October 30th, 2012
WHAT IS IT?
Imagine this. It is late at night, a baby lying in her nursery room begins to cry. The mother wakes up, hearing her baby cry, and rushes to the crib. She picks up the baby, holds the child close to her breast, rocking gently while rubbing the infant's back, and softly assures the baby with these words: "It's alright; it's alright."
You know this experience I am describing quite well. You yourself have been there, either to repeat the very same ritual, or you know about it. You understand It and empathize with It. You know that It is an act repeated around the world many times each night in the households of all peoples, all countries, all ethnic groups and religions.
But step back from this experience just a moment and think with me. Just what does the mother, or father, mean when she/he picks up the frightened child and says, "It's alright." What is "It?" Is "It" a supposed object of fear or pain? Is "It" a reference to something specific that the parent knows might frighten or disturb the child?
In some instances this may be the case but probably not in most. No, I think the statement, "It's alright," points to something much deeper. I think this is one of the most fundamental, universal statements of faith. I believe the parent's assurance precedes any doctrinaire creed, any formulation of orthodoxy, any "reasoned" response to life's questions of existence. The quiet utterance of comfort to the anxious child leads back to the early dawn of human life and points over the horizon of our future toward whatever may be the most humane of responses that we will ever offer our children in distress.
To say, "It's alright" is a statement of faith that indirectly assures the child with these affirmations:
~ Yes, the universe is basically a purposive home in which we are welcome to belong
and live our life;
~ Yes, we can trust life as a wonderful experience that will offer us an abundance
of joy, fulfillment, and meaning -- even with all the suffering we experience;
~ Yes, this darkness will pass and tomorrow we may enjoy the sunlight of another
~ Yes, there are wonderful people who will love you, care for you, and hold your hand
as long as you live;
~ Yes, there will be serendipitous surprises to greet you each day and fill your
lifetime with worthwhile challenges and opportunities to join in creating an
even more marvelous planet on which to live;
~ Yes, you will grow old and know pain and die, but you will also know the
greatest joy of saying at the end that you would not have had it any other way;
~ Yes, I am here with you,for you, and you will never know a day that you do
not feel my presence and rest assured of my belief in you.
Is that not "It?" Is that not what the mother most deeply is offering her child, most steadfastly believing at that anxious moment of offering comfort, most courageously striving to see that such a world will be made possible for her child? Of course it is. But, yes of course, we lose our way. The baby grows up, becomes a teenager. Stuff happens to us. We become distant, maybe, if indeed not callous, cold, bitter, beaten-down.
But in the deeper recesses of our mind, "It" remains. "It" will never be completely erased because "It" is the true heritage of our existence on this planet. The great religions remind us of "It." The philosophers help us to find words to describe "It." The highest courts of civil society protect the rights of all people to seek "It." And deep within our souls we believe "It" is essentially what we want for all people. If you do not believe "It," just observe any grandparent who unabashedly points to their grandchild as proof of life's evolution toward "greatness," and proof that "It" is true and worth any effort!
Still, you may be thinking, there is the shadow side of "It." There is suffering; there are unspeakable things that also move in the darkness of human existence. We have seen many lives wasted. Many people who once were held by their mothers and assured "It's alright," have not found that assurance to be their birthright, or at least they were never able to claim "It."
This is indeed the case. Within the mysterious shadows of our existence, suffering has a way of exposing us to the four-fold experiences of disease, old age, death and meaninglessness. Those are the big four, and they are awesome; this is true.
Which brings me to this particular musing. I am thinking that this will be the prelude to a series of musings in which I intend to look at "It" against the backdrop of suffering. I plan to call this series "Suffering and the Question of God." I also thought it might be helpful to approach this theme by holding up before us that classic in human suffering, the Old Testament book of Job.
So here is the plan. That book, an archetypal and psychological drama of one person's devastating suffering and the questions of life that he places before God, that book will serve as the center point around which I explore the question of suffering. Along the way we will consider the nature of God, of Satan who also appears in the drama, of would-be friends who offer moralistic advice to the suffering Job, the theme of theodicy, the nature of scriptures and their place in our life when experiencing suffering, the way in which the "sacred" may appear to us, and what the near-death experiences may have to teach us.
All the while, I plan to keep "It" before us as the theme that runs throughout my inquiry, and we will see how "It" appears when held alongside the challenges of disease, aging, death,and meaninglessness. But before leaving the Prelude, I want to state again the meaning of "It" from yet another vantage point, the poetic imagination of Derek Mahon and his rendering, "Everything is Going to Be All Right."
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.