Archive for March, 2021

White Boxes

White everywhere and divided into three-dimensional spaces, defined by length, width, and height.  People and things belonged inside, the demarcations appropriate to their certain essences.  My box was where I was permitted to think and feel; I was to simply be what I was—that— no more, no less.

Exiting my box and peering to the right I was given a view of my next box neighbor.  A stately Negress, she stood tall, inspecting a mirrored wall up and down, verifying that she was prepared to reflect a positive image.  Her coloration eluded me as immaterial.  It was her regal erect posture that put me in mind of an African queen.  She slipped out of her own box and went her way toward whatever destination.

Outside our boxes a complex manifold offered many choices of exit strategy.  Most interesting was a double sized aperture that accommodated a spread of garden soil.  In its center sprouted a single aloe plant that propagated only a bifurcation of scrawny green branches.  They were not spectacular in their will to survive.  I felt sympathy for the puny planting and slipped by, determined not to add shame to the anguish of the paltry growth, which was doing the best it could.  After a time of being off doing something or other, I returned.  My neighbor was entertaining company and had enlivened her drab costume with a fork of bright Kelly green trousers.  It was a chic habiliment.

That enhancement played many-fold as I passed by again and again and yet again.  Indeed, the most recent sortie from my personal rectangle, and past hers, displayed a veritable, as well as virtual, chorus line of dancers, garbed in kaleidoscopic green and black and white.  They moved in sync, matching time, demonstrating how folk might cooperate and have fun doing it.  Their high kicks and fancy foot work projected an exhilaration that rubbed off onto me as I passed the aperture of their domain.  I smiled in spite of myself and moved on, my step quickening along with the thunder of happy feet—theirs and mine.

Upon revisiting the aloe plant, it had become a different expression of herbage.  Where previously there had been two branches, now there were eight, angular displacements equally divided, their octagonally spaced arches conquering the garden space entire, mimicking a grand herbaceous arachnid.  Noting what it had accomplished made me happy for a plant that had become sovereign of its garden, its purpose to provide healing to any and all passersby.  What must the plant feel, as a visitor breaks off a portion of aloe persona and tucks it away to use against some future pain of rash or abrasion?  That’s what people do to aloe plants.  Given the contract evolved between plant life and animal life, aloe must surely rejoice in having fulfilled its duty to assuage the pain of its opposite kingdom.  If it had a chest, it would take a deep lung inflating breath and be proud.  Perhaps it simply activates its chlorophyll to transform an extra measure of sunlight.  Everything has a way to feel proud and happy.

Other than the aloe plant and the Kelly dancers, I had no sense of what was happening in any of the other spaces, except to know that they were enlivened with purpose-filled entities, every bit as real as my own.  It seemed odd that we could so closely co-exist but not have any real understanding of others’ lives.  While they were making the best of their time in the place of white boxes, I had no sense of any creative achievement in mine.  Perhaps I will visit this place again, and do better next time.  This dream-time reverie smacks suspiciously of Zoom.  Could it be so?

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Two hundred thousand years or so ago an isolated group of primates evolved into a species that became aware of itself.  Like a child peering into a looking glass, it was fascinated by what it saw looking back from still water.  “That is me,” it marveled.  “I am.”  It was the discovery of the ages, the beginning of a complexity that is still being unraveled to this very day, gathering together in a special place, performing certain actions together in shared awe and wonderment.

Until that first excursion into fascination with the narcissistic self, our natural animal instincts were directed outward: pure erotic delight in the passionate other; instinctual sacrifice of self as mother (and later claiming authorship of sperm as father), in joined adoration of child; numinous enchantment with perceived beauty expressed as art.  But that primitive discovery of self as prepossessing all other amazements stands as the actual original sin, tales of munching apples in mythical gardens at the instigation of wily serpents notwithstanding.  As homo-sapiens-sapiens, we knew at some deep level that fascination with self was wrong.  It flew in the face of two hundred million years of evolution becoming mammals.  Suckling one’s child creates love, teaches that it is important to value another beyond one’s own needs, even to the death.  Who would not die to preserve one’s child?

Directing love outward, subsuming all-consuming self-involvement, as a purposeful endeavor, created worship.  We gathered together, for in numbers there is strength, and acknowledged our foolish ways.  Does this suggest we invented God?  No.  He was there all along, waiting for us to awaken to Him and accept the love that waited for us as own, His magnum opus.  The magnificent arithmetic, the algorithms of Truth that pre-existed all bangs, big or small, were there waiting for us to name that lovely abstraction “God.”  Our salvation lay in discovery that it is not we, who matter, but God and valuing His creation.

Worship is a together happening; Prayer can be solitary, but in worship we bare our narcissistic selves to each other and to God.  Primitive worship featured song, dance, and visual art.  These summoned spirit, not so much from far, far away, but from within.  Painting on cave walls, the art of the ancients, captured the power of symbol.  Fire leapt as metaphoric embodiment of life and spirit.  Sacrifice, an early attempt to negotiate with the divine, was once part of worship, but now passing the plate replaces ritualistic blood-letting.  Drumming, echoing beat of heart, combined with ululation as celebration of breath, generated excitement, more than any crass modern football competition.

Language, a late arrival, provided elegant tools to express “a love so amazing, so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all.”  Of all the fruits of carbon based life on this third planet, only we, homo-sapiens-sapiens, define and love God.  In our worship, we honor and celebrate that as miracle.  Methodism, an off-shoot of the Christian trifurcation of God worship, especially honors the place of music in liturgy, thanks to John Wesley its founder.  The world-around, similar religions know God as incarnate.   Methodist hymnody shares that musical art with a great many Christian denominations, describing devotion to a savior-God, not as fact but as Truth.  For example:

      When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,

      My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

      Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my Lord;

      All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.

      See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down;

      Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

      Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small.

      Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. 

(Isaac Watts 1674-1748)

Worship as expression of such devotion, away from self, toward God as beloved, is surely an effective antidote to the self-absorption that characterizes narcissism.  An old friend Lydia, a thirty-year Methodist, was a cradle Baptist, a familiar of tent-revivals and altar-calls.  The first time the Holy Spirit spoke to her, it led her down the aisle to fall on her knees, while “Just As I Am” played a tender accompaniment.   Her relationship with God is a personal one.  In these her own words she recalls her first Christmas service as the one responsible for the ritual:  “An altar candle’s wick just wouldn’t light in spite of holding more than enough oil.  Anxiety choked me.   I was terrified, feeling not just a little resentment at being asked to do more than my share.  Then a light went on in my head.  How could I possibly resent doing anything for my Jesus?  I prayed, Get a grip! It’s not about my perfect details.  Just relax and be a joyful servant.  Then the flame caught.”  She had cracked the nut of her wisdom: “Worship is about God, not about me.”

That is such a small story to be lingering in my hippocampus for so many years.  Its longevity speaks to how central, how profound, is the point it makes.  How sweetly it settles into remembrances of things past, a reminder that worship is a together thing.

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