god as a father, we should keep in mind that this is just an analogy. If it reminds of your own human loving father, then you are getting a very limited impression of divine power. People learn about the loving father and the sweet peaceful Jesus in Sunday school, and that impression stays with them as adults. Either they reject it altogether as a child’s fairy tale, or it becomes the foundation of their faith. Only those who put effort into understanding religion get past the Sunday school version. I think it helps a lot to learn something about religion in other cultures that are remote from our own, such as primitive tribal cultures, or ancient cultures.
And yes, by the way, Jesus did emphasize fear, as did the Old Testament prophets. Fear, terror, awe, acknowledging human smallness and fragility — to me, that is essential to what religion is really about. Christianity is not about being “nice,” it is not about doing whatever other people demand. It is about taking your focus away from the pleasures and pains and strivings of this world, and focusing entirely on the higher levels.
Are you still striving for things in this world? Are you still enjoying anything about your life? Then I don’t think you are a Christian. Is your attention divided between faith in god vs people and things in this world? Then, like me, you are not a Christian but something else. Maybe some kind of pagan?
Actually, I didn’t learn that in Sunday school; I learned it from my parents. Their theology tended to focus on: All the law and all the Prophets are this: love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.”
It was a very loving and primitive form of Christianity — i.e. before Paul got hold of it.
Why didn’t I get the Sunday school version? One the way home from Sunday school on day, while we were all very young, my Mom asked us what we learned. One of my siblings responded “I learned that we are all born evil.” To which Mom responded, “Well, you weren’t!” And that was the last we ever saw of Sunday school.
[I learned that we are all born evil.” To which Mom responded, “Well, you weren’t!” And that was the last we ever saw of Sunday school.]
It sounds like your family of origin preferred the liberal version of Christianity, which emphasizes loving your neighbor as yourself, and sort of ignores everything else Jesus talked about. I think Jesus only said that once, and it was not the very center of his teaching. I don’t think so anyway. And it also depends on how you define “neighbor” — Jesus did not expect Jews to love non-Jews, for example. And loving your neighbor as much as yourself means you are supposed to love YOURSELF no less than you love your neighbor. So you are not supposed to sacrifice your own self for others, at least not according to Jesus.
As for whether or not we are born evil — that depends on how you define “evil.” I’ve heard that the word “evil” originally meant off the mark, imperfect, incomplete. According to that definition, humans certainly are born evil. Evil is a very hard concept to define. We have been influenced by fiction to think an evil person is someone who knows he is bad and enjoys doing bad things. That sort of person probably does not exist.
The truly evil person, according to Jungian psychology, is the person who perceives him/herself as perfectly loving and without faults.
We all suffer from that syndrome to varying degrees. To me, the liberal Christian tradition is way up there on the scale of hypocrisy and self-deception. They were not born evil, they love all humans everywhere, they live a decent moral life and do not harm anyone. The very type of person Jesus had no hope of saving.
When I consider the way electronic bits of on/off coded information are able to move unseen through air, from one computer to another to bear messages, pictures, and expressed thoughts around the world, to be picked up by human eyes, sent as differently coded electronic picture messages to human brains where they are processed and understood within seconds of being sent, I marvel at anyone daring to presume to know what is reality and what isn’t. A process of communication that was once (as recently a human life span ago) not a reality and beyond imagination is now an accepted reality. No eye has seen, nor ear heard what other realities await.
Donbas arrived in the mail yesterday. I stayed up until 4am reading it. When human lives are deeply touched and changed by the story of another life, brought solely to their attention via a shared electronic connection, I marvel even more.
Amazed is the best word I can find to describe my response to your account of the look experienced. I appreciate your willingness and courage to remain present and be visually and verbally faithful. In Biblical accounts of mystery, amazed is the word often used to describe a response to something which appears real but is beyond immediate understanding.
I haven’t got a clue what he saw, but it could’ve been a beast with a bull’s face, six wings, and a flaming sword, saying, “Enough of this! Come along peaceably or I’ll rip your soul out through your tonsils!”
But then I guess Christ on a cloud of glory would’ve been just as astonishing.
Whatever was seen, those eyes had already taken in and been witness to the full spectrum of human behavior and being. From hatred/ indifference to love, brutality to compassion, cruelty to kindness, revulsion to tenderness, gruesome to charismatic. For a man who had already seen an eyeful, to see something more, different or outside of previous experience would be amazing, regardless of what it was or what it turns out to be.
And Jesus did tell his followers to sacrifice all their worldly ambitions. They were not supposed to care at all about success or status. So that means NO ONE is a Christian, except maybe some monks who live in communes and pray constantly. But I’m sure even they have egos.
It is true that Jesus emphasized love, and that he said to love your enemies. But that was all part of his idea that we should NOT CARE about the world. It’s all the same, friends or enemies. It doesn’t matter because we are going somewhere infinitely better.
You can’t love anyone, in our usual understanding of the meaning of love, without also hating. If you love one person, you will hate anyone who tries to hurt him/her, for example.
realpc…Our physical eyes taken in bits and waves of unseen moving electrical energy every time we turn on a computer. When we do, we are allowed to see something in a format that remained unseen for thousands if not millions of years. What kind of look do you think would have crossed Abraham Lincoln’s face if (while he was yet alive) he was confronted with a computer screen on which he could see the satellite view of Gettysburg, view a picture of this country’s most recent president on Drudge, see/hear a video of his Address being read by another, and pull up 10,700,000 Google links with his name? I wonder if the look on his face would be one Amba might recognize? He might even gasp like a cat!
Most astonishing of all, I don’t need access to higher levels to imagine such a scene or convey it to the eyes and minds of others for them to imagine, embellish or denounce.
I don’t gasp in wonder at modern technology. It can be very nice and very useful, although it can also be terribly annoying. I appreciate it, but there is no way I would ever for one moment feel like worshipping it!
There is NOTHING we can perceive with our physical eyes that would make us gasp in wonder like a mystic experiencing a vision. Nothing.
Anyone who ever had even the faintest mystical experience would know that our modern technology is here on the physical level.
I am not wonder-struck by the accomplishments of our species. Some of it is neat. But humans are not gods.
Realpc…In my belief system humans are imbued and filled with the very breath of their Creator. Some recognize this, some don’t. Some encounter this reality touching and affecting their lives without their knowledge or awareness.
In my experience humans who have endured intense cruelty, suffering and shame without resorting to the same, often find themselves visited by love in strange and unusual ways, through places, beings, visions and dreams. For a man who endured what J endured at the hands of others to be graced with a person who stood by his side, loving him through his final infirmity and death is mystery indeed.
I’m still curious as to what you think the look on Lincoln’s face might reveal?
We are created by God (whatever God is, we do not know) but that does not mean we are gods. We can find wonderful things in worldly life and in our species, and we can also find confusion, hypocrisy and ugliness. I am not interested in worshipping humans. That doesn’t mean I hate them all.
I have no idea what Lincoln would have thought about computers. I didn’t have anything to do with computers until I was over 30, and when I finally did see one I did not faint from awe.
Maybe Lincoln would have found computers interesting, I doubt he would have looked like someone having a great mystical revelation.
There are a lot of people now days who worship science and technology, and believe it is leading us towards the kingdom of heaven. I just don’t.
The point is not the wonder of technology, realpc. It’s the wonder of alternate realties made real, in, over, through and beyond time. One does not need to die or have a great mystical revelation to experience mystery and encounter the amazing. I daily find the power of hatred and love, darkness and light, to be both amazing and mysterious.
It’s my belief creativity, imagination, and the ability to communicate and live in dynamic relationship are the gifts of image (mentioned by Moses ) which all humans carry and pass on from generation to generation. The kingdom of heaven, is said by one who spoke of it often, to be like a seed, a net, a merchant, and yeast; everyday items with the power to grow, capture, promote, and leaven. Very similar to the work of imagination.
“One does not need to die or have a great mystical revelation to experience mystery and encounter the amazing.”
I never said anything about that. I never said we can’t be amazed by ordinary life. You and I are not talking the same language. I said there are higher levels, and I think J was experiencing something we can’t begin to imagine and that can’t be explained. That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate this world. I would never ever suggest that. I have said many times that I am not a Christian because I do appreciate this world.
What fascinates me is that there is such a tight seal between worlds. Very little news leaks out. Mystical visions and near-death experiences, maybe a few psychedelic drug experiences, some dreams…these tiny bits of cryptic information. Mostly we have to wait until we die.
No Amba, I do not think so. This world is an expression of higher levels. Things are leaking through all the time, it isn’t always big and dramatic. I have always felt power and meaning behind even tiny things, like a pebble on the ground. The whole universe is behind every little part, and the whole story is within every little thing. It is beyond human language. I always knew that, since I was born.
Another cartoon metaphor that touches my heart. Sent by a young adult son this morning, after listening to me share my experience with J’s book, this blog and your journey. He listened with fascination as I read your description of the Look and burst out laughing with enjoyment at the possibilities named.