I’ve been thinking a great Deal, this Week, about Narrative. My natural Bent for Storytelling has reared again its Head, and the Tales we tell to One Another, and to our Selves, has been heavy on my Mind. Much of this, to be sure, was influenced by the Obsequies for Dr. Lorraine Stanfield, and the Throughline of Narrative that dominated that Service. Then, too, there are Stories being told, and telling Themselves, even now, as I write this.
For much of the last Year, I have been initiated into the Eastern Mysteries of Yogic Practice, and some of the more spiritual Dimensions of that Work have centered on Narrative, and on those Frames around Events that are central to human Experience. The experienced Yogi would tell you that these Stories are worse than useless, and are, indeed, a Distraction from our mindful Presence to those Occurrences. God, the Yogi would say, is not angry with you because you lost your Keys – you simply lost your Keys, which are, Themselves, a burdensome Abstraction, and One that you could dispense with profitably. Shed Attachment, especially Attachment to Narrative, and your Mind and Soul will clear.
In contrast, a fair Percentage of my Rearing was conducted in the more lightly evangelical Branches of the American Protestant Christian Tree, the Sorts of Folks who will speak earnestly of God’s visible Work in the World, of God’s illimitable Call, and of Spiritual Forces which dominate this mortal Vale. For these, no Happenstance is to small to lack God’s guiding Hand. In its extremest Forms, this thinking yields Hurricanes and the Deaths of Soldiers as God’s smiting Wrath, and walks inevitably to that false Gospel (I have no Hesitation in claiming it as false, and no very little Qualm about the nominative “Gospel”) of Prosperity. The Wealthy are Rewarded and the Improvident are punished – could it ever be otherwise?
I find it not at all surprising then, that when bad Things happen, we turn to these Tools to help us interpret our World. The Yogi says that our Narratives harm us; the Preacher says that God is their Author. One advises us to seek no Thread of Meaning; the other swears that God weaves a Tapestry with such Threads.
And when I scan the Æthernet in the Morning and find more of my countrymen Dead without Purpose, I cannot help but be dissatisfied with either Solution. If God is so terrible as to wrack a hapless Isle and move a Man to murder scores, then God deserves a fouler Name. If All is Naught and Naught is All and our Presence here is charmless Accident, the siren Song of Oblivion beckons us all, and Nothing is so sweet as to bind us here.
Some Months ago, a Friend was injured, just as another Comrade received a hideous Diagnosis. This, too, as Politics went Mad and Nations raged and Death stalked those near and dear to my Kindred. Once again, I stared at a World upheaving, and sought Sense in either closing my Eyes to Meaning, or closing my Eyes to Sense. My Compatriot, her Ankle splinted, reported to me the Comment of another Parishioner.
“If the Devil is trying to get us this bad, we must be doing Something right.”
I am not, in general, a Diabolist, but I was so much struck the good Sense of the Remark, and it has guided me. I refuse to countenance an Epic of God’s Punishment, and I will by no means relinquish the Precious Stories of my beloved Friends and Neighbors. To give up either is to surrender the Ship. But render unto me an Enemy – a hater of Life, and Love, and Light, and Hope, and Grace, no Human Tyrant but an Immortal Foe, and I will tell you a Tale that might open your Eyes…one that neither detaches nor rationalizes, but, instead, seeks to heal and transform. Mr. Enten of FiveThirtyEight quoted today the wise Rev. Rogers, who deserves more Upvotes than I can alone render:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
These are the ones with their Eyes opened – let those with Eyes to see and Ears to hear receive Understanding.