SOME THINGS DON’T COME EASY

How often do you have the opportunity to meet a real life, honest to god, philosopher? My opportunity came about because he attended a storytelling concert I produced for the Mercer Museum here in Doylestown. Actually I have been visually aware of the man for several years. We sit across from each other in an Episcopal church every Sunday morning. I knew his face, but I did not know his name and had never spoken with him. I saw him at the storytelling performance; and, as the producer, and not a performer, I positioned myself to watch the audience instead of the performers. I saw his face and knew he enjoyed the stories. At church the next week, he came up to me to say how much he had enjoyed the storytelling. In conversation I asked  about his work and he said that he taught courses in philosophy, and that he was working on a new book. I showed my interest in the subject and he asked if I would like to read chapters of the unfinished manuscript. I said I would be delighted to read it.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines philosophy:  theory or logical analysis of the principles underlying conduct, thought, knowledge and the nature of the universe…

This was not my first attempt to read philosophy. I spent three years studying philosophy related to theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 1960’s. At that time I was more interested in Cuban Socialism than Descartes’ mind-matter distinction. And my dyslexia still does not make it any easier to follow a long, reasoned discussion of any topic when it is presented on the printed page. Nevertheless, I welcomed the challenge and for the past month I have read one hundred and ninety pages of philosophy.

I have a couple of comments on the experience. (1) The author suggested when we had our conversation that this work was being written for the general public. At first I disagreed with his assumption. I was reading sections of his writing several times and still not sure that I understood his meaning. Finally, I decided to continue reading and hope to find some light at the end of the exercise. And I did, slowly, as the author continually reviewed concepts and found new ways to present the same ideas over and over: repetition bred familiarity and understanding. (2) The work invested has given me new tools for understanding reality. I can think about the distinction between my first person, subjective view, and my third person, objective or universal view, when I have a decision to make. I have intuitively made these decisions for many years, but now I have a way talk about the process.

Having said that, I naturally go back to thinking of stories about my experience; and in particularly, I have been thinking about why some of us become philosophers and some become storytellers. Here is a story that grew out of my experience with the philosopher.

From the beginning of consciousness we humans have told stories that relate us to a greater consciousness that many call God. We call these stories myths because they do not share the truth, they simple point to a truth that our consciousness cannot totally comprehend. This story, perhaps, will help us contemplate a small part of the truth.

The first chapter of the book of Genesis in the Bible describes the creation of the earth. After the geological, meteorological, botanical, zoological  and cosmological work was done, God came to the last bit of work, and says in verse twenty-six, “let us make humans in our image”. Now you naturally ask yourself, who is the “us”? Some Christians have suggested that it refers to the Trinity. Some Jews have suggested that it is the royal we in the Hebrew language.

In the haggadah, the folk story tradition of the Jews,  it is suggested that the “ us” refers to the heavenly angels, and that some angels were not happy with the idea of other beings that might garner equal or greater favor with the divine.

They complained, “what are humans that Thou art mindful of them?”

God was not pleased with this expression of disdain and stretched forth a little finger and all of the complaining angels were expelled from the realm of eternal light.

Now the archangel, Labbiel, warned the other angels, “you have seen the misfortune of the others who complained, ‘what are humans that Thou art mindful of them’, let us take care to not do likewise.” So as we might say today, they buttoned their lips and fell in line with the boss’s wishes.

So God created the first human from the dust of the earth, and wanting this creature to have a spark of the divine, God breathed into the nostrils and a first soul came into being. It is said in the haggadah that every night, the soul leaves the body and returns to heaven to be rejuvenated by the light of eternity. And  we live a life that requires us to reconcile the needs of body and soul.

This reconciliation of body and soul might have worked out as God had imagined, except for one angel that still held a grievance against this newest of creation. The angel was called Satan. Now Satan stood above the other angels with twelve sets of wings instead of the normal six. Satan cried out to God and said, “Thou didst created us angels from the splendor of eternal light, and this human was created from the dust of the earth. Why should we pay homage and serve the needs of the human?”

God considered the grievance of Satan and responded, “Let us hear what the other angels say to this.”

A buzz went through the ranks of angels hovering about this scene of heavenly conflict. The face of the angel of love sparkled with light, but this one did not speak. The angel of justice hemmed and hawed, shifted about, but did not speak. The angel of honesty could not bear the tension and turned away. Finally, it was the angel of reason that came out from the ranks and spoke.

“Lord God, it seems we are in need of a little logical analysis to reconcile this grievance presented by Satan. I propose that you hold a contest between Satan and this new creation that is called human. Lord God, you have recently finished a new creation, of which this human is only a part. How can we discuss this creation without naming the parts of the whole? For example, this human has no name. If Satan can name this human, then the human will bow down to Satan. If the human gives the name you have chosen, then Satan must bow down before the human.”

The countenance of God shown with a brilliant light as all turned toward Satan. The angel Satan, pondered and considered the challenge, but had no answer. For how can any creature know the consciousness of the divine.

Then all turned to the human, and they heard the human say, “I am a human, and will be called, Adam, because you have created me of adamah, the dust of the earth.”

It is said with that Satan recognized that a place in heaven was no longer possible. So Satan retreated to the earth where the contest with humans was bound to be played out through eons of time.

And all of the angels in heaven rejoiced and sang the name of the Holy One, God Almightily. That is, all of the angels but one, the angel of story was seen busily recording the event to be deposited in the imagination of some future creator of myth.

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Response to SOME THINGS DON’T COME EASY

  1. Bill Wood says:

    Lots of good, juicy stuff here for reflection, Ray! For me, your story brings up the power and pitfalls of naming things. In the Book of Genesis God has Adam name all things in the garden, and thus Adam has dominion over all things in the garden. It is in the naming of a thing that we can have “mastery” over it, for by naming a thing it separates it out from the whole. Once a thing has been named it can be used, manipulated, and bent to serve the needs/desires of human will. Names belong to the logical/rational side of our nature. After reading the book of philosophy you felt you were given names to talk about/reflect upon that which you already knew intuitively. But the naming things breakes the universe into parts, and therefore separates us from the wonder of the wholeness of life (the numinous). The first words of the Tao Te Ching are:
    The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
    The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
    The nameless is the beginning of heavan and earth.
    The named is the beginning of the Ten Thousand Things.

    I remember an experience I had during a staff training at a Nature Center I do some work for. We were taking a hike on the property and someone noticed an exquisite, brilliantly colored insect resting at the edge of a meadow. The creature was as long as my palm and it was making a strange, eerie keening sound. We all stared at it in silent wonder for some time, when someone finally asked, “Does anyone know what it is?” Immediately backpacks were unslung, guide books were found and the rustle of turning pages drowned out the sound of the critters departure, for when we looked up again it was gone. We had given up the wonder of the moment in the quest for it’s name. Perhaps that is why Jews are forbidden from speaking the true name of God; because should never be separated from the whole of Creation. So it seems to me that names fill the need of our logical nature and let us gain some measure of control of our world, but laying aside names allows us to directly experience the wonder of the whole. Perhaps the difference between a philosopher and a storyteller is that a philosopher seeks to name, to categorize, and describe reality (truth?), whereas a storyteller simply holds up a mirror in which the listener can see that reality/truth reflected.

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