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Making Sacred

by on December 1, 2015

                                            Making Sacred

by Marco M. Pardi

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated.

“Be careful in dealing with a man who cares nothing for sensual pleasures, nothing for comfort or praise or promotion, but is simply determined to do what he believes is right. He is a dangerous and uncomfortable enemy because his body which you can always conquer gives you so little purchase over his soul.”  Gilbert Murray (1866 – 1957) British scholar, in Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. 1950

When I was young I spent as much time as I could wandering over long untouched fields, stopping to examine plants and stones, especially after a rain.  I was particularly fascinated by quartz, silicon–oxygen tetrahedra.  The second most abundant mineral on Earth after feldspar, it occurs in a variety of forms.  I became aware it had piezoelectric properties, linear electromechanical interaction with no inversion symmetry, but I did not know how to harvest this.

But that was really not my concern.  It was the mineral itself, the mysterious treasure sticking up out of the mud which causes one to pause and say, “Oooh, that’s a good one.”

When several others are already in my pocket, why is this one a good one?  Why do I return the others to the ground and keep this one?  Is one a clearer expression of Gaia than the others?

At the same time I thought of my reaction to people who comment on the weather.  A beautiful day.  A yucky day.  A mess outside.  Dreary.  Ideal.  Wish they were all like this.  Why is one day a keeper and the rest not so?  Gaia is doing what she does.  A beautiful day in the Namib desert, a 1,200 mile stretch along the coast of Namibia where the temperatures range from +120F to 60F and the northern part is locally known as The Skeleton Coast can soon turn into a nightmare of survival. Yet for centuries people have been drawn there to risk their lives in search of the legendary river of gemstone quality diamonds lying in the alluvial gravels fifty feet beneath the sand.

Of course, there are many more accessible places.  I’ve been to several national parks, including the Petrified Forest.  Throughout these parks there are signs admonishing visitors that taking anything from the park is forbidden.  Yet, a visit to the Visitors Center shows that enforcement is unlikely.  Inside the Center is a large bulletin board with letters from people who returned stones to the park, claiming they had suffered all manner of calamities after getting home with their ill gotten treasures.  Perhaps these were calamity prone people who imputed their troubles to some magical – sacred property in the stones.  Perhaps these were the writings of first year Park Rangers performing their “other duties as assigned”.  Of course, the Gift Shops always had a stock of stones for sale, presumably exorcised of any vindictive intent.  But buying a stone someone else found is just not the same as the discovery of one’s own.

Early in my teaching career a student, who became a very good friend, brought me a small piece of metal he had fabricated into an amulet of sorts.  He knew of the Bible Belt hostility toward me and in his concern said I should keep this with me at all times.

The object certainly showed dedicated workmanship, but beyond the fact of it being a gift from a well intentioned friend (I ascertained it was not a tracking device) I could not identify with it in any way.  I put it with other things in my home, and lost track of it decades ago.  Considering some of the hard knocks since then, perhaps I should have listened.  But when the Catholic Church decommissioned St. Christopher as the patron of travelers I wondered if masses of drivers suddenly found themselves lost on the highways.  Imagine the chaos.  Can we canonize GPS?

Speaking of travel, it is interesting how place names acquire a kind of sanctity.  Many people would trade their mother’s soul for a degree from Oxford or Cambridge.  Indeed, even a visit leaves one in quiet and respectful awe.  But Oxford, sited near the confluence of the Cherwell and Thames rivers, was just what it says: a safe place to ford the oxen across.  A village arose at this point, called itself Oxford, and later hosted a university.  Cambridge is a similar site, a village arising at the point where a bridge crosses the river Cam.  I doubt many people in the U.S. would treasure a degree from Cattle Crossing University, or Overpass U.  Just not the same cachet.

Driving southeast from Berlin one comes to a rise in elevation topped by a scenic wald; German: wald. wood(s).  A beautiful place where the predominant species of tree is the buchen; German: buchen. beech.  Hence the name Buchenwald.  But for all its serene beauty, who can forget what site is preserved within?  Yes, where Germans conducted horrendous “medical” experiments throughout the years of WWII, failing to entirely cremate their physical results and their carefully documented records.  I said Germans, not Nazis.  To say Nazis is to perpetuate the myth that only a select portion of the population sanctioned these atrocities.  Since Germans generally look so much like the U.S. population, especially after the war, media and textbooks were quick to claim “not all Germans were Nazis”.  True enough, but no such qualifiers are used for the Japanese, many of whom risked punishment or even death from the Kempeitai, the Secret Police, as they listened to American broadcasts on their radios.  And, it was the Italians, not the Allies, who overthrew Mussolini.  But America loves the lie that Italians were all Fascists who “switched sides” when the going got tough.  Sacred myths.

A recent article states the Wailing Wall, claimed as the last standing remnant of Herod’s temple, is actually the wall of the Roman Fort Antonia, built to garrison the soldiers who oversaw the Jews and eventually had to crush their revolt.  A little research shows this has been known for years. Yet, people daily come to pray and to insert written prayers into the crevices (taken away nightly and probably burned).  For these people the myth has become incarnate; it is a sacred object.  Ultimately, what difference does it make if it’s the temple wall, the garrison wall or the wall from which Humpty Dumpty surveyed his last horizon? The importance is solely what is invested in it: sacredness.

In the same vein, the last 150+ years of biblical scholarship have clearly and unequivocally shown the Jesus made sacred by Christians is wholly an invention of Paul, a person who never laid eyes on him and was roundly condemned by Jesus’ followers in Israel.  Hundreds of intensely academic texts, of which I have a couple of dozen including the translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have been written on this.  But, being academic, they seldom if ever appear on Best Seller lists.  Thus, the Christian churches of all denominations are free to go on their way knowing the congregations will likely never encounter these findings.

A book which did cause a minor uproar was ZEALOT: the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan.  True to its agenda, FOX News viciously attacked Aslan because he was Muslim, and therefore in their eyes could not possibly know what he was talking about.  However, using all available resources and his intimate knowledge of the cultures involved Aslan gives us a rational, measured and immensely readable presentation of Jesus, as a reformist zealot Jew who would have recoiled at the formation of a new religion, especially in his name. He deconstructs the legendary Jesus and gives us the man; he clearly demonstrates how the legendary attributes, “history”, and claims ascribed to him were highly improbable or outright impossible.

So why the anger in some quarters?  Why would one not want to know the rational and contextual construction of such a man?  Anyway, if a system of thought is valid, Christianity in this case, why must it be grounded in historicity?  True history provides knowledge; false history provides myth.

It appears there is far more at work here than simply the individual’s investiture of sacredness in this mythical figure; there is a world-wide conglomerate with heavily vested interests.

Decades ago I learned from my law enforcement and mental health colleagues that a person can be crazy as a box of gerbils in his own home so long as he poses no threat to self or others.  I think the same principle should apply to those who, in the privacy of their own minds invest sacredness in the object of their choosing.  The question then becomes: What constitutes a threat to self or others?

I have examined this question in a much earlier piece, When Fantasy Becomes Law.  Indeed, since that writing several U. S. States have moved deeper into Draconian laws based on what they seem to think is “Christianity”.  The upcoming Presidential elections are sure to stir this brew further.

Today I know more about quartz than I did as a child.  But walking in the yard after a rain I can still feel the thrill, and can still find myself saying, “Oooh, that’s a good one.”  

 

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11 Comments
  1. Rocks, to amulets, to Oxford and Cambridge, to Nazis, to Jesus, to crazy, to the election and back to rocks. A Marco Pardi blog is a ride that takes you far and wide. As to “Oooh, that’s a good one.”, that is something I have recently wondered about. I have a view of the mountains and every day when they are snow topped I comment how beautiful. But it struck me recently, why? I think there are things people universally would agree are beautiful. And why? I don’t think there is a person who wouldn’t agree a brilliant red sunset on the ocean isn’t gorgeous. Majestic mountains covered in snow, or a black stallion. Sophia Loren. At the same time there are many differences in taste of music, art and food. What is the reason for the visual things we all find appealing? And back to rocks. It is very rugged and rocky here, but the smooth round/oval rocks attract me. I actually collect them. They are few and far between but what happened they became like this amongst the billion of ragged rocks not like them? Enough questions for now. Thanks for another thought provoking read.

    • Thanks so much, Mary. Like you, I wonder why I wonder at things. I shy away from universals, but I think you are on to something. Thinking of your mountains reminded me of driving solo in mountainous parts of Alaska, gawking about and thinking how beautiful, how beautiful. Then, I seemed to tire of that, saying to myself, Okay, they’re all beautiful, all the time, Now what?

      Round/oval rocks are usually associated with being shaped by flowing water. Perhaps, as those mountains were forming and glaciers retreating there were water courses that tumbled them.

      Anyway, whenever I read your comments I find myself saying, Oh, that’s a good one.

  2. Your post has me thinking about all the things in our lives which we think of as sacred. What is the “something” in them which draws us? What emotional spark connects us? Whether it be a thing, a place, or even an idea, there is something within it which touches us, making it special beyond its intrinsic value; just seeing or thinking about the sacred in our lives makes us happy. The common doesn’t do that,

    To my mother, traditions are sacred. She follows them (often to my frustration) long after they cease to have validity to the rest of us. It upsets her terribly for those traditions to be disturbed.

    My brother believed that every gift he ever gave was meant to be kept forever. When he passed away, I was not the only one to voice the sentiment that “now we can let go without hurting his feelings”. A friend recently asked me if she should get rid of the gifts she was given by an ex-husband; she has been happily married to someone else for more than a dozen years. I told her it was okay to release those things she didn’t love, and to keep those she did, regardless or origin. Those of us with “thing” issues find it difficult to let go, especially if the item in question brings with it an emotional connection.

    I also pick up stones and other natural objects which “speak to me”; there is no better way to put it. I shop the same way, especially in my beloved thrift stores. I tend to think these things have an energy which matches my own, but then again, I’m a bit foolish sometimes.

    Thanks for the awesome blog; anything which makes me think is a wonderful gift. Rose

    • Thank you so much, Rose. Your comments always enhance the efforts I have put into the various topics. And, you definitely have me thinking about the things I’ve saved, with some worry, from previous relationships. We all hear the advice about the benefits of letting go, but sometimes it just isn’t that easy.

      I also enjoy thrift stores, and sometimes marvel at the items which no one seems to have realized the value of.

      • If the things you have saved from those past relationships still make you smile, then they have value. If the only memory they bring with them is a sad one, or worse, one of bad times, then it definitely should be discarded, regardless of financial value. You were the one who taught me that very few things have actual intrinsic value. The real value in everything else is in its ability to make us happy.

      • Thanks, Rose. I completely agree.

  3. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    Splendidly thoughtful, as always, and in some ways reminiscent of James Burke’s CONNECTIONS. The sacred–or perhaps that should be “sacred”–has little to do with any kind of objective reality, and everything to do with belief; hence it is irrelevant whether what we call the Wailing Wall is the real thing or not, just as it is irrelevant that the famous image of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima and MacArthur’s famous return to the Philippines were both staged. Belief is what matters…and it is what makes unconsidered belief so dangerous.

    • Thank you very much, Mike. Your examples amplify my thought. I often try to limit what I write in any one piece in order to hold the reader. But your comments surely remind us there is far more to consider.

  4. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    I think much of what people agree is beautiful or sacred is more of a collective agreement. I have often wondered why this or that is sacred. When it comes to beauty, especially physical human beauty, who is that deems it as such? The Miss America Pageant?

  5. Thank you, MJ. I detest beauty contests, and I sense you also do.

    • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

      Yes, I do! To me beauty is in the soul and not the vehicle we use to navigate this dimension. That vehicle is very temporal. We are eternal. That is where the true beauty is!

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