The elephant

In partial response to Dale’s objection to my anti-creed. Generally speaking, though, I think the two of us resemble the blind men in the old Sufi fable, arguing about the nature of the elephant. I’m really not thinking about an elephant, you see.

True teachers always say, Beware of desire. Not because desires are bad, but because they are insufficient. You can’t will your way into heaven; you almost have to surrender willfulness along with every last personal ambition. Surrender to what, to whom? To the Beloved.

For the sake of love – this is tricky – you have to relinquish love. But this may not be such an unreasonable thing, because from the beginning, true love isn’t something one can cling to. It is – as Blaugustine learned in her thirteenth interview of God – not so much a feeling we have as an energy we can tap into, or generate. (At least, it feels as if we’re helping to generate it. But maybe it’s already there, like background radiation left over from the Big Bang.)

Who, then, is this Beloved? S/he can be anyone, any being, I think. The widow and the orphan, of course, and that rank-smelling homeless guy down on the corner, but also the CEO and the sea cucumber, the demagogic president and that squirrel in your bird feeder.

Can it really be this simple? Hell, no! It’s just that, underneath the thin intellectual veneer, I am really a simple person, albeit one enchanted with the complexity of human culture and natural systems. And I have neglected to mention the problem of idolatry, which is enormous – possibly insurmountable.

There’s a reason why the ancient Hebrews put the commandment against idolatry first: it encapsulates all other sins, if by “sin” we mean “separation from the Beloved.” Idolatry is what happens when we allow ourselves to feel that our desires are sufficient, that life is no more than eating, shitting, fucking, drugging, birth and death.

But of course it doesn’t work to just say, “Well, then, I will believe that there is more to life than that; I will call that more-ness heaven, nirvana, moksha; I will relinquish this and pursue that.” Relinquishing desires can be more dangerous than their pursuit; anorexia kills you a lot quicker than over-eating. Here comes the State, for example, saying, “Ennoble yourselves! Sacrifice your beloved son!” So it turns into an idol: our own desire writ large.

The same thing happens with personal wealth or power, however much we may tell ourselves it’s all for the Beloved. An idol begins as a mirror and ends as a mouth, a bottomless pit. We dream of falling – a nightmare at first, but soon a thrilling plunge, an amusement park. In the whirl of excitement, our encounter with the Beloved gets reduced to a brief, wild firing of ganglia. Energy of a sort, but hardly that still, small, inexhaustible Presence whose existence we intuit in between the myriad throbbing things, in the presents they make of themselves to each beloved other.

YES! we are supposed to exult at every egotistical triumph, pulling the lever on an invisible slot machine with our fists. The challenge, some say, is still to find God in the slots.

That may work for you; but knowing myself and my addictive tendencies, I say NO. I will neither aspire nor relinquish. Like everything in nature, love comes on its own schedule, if at all. I will be neither saved nor spent, but simply give thanks for the present of this hunger as well as the food – thanks for the poverty as well as the comfort – thanks for this unquenchable desire that reminds me I am alive.

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