I don’t totally deny the possible existence of gods and/or goddesses. I just don’t think they have anything much to do with human existence and believe that humanity’s attention needs to be on human activity to save each other and ourselves from the worst of our actions and inactions. I think humans of any religious/spiritual persuasion would be better off forgetting about possible afterlives and thinking how to better the lifetime here and now.
So where does this leave me, a humanistic pagan with an inconveniently mystical series of life experiences at this “most wonderful time of the year”? It leaves me with that tree there — the one with the tin “village” at its foot — nature towering over human dwellings and pursuits. And every year, it leaves me missing Doris Lessing, now happily dead before she had to see America give into what has to be the worst idea of government ever — a fascist wrapped in the flag and claiming Christianity while living the life of a glutton.
I loved most of her books, but at this season, it is her one science fiction opus that comes to mind: Canopus in Argos: Archives. In one of the five utterly masterfully incisive novels, she mentions “the feast of the Child” and her characters regretfully (and resentfully?) say of humans that “they have obviously forgotten the meaning of this.” She never explains this comment or what has been forgotten. Lessing wrote with a sort of warm clarity, but there was always the sense, in these books in particular, that the reader needed to do some work themselves.
So, ever since I read the books, in the late ’70’s to mid ’80’s, every Christmas season when songs about the “babe in the manger” are so manifest in America, I have mused on what could have been forgotten. In these novels, the earth is a petri-dish for powerful aliens trying to craft a perfect place for intelligent beings. It is a petri-dish soiled and spoiled, and is called “Shikasta” – meaning “the broken one.” Her “aliens” incarnate as humans to try to change our ways, our lives, our history. Every one of them is born, a child, into human condition and risk. A bit like Jesus, one might say. Or Buddha. Or Mithras. Or … well, fill in the name of any “savior.” Perhaps the point of a “feast of the child” was that every child should be a desired, chosen, planned for child that is welcomed into life with every intention of not letting it suffer cruelty or hunger, neglect or need?
If that was the forgotten bit, it certainly is utterly forgotten. Almost every sect on the planet insists on every sexual act leading to procreation and every fertilization leading to the live birth of a child that may die of disease or hunger before it is old enough for school it may never get to attend! In America, the government coming into power in January is all about not letting women decide if and when to bear a child; but they certainly dismiss the need to care for the children so forced upon those mothers. They are happily disavowing any realistic need to examine how long the planet itself can endure our depredations to keep all of us alive. So much for the sanctity of infantile life?
Today, our counselor asked us something about what our core value/being was made of – what gave the “why” to our lives. My “why” has always been about creating the home I never had as a child: secure from fleeing debt-collectors by night, free of hunger and meal-skipping, and open to friends in need. No, I’ve not always succeeded, but I’ve not utterly failed either. Almost everyone finds comfort here, but I often do not. Because I can’t be in a comfort zone and still be secure in the knowledge that I am working for that “value” I espouse. I will forever be stretching the personal envelope of contentment to worry about those I can’t quite reach. In the process, especially now, I find myself wondering if I have forgotten how to be happy.
Is happiness possible in the world that seems to be beginning to die around us? When children, those for whom a mythical feast was held, are bombed into bloody dust in Aleppo, is happiness possible? Is happiness ethical? I tell myself at this time of the year, to take a bit of relief in quite joys of a warm house and plentiful food with the purpose of nourishing myself for the fight ahead. Every warrior must rest and recreate the will to fight? Everyone needs to feed their souls, to fix their own “oxygen masks” before helping others. But I admit, I feel overwhelmed. There is so much need, and so little me. And I have so little power.
It is not cookies and candles and lights that make me feel the renewal of “fight”. It is simplicity and innocence I see under increasing threat. The line of snow on a dying cedar. Feathers fallen around the feeder. A hummingbird shivering under a warm light. A set of footprints, not human, in the snow. We humans may have finally irreversibly soiled out little experimental petri-dish.
We may really be in our final slow, agonizing, dragged out last chapters as a species? I sometimes think, I may move into that realm of caring more what ELSE can survive instead of us. We are animals, too, of course; although we certainly credit ourselves as rather more than that. But I don’t see other species of beasts so intent on destruction. And I see animals, everywhere, desperately protecting their young. We throw ours away, calling them “men” at age 18 and sending them to the human sacrifice that is war. Some “feast of the child” that is, eh?
Watch what stories you tell yourselves. Where do those tales lead? To some cream-cheese harp music pie in the sky? Forget that. Is the damage we do worth it? All that we destroy for what we presume we inherit by dint of walking on two legs and proclaiming “Yay for our team!” I’ll stay with another writer, thanks, Edna St. Vincent Millay – who skipped the line to “heaven” to pick a blue flag in a yet unburnt marsh. But unlike her? I will not turn back to that line to a promised elsewhere. If my world is ashes, so will I be rather than be anywhere else. So yes, I will kick your ass if you try screwing up my planet.