neolithic monuments, the avengers, and God

On our very first day in Ireland, when our nascent jet lag was quickly worsening, we visited Knowth, a section of Neolithic monuments found in Brú na Bóinne.  They’re some of the oldest structures in Europe.  Neat, right?  And internally, the structure of the tombs looks just like this:

Knowth – symbol at center

There’s a cross in the very center of the tomb, which was very possibly a religious meeting place for the ancient Celts.  Accident?

I think it’s like those proteins in your body, Laminin, that hold you together on a molecular level – they’re cross-shaped, too.  The very structures that keep your body connected and functional reflect the very thing that keeps us connected and functional.

And I don’t think that these burial grounds are a coincidence either, because I don’t believe in coincidences.

There are repetitions in life, things that cycle over, and why should we pay attention to them if they aren’t meaningful?  This symbol might have been just another way that God prepared the hearts of the Celts to receive Him, like in the case of St. Brigid. (Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints and also the name of a triune Celtic goddess.  The saint used this connection to help explain God to the people of Ireland.)

He’s left his marks all over this world, and he’s actively moving within it.  And I forget! How could I?  But the last time I prayed was last night, asking God to help me get some sleep.  Like there’s nothing more important to talk to God about.  He, and all of Christianity… It’s so important, so powerful, and so deep, like ancient magic, as Aslan would say.  And we undermine it.  Thinking of the violence in Ireland between Protestants and Catholics is heartbreaking, because both claim to be Christians, but they’re killing each other over religion!  Of course it mostly has to do with the English/ Irish hostility, but it’s always summed up as Protestants vs. Catholics.  And God is bigger than that.  He’s bigger than squabbles, rituals, cathedrals, and we humans who try to get to heaven on our own.  And thank goodness, because who would be willing to serve a small god?

I’ve seen the Avengers twice now, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Yes, they were awesome, and it was fun to see the dynamics of the new team, but they also brought up a lot of interesting questions about power, kingship, and who is fit to rule – especially with Thor and Loki.  I was acutely reminded of the brothers, Edmund and Edgar, in Shakespeare’s Lear.  One of the very first things Loki says (after killing a few people) is that he’s come with glorious tidings, to free the people from freedom.  And that sounds awful.

Later on, in Germany, he proclaims that “it’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation”. And although this is coming from the mouth of a crazy, villainous, mass-murdering Norse god, he’s absolutely right.  It’s true.  We will always serve something, no matter what – ourselves, our jobs, other people, our obsessions.  We are never free.  That’s terrifying.  But here’s where Loki twists it.  He wants to be the one to rule, and that isn’t right either.  That is what serving a small god looks like.

In response to Loki’s adamant declaration of power, an old German man refuses to kneel, saying that we weren’t meant to be ruled by men like Loki.  And that’s precisely right.  Yes, we were made to serve, but not just anyone.  We were made to serve a perfect, living God who loves us more than we can imagine or reciprocate.  God doesn’t look like Loki, or even Thor, even though the “god of thunder” points out that a good leader understands he is not above his people.  Thor was right about ruling, in this case: a ruler can’t think himself better than his subjects, because people should be treated equally, and power in man’s hands quickly becomes corrupt if not wielded with humility.

But God is no tyrant, and He is better.  He is what’s best for us.  It’s not prideful, because it’s true.  It’s beautiful, how he rules.  And it makes sense why we can’t be Him, and why we are hard wired in our very cores to serve.  We yearn for God, and not just to serve as a slave, but to love and be loved as a child.

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Read this: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

King Lear, or any of the history plays… or tragedies, for that matter…

See this:  Avengers!

the poet

The Diviner

Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions.
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

~Seamus Heaney

Excuse me while I try to form my feelings and hazy ideas into something that makes sense.

So the week before Spring Break (two weeks ago, I suppose), we were talking about Seamus Heaney in my Irish class.  I adore Heaney, and his poetry is beautiful and meaningful and very much a living thing.  Among all of the things that he has to say about life and Ireland and all the rest, something that struck me the most was his talk of the role of the poet.

Now by poet, I don’t mean strictly someone who writes poetry.  That sounds funny.  Let me explain.  I mean “the poet” in a broader, more ancient sense, one that encompasses more than rhyming or what you may normally associate with poetry.  I mean the poet as a sort of epic hero, who brings truth to his people, sometimes painfully.  This is the traditional Irish view of the poet, or senchaí: someone with great power that speaks the truth, even to the king, and that some fear.  He has the power of sight, and can use his words in satires against his enemies.

Or like the Oracles of Ancient Greece: someone who is chosen to be a mouthpiece of the divine, someone who is spoken through. Which brings me to the most important parallel to the poet, the true calling of such a person: the prophet, someone who carries the truth from God to the people.  Although this brings to mind the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke with God (how amazing!), you can still be a prophet today.  Anyone that God uses to speak through is a prophet, and God most certainly still speaks to people.

And around this time in my class, as we’re talking about poetry being made up of partly scop, or craft (being a good writer), and partly vates, or prophesy or vision, speaking the truth, I start freaking out.  Really freaking out, and zoning out of some of the discussion or being way too much into other parts of it.  I can feel myself getting excited all over again as I type this.  I’m looking at my paper right now, and I have little notes scrawled all over it, like:

my heartbeat shakes my whole body in trembling rhythm with the hand of God,

Or this overly-excited realization of the poet’s job:

poet as a go-between!
a translator of truth!
a diviner!
a mouthpiece!
a prophet! an oracle!
a tool in the hands
of He who holds all Truth
a liminal, ferried between
two worlds,
granted another sight by the
Everlasting

poet as messenger
of the eternal, birthright
of an oracle
why am I almost twitching?

a mortal body and an
eternal soul,
like all the amphibians of humankind.

and I am suddenly restless,
yearning, churning, swelling
with a feeling I don’t know
and a desire for something past
this mortal coil.
My heart is beating with desperate purpose.

So, I was freaking out.  And still am.  Because I couldn’t, and honestly can’t, imagine a greater purpose than being spoken through.  The lump in my throat tells me that I desperately want that, to have a purpose, to have this purpose, but I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

We read another poem that day called “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” (click), where a bird makes a nest in St. Kevin’s hand and he is responsible for their lives and can’t move until they leave.  I talked to my professor about the role of the poet and such things after class on my way to study for my calc exam (that was easy to focus on after all of this).

I wrote down all that I could remember of what he said.  He looked at me and told me that the calling of the poet is not an easy one to accept.  He asked me to remember St. Kevin.  What did he do?  He went out to the wilderness and hid away from everyone else.  But God found him anyway.

You were made with a purpose, and you’re here for a reason.  I watched the movie Hugo a few days ago (which I heartily recommend), and was nearly moved to tears by certain parts of it.  There’s one part in there where Hugo and Isabelle are talking about purpose.  Hugo looks at people like machines and wonders if they too become “broken” when they lose their purpose.  It’s beautiful.  And then he says this:

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason too.”

You are not an extra part.  I really identify with Isabelle.  I wonder what my purpose is, too.  But I know that I have one, because God has given me one.  We were each made for something.  And I trust that He will help me find that something.

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See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcdEXHIuTxw  Seriously, watch this movie.

self-portrait of an artist…

Although it’s a fabulous novel by James Joyce, this post doesn’t actually have anything to do with dear, searching Stephen Dedalus (although he may be referenced in the future).

In my Irish literature class a few days ago, we discussed O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of a Nation”.  Basically, some Irish soldiers are holding British soldiers, but they’re friends with them.  Eventually, the Irish recieve the order to execute their “chums” and regretfully do so.  The interesting part is this:  Frank O’Connor’s real name was Michael O’Donovan, and he gives the name “Donovan” to the most detestable character in the story.  That Donovan is ruthless and actually looks forward to fulfilling his duty of killing the two British soldiers.

When O’Connor was in the Irish army, there came a point when he did not fulfill his duties to his superiors.  Was this self-portrait a mark of regret, or disdain for himself?  Or was he simply drawing from past experiences?

When we talked about this in class, it triggered several other memories of artists inserting themselves as less than flattering characters:

In his Persistance of Memory, Dali inserted himself as the centrally-located melting face.

In the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the disgustingly vulgar, self-centered, and lustful patriarch is named Fyodor.

Caravaggio painted himself into several of his works, including a broken and prayerful St. Francis (painted after Caravaggio himself killed a man) and as both David and Goliath.

Michelangelo painted himself into the Last Judgement as nothing but a flayed skin held by St. Bartholemew.

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So what does this tell us about these artists’ souls?  They were quite aware of their own mortality, that’s certain.  Is this a sign of humility and an admission of their own brokenness and need for salvation?  Does this show us that, despite their greatness, they are nothing more than men?  Are they projecting to the world, “I am fallen, and sinful, and not like you think I am?”

I’m not entirely sure.  But it’s very, very interesting.  Thoughts?

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Read this: “Guests of the Nation”, Frank O’Connor ; The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky ; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5