I am still thinking and feeling with Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, and if you would like to join this Sunday and weren’t able to join last Sunday, I recommend looking first at the previous invitation, which introduces Stephen Jenkinson.
The text below comes after a meditation on the question “When does death phobia begin–not in a person’s life, but in the course of human history?” Now, normally, super zoomed out, Big Theory of Everything narratives (of the Yuval Noah Harari variety) leave me a little nauseated and disoriented (I think I used to desire them? and then dread them) — nauseated because the narratives move so fast over anything I recognize as real-time-based unfolding, and disoriented because the voices come from so high above anything I recognize as land.
I am still not sure exactly why I don’t feel this way about Jenkinson’s big narrative, but I have some theories. Firstly, this is not a book about human civilization, but about dying; in this section, he gives his best informed guess for why we are the way we are, but it is contextualized by a lot of other stuff; the Big Theory of Everything is not his main project. Secondly, this is not an attempt to discard or supersede anything else, and it is not a rejection or dismissal of peoples’ religious beliefs, but (I think) a curious and compassionate proposal about how religious people — in particular, those who adhere to mono-theistic beliefs — might have come to believe the things, and the way, they believe. I am very persuaded by his argument that there is a correlation between homelessness (both existential and real) and the affinity for a monotheistic deity.
I was thinking a lot about this while looking over the lectionary readings for this Sunday–I am now reading this question of home and homelessness in everything?
Here’s 2 Samuel 7:1-14a:
7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,
7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
7:3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”
7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:
7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?
7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.
I remember a data set from a book called The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact of Patriarchy, edited by Cristina Biaggi (which I am now convinced is being systematically destroyed — I read it first when I still had access to Yale’s
Embarrassment-of-Riches Sterling Library, have since tried three times to order it online, even at $50+, and each time, there was an error, two orders were cancelled, one, the book never arrived) where a map showed where desertification was happening, as long ago as 4-5 millennia, and where monotheistic religions emerged, and there was impressive geographic overlap.
The argument is something like, as the idea of divinity fled or was drawn out of the land and bodies of water and vegetation and animals and other people (where divinity was multi-gendered, if not mostly feminine), God rose up to the sky and became Father God, distant, potent, omnipresent, but separate and entirely other.
I am including a lot more text that comes before the part I have attached, about this Big Theory of Where Death Phobia Began. It is not necessary to read that text, so I will finish the invitation in the space above it, but if you want it, it’s there.
When reading a book like this, especially this part about what the theologian Willie Jennings calls “Christianity’s social performances,” or things enacted in the world through the prism of Christian imagination and through the structures of Christian being, i.e. the Church, and where the Church meets the State and where both of these meet ordinary humans, albeit in extraordinary circumstances, such as Europeans stepping foot in the “New World” — anyway, when reading a book like this, I find myself both nodding solemnly and thinking “Yes, ok, someone is getting to the roots,” and, then the practical theologian in me says, “Yes, ok, actually, I am right there with you–and how do I orient myself, with this knowledge, to what is, now?” I mean, how do I orient myself to people–including myself–who still don’t know what they don’t know, and who want to do good and live rightly and die wisely? How do I not cancel beliefs and practices with this new understanding? Really, how do I live here, now, in this world, however it was made and shaped up to this point?
Can we talk about this?
And then, I need to take a temporary pause. I don’t want to. This space has been sacred nourishment. That is the first gift. The second gift emerged as something practical. Writing these invitations every week has helped me think through ideas that matter for my research (even if it doesn’t go in to the dissertation), but more importantly, it has helped me rebuild confidence in my ability to put words and sentences together and to meet self-imposed-community-requested deadlines. It might not seem like a big deal, but given how blocked I was for the first 40+ months of the PhD program (and to be fair, I haven’t been very consistent with a project in a long time, maybe decades), it is nothing short of a miracle to be able to write without overwhelm and anguish. I have a dissertation deadline at the end of September that requires another miracle. Or at least, a temporary single-mindedness. I will still bake banana bread and work in the garden and go for a run sometimes, but I will be redirecting all writing efforts to dissertating. I will ask when we meet if anyone wants to hold the space from time to time, but I wanted to give this heads up beforehand.
Coffee Hour is a lightly facilitated, gently theological online space where you are welcome, no religious commitment assumed or expected. It happens at 1-2pm Irish time — but will be on hiatus from 18 July until further notice (I will miss ye!). The password changes (for this week it is: StephenJenkinson); the video conference link is: https://meet.jit.si/CoffeeHourWithFriends2021
More from Die Wise: