Transcendental Tangents

or…Lenten Learning

These days are interesting.

Obviously

I’m writing today to process and think; to start conversations; to share words. It’s what I do. I love words and their ability to do so much good and so much harm; to provide so much meaning in every space. Dumbledore – Rowling – however we want to attribute words to a fictional person, said to Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows:

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Dumbledore’s last chat with Harry in The Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling

Perfect.

 I don’t know how to speak to the current state of the world in a tone that is timely. I don’t  know how to speak into a pandemic as we try and live through the reality of what it means to try to exist within these familiar spaces when even their familiarity is problematic. Their closeness seems suddenly too close. The words I have seem to fall short of any experience, advice, past, or future, but they’re still words, and along the lines of believing a bit in magic and mystery (sacramental life and all), I’m going to keep writing down the words. Please excuse the ramblings, and feel free to share some of your own – we’ve got time right now – might as well.

I’ve often geeked out and tried to do some pattern matching as I look at historical time lines and recognize that human life seems to continuously cycle. Cycling not only in life and death, dust – life – dust, but more specifically in the realm of human philosophies of the world (generally expressed through literature – it’s what I do)- religious, spiritual, transcendent, – humanity goes through cycles of recognition, pushing and pulling ourselves through a cycle of belief, disbelief, want, need. We learn, grown, remember, rinse, and repeat.

The 20’s, modern – postmodern – world in which we live, seems pretty similar sometimes to another 20’s, a 200 year old, transcendental world. According to wikipedia’s sources, Postmodernism “rejects the possibility of reliable knowledge, denies the existence of a universal, stable reality, and frames aesthetics and beauty as arbitrary and subjective”. Transcendentalism, claiming the category of philosophical movement rather than postmodernism’s broad movement (which I find entertaining in and of itself) touted that “society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent.” This cycle of throwing the past away in favor of the moment, in favor of personal, individual, feelings – in favor of whatever each person thinks might be best – deny universal knowledge for arbitrary and subjective – it’s not new. So, as we move in cycles, what comes after transcendentalism? Realism – a focus on daily, quotidian life. Seems fair as we live into these days of shelter-in-place/stay-at-home/social distancing, that each person is going to begin focusing a bit more on their day to day, ordinary, lives – the energy put into living, and the joy and/or grief directly related in it’s outcome.

The intentions wrapped in my words are not to inflict injury or to remedy it, but to keep spinning this inexhaustible magic in a way that might connect to someone else. For me, connecting to the the stories that have been told for such a long time, and in so many different ways becomes my daily practice. I can’t help believing those stories might be a source of comfort to someone else along this strange journey of life in which we now find ourselves.

It is currently the Christian season of Lent. While various friends and family have various ways of celebrating this season (do we call it celebration? perhaps we should – perhaps this is another tangent), my family has adopted the practice of nightly reading from a common book of prayer together. It’s not THE Common Book of Prayer, but a little book called Seeking God’s Face that lays out a daily liturgy including an invitation, a Psalm, a bible reading, a prayer, and a sending. I wrote here that during Advent I subjected my family to reading Christina Rosetti’s poem daily – this is the Lenten equivalent, and while it won’t result in any memorization, it’s a lovely way to be reminded of the stories.

Last night, we read through the liturgy and the story within was from Ezekial 37- the story of the dry bones, which was actually part of last Sunday’s liturgy and so this was the second time I’d read through it this week. Every time I re-read something, new things pop up, or seem to be missing. As had been the case on the first reading, I was reminded of a song and immediately made the family listen to it. As I sat, thinking later though, it hit me, Tolkien is a genius.

Guys, I don’t know how many times I’ve read the stories, watched the movies, and read Ezekial, but I had never linked the two together. I had never thought of the dry bones being given tendons, flesh, breath, and a promise of returning to their own land – and then drawn the connection to Aragorn in The Return of the King, when he goes to the Paths of the Dead and calls out the shadows to follow him and fulfill their oath in order to be set free – in order to return to their own land.

It is likely because we just finished watching the movies again that I’ve finally put these stories together – and because it’s the way movies work, it’s the way I picture this scene – the bones rolling out of the mountainside, attempting to overtake the heroes, and then finally coming together -waiting for the word of the true king, and only the word of the true king will suffice. In the same way Tolkien makes Aragorn the unlikely king, the unsung hero, the long-awaited, returning king who spoke into and called his vast army – and because they could respond, they knew he was the true king; Ezekial tells of the one true King – unlikely and unsung – breathing breath into dry bones, bones, who like the shadowed army said “our hope is gone” – who says to the bones that they will live and breathe and because they do, they will know that he is the Lord.

I love these sorts of connections. The allusions in literature – the head nod to old stories – stories deep within our human psyche. Something universal – defying the transcendental, postmodern, self as authority – something that weaves our stories together – across time, place, purpose, and reminds us that while this moment is a rough one, dry bones were brought to life, but it took years of telling prophetic stories (both in the biblical story and in the Tolkien) for that to happen. So while we are writing and re-writing our new stories, let’s not forget to read and retell the old. Perhaps weaving them together.

What stories are you reading, writing, and/or connecting with right now?