I didn't think it would come to this. A long year had made me eager for reflection. Then again, a long year extended further on.
Babies come and go every day. Why is this one so important?
Why are any?
Why is it so hard to hold the idea of 6 billion one-time babies in the mind?
Things I learned this Advent:
1. Jews have the Torah along with two other books, the Mishna and the Gemara. Some say Xians don't have the full story, yet that sounds like something the Xians might say.
2. Reading takes time, but mostly love. If your religion is based on a book, it will always be spiraling, splaying, and interlocking with other texts. Be comfortable with that, even if it means wrestling with all things canonical, apocryphal, dogmatic, poetic, or heretical.
3. Classical Judaism reads the scripture four ways: literal, metaphorical, homiletical, and spiritual. In the spiritual or Kabbalistic mode of reading, you take the leap in believing that God created the world using the Torah.
4. Commandments are. They don't need human reasons to be (though humans usually do). Proving that following a commandment is beneficial (for instance, not eating pork is good for digestion) does not get at the spiritual truth that comes from obedience. Obedience does not require benefits.
5. Advent is more buoyant than Lent because it ends with a baby. Lent ends with a crucifixion. (Alright, I know there's more)
6. Mary's suffering: Jesus life:: Jesus' suffering: Xian life (That's an oldy, but goody, ala the late middle ages)
7. Nothing good comes easy or free. No gift is free. Does even agape carry obligations?
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
Inspired by the story of Abraham and a little backlogged in paper-writing, I hope this poem can do double duty. Tell me the first word that comes to mind after you finish it.
Hemingway Sights the Incarnation
When I saw Christ seated at the right hand
of his father, he was buckled. He flew
down a fresh-paved interstate. The Ghost read
from the backseat. They came to my tent. They
knew me. Would they eat a piece of game? We ate.
They said a son was due. That if my books
had women, one might laugh. They left, of course.
I shot. They spun, crashed. Not quite procession,
union. Three for one. Was that it? So long
a life that we owe God a death. I flushed
at flesh pinned under form, but they had gone --
leaving books and words behind, only signs.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Today's Reading: Genesis 19:30-38. If you want to know the story of the strangers in Sodom to see what all the fuss is about, read all of Genesis 19
"Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters."
This story is the strangest story in the entire Bible, but it has some familiar scenes. Like Abraham in yesterday's reading, Lot is sitting at the city gate. We don't know why, but he's waiting. In a portal-- a place between places, danger. He is prone to strangeness. He falls to his knees before the strangers, he insists they come to his home, but (here is where the similarities break off) he shows them a more remarkable hospitality than Abraham. When the men of Sodom ask to sleep with the strangers he offers his daughters. "They're virgins!" he screams above the men surrounding his house.
This story is not for children.
But then, it's quite about children.
Where to go from here?
We're told that only four refugees make it out alive of two sister cities (how close to home?); insult to injury, one of these four becomes salt.
It gets worse.
A widower and two motherless daughters (who have each lost their fiancés to sulphur) go to Zoar, the nearest but smallest town.
Of course no stranger goes unnoticed in a small town, but what to do with these? They are aliens, marked from the second they walk in the gate, maybe burned from the fire they fled. Now who are the three strangers? Now who will greet them with kneeling? feed them? tend the scrapes and cuts they earned from running through the desert? weep, for even a moment?
The story of Lot makes me miserable.
Where to go from here?
Lot is afraid. He chooses to live in a cave. What shame. What fear.
His daughters have no other plans. Everyone they know has died. The women of Zoar insist they should cheer up. They're lucky to have a living father who can provide for them.
Here's where I turn to Derrida to make some sense, because I do not know where else to go from here. This passage is from Of Hospitality, a book of lectures given in 1996, and describes Oedipus on his first entrance to Thebes.
"The first moment, then, is the arrival of the arrival, Oedipus. Without knowledge. Without the knowledge, the knowledge of the place: where he is, where he is going. Between the profane and the sacred, the human or the divine. Isn't this always the situation of the absolute arrival?" (35)
Not quite an Oedipal moment, the sisters incite something stranger. Who is arriving now? Two children. Two sacred, profane children.
Two children whose children figure into the story of Abraham's children. Children human and divine. Conceived in strangeness. Born in caves.
Unlike a Greek tragic hero, Lot has no fatal flaw. Unless one counts leaving the portal: choosing the plains over the other side of the mountain, choosing to welcome strangers over treating them with indifference, choosing a hole in the ground over an inhospitable village.
But can we blame him? them?
Their family saga quiets down after this chapter. One imagines a cave could be liveable, and that Lot, his daughters, their sons pass a small life in their hole.
But who is left to kneel? To welcome this grotesque family to a real bed, a fit table?