In every collection of poems, essays, or tales, there’s one poem, essay, or tale that I don’t finish. An avid reader, like an ardent lover, must never fall prey to the delusion that s/he has completely comprehended the object of her/his attentions. Some mystery must remain. A map with no blank spots never tempted an explorer.
Suppose you wanted to hire an end-of-life coach. What qualifications would you look for?
Perhaps the question sounds absurd. But show me an authentic teacher who is not, in effect, an end-of-life coach.
Despite being more or less a secular humanist, I often describe myself as religious, too. The semantic janitor in me insists that the fashion for calling oneself “spiritual but not religious” simply muddies the cistern of public discourse. Moreover, using the word spiritual might imply belief in the literal existence of spirits, whereas religious implies nothing more than religiosity, which can include behavior as basic as showing respect for the dead.
True, the universalizing religions — Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and so forth — advocate profounder shifts in the inner lives of their adherents. But most religions that have ever existed have been altogether less ambitious and more circumspect about such questions as the possible end and meaning of life. The universalizing religions propose to teach humility; village and tribal religions actually model it, to some extent. And it’s this kind of existential humility, rather than the adherence to any particular belief, that seems most characteristic of true religiosity.
“My parents were so uptight,” she said, “they wouldn’t even utter the word ‘breast.’ And of course they sent us to Catholic schools, too.
“My brothers and I had no idea what to call those unmentionable things on a woman’s chest, so we made up our own word: puff-outs. We used to go through magazines together, laughing at all the pictures of women with their comical puff-outs!”
“Human females are unique in the concentration of fat deposits in breasts and buttocks. Although breasts develop in some primates in first pregnancy, human females are further distinguished by breast development during puberty, usually several years before pregnancy.
“Humans have been interested in breasts and buttocks, in one way or another, for a long time, as illustrated by the so-called Venus figurines of Upper Paleolithic Europe. More recently attempts have been made to explain the evolution of the unusual anatomical features. Here I present an integrated hypothesis, proposing that breasts and buttocks evolved to signal a female’s nutritional state to males, in the context of facilitating female choice of mate. High male parental investment is critical to this point of view. I reach the conclusion that humans stand out against a general background of sexual selection wherein many animals exhibit male ornaments to attract females.”
–John G. H. Cant, “Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Breasts and Buttocks,” American Naturalist, Vol. 117, No. 2 (Feb., 1981)
The buttocks are at once the humblest and the proudest feature of our anatomies. In Buddhist meditation, the buttocks may appear to adopt a subservient position, only to return to prominence during prostrations. “Free your mind and your ass will follow,” as George Clinton once said.
Christian fundamentalists remind me of straight guys who are into anal intercourse. Both seem to be missing the point, somehow. They are idolaters, for whom the well-formed text or body with all its comic superfluities is merely the means to an end. And of course the end can’t come quickly enough, as far as they are concerned. It was to help these kinds of people that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass.