the written word

The key to being ‘modern man’ lies in his civilised pursuits – the arts, writings, all those things that specially mark us as fundamentally different to animals, even the clever ones.  The Egyptians started the ball rolling with their hieroglyphs about 3400 BC, with coherent texts coming in around 2600 years BC.

In the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really seem very long ago does it?

Putting it in to a British context, the neolithic era saw the locals living in small extended family groups who would work the land in a semi settled manner, they would wear basic hide garments, build barrows, causeways and around 2500 BC put together Stonehenge, for reasons we know not what.  But whilst that has to stand as a stunning example of tooless basic engineering and one we Brits should be duly proud, we can’t duck the fact that we didn’t start writing stuff down onto tablet or papery stuff until over 3000 years later with the epic Anglo Saxon hero poem of Beowulf.

Civilisation is generally considered to have begun around 6000 years BC  in Mesopotamia – an area that would set it in modern day Iraq, and it was from this very area that we see the first epic story, written in Sumerian cuneiform, a sort of detailed picture series on stones around 2000 BC – the Epic of Gilgamesh as it’s called is a story of the daring do’s of King Gilgamesh of Uruk

What I find fascinating is the epic story of Gilgamesh recounts, a number of early biblical tales as delivered in Genesis – and as a means of comparison, it is believed that the life of the old Testament Abraham is dated around 1900-1800 BC which puts him in historical touching distance to the author of the story; and furthermore, King Gilgamesh himself was believed to have been a historical figure in Sumeria c.2700 BC which places him as a physical contemporary of the early Genesis characters.

Finding unadulterated manuscripts or stones from antiquity are rarer than hens teeth, but they are the gems we long for – to help us place ancient history in context, to act as corroboration.

And herein lies one problem I have and this doesn’t make me clever or unusual – when one considers ancient religious texts – the danger for corruption, especially where translation has taken place, but also where the same language has morphed, developed and changed over time, means that our reliance on the text as the unadulterated truth is challenged severely.

I cannot believe the Bible is written under divine influence.

I love the idea that the Gilgamesh story lends credence to stories such of the great Flood and even Adam and Eve that gives me a spark of some historical corroboration that is guiltily exciting.

But the Bible, as a reliable document is perhaps a stretch too far – of the 3 Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity  – it is the Bible which for me presents the greatest challenge to unravel – because in part I feel it has the answer to my soul searching and in part is complete doctored fantasy.

 

 

 

 

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The spark of divinity within

There are common facets to the ‘Near Death Experience’ phenomenon. Even though the near death-ee almost always has a unique story to tell, very many of them have a few basic common threads – an out of body experience, an experience of light and/or warmth and/or feelings of love.

There are some people who experience something altogether more frightening, but on the whole these are common threads irrespective of age, gender, race or creed.

I am always interested to read or listen to these accounts, and I listen carefully for any nuance, the slightest hint that the person is fabricating the story. Very many times, particularly YouTube accounts, I find myself thinking quite cynically – nah, this is made up! But there are some that resonate with reality – and I read or listen with rapt attention. I was shocked to hear from an academic study of NDE’s that those experienced by children have a far more deep reaction within the individual, and as a group, there is an alarmingly high percentage of them that go on to commit suicide and that fact is linked back that NDE experience and the fact they were never able to get over it.

I find the idea that at the end, when we shuffle off the mortal coil, there is light and love and peace awaiting us, to be something very very appealing. I listened recently to a series of conversations with hospice workers, who talk about the knowing when a person’s time is coming to a close – not a set in stone ritual, but a familiar sense of the end nearing due to things the dying do or say as they approach their end time.

Clearly death is highly personal, and the passage to death can’t possibly be predicted or even pleasant for some sadly, but for those of us who tread the well worn path, there appears to be something in it that those who work closely and regularly with the dying, recognise.

‘ And God said, Let there by light.’

And here is something I have been considering a lot of late – considering light, and love and the divine spirit within a person – because I think there is something elemental in this and there is nothing more elemental than our relationship with  our own death. And I want to explore some ideas over the next few posts – these are theoretical and raw because I am a w-i-p over this at the moment.

 

Mrs Waplington killed God…

Like most kids I knew at primary school in 1970, I was shipped off to Sunday school each week, it was held in a classroom at our school and I remember how much I resented being there on a weekend.

I didn’t resent the lessons though once I was there. I was peculiarly receptive to the Bible stories we were told, and I suppose it was a precursor to my enjoyment of History lessons in my later school life, because I understood the historic timeline very clearly – and more importantly, I accepted what I was being told as complete fact. I believed in God, I believed in Jesus and when I recited the Lord’s Prayer,  I did it with real conviction.

My parents sent me to Sunday school as a way of getting the kids out the house for a couple hours – we weren’t a religious family, religion and God played no part in my upbringing, no part in our every day lives – there was no sense of religiosity in my entire family and no one had felt it necessary to go through the effort of getting us baptised. In fact up to my early teens  I had never set foot inside a church. And the only time my parents or grandparents had attended church, was to get married.

So they must have wondered what they had done by sending me off to Sunday School, when after I was too old to attend any more, I took the decision to take myself to church – and to organise my own baptism and confirmation.

I remember the first time I walked in to our local church – it was a gothic masterpiece – high pointed ceilings, ornate pews , beautiful stained glass, the heavy smell of incense, benevolent statues of Mary and graphic pictures of the stations of the cross. You could be forgiven for thinking I was Roman Catholic – but you would be slightly wrong, because although I attended an Anglican church and was baptised a Protestant, our church was high Church and was as Catholic as it was possible to be without having a Pope, And I fell in love with the place.

To this day I can’t resist a beautiful church, incense and a sung Eucharist.

I attended an inner city comprehensive secondary school – it was a tough place and not for the faint hearted. Some may say we didn’t exactly attend school but survived it! If I was being charitable I would say that the school did its best to give us a good basic education and was spectacularly successful at crowd control;teachers tended to be appointed not because they were enthusiastic about their subjects but because they didn’t take any crap and knew how to maintain discipline – these were the days when the sports master walked around with a cane and knew how to use it.

I belonged to a small, and often ostracized group of students – the group who were considered worth attempting to educate to O level rather than being left to grapple for a CSE like everyone else. Heady heights indeed.

Key differences in our school day saw us taught a second language, French in our case and instead of taking one general science course we did the individual science subjects – Biology, Physics and Chemistry all separately.

I wasn’t a scientist particularly and there were moments struggling through yet another boring practical making solenoids that I didn’t wish for a spate of generalised science blurb instead.

And then there was the small matter of Mrs Waplington.

My first Biology lesson and I felt I’d drawn the short straw, because Mrs Waplington was taking our class and we were all frightened shitless of her. Undoubtedly a good Biologist, she had long lost the rosy belief she would mould great minds of the future with her enthusiasm and wit. She was shortish  and frumpy and had clipped disinterested tones that said – don’t piss me off! (actually with the hindsight of an adult, I believe that Mrs Waplington was a good and fair woman – she taught us well and was the only science teacher I ever had who got me to not only pass the bloody exam but actually feel I liked and understood it)

But my over riding memory of Mrs Waplington is it was she who killed God.

My first lesson in Biology and Mrs Waplington clearly wanted her point to be understood and she didn’t want to spend too long explaining it and she didn’t want too much in the way of questioning – so she addressed us with unequivocal directness.

‘Whatever you think you know about life and how it originated – forget it. Any childish notions you have left over from primary school about the origin of man – forget them. Today you begin to study science and you will study scientific method. If you intend to do well on this course then you need to understand that there is a difference between what science can tell us and what we think we know from bible stories – today we are going to begin with Mr Charles Darwin, to look at the evolution of man…….’

Honestly I don’t remember her exact words – but that paragraph, is pretty much it. I remember sitting there and thinking I need to pass this exam. But underneath was a disturbing disquiet.

Because I saw in what I was being taught albeit at low level, the unquestionable logic of science – even though I was largely pretty crap at science I learned that science is king – it explains how the world works, it explains there are no eternal mysteries and that the world as we see it works on understood principles and unbreakable laws.

My bible stories couldn’t compete with that.

Given I could never fathom Adam and Eve and where their sons had found handy wives – it was far far easier to see that Mr Darwin with his finches in the Galapagos was altogether more logical and how over millions of years man had dragged himself from the primordial stew.

I understood at long last that ‘faith’  in God was not the innocent acceptance of the Bible and the Gospel I had learned but was instead an unshakeable belief in the Almighty and his workings despite the contradictory evidence supplied endlessly by the scientific community, and on that basis I realised I didn’t have faith at all.

Without any great in depth knowledge I was lead by Mrs Waplington & Co. into that great  educational sausage machine, and I was ground out believing what I was told – without question or further thought. After that initial disquiet I never questioned anything I was told again – all my questioning was directed to set books and set knowledge.

My science career was mercifully short – but it’s effect lasted half a life time because I lost faith. For me to have said  I had faith would be to invite ridicule. But to say I had faith would also be a lie – because I no longer believed in anything.

My teen years were busily filled with all the flim flam beloved of teenagers everywhere – music, boys, being rebellious and a bit of study tacked on the end.

But once the teens were past – I was left with what exactly? And so began my adult life and a period of spiritual confusion and loss – and so began my soul searching and its been a long and painfully slow journey…….

How Wolves Change Rivers – the hand of the Creator

On the back of mentioning in my last post, how I came to realise, almost by accident that there is a name for my spiritual beliefs – I am a Deist.

Deism isn’t a religion, there is no holy book to follow – it is a philosophical stance and with all philosophies, there are no boundaries to how a person may choose to personally interpret that in which they believe.

For me – I believe in a creator. I suppose given I grew up in a loosely Christian society – my creator is inevitably Christian God-like overall.

Many years ago I renounced God when I renounced Jesus. But I remained uncomfortable having done it. But I could no longer carry on my spiritual life believing in the Church and I think that was my first mistake.

I embraced paganism – to find my spiritual centre wrapped in what I could see and experience seemed wholly more natural and the more I read the further from Christianity I strayed.

But I also felt a sense of betrayal – because in revering creation, wasn’t I by virtue acknowledging the hand of a creator?

For me the natural world, left to it’s own devices is in perfect balance – a chaotic but perfectly matched dance that is all too often meddled with by humankind.

The more I watched, the more I saw – really saw. It doesn’t take much effort to see how amazing our world is and for me that could not – I could not believe that it was happenchance that everything fit so perfectly.

I reject pure Darwinism – I admit it (sorry but I do)

and in doing so I reconnected with God.

If you have a spare 5 mins – then please watch this rather lovely video – how wolves change rivers – a little cameo story of how our world works in symbiosis and just marvel and it’s wondrousness.

 

 

Being a Deist

I’ll be 55 this year and have just realised that I am a Deist.

I couldn’t have said exactly what I was, up until recently. I could have told you what I find myself believing these days, and I could tell you the convoluted path I have taken to get here – but to have given it a name? I wasn’t exactly sure there was one.

And then by random chance, I was reading an article on an online newspaper and was scrolling through the comments section – and came across a guy who was talking  a bit at a tangent, but he mentioned being a Deist – and I thought – is there such a thing?

Trusty Google suggested there was – and there it was in black and white and I thought, yes random man and thank you – for I too am a Deist it would appear.

I’m not certain I need do anymore than just acknowledge the name – there isn’t a religious group to join, thankfully – but to know that my thoughts have a basis is quite comforting I think 🙂

And I need look no further than Voltaire to bring my thoughts beautifully to life –

One key difference between Deism and the “revealed” religions is that Deists don’t believe faith is required to believe in God. This quote from Voltaire sums it up, “What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason.”

Accepting Death

My Mother phoned me last night.

My Father is ill. He’s 78, just this week. And he isn’t hale and hearty, far from it.

My Father led a raucous youth -and looking back as a little girl, I can only remember him with cigarette in hand or a pint of something. That was the 60s for you.

By the time he reached early 50s – he was having a triple heart by-pass.

Over the years there have been a few set backs, medical interventions, but he has lead a good retirement – played golf & bowls and learned Tai Chi. Spent time with Mum in the their garden and generally enjoyed a relaxed and happy retirement.

Lately, he hasn’t been well.

Initially given 15 years with the by pass – he has done very well – he is 20 years post op.

But his heart is failing him. He knows it, we know it and more importantly his medical team know it.

He has been passed around from one set of docs to another over the last 6 months and in that time, there has been noise, talk, tests but nothing has been done  – and he has steadily deteriorated. They are now all but admitting out right there is very little to be done for him

I’m not even convinced he has the physical strength to undergo any difficult surgery even if they felt something could be done – and they aren’t!

I have thought a lot about how I personally might face my own death, but in my thinking, it is always a long way off in the future, something I can ponder academically. But for my Father, the reality of his death is by his side – he is beset with issues every day, dizziness, pain, indigestion, palpitations – the effects of a defective heart are making themselves so known to him – he can’t escape the ‘in your faceness’ of what everyone now feels is his imminent demise.

And I can feel the panic – not just in him but my mother too. She isn’t a flakey sort of woman, but even she is feeling the strain of the constant worry – would it be today? tonight?

Just last night, trying to arrange a not so future family event, I could feel her real prevarication  – what if? hung in the air.

Speaking the truth – being up front and not speaking in euphemism – always my preferred way to deal with matters, suddenly feels way way too blunt, too harsh, too uncaring. They are already panicked witless.

But where is the peace and acceptance  – the going lightly to your good night? There is none of that. And I find myself googling the ways in which people might expire from heart failure, so better able to help my Mum in the event. And some of the stores are frightening.

I think I imagined peaceful sleep and then gone.

But instead, I am confronting a frantic and painful struggle to the end.

And at 78 I would like for them something altogether more calm.

I wish they were more spiritual people, that they might glean real comfort from a belief in something, but in being salt of the earth types – their understanding of life and death is altogether more salty – and frightening. And for once, I can find nothing comforting or useful to say to either of them.

 

12th Night

Well here’s a thing.

6th January is a little considered date in our calendar really. As far as the Christian West is concerned, it marks Epiphany – the day the 3 wise men visited the Christ child and it also marks his baptism. I was baptised on Epiphany.

Epiphany begins the festival season in Catholicism ending with Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras and in Eastern Europe and Russia, it’s actually Christmas Eve.

January 6th in early medieval times signified the end of the yuletide celebrations and was often when everyone got back to the serious business of work and surviving the harsh winter months to come.

Which brings me to 12th night.

There has always been for me a vagueness about this night – and for someone who is everso slightly superstitious, vagueness isn’t helpful.

Firstly, as a child I believed the 12 days of Christmas was part of the run up up to Christmas day, like an advent calendar – instead of the feast days between Christmas day and January 6th that it truly is. The interesting point here is the emphasis on ‘days’.

The significance of 12th night to the majority of us is taking the Christmas tree’s down and packing away the baubles –  because for the superstitious amongst us, to not do so brings in a year of bad luck – and who needs that?

Up to this year, I always took the tree down on January 6th. To fail to take it down meant the only solution for those wary of their luck running out so early in the year -was to keep the tree and decorations up until – now some sources say Imbolc (Feb 2nd) and others say Shrove Tuesday. How should you navigate your way though that ambiguity – bad luck would haunt you for sure!!!

So there was no missing that January 6th deadline.

January 6th is derived from Christmas Day starting as day 0.

However, I read something very plausible over Christmastime. The point was how very many great historical festivals stressed the importance of the evening before the festival – Hallow’een (the eve before All Hallows Day) and of course Christmas Eve itself. Indeed I mentioned above Imbolc on Feb 2nd – but the celebration actually begins at sundown Feb 1st and ends sundown Feb 2nd.

Our ancestors seemed keen to note separately the day of an event and the evenings- you have to count days and nights as separate entities; that means although Christmas Day is itself day 0, the night of Christmas Day is night number 1. So if you count the nights only – 12th Night is January 5th.

I was flabbergasted – I had been vehemently opposed to the idea that 12th night was anything other than Jan 6th.

This year the tree was down and packed after sundown Jan 5th.

I’m now sitting back to watch the bad luck to zip on by.

Glad that’s sorted.