Gather round, campers, our discussion today is about God allowing suffering and evil to exist. The fact that terrible things happen all the time leads many of us to reject the idea of God on the grounds that no loving deity could permit such misery to occur.

But is God a puppet master? Or an unfeeling entity who observes us dispassionately?

Because we assume God is omnipotent, we let our definition of the word govern our concept of God. Our model is based on our own social constructs, such as the Boss or CEO–unlimited power but also ultimate responsibility for what happens.

If God is not other in the same way we perceive other people to be, then different rules apply. Think of “God” not as a huge human with superpowers but as something that experiences existence through us, through this world. Then God is a fellow sufferer, sharing in the experience. But that is still a separation; it’s still describing God in human terms. So–don’t cling to that definition, which is false, but continue to accept that we can only approach the divine through human understanding, precisely because we are humans.

Do not personify God (define God in human terms), but know that the way we perceive our existence by its nature leads us to see ourselves as separate and discrete; meaning we don’t easily come to a way of apprehending “God” except as another discrete being, separate from us. This aspect of our perception–the separation–is a necessary product of our freedom.

The prime value of our existence is freedom. It’s what separates us from the animals and the angels. Love is the transformative, active element–the medium in which we move. It is more than mushy, nice stuff we’re supposed to spread around. Love is the ground of all existence–mineral, animal, human, spiritual. Freedom is the uniquely human piece, and our charge is to exercise it with care for others and ourselves. To see God as puppeteer, or as controlling everything and all things, is to deny humans our purpose in existing.

There to be Seen (fiction)

Abstract image, both dense and watery, solid and liquid.

Is it possible? As happens in dreams, I watched the strange demonstrations carried out by my office mates with the kind of dulled surprise that suggests I knew about all of it before, unconsciously, and was reacting not to the fact of the thing but to the marvelous details of it now revealed. So that now, the more troubling question for me is not, How did such disturbing creations come to exist, and be in our possession, but rather, How did I already know about them and remain quiet?

I’ll grant that my workplace is a polite one, where we go along without raised voices or outbursts of emotion. This condition prevails without external compulsion; I think it reflects the maturity of our group members, and, if I can express this properly, the benefit of education on one’s ability to restrain the unhelpful impulses that naturally arise. I don’t imply that we are a simmering cauldron of repressed resentments, either, waiting for release. We are amicable, and we hold amicability as a value. Remaining considerate of each other, then, is more of an exercise of our values than a rankling constraint.

That some of my colleagues should have knowledge—secrets, even—held in small groups, to be used as needed—this I accept as a matter of course. I do not need to feel the least misused if I learn that A., B., and C. have been collaborating on a new procedure that will soon be put into effect, or that Z. was selected to give a presentation instead of me. I trust, and believe the others do, too, that all our efforts will be directed toward the good of the department and our mission. The exception—an understandable one, I used to think—would be if I found myself being the only one in the department excluded from knowledge that was circulating among all the rest.

The event I speak of doesn’t bear that stamp precisely. But because the only aspect of it that I can lay claim to understanding, or fully recollecting, is my own self-perception, I will try to lay out in their subtle distinctions the shades of my reactions. While this may seem a thin soup for subject matter, compared to the fantastic things witnessed in the event itself, still I make it a condition of your admission to this spectacle that you enter through me and I remain with you as your lens.

My first reaction, upon looking up from some work rather late one evening and seeing the startled faces of two female colleagues in the doorway, was this: They were not expecting me to be here at this time, and as a result I am about to be given knowledge too soon. Said another way, my colleagues neither willed it not withheld it, but they would now have to show me things I had not been fully conditioned to see.

And so it was. Wordlessly, or rather with unspoken words, my colleagues B. and C. moved to a file cabinet and bent low to open the lowest drawer. Then, with a solemn, practiced movement, C. extended her hand at the edge of the drawer. Though the movement was unfamiliar to me and hardly suggestive of anything in itself, the first pangs of expectation arose in me.

In less than a moment the first miniature pair of hands appeared over the edge of the drawer and draped over C.’s long, outstretched finger. Another pair immediately followed, and another in identical fashion. When C.’s finger was filled the pairs of tiny pale hands still came up and fell over the open drawer’s edge until it too was filled.

All this unfolded in a matter of seconds, if our measure of time can be said to apply there. Something about the cooperative regularity of their movements suggested that the little beings to whom these frail hands belonged were no more part of our world of time than they were part of our usual physical reality.

With slow assurance C. lifted her hand from the drawer and stood. I saw then that the beings, which hung without protest from her finger, were nearly as human in form as their perfect little hands would suggest. Nearly, I say; their bodies, slender and apparently identical, had a liquid quality, an infantile simplicity that was not hardened as much as human bodies are.

I’m sorry that one of my first reactions was one of envy. What it was that I envied, I don’t know, but I felt in a subtle way visited by an animal presence within me that if left unchecked could erupt in scales on my skin. It was not merely envy of my friend’s long, graceful finger, suited by nature to this purpose and so unlike the fat, knobbed fingers of my own hands. It was that and something more besides.

I suppose it was in like manner that all the lithe, liquid beings were carried from their drawer in the cabinet. In truth, I can only recall that my envy had yielded to concern for them. It was plain that they could not survive long in the environment we are accustomed to; indeed, it must be caustic to them.

My relief came in another instant when I witnessed the pool in which they were being laid. From then, each astonishment tumbled over the one before: a swimming pool, as narrow and long as a banquet table, and lanes, and tiny pennants dangling above; and the undine beings, avidly swimming, noiselessly chopping the water; and most paralyzing of all the wonders, a presiding master of the games—a mermaid; larger than the others and solidly formed, which, because of her vivid color and material solidity, arrested my vision more than any of the surrounding spectacle.

A brief description of her will suffice, because you already have in mind what a mermaid must be. She was no different from the storybook mermaid with crayon-yellow hair, glinting emerald-green scales, and a recumbent posture suggesting that gravity, not the atmosphere, was her primary physical opponent. She lay either in or on a cordoned area near the pool’s center, at a right angle to the lanes, and her actions consisted entirely of quick motions of her head and chin, her shoulders, and her eyes, which served variously to alert, check, or instruct the swimmers. By way of describing her role, I offer only the poor comparison to a brisk head of servants operating in a large and tightly run household.

You must condemn or forgive me now for my failure to provide details of sequence, or for the abrupt changes that leave scenes unresolved. I warned you at the beginning that we would follow a map not of events in my memory but of their imprints in my soul. I now fear you won’t be able to answer the question I started with, Is it possible? with the direction I am taking; but we will see.

What of my office companions? They—the ones present—watched with a knowing intentness; they were interested without being fascinated by the spectacle of beings from fairy realms made manifest and enacting a most human kind of ritual. Surely the creatures gained nothing from this unless it was the joy of service; yet my associates displayed not the least enjoyment nor any other emotion. I describe their general look as one of expectation born of experience.

And what of me? I hovered—perhaps swayed in the better word—both figuratively and in truth at the doorway to this discovered world.

It would never be true to say that if one is half crying, half laughing then one is on the whole at rest. The mixture, rather, will swirl like water and oil until two parts separate. I swayed; I held the mixture together; and I felt more watery and transparent with each moment I stayed.

Here is what happened then: There was a racetrack, and, like the pool, it was all in order, sized to the room, completely unlikely and complete. The creatures were set in their lines. Already they were nearly dried. We watched with keener interest than before. There was something like eating in our interest now. The creatures ran the track on legs that became more bent and desiccated as they went. Some did not finish but came to a halt in mid-stride. Two of them reached the finish line and froze in place—wrinkled and crisp, bent, cryptic, light as insects or the skeletons of birds, not recognizable as anything that had ever had beauty.

My friend M. was next to me, though I hadn’t known it before. We saw each other. Looking at the creatures, the track, our companions, together we began to come solid again. In silent companionship we chose something, and in doing so I felt myself again in my form. The whole perplexing scene was again outside of me. It burned away as does water on a heated stone. As I left I was looking at my own skin, even as the memory was evaporating from me.

Now I take back the question, Is it possible? For you, I hope it is not. For me, it is. I feel the grip and gravity of the world and have abetted it. I’ve seen sacrifice, the consumptive powers of salt and air, and taken them lightly. Though nothing has changed in the outward manners between my coworkers and me, I am wary now, wary that we will take too much; that I may let down my guard and not love them well enough, not give, out of myself, enough; that because I could fail to try, I, and we, could do a kind of harm we had no suspicion of, though it was always there to be seen.



Black & white image: Star clusters? Neurons? Human settlements? Could be.

The radio plays —

quiet now –Mother will come in

to tell us to turn it off.

Lower still. Maybe it’s off already.

We’re hearing memories. We’ll let them go too, and still

hear the memories of them.

Who is this Mama who listens for us,

and does she really care for us?

Stay away now, Mother. The radio

is off. The music all around us —

and you, and your mother, and hers,

going back —

will be there when we wake.

No receiver, no Mother, no ears.

Traveling by night.

The starlight will come in and

go out, now, and still, going out, coming in.

Doing Without

Can I say that I reject hate as a response to killing, to deceit, greed, exploitation? If I do I’m being false–no attitude is called for. I will either hate or not in the moment; there is no position to adopt or uniform to put on to establish a side.

Yet, I don’t have children or relations who have been killed or suffered harsh deprivations. These words, or anyone’s, don’t prescribe a treatment for hatred, anger, or grief. The choice we have is what to put into practice, judgement or receptivity.

The change that may come about will be known for what it is not. It won’t bear the marks of premeditation. It will not advance hatred or vengeance as its motive. It is not a model of forgiveness being put into action, but a continuing experience of withholding any judgements that isolate us from anyone or anything else.

Yes, we want it darker

Here are a couple of disgorgings from after our elections–blaarrghh. I’m posting them here only because I want to show the mixture of feelings, thoughts, associations I’ve had, and to be honest about the anger that was so strong at the beginning. None of this is final realization; it’s all just cups of water scooped from the stream at various points.


Time for confession: I feel angry now over the injustice of having to struggle among uncaring people. I’ve been angry at the voters who, out of their reckless sense of anger and deprivation, struck a huge and spiteful blow that will break, for some time, our country’s spirit. Even allowing that such a break may bring about changes for the good that we never would’ve achieved through the old ways we were pursuing–and that’s my hope–it was done by people with spite in their hearts and that was irresponsible.

(Step out: As I write about why these people shouldn’t have done this thing, I get a whiff of my own arrogance. What qualifies me to say whose version of change is good and whose is childish? If I embrace freedom–not just freedom to vote etc. but spiritual freedom–then I have to be all-in with it.)

Now I’m thinking of Gollum and how we’re told that the ring quest never would’ve succeeded without him–greedy, grasping person, stuck in the past, inflicting pain and danger on everyone for no reason except his own inability to take up his own life–and yet “he  has a role to play.” And, in sympathy to Gollum, he was deeply torn within himself, though he couldn’t overcome his dependency in the end.

I shouldn’t slam the voters as sick creatures. We are all caught up in the material world to different degrees at different times. My anger, now I look at it, is over the hand we were all dealt: that there will be people who think and care about the consequences of their actions, not for themselves alone but for the world, and others who cannot look beyond their own feeling of injury and who let someone else do their thinking for them. It’s the resentment of having to be the designated driver.

I can see full well that love is absent in this view. I hope not to spend much time here. I won’t completely turn my back on the gift of being human and being free, or deny other people the same.

(Later:)  Analyzing these feelings today, but not feeling them like I did when I started writing it down. I’m getting more sanguine with the thought of what may come over the next few years. I don’t want it to feed my ego, i.e., further lock me into a set of packaged opinions and reactions, but there is a potential for me to grow into a more trusting, open-hearted relation to the world and the powers of love and faith.

So, more darkness by which to know the light.

First Response

Try making your first response to news you hear, things you see, “Hmmm… that’s interesting.” Then look for what is genuinely interesting in it.

Don’t name it; stay with the act of finding interest. The goal is not to form a reaction or an opinion–try to break the dependency on those–but to experience your attention. Observe how the world operates without your reaction. What’s different?

First Kill (fiction)

Zwei Schafe by Franz Marc. Painting of two sheep, one standing, one lying down.

Well, I killed my first man today. We were going hand-to-hand in an inhuman, bestial throng, worse than I’d possibly imagined, in Electronics. I truly didn’t know if I would have what it takes when it came to the moment of truth, but when it came–him or me, right there–the prime directive was front and center, the only lesson that matters: Commit. Don’t leave anything in the tank. Down he went, and I’m relieved to say there was no imploring in his eyes, just a kind of cold respect, before the barely audible whoosh as something like his soul left him.

I can’t say glad is the word, but I’m feeling fortunate to have my first kill on my first Black Friday. I suppose if I were a veteran of these things I would develop a hard shell, maybe even a strategic approach beyond simple raw survival instinct, and it would roll off me more quickly. But I was frightened–no shame in admitting it–and to lose my innocence early is super-preferable to waiting and wondering another year. I could even lose my resolve in another year–okay, it’s out there now–and have to force myself out into the fray from a need to prove myself, rather than in pursuit of a true objective, such as the deeply discounted floor model 42″ plasma screen with game console and surround I carried off today. That kind of self-doubt can erode you over time, and there’s no room for inner conflict in the heat of battle. The floors are littered with the bodies of those who had inner conflict. (I mean literally–just try carrying a 42″ TV and accessories, out of box, over people in various stages of exiting this world, who think nothing of clutching your leg or a dangling power cord in hopes of being dragged closer to the door and a final gasp of that chill outside air, the same air they cursed so bitterly all night while amassing by the entrance.)

I will confess, too, I’m relieved it wasn’t a woman. Mark this down, I will take on a woman, but I’ll say it out loud, they don’t fight fair. They will shiv you with a sharpened SUV key while using a toddler as a human shield, and then if you drop them, look up at you in a kind of surprise that says you cheated. I’ve seen that, and it is haunting, and a little disgusting.

So, like I said, first time out, first kill. I’m not one to attribute my successes to some divine favor, but I can’t help saying I feel blessed. I understand the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving now.

I expect the feeling to grow even stronger. I won’t lie, this was hard, and I think it will take weeks or maybe months for the memory to go away. In the meantime, I feel a great urge to do something nice, to pass the feeling along, even to someone I don’t know, maybe someone who doesn’t even deserve it.