Category Archives: metaphor
“. . . the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.'” —Anthony De Mello
Perhaps there’s a simple explanation for our society’s current fascination with zombies: We are living with them right now. Something to think about anyway, according to the moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell.
At our Easter service on Sunday, the minister at my church brought to our attention a podcast interview with our moderator. During an Illuminate Faith interview, Cantwell was asked by a participant at a youth forum what she would bring to a zombie apocalypse.
I can’t imagine she could have been prepared for a question like that, so I give her kudos for providing the best spontaneous answer to an unexpected question I think I’ve ever heard.
“I think we’re in a zombie apocalypse,” she said.
She described zombies as beings who appear alive but who are kind of dead. The “walking dead” can be . . “anything that sucks the hope and the life out of us . . .”
Cantwell suggests we can find walking deadness in ourselves and on the streets.
I’ve seen it in myself. Have you? I can think of a few people who live almost exclusively in walking deadness. Can you?
The zombies that surround us “drag us into the illusion that life is miserable, that the world is falling apart . . .” and they “suck others into their living deadness.”
And what does Cantwell bring to the apocalypse? Stories.
Zombies, she says, “believe in the power of death as stronger than the power of life and of love,” and stories refute that belief. Stories of compassion and faith feed energy and life back into ourselves and our streets.
Cantwell made her observations in the context of our Christian Easter—a story that involves missing corpses and life after death—but I think they apply to all people in all places at all times. Stories of compassion and faith don’t eliminate the reality of death for all people in all places at all times, but they do feed energy and life back into those people.
“. . . even when death does its worst, God’s got another chapter.” —Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell
Listen to the full Illuminate Faith podcast here: http://illumin8faith.com/files/archive-april-2017.html
Adults yammered on and on around a little boy about 3 years old. He grew bored. Squirmed. Squiggled. Stretched out on the floor.
To entertain him, I handed him a sheet of paper with a maze printed on it. Happy to have any distraction he sat up and began to trace the path as if meditating with a finger labyrinth. The boy’s finger made its way over the printed paths with delightful disregard for lines that might be in the way. After blowing through any number of twists and turns that might have blocked progress, his finger reached the end. The boy raised his arms in victory.
“I did it!” he proclaimed.
“Yes, you did,” I affirmed.
Who was I to dampen his enthusiasm? Why tell him that crossing lines isn’t always that easy? Why burden a child with the idea that some lines are best left uncrossed and sometimes it’s hard to figure out which ones.
Better to let him savour his accomplishment. Better to send him out into the world ready to obliterate barriers blocking his path. Better to equip him to cross the many lines there are that need to be erased. Better to encourage than discourage.
He’ll figure it out.
And the adults yammered on.
I recently read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. The woman behind The Order of the Good Death gives readers an interesting perspective on the life/death experience (if you don’t mind some occasional gory passages).
In her book Doughty references a 1961 paper in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology that outlines seven reasons why humans fear dying. The paper suggests that fear of death arises from concerns about
- Grief caused to relatives and friends
- Plans and projects that coming to an end
- The process of dying being painful
- The end of being able to enjoy life experiences
- No longer being able to care for dependants
- What will happen if there is life after death
- What will happen to the body after death
To that list I would add my own personal concern: my house needs a thorough cleaning and things are a little disorganized. I don’t want to leave a mess behind for others to clean up. I know I’m not alone in that: an acquaintance told me she never leaves her house without making sure the kitchen is clean and the beds are made, in case something happens to her when she’s out.
In Europe and North America we don’t like to talk about death. We are “death phobic,” as The Order of the Good Death describes it, which makes it all the more difficult for us when the inevitable happens. Regardless of which of those seven fears resonates most clearly with any one person—and I suspect it’s different for everyone—death comes to us all one way or another.
People in Latin America have a more open approach. Beginning on November 1, El día de los muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a two-day celebration that recognizes death as a natural and necessary process and part of the human experience. During El día de los muertos, the dead share in the celebrations, eating, drinking and being merry with their loved ones.
“. . . let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.” —Isaiah 22:13
Today I will eat, drink and be merry with some departed loved ones—after I clean the bathrooms.
“The one who rides the tiger can never get off.” —Chinese proverb
What does that ancient wisdom mean to you? After I stumbled upon the proverb recently I found different interpretations.
1.Once you decide to tackle a powerful challenge, you can never give up.
Very few people choose to “ride the tiger,” or take on powerful challenges. Why would they, when a comfy life without peril is an option? Most people choose paths with multiple outlets, and contingency plans. Safe, but not very interesting. Those who do step up to the fierce and noble animal must do so knowing that they are in for a wild ride that they must see through to the end.
2. If you connect yourself with something dangerous, it will attack you if you decide to disengage.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” Michael Corleone says in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. We need to choose our companions carefully, because the dangerous ones don’t want us to stop the wild ride. Wrong associations, drugs, bad business deals, and many other choices entrap us. They are a tiger that allows petting at first but once mounted shows its fangs.
3. Once you set yourself on the path of enlightenment, you will not be able to stop.
“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr wrote. He wasn’t referring to spiritual growth but it applies, because once a person opens up to enlightening ideas, they can never go back to the way life was before.
4. People often set off on paths that lead them to get trapped by their own wants, desires or prejudices.
Life can eat us alive. The title, position, status, or persona we have built may choke us, but we refuse to relinquish it.We may take on more and more until we are overloaded and incapacitated. We refuse to stop or escape, making us a prisoner of our own keeping.
5. Society is addicted to technologies and science.
We rely on our fume-spewing automobiles. Could we imagine life without our power-depended gadgets? Each scientific advancement brings the need for more science to solve a new problems born out of the new technology, in an endless quest for utopia.
That’s a wide variety of interpretations for sure, and all apt in their own way. What does riding the tiger mean to you?
“Zero gets to represent something and nothing” —from The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music by Victor L. Wooten
Zero means nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.
Place it to the right of the number 1 though, and all of a sudden you have ten times that number. The zero magically creates something more. Keep adding zeroes and you can create all the way up to . . . infinity.
Nothingness used to create infinity. Huh. Sounds sort of God-like to me.
Something to ponder.
“Zero is like space. . . . A scientist looks close enough at an atom and what does he find? Space! . . . Space can be seen as the birthplace of all things.”
I recommend The Music Lesson. Reading that will make you think!
There’s a piece of paper on my desk. It measures 2 inches x 3 inches.
Is it valuable, do you think?
Let me tell you more. It has a bar code below the words “Cineplex Cinemas: Admit One. Present this ticket to a cashier to exchange for one admission ticket.”
What do you think now? Is it valuable?
But wait. There is more. “Expiration: April 30, 2016”
So, not so valuable after all.
For a moment, you and I could both believe that a mere piece of paper had power. I could take it in my hand and go places where others could not so easily go. Then, in a magical kind of way, the same piece of paper instantly became worthless recycling.
Nothing physical about the item changed, but the power it held dissipated into the ether. The science remained the same, but the story changed. Like magic.
When my kids were little, they became quite upset when they got “jinxed” by friends; they bought into the “jinx” story. I said to them, “You can only be jinxed if you choose to be jinxed.” They didn’t believe that though, because the stories of friends hold more power for children than a mother’s thoughts on the matter.
The power doesn’t exist in the object or the words, it comes from us. We choose to give it to them.
Everyone has objects to which they transfer their power: sports memorabilia, Beatles artifacts, paintings. The sticky point is: not everyone buys into the same stories. A World Series home run baseball is only valuable to people who don’t say, “Baseball? Who cares?” Beatles memorabilia only counts to those who don’t dismiss them as overrated. How about a painting like “Voice of Fire.” Is it worth 1.8 million dollars to you?
For Roman Catholics the consecrated hosts and wine of communion are much more than bread and wine. Scientific-minded sorts scoff at this. They don’t buy into the commonly accepted story. Those same scientists use money every day, so apparently they readily accept some forms of magic, but not others.
Money is big magic. If I want to go to see a movie—now that we’ve all agreed that my coupon piece of paper is not magical—I have an alternative. I can pull other magical pieces of paper out of my wallet, hand over an agreed number to the theatre and happily enjoy the film.
Of course, it depends which city I’m in at the time. If I were to pull out colourful Canadian pieces of paper at a movie theatre in an American city, they would be viewed with derision. Our paper is not so magical in the US.
The paper itself doesn’t change, but as soon as our car drives across an imaginary, magical line the story does. (Or in the case of our wonderful Canadian money, the polymer doesn’t change, but the story does. We really do have some of the finest money in the world.)
Commonly accepted stories help our society to function. If we all accept the story that red means stop and green means go at a traffic light, we prevent accidents. If we buy into the story of concert tickets, we avoid stampedes at Paul MCartney concert hall doors. (The Beatles are definitely NOT overrated.)
Beyond that, we have to recognize the stories for what they are and choose to delegate our power carefully. I’ll keep this Steve Rogers baseball on display because I love it, but you can bet that I won’t be bidding on “Voice of Fire” any time soon.