Undertaker's Daughter

My life and death as spiritual path.

Location: River City, Northern California

Sunday, April 24, 2005

On ReExamining Doctorow's City of God and the Values of a Puritan Childhood [Vastly Updated]

When Doctorow's book first came out in 2001, I snapped it up the moment it hit trade paperback. $20 is way too much cash for an untested read. It's about god, what wouldn't I like? Oh my dear lord, what would I?
Here are selections from the opening.

". . . -- what does it mean to say that . . . the universe did not blast into being through space but that space, itself a property of the universe, is what blasted out along with everything in it? What does it mean to say that space expanded, stretched, flowered? Into what? The universe expanding even now its galaxies of burning suns, dying stars, metallic monuments of stone, clouds of cosmic dust, must be filling. . . something. . . . What do things look like just at the instant's action at the edge of the universe? What is just beyond that rushing, overwhelming parametric edge before it is overwhelmed? What is being overcome, filled enlivened, lit?"
Sounded magnificent to me-- I was already charged up by the words, What a ride!

"Or is there no edge, no border. . . [S]o that the expanding expands futilely into itself, and infinitely convoluting dark matter of ghastly insensate endlesslessness, with no properties, no volume, no transformative elemental energies of light or force or pulsing quanta, all these being inventions of our own consciousness, . . ."

Oh. It scares him??? I can sort of understand that-- I mean, it should "Fear and Trembling" all that sort of mixed bag of terror, wonder and awe that envelops the incomprehensible. But I didn't like where this was going and it wasn't even though the second page yet. And if the fact that the event, the singularity we were following in its supposed progression, was beyond our own limits of consciousness-- not to worry. Most of what is written down as "known" about the Big Bang is utter speculation and sheer guess anyway-- only truly known to be wrong because when we do the math there isn't enough matter or time to make one star let alone the number of galaxies, let alone the number of Dead and Dying galaxies we've been able to perceive from our backwater or the universe. If he wanted scaring one class in non major [no math] physics could rip the pants off him

I only get scared when we-- as in the Powers that Be-- think they absolutely Know what's going on.

There's more.

" I think how people numbed themselves to survive the camps. So do astronomers
deaden themselves to the starry universe?"

This is probably when I numbed myself to this book. I hate to admit, but only 4 years ago, I was Still too limited in my own compassion for other's viewpoints to give any true understanding to this reaction to the most wondrous occurence ever. Damn it, we're talking about Creation. We're not suppose to be able to understand it-- not all of it. I mean, what if we thought we could DO it! And the words. The words he used to describe what he saw as a horror, were so inutterably beautiful-- didn't that occur to him?

Course it could have been a writing ploy-- I'm so naive, even for a writer, I do recognise this, but I also recognise existential terror when I see it, and the horror of not just being face with something beyond our control. Being immersed, being constructed down to the least of our cells and elements of this uncontrollable, incomprehensible immensity.

I suppose that could upset someone.

" Does the astronomer . . . understand that beyond the calculations. . lies a truth so monumentally horrifying. . . --that even one's turn to God cannot alleviate the misery of such profound, disasterous, hopeless infinitude?"

Well, first part regarding the astronomer-- just from the ones who taught me and that I've known, superficially and intimately-- uh, no, they think about it as little as possible and except for the pool of genius on the far side of the Bell Curve, don't truly believe it, in fact often get the very basics wrong-- like action at a distance, Bell's Theorem, which explains it, and the utter physical impossibility of wave/particle duality. Second part: the turning to god part, did ya ever try, E. L.??

"In fact if God is involved in this matter, these elemental facts, these apparent concepts, He is so fearsome as to be beyond any human entreaty for our solace, or comfort, or the redemption that would come of our being brought into His secret."

Yup, that is one form of god and, might I add, thank heaven and any other entity, place, or being one might care to mention, it is not, nor ever has been, the only form. Been documented a long time-- I'd check out Job, for the scary Doctorow I-wont-explain-nuttin version. Then I'd look at Psalm 130 [as quoted from A Short Breviary edited by William G Heidt O.S.B.]

Oh Lord, my heart is not proud,

nor are my eyes haughty;

I busy not myself with great things,

nor with things too sublime for me.

Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted my soul

like a weaned child.

Like a weaned child on its mother's lap,

so is my soul within me.

Oh Israel, hope in the Lord,both now and forever.

For Wednesday
Vespers, Normal Time.

Not a place to stay forever-- we're meant, most of us, to at least venture a little way into those great things too sublime for us. But when they knock us flat on our butts, we have a lap to cuddle in-- and All Shall be Well.

Why I Should Cut Doctorow -- and all others like him-- a Huge Slice of Slack for not just Asking God [his capitalisation] why He's so incomprehensible and Scary.

Because I'm blessed, by no fault of my own, through perilous upbringing and later hard work and it's wrong to fault others on different paths. And because if he hadn't written those words I wouldn't have thought as hard about these subjects and gained at least a few blessings in my hard head that way-- thank you, E. L.

I named this blog Undertaker's Daughter because my childhood and the nightmares, restrictions, sheer horror of parts of it, formed me into the person I am today. I would never have been a mystic without it.
I didn't always know this. For the longest time, mostly my college years, I thought quite seriously that my Higher Self, OverSoul, whatever you want to call that part of you that might exist before birth and stick around after death and furthermore have some imput into what kind of life situation is going to be inflicted upon you. That He or It, was Psycho. But I was sure from my chronic depression, insomnia, inability to maintain relationships beyond close friendships, problems with trust-- it's a long list-- that whatever Higher Self got doled out to me was several bricks short of a full load. I mean, one of the first things I remember my parents telling me is that my bedroom was made out of part of the casket room.

What kind of a notion is that to put in a toddler's head?? You heard me right, toddler. Three, four, something like that-- maybe younger. Right around the time my mother tried to kill me by excessive sunburn on the Santa Cruz beach. Two years in a row. I'm not going to go into the details of a very ineffective method of murder but rethinking the episode 57 years later, it would seem to have been a weird inverted form of Munchausen's by proxy in which she didn't go to the doctors for attention-- a normal Munchausen's incentive-- when I spiked a 104 temp but got my father to come to us on a white horse or rather a blue Buick and rescue us with penicillin. As if there were no hospitals in Santa Cruz-- that's the part that took me 57 years to figure out.

Not a salubrious childhood. But productive, given the right state of mind and verbal and visual imagination, of mystical states.

I farrowed out this clue in a class on history of American childhood when I went back to college in my 40's. It was an eye-opener. The class was taught in an interesting manner. Instead of lecturing, the teacher allowed his students to choose between a variety of books to write reports on and then give an hour-long classroom presentation. I picked the book The Puritan Way of Death. Primarily because no other book had death in the title. And, because I was guided by angels I didn't even know were near me.

By the way, I can't find my copy offhand and there's no trace of this title at Amazon so the book may have been called something quite different. I did read it though. Honest.

Here's the gist of the thesis. Puritan settlers in the New World had little entertainment in their obviously arduous, rather constantly life-threatening existence except for the Sunday sermons which lasted much of the day. Kids, who, then as well as now, need creative stimulus like seedlings lneed light and water, soaked up the interminable emotionally thrilling exhortations on God's well-nigh visceral delight in sending souls to Hell almost at whim. Predestination is so dang alien to me-- for all I know it is to a certain extent whim-- or so wrapped up in ways inconceivable to man-- like Doctorow's creation-- that it might as well be whim for all our ability to predict our state of grace.

Nobody can live in this radical existential state of doubt forever and later Puritan dogma allowed for clues such as wealth and status to indicate God's approval-- which delivered us into the perilous morality of capitalism, but that's another story. The early Puritans, no matter how horrible their theology may seem to those of us who like our deities kind, understanding and above all forgiving!!, lived immensely heroic internal lives perpetually on the brink of damnation. I can't even conceive how they could bear it, but it does help me love them.

Their children exhibited a very high degree of mystic experiences.

There you are. My Higher Self had a plan after all. An isolated existence-- kids couldn't come over and play because the noise would disturb a funeral that might be going on. All my playtime was very silent and internal-- much of it reading, the rest involved tieing up my dolls in odd places, so I could rescue them later. Some of those places were only barely discovered before a bereaved family could see them-- I did have, perhaps, a little trace of rebellion in this activity. [smile]

Terror: I don't even remember when I saw my first dead body. But I regularly played-- in a respectful manner-- around the viewing rooms and in the chapel-- mostly Nancy Drew type spy dramas. One has to be quiet as a spy. I had nightmares, as I've mentioned before, virtually every single night. My afternoon naps were the only chances I had for peaceful sleep. I spent much of the early evening after I went to bed talking to god. Or checking the window for either Peter Pan or homicidal killers.

I've never had any problem talking to god. And not a heck of a lot of problems with him talking back. My life was planned out to be a mystic's life. It could have gone very wrong-- there's little difference between mystic and sociopath. Especially considering my parents-- though wanting to love me --had problems doing so. My mother only cared for babies-- obviously 3 was her cut off point. My father stared at me sleeping for hours, according to my mother and others. But he wasn't ever a touching or hugging man. Other times he opened up and talked to me-- about everything-- Masonic rituals, travel plans, we drove across country almost every year after the Santa Cruz debacle, Heaven, god, his childhood, politics, how to run a campaign, where the speakeasies were during prohibition, how to jump a bridge on the delta when it went out during a Tule fog. We talked about anything and everything. However, he was a very busy man, So though I remember a great deal, the talks were probably few and far between.

An elderly black woman showed up at my mother's door a few weeks after they adopted me and said. " I don't clean, I don't iron, but I know how to take of babies. I hear you need help." Mom hustled her in before she changed her mind. I slept so many nights in Eloise's arms, there was no way I could have become a serial killer. Had to be a mystic. If Eloise Grantham has not been my mother-- not my birth mother, not my adopted mother, my physical mother-- I would not want to be around me.

Now, I don't know about Doctorow's childhood, but I'm willing to bet there were no more than the usual number of dead body sightings in it. Which is relatively few. I could be wrong.

So my arrogant insistance that he-- and others in his plight-- just up and talk to god is criminally naive. It is not a common state. It can be cultivated, but as I read his comments on the ineffability of deity-- hmmm, sounds like a penchant towards the transcendent rather than the imminent, always tougher to initiate communication-- there's a ream of obstacles to get through before even, well, "Hi, is somebody there?" could happen.

Lots of people refuse to try to talk to god because they fear he will not listen or answer. To this, I respond, he has to-- it is his job. Not his only job and silence is an answer-- usually involving restating one's question, but still. . . god will not ignore you-- ever.

Listen, dear friends, god wants to talk to us as much as we need to talk to him/her/them. Is that clear? Is it even conceivable? Read the quotes from Doctorow again -- all the way back at the beginning of this post. It's an exciting, evolving, complicated juggling act-- this creation. But it's also so very lonely done all by yourself. Especially when the people, the beloved children for whom you are creating all this are too afraid of you to speak. And in such pain at the complications and suffering that such a creation inevitably, um, creates. If you're a parent, imagine your child in pain and unable to cry out to you.

Doctorow is right, it's a huge mostly empty place. What he might not be right about is that god reflects that cold emptiness. Experiences it, I'm sure. And he could use some company. If you believe in Jesus, then part of god has been totally human-- that marks you forever. It's painful being human, lonely, even and maybe especially for god, we know that, they wrote it down.

Have to tell you my heresy here-- I do firmly believe god needs us. Everyone else in Heaven and Hell needs us-- why would he/she/them be different? Love needs another. Ok, the Trinity may take care of that-- but not everyone is a trinitarian. Nor is every god. One thing for absolute certain -- and if you've read anything I've written you know how I feel about absolutes, so this is breaking the rules-- god is Love. Total embodiment of Love. Love needs Love to exist. He's your father, your mother, your best beloved. Don't leave him alone anymore.

Talk to the creator. Please. Maybe nothing will happen at first. You'll feel silly. It won't be the first time, don't worry about feeling silly. Get in the habit of talking. Talk about anything, what happened that day, the crap, the glory, the mundane, the profane. There is nothing you can't talk to god about-- for one thing-- who's he gonna tell??? The cops? Your boss?

The hardest part is actually when he starts to talk back. It's important to stay calm, because the medium really is the message and you paint everything that comes through your brain with your own expectations, your own hopes and your own fears. The Tibetans have a portmanteau word-- Wisdom Beings-- that includes everybody from the Source to saints and spirits, dead teachers, etc. Because they are marked by Wisdom means they are safe. Doesn't mean what we hear is marked by Wisdom though. The most important communications are usually somewhat surprising, something you wouldn't exactly have thought of on your own.

I want to do a thread on Channeling later on-- but for now, just know I hate hate hate the term-- it's so messed up with New Age BS it's almost worthless. But I can't think of another way to describe communication from Wisdom Beings. I'll try-- I wouldn't mind suggestions either. Here's some basics: The Channel-- which is why the original phrase is valid if tainted-- is your brain and your brain will always color it. No way to avoid that. I don't care if you are so deep in trance you have seventy pins stuck in you without pain. The messages are still filtering through your mind and your prejudices and your belief system, no way around that.

No! don't use a Ouja board-- ever.

Ok, other basic. We'll suppose you get as clear a message as possible, it's still only meant for you. That's why you got it. Don't start a religion around it. Don't inflict it on other people, like I'm doing right now, cause I got this warning from my angel. So take it with the same grain of salt I'm telling you for all the others. Sorry.

Last basic. You know how all those nuns die young-- well, not all of them, St Theresa of Avila lived a long time, in an enormous amount of pain but still a long time. She was also a very sensible woman, very grounded. Communicating across that barrier-- human to not human anymore, if ever-- burns you up. The Sufis refer to it as a consuming flame-- just about all the religions use that term as a matter of fact. It is also a matter of fact that a large number of young, mostly Catholic women, mostly nuns, were literally physically consumed by their mystical experience-- tuberculosis, bad food, and cold quarters don't explain it all-- although Therese of Lisieux mentioned the last two as changes that she hoped would occur after her death. Just from the few times I've scheduled private personal retreats to do intense work-- I was stopped halfway through for the sake of my health by my angel. [or my own good sense masquerading as that-- That's an alternate interpretation if angels don't work for you-- I know what I believe and I thank him for his deep care] For the record, when I stopped, I was dizzy, my heart racing, and considerably disoriented. And a nap and food worked wonders.

Mystics should eat well, stay grounded with human love, touch, pets, gardens. Keep in touch with the world don't cut off from it, you can't love the immensity of creation, if you don't experience it. Treat your body with delight and respect and if you are lucky enough to have the love of another, embrace them as if they came from the arms of god almighty-- they might have. You never know. All love does anyway.

That's all I can think of for now-- gonna finally read City of God-- it will take awhile, I read slower now. If anything else comes up that's interesting, I'll blog it.

And, one last thing. Please forgive me for daring to try to tell you what to do. It is not acceptable, I know that. I just read back and was horrified by all the imperative sentences. My only excuse is -- this is so important.

not to me, I talk to him all the time. And look how nutz I am-- oh dear, perhaps not the best example. But the only one at hand. And, of course, I'm quite wrong, everything I write is important to me, whether any other soul is reading it or not.

All my love. Truly


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