Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Dance of Light

Wonderful, Counsellor, be born in my heart,
Though I know that it has great lacks;
For you would find it an even more wretched place
Than the manger where you once lay.

Wrapped in swaddling clothes, attended by donkeys,
I offer Thee a home with greater poverty;
O Stem of Jesse, be born in my heart,
This is my wish, my hope, my cry.

- Eyitemi Egwuenu from my poem, Star of Bethlehem

He wants to take us by the hand, to retrace our steps to where it all first began – to the very beginning – before those words that still echo to this day were spoken – “Let there be light”.

He wants to take us to before the beginning, before space, before time – before the singularity of the big bang – to the very origin of a dateless past, when our formless eternal souls were sheltered in His thoughts. He wants to show us what we are, who we are – our heritage, our ancestry.

Often we catch glimpses of it in Nature – in the regal swirl of whistling pines in the winsome winds and in the guileless smile that ripples a baby’s face. Even by night, we still see Him in the beauty of the moonlight as we roam the landscape without a care, walking in the beam of that polished disc of silver.

And even more, He wants to show us the Seed that rests quietly in our hearts – “The Kingdom of God is within you” He says. The Kingdom of God, The Kingdom of God – what a birthright, what an honour – what glory, what majesty – it should be music to our ears – it should be melodies in our hearts – melodies that crisscross each other in a dance of light.

In my mind’s eye, I can see it – the fluttering wings of Divinity that dwells in every human heart. Our duty, our responsibility as humans is to pray – pray – pray, that Heaven grant those wings the strength to fly.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Our Stars or in Ourselves

Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings

Cassius from Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2

Often times I have wondered about the nature of destiny and predetermination and I find it curious that I never arrive at a consistent conclusion every time I do. Certain situations have inclined me to the belief that a person’s fate is nothing more than the outcome of a series of choices he made before that point. But, no sooner have I grasped this conclusion than I feel my hands been prised open by other ideas when I hear of certain experiences that make me wonder if there is an unseen puppeteer who pulls at the strings and that we, helpless humans that we are, are compelled to nod, dance and even scratch our buttocks, when the puppeteer bids us to.

The more I think about it however, the more it is impressed on me that it (fate or destiny, whichever is your preferred label) might actually be some curious mixture of both predetermination and choice. But, how? You might ask. Are predetermination and choice not mutually exclusive? Aren’t they for all practical purposes diametrically opposite? The short answer to these questions is “yes” and the long answer is “no”.

First, the short answer: Yes, taken literally, "predetermination" and "choice" are opposites, like “up” and “down”, “short” and “long” and “yes” and “no”.

Second, the long answer: No, predetermination and choice are not opposites; it is a trick of our minds, conditioned by our own sensory experiences in the natural world that compels us to make that assumption; we simply do not have enough information from our sensory apparatus of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell to arrive at the correct conclusion. Humans are so used to their senses and have come to rely on them so much that often times we forget that there are a lot of other modalities around us that we simply cannot sense and that concerning the sensory modalities that we can perceive, we cannot be absolutely sure of what our senses tell us.

I will give examples:

Everyday, we all see the sun rise in the east and set in the west, but anyone who has paid attention in a high school geography class knows that this is not really true; the sun does not rise and the sun does not set; it only gives the illusion that it does. The truth is that, it is actually the earth (which our senses tell us is immobile) that actually moves (rotate) on its axis. This may sound so very obvious to many people now, but don’t forget that not quite three centuries ago, men like Galileo, Copernicus and Giordano Bruno were tried by the Inquisition for heresy and were put in prison and in the case off Giordano Bruno burnt at the stake for espousing such “obvious” ideas.

So, put succinctly, we cannot be completely sure of what our senses tell us no matter how believable it appears– we may only sense things as “they appear to be” but not really “as they truly are”.

If we didn’t know any better, I bet everyone alive today would swear to it that the sky actually touches the ground at the horizon – but we know it doesn’t, though our sight still continues to insist that it does. As usual, I digress; what constitutes reality as adjudged by our senses is a whole new topic of its own.

So, how is destiny both by Choice and by Predetermination? I see two possibilities:

First, all that will happen in a man’s life has already been predetermined by the Creator, but if that predetermined fate is to be played out exactly as it has been scripted, it will depend on wether that man validates that destiny by the choices he makes or alters it (for better or for worse) by making a different set of choices. In other words, what is fated is not necessarily inevitable – a man can, quite literally change his predetermined fate (again, for better or for worse) by his choices.

The second scenario is actually a bit subtler and more difficult to explain. In this case, a man does not have a predetermined destiny, so he is more or less writing up his destiny as he lives out his life but, there is a catch somewhere though – in this case, the man has no predetermined destiny, however there are certain events in history that are predetermined and unalterable and those events, depending on when they happen, may directly or indirectly by their ripple effect, influence a man’s destiny depending on how he responds to them or irrespective of how he responds to them. These predestined and unalterable events I believe are mainly associated with the birth of specific individuals into the world or some natural events. These predestined events would nudge subtly or overtly, directly or indirectly, the lives of everyone who comes under their latitude of influence.

I speak and write in English today largely because my country was colonized by Britain. I probably would be writing this essay in French or Portuguese if it were colonized by France or Portugal. However, I can choose to learn French or Portuguese and write in these languages but I have chosen not to, largely because my anglophone upbringing and environment did not require me or make me see the need to do so. If it was predetermined that my country of birth would be colonized by the British ( I am not saying it was, I am only using this as an example to make a point) that event has influenced the lives of countless individuals and the choices they have made years after the actual event – these individuals are more likely to live in English speaking countries (UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Parts of Canada) and most of their academic choices and by extension, life choices will always be influenced by the language they speak.

Another way to look at this is to ask, “What would the world be like today if say, Jesus and Alexander the Great were not born?” You would agree with me that it would be a very different world indeed. The birth of Christ was foretold, that we are certain of but here is where it becomes tricky; though Christ was destined to be born, He still had a choice to make as to the path He would take. He Himself said that he laid down his life willingly and that He can take it up again. He could have chosen not to go to Golgotha. Do you remember the travail He went through in Gethsamane and His prayer? “Father, let this cup pass over Me” the good news is that He did not end the prayer there, He added “not My will but let Your will be done”

In the case of Alexander the Great, we have no way of knowing if his birth was destined, and that is the tricky thing about this second scenario, we actually have no way of knowing which events are destined and which ones are not – the birth of Alexander the Great may not have been destined, rather it could be that, his becoming a pupil of Aristotle was the fated event – in other words, Alexander the Great may not have influenced the world the way he did even if he was born but did not come under the tutelage of Aristotle. He would have been just another man from Macedonia who was born and lived out his time on earth and passed on.

In this second scenario, there is no way of knowing which event is a critical or a destiny-defining event; something as trivial as waking up at 6.30 a.m. instead of 6.32 a.m. could be a predestined event while something as globally news-worthy as Angola winning the world cup might not be fated even if it happens.

Ultimately, whichever scenario you look at, the choice of the individual still takes centre stage – it may sound like a paradox but the one thing that I believe is fated for all humans is Choice – all humans are destined to choose – they must choose whether they like it or not, - and choosing not to choose, in itself, is a choice.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Childhood to Adulthood

What is man? Is he not more than a highly refined extract of dust? Agreed, that man fell from the pinnacle of perfection on which the Creator placed him but must he by his actions, still, pull an already fallen race even lower than Eden's tragedy? Must he by his atrocious whims force the obscured vision of a lost paradise further still into the dim recesses, even the abysmal darkness of the nether regions? Must man continue to be the reason for a baffled creation?
It is no wonder that he has lost touch with Cosmic Intelligence; no wonder that nature has refused to open up her treasure houses to divulge her eternal secrets to him. Is it any wonder then, that while the trees understanding the music of the wandering wind, joyously dance to its rhythm and the melody of a gentle flowing stream still drifts into the heart of an overflying swan, he, the appointed lord of creation, still wallows unashamedly in pitiable ignorance of all that lies under his survey

At birth, he exerts himself in that first cry of life, forcing fluid from his lungs, creating room for in-rushing air that would sustain that newborn spirit - an innocent spirit, undefiled, unpolluted and unspoiled by earthly conferences. This is the spirit lurking within that fragile child that carries that seed of greatness which bears the capacity to feed a starving world. This is the spirit, pure and noble, which all mortal children are born with but which no one ever carries wholly into adulthood (only a handful succeed in carrying a portion of it, and today they stand as Nature's elected noblemen). Each cry he uttered while he laid supine in his cradle was a pledge to the Creator to do the bidding of his mortal destiny and each smile was a starry-eyed declaration of eternal devotion and love. The Truth lived in him and abundantly so too - much so that it picked him up to sit, taught him to crawl, urged him to stand up and helped him plant one foot in front of the other in a walk; each of these developmental milestones was a prompting by the Creator to him to find and fulfill his destiny.
This pure, innocent and divinely endowed child grows up and accordingly, he is tutored in several schools - the school of "social manners", the school of "civil politeness" and the school of "mastering the art of not being himself." Along with the incessant practice of the creeds of these earthly "schools", comes the ebb and death of that divine seed of nature that was buried in his soul. Gradually, through a series of choices, he forsakes the noble path to greatness, choosing rather to tread the path of least resistance where every selfish whim is gratified and every ill desire is satisfied. He forgets in the moments of his earthly reveling the admonition of his Guardian Angel, who whispered in his ears while he was in the womb for nine months. The more adept he got in the practice of the creed of these "earthly schools", the farther away the voice of the Creator that kept him company in his maternal nidus waned. The voice grew fainter and fainter and faded out altogether.

Soon, that pure child becomes an impure man, skilled in the world's many chicaneries - the beauteous harmony of childhood is lost in the distorted spectacle called adulthood. The starry-eyed declaration of eternal devotion and love then takes on the tangible reality of a treacherous betrayal. He still seeks a destiny but a destiny that desires to please one person and one person only - Self. The whisper of the Creator in his ears is lost forever but the the solemn Truth of his eternal mission permanently resides in him. Now and again, that Truth stirs in him and urges him to ascend above his base existence but he fails to arise each time, not because he is totally destitute of the wherewithal to honour such noble promptings but because there is so much that belongs to the earth within him. And as a consequence, a man that was born with that mystic seed of greatness innate, a man that was meant to be part of the whole of nature, perpetually remains a spiritual midget - a dwarf god! - subsisting at the brink of existence. A man, whose place is with the Creator, to feast at the table of noble spirits, still remains trapped down below by his choices - groping through life's dark maze and groveling for the dross of the earth.

Man's destiny is untouched and intact - that is, to seek The Truth, as Heaven would have him know The Truth, assured that in its pursuit, divine assistance is undoubtedly attainable. Nature is alive and remains ever true and pure with a song in every flower and tree branch that sways and a poem in the oblation contained in the whistling of a bird and the laughter of a child.

But man?

His soul is disturbed and quite unblessed, with deception without and decay within. That deception pressures him into a hapless mould, while the fulminating decay deforms what it sees, deceives when it talks and destroys when it acts. The Creator is all-seeing, all-wise, with depths of knowledge beyond fathom. Man is in no way a pawn in the hands of the Creator. Options are laid out before him and it is his responsibility to choose. Let no man say that he has no right to choose, for in every man, there lies the potential for the making of something that exceeds mere earthly brute. Destiny is not some abstract disembodied force - it is people and the choices they make.

Man's face may appear calm, his nature, serene and his eyes, lit with excitement. Man's features may look so but oh, they lie! Look well, and look carefully: behind that face lurks a monster, within his placid demeanour rages a tempest and close at the heels of that ocular light is the furtive encroachment of darkness.
The tempest rages within him - listen as it blows away every noble entrenchment in him and with uncanny selectiveness leave only that which corrupts and destroys. Listen and you shall hear the howl of whatever bit of divinity that is left inside him which has been made almost completely destitute of the will and courage to seek out and follow The Truth. Listen to the battle of the winds within him and you shall hear the tumultuous conflict of love, hatred, excitement, joy, pleasure and pain. Listen to the battle of these elements, hear the shrieking of the blast while the palace of his soul rocks unsteadily and great stones are torn from the crags and forest pines are hurled north and south and east and west. Hold your breath a while and listen. Oh mortal, wretched, wretched mortal; what pain . . . what ecstasy . . . what anguish . . . what promise . . . what bumpy rides he must take between sloth and glory, between glory and sloth.

Who will still his raging storm? Who will calm his angry sea? Who will shield his eyes from the blast of this bitter wind and make him catch a glimpse of what Divinity has made him a repository of and by so doing start a quarrel? For if there exists a difference between what a man is and what by the potentials resident in him, he knows he could have been and can be, there would always be a conflict, a quarrel within him - a righteous quarrel that starts out as a smouldering ember, and engenders into a burning flame, granting him no respite or lease of ease till he escapes the tenacious cling of the earth and takes up his rightful place in the assembly of the stars.
If immortality is to be attained and Heaven won, he must listen to the quarrel within him - these battle of the winds. He must seek the child that is lost in him: he must sit at the threshold of twilight by gently whispering waters, breaking in diamond radiance upon a pebbled beach, he must seek the hills, draw strength from the silent grandeur of the mountains and commune with nature. Beyond the hills lies the pearls he seeks, beyond the hills lies the peace his heart pants after. He must look beyond the hills and call upon Heaven to save him from his one true foe - himself.