I keep having these little epiphanies lately, micro-piphs I suppose one might call them, or petit mal seizures of the imagination. Today, in the shower I think, it struck me that I have been assuming that after the desert -- viz. my recent metaphysical anomie -- there will be something else -- a paradise, maybe, or perhaps simply a return to the old, familiar and comfortable neighborhood.
I mean isn't that how it is supposed to happen ? The desert is a predictable spiritual waystation for anyone who turns their attention to these cloud-borne matters ? And at the outermost limit of the parched waste-place there it is -- the bar and grille, the kidney-shaped pool, the hut with central air ?
But then the voice came.
"Honey," it snarked, "at the end of the desert --
there's more desert."
Earlier this week, in the shade of a particularly scrawny cactus, I was pondering the koan "God is love." It was more like wrestling with the honey badger
than any Jacob-wrestling-with-the-angel thing. As I fended off cactus spines and sharp, little doesn't-give-a-shit teeth, I realized that I'd been trying to throw out the God with the Godwater, that is to say, excluding the human construction and activity "love" from the whole divine equation.
When I say "God" I am positing a panentheistic portmanteau of a concept compounded of mystery, solipsism, angst, terror and provisional affirmation. By my inchoate definition, love's a part of it. So is my cat. And my toothbrush. But, cosmically, love's more of a micro-environment than a universal. A little underleaf world seen through a macro lens, not the vast skies of the Hubble.
Armed only with unholy terror and language, what's a human to do ?
Turn the Jardin Dada into a factory farm of sense and comfort, honey badgers all excluded by an electrified fence ?
God loves you, God adores you !
Sure, sure. One can subject all the anthropomorphic treacle to a philosophical bessemer process and come out with something analogically workable, like MacQuarrie's statement that "God's" "love" is "God's" ongoing, grounding, sustaining "letting be" of creation, but, still, the gigantic Abba-in-the-sky, Jesus' "Daddy" continues to precipitate out of that unstable, supersaturated metaphysical solution, and the waxen, bearded Avatar with
sickly pallor, doe-eyes and a serious case of ectopia cordis cements it: the religion thing is a very human enterprise. It has its own vocabulary and grammar. Its Logos is a Man. Its God is a tripartite orrerie of orbiting adorations. Its Modus Operandi is community.
I rode Bus 70 into Cambridge last night. There was a Jazz Composers Alliance concert at the YMCA. There were, as one might predict, the usual last minute complexities at work casting my planned intersection with the bus schedule into some doubt, but by dint of skipping dinner in favor of a package of Central Square CVS raisins, I made it with time to spare.
Bus 70 has the most inhumanly uncomfortable seats of any public conveyance on the planet. Municipal blue, they are made of unyielding, galvanized plastic in the shape of some statistically derived American buttocks that, in trying to relate to Everyman, relates to No-man (as in no-man's land.) I have no doubt that my use of the gendered word is correct in this instance. I was fending off motion sickness, listening to a Babel of languages and the usual chorus of youngsters yammering into their increasingly Byzantine communication devices.
There I was, old lady on a bus, hurtling East through the darkness. There was not much that lay between me and Graham Greene's Brighton crone-in-the-alley. Who rides the night bus ? The old, the poor, the stranger, the working woman, the working man. I was headed toward a campfire -- people gathered in the midst of the perils and anguish of existence to hear music -- (some of these days you'll miss me honey) -- speaking to them in a language beyond the snarling and manipulative rhetorics of daily life. A language, I suppose, of letting-be in Macquarrie's sense, although Plato would have disagreed. Who has ears, let them hear; who made the ears but I, to paraphrase Herbert. Audite, to quote Benedict.
There are churches, there are zendos, there is Gregorian chant, there are monasteries, there are monks reading their breviaries on the train and hermits on their prie-dieux in the forest -- all these micro environments into which I have sought to project myself vanish like so much smoke in oily pitch and rumble of Bus 70. Bus 70, you are my tradition -- that to which the Dalai Lama advised return (even though he might claim I have misunderstood.)
Elsewhere I am never more than stranger and orphan.