There are moments in life when ordinary language cannot communicate the fullness of our experience. As I took the dog for a late night walk yesterday, we paused below the magnificent, marvelous moon and together stood and gazed in reverent wonder. Neither of us had words adequate to describe the sense of connection to the Universe that such a moment engenders.
It’s not that we humans don’t have any words at all for moments of mystery and transcendence. When we read the Vimalakirti Nirdesa from the canon of Buddhist sacred texts or listen to the Exultet chant from the Christian paschal vigil liturgy we engage the world, ourselves, and the universe in a fresh, unexpected way. That’s why even if you’re an atheist or a cynic, reading the Bible or the Koran or visiting a church or temple is still a useful experience.
We’re fortunate to have a precise scientific language to describe what we perceive and experience. Yet when we learned not long ago that Homo nalendi, an ancient and distant relative to our Homo sapiens family, treated the remains of their dead with immense deliberate care that would seem to indicate reverence and remembrance, the vocabularies of geology and anthropology fell short. Other creatures that once dwelt on this planet were capable of behaviors and attitudes that we believed quite resolutely only we ‘true’ humans could. Now we know that liquid water exists beyond the confines of the Earth. How lucky we are to have the physicists and biologists from NASA who investigate these things. Yet I have a suspicion that even the scientists and engineers at NASA and ESA understand that there is a greater mystery here for us to explore.
September 28, 2015
To the eyes of a miser a guinea is more beautiful than the sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes.
Let’s be clear: we regard the homeless, the poor, the mentally ill, prostitutes, drug addicts, prison inmates, and the like with disgust and disregard. They frighten us. They burst the comfortable, sanitized bubbles we build around ourselves in order to feel safe and superior, reminding us that each person contains within himself or herself the entirety of humanity, not just the clean, happy bits. You and I are far more unclean than the grubby homeless man in Brazil who recently sacrificed his life to save a woman he didn’t even know. He died on the steps of a church, like so many homeless men and women who freeze to death on cold winter nights while their priests and bishops, bellies full of rich food, sleep comfortably without a thought to those without a bed or even a blanket.
Despite the soaring rhetoric of politicians and religious leaders who talk about human dignity and the value of life, we live in a society where certain groups of people are considered disposable. Whether you know it or not, you and I are complicit in this in a thousand small ways every day.
“Criminals” are one such group. No one really cares about the violence and rape that occur routinely in prisons. “Those people” deserve any wickedness that might befall them (we think to ourselves). Even when offenders serve their time, we often continue to punish them in freedom by denying them voting rights or restricting their employment opportunities.
The truth is this: As a nation we don’t so much desire justice as lust for vengeance.
We all would do well to examine our consciences honestly. And this applies in a particular way to those among us who wax eloquent on issues like abortion or persecuted Christian county clerks, yet remain smugly silent in the face of our collective abuse of men and women behind bars.
September 9, 2015