To Touch the Past and Know the Future

Behold the great City
That once was but is no more

As a high school student and later as a seminarian I would often take my questions about religion and faith to Monsignor Frank Chiodo, who had been pastor of the local parish when I was a child. I trusted his opinion and he was easy to talk to, and consequently we had many excellent conversations across the years.

One such conversation dealt with an episode from life of the Italian mystic, Padre Pio. A devout person once came to Padre Pio distraught at the possibility that a recently departed loved one did not die a “holy” death. His instinct was to pray for the loved one, but that didn’t seem logical as the event was finished and in the past, and therefore unchangeable. Surely from where we stand in the present moment, we have no power to change or touch the past!

Pondering the situation for a moment, Padre Pio reminded this devout person that while we humans are bound by time and experience it in a progressive, linear manner (my words), God is outside of time. Though we divide our experiences by past and future, everything is simply the present to God, and so a prayer today for someone who died yesterday is not only something one is able to do — it is even something one ought to do.

Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.
~Soren Kierkegaard

The strange relationship of the past and the future to the present moment that you and I inhabit has been on my mind for the past few years. In fact, my own father and I had a talk not long ago about how short a man’s life really is and how we ought to regard as precious our brief time together. If that is true for a man and his son, surely it is true of our kind and the planet we call home. This world will not last forever — we know that. One day everything that you and I have looked upon and touched and loved will be completely gone.

Some time ago I felt inspired to create a ritual to commemorate the eventual passing away (death) of our planet, even though I do not expect to be around to bear witness when it happens many hundreds of thousands or millions of years from now. The ritual is incomplete — perhaps one day soon I’ll revise and finish it.

– – – – –

Notes for a Ritual to Commemorate the Passing Away of the Earth (unfinished)
[9/29/2015 — for use in the distant future]

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
~Albert Einstein

Acknowledging that all things end is a central part of practice in almost all spiritual traditions (memento mori for Christians; impermanence for Buddhists). In this unfinished experiment I try to envision a meditation on impermanence in a distant future where it is not a person who dies, but the Earth itself. Perhaps, as with Mars, Earth’s atmosphere will dissipate. How will we respond to such an event? How will we mourn? What will the future mean for us? How will we want our descendants who no longer live on Earth to remember the planet and its inhabitants?

One of the most powerful notions in Christianity, to my estimation at least, is the concept of anamnesis. Past events can be invoked and made present so that even if we are separated by time and space from the original event, we can nonetheless participate in it in a real and meaningful way. This is not a uniquely Christian notion: the Greeks and the Hebrews incorporated this into their sacred rites also.

I have adopted a three-fold symbol for Earth: the Little Man (representing the smallness of humanity that is capable of great things); the Dog (representing the animal kingdom and its essential connection to humans); and the Tree (representing plant life, which man largely takes for granted because its true significance is much greater than he is able to appreciate). Humans who become too detached from the natural world (i.e., plants and animals) will, at some point, cease to be truly human. This will be a central concern when future generations leave the Earth.

In the anamnesis, I take the Easter Vigil from Christianity as inspiration. Here, the night is not a time, however. It is a place, i.e. the infinite expanse of space.

The structure and content should be simple and adaptable.

Four parts are sufficient:
1. An anamnesis, to invoke and make present the original event.
2. An act of sorrow to express the raw emotion of loss.
3. An act of remembrance to honor what was lost.
4. An act of hope, which will allow those who mourn to emerge from their pain changed, stronger.

1. ANAMNESIS
As all present look out to the infinite expanse of space, the Leader begins:

Haec nox est!
This is the night
Where despair becomes hope
Where darkness is filled with light
Let hatred and war give way to compassion
This is the night
Where we pass from death to life.

Leader: No longer are we lost
Assembly: No longer are we lost

Leader: No longer are we alone
Assembly: No longer are we alone

2. ACT OF SORROW
It is said they wept for a thousand years. Some think it was the Little Man, the Dog, and the Tree that wept. Others say it was the human family that wept. But I tell you this: it was the entire universe that wept.

The people of Earth might have been left behind, abandoned. They were a people of hate and violence known throughout the Universe as the People of War. They had nothing to give the universe until the breath of their planet began to fade. In the moment of trial they did not despair, but like Mithras in the cave they endured the ordeal with resolute hope. They passed from darkness to light, from death to life. And they taught the many peoples of the Universe to mourn as no people had ever mourned.

The human heart that loves is also a heart that mourns. This is why even in our time the people of Earth are known as the People of the Great Heart, for they gave the Universe the gift of tears.

3. ACT OF REMEMBRANCE
Now, it is a supreme honor to remain behind at the passing away of a planet. At the passing away of Earth, the Little Man, the Dog, and the Tree were chosen. (…)

4. ACT HOPE
(…)

– – – – –
~BT Waldbillig
October 27, 2017

 

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The Summoning

 

When the Maiden ceased her laughter
And the Wolf Pup sat at his feet

The Forest Boy held high his rod
And silence fell upon the meadow

Where the tall grass and yellow flowers
Keep watch with the sparrows

And a single tear dropped from his cheek
As stars sometimes fall from the heavens

Only then could the Forest Boy
Lay down the rod and put aside all sadness

Yet faster than a mighty stag the Pup
Seized the rod and swiftly made his way

Through the meadow, beyond the tall grass
To the place where no yellow flowers should grow

Though the sparrows know better
And the Pup looked up to the heavens

In that time between dream and dawn
In that moment they began to appear

The first from under a fallen tree
Another from behind the barren rocks

Some seemed to rise from the earth itself
While others emerged from the Lake of Many Faces

Then finally the last one came forth
From the Wolf itself, no more a pup

But mother and protector of her every litter
And through the darkness and quiet of night

They gathered around her
And fed until each was sated

And warm beneath her body
Even as sleep took each one

They left the place of awakening
For the land beyond

Knowing the perfect love of a mother
That love beyond all dreaming

Then one by one the stars appeared
Like sentries protecting their Master

Beyond numbering they appeared
Each more beautiful than the last

When at last the Boy opened his eyes
To the first light of dawn

The Maiden was gone
And the Pup nowhere to be found

Therefore he looked to Sol and rejoiced
While the sparrows returned to mark his way

Back through the meadow
Beyond the tall grass and yellow flowers

And when at last he arrived home
He was no more a boy, but a Father

Returning to many sons and daughters
Who gathered around him like pups

Eager to see the Father
Who is also Mother

So they sat around the hearth
And silence fell upon the house

As he told them stories
More beautiful than any dream

Stories only a Mother can tell
Though he had become a Father

Beyond fathers
Beyond mothers

He was the Friend
Who walks among us even now

And if you watch carefully
You will see Him yet

Running among the trees
Swiftly following his faithful Dog

Together they hunt the mighty Stag
To offer as sacrifice in the hidden place

Where the memory still abides
Though few remember

That place of empty lands
And undiscovered woods

Let us go there together
For I have much to show you there

In that place where once
I was a boy with a pup like no other

There he rests
There I wept

There I offered sacrifice as to a god
And refreshed myself in cool waters

There you, too, will travel
When you are no longer children

There you will offer sacrifice on my behalf
And you will know that you are loved

So long as your love endures
That place will endure

Your Father, too, will endure
Just as the Master endures

Just as your children will endure
And take refuge under the sacred tree

The one that grew from a boy’s staff
The one that gives refuge from all sorrow

Where children and pups and sparrows
Fish and insects and serpents

And creatures of darkest night
Gather no more in silence

They gather together
To sing wondrous songs

To tell stories as fantastical as fables
In the place where all discover

That they waited for no god or titan
For no father or mother or lost son

They waited for each other
For they were always

The People of the Great Heart

~BT Waldbillig
September 12, 2017