Friday, December 11, 2009

Slouching Toward Christmas

You may have noticed, gentle reader, how many times I refer to having drowned once. You may get the idea that this was some kind of major event in my life. I'm not really all that certain that it was.

I really did experience my life passing by in an instant, but I honestly don't think I would have remembered it if I hadn't remarked on it at the time. Rather like a dream, which if you try to make yourself recall it in that liminal zone just as you are waking up, all you have left upon actual waking is the frustrating sense that there was something worth remembering. The reality of the dream becomes impossible to recapture.

By now, my memory of my life passing before mind's eye is but a conviction that it really did happen; what philosophers call a memory of a memory. It's not as if I can recall the actual event, which if you think about it would be pretty weird. That would be like dying again all over again, and then I'd be in some state of suspended super-animation or something. Like Chuang-tzu's butterfly dreaming.

You can already tell where I'm going with this, right? It's plenty embarrassing to me, who has made all sorts of fun of religionists, and who can almost not abide anyone who takes their religion all that seriously.

But you know, supposing that there actually was a Christ, everyone pretty much agrees that he wasn't all that much at the time. Sane and rational people have to agree that all sorts of traditional stories were piled on to that small life to true it according to what we wanted to believe.

Our Jesus joined all sorts of prior saints supposedly born on December 25 - or perhaps the winter solstice - of a virgin mother. Our Jesus fulfilled prophecies in the sense that Monday quarterbacking fulfills your genius calling plays. The words get trued to fit the expectations.

But over time, the conviction that there was an actual event, even though it overpowers the event itself, can also serve to heighten the actual event's reality.

My own drowning is important to me mostly as a metaphor. It reminds me that there are no real endings, although there are important boundaries. It reminds me that the boundaries are what make feelings possible. And that ultimately there is no distinction between the tenor and the vehicle in proper metaphors.

There is absolutely nothing that we can know for certain, since at its most reductive, reality is always known metaphorically through some theoretical trueing. Our instruments become not so much lenses at their limits, as metaphorical reifying machines, and the Chinese couplet works better than our Western grounding in the physical.

This is not so much a pun as a statement of the limits to rational understanding. So God coming down to earth; the making real of what can only be abstraction, has at least as much sense in reality as it does as punny statement.

Which is the Christ story too. Almost as though the moment of our awakening to the cosmic joke is the moment of God's actual coming to earth. As if the real Jesus that we celebrate really couldn't be the one we're waiting for. Since the one we celebrate was an elaborated fiction. And the real one depends on our collective awakening to the fiction of extravagant ideas like that of God.

In whose mind's eye, humanity remains but a twinkle.

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