Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter missionaries and pagans

I'm not saying that the world divides neatly between those who preach and those who play - it just seems like that sometimes. The news, for example, describes almost no middle ground. It's all disaster (and the people who are called upon to fix it) or celebrity (and the people who are called upon to wallow in it). The morals of celebrity and the freedoms of disaster are left to the poets.

Yet writers who are not journalists must always struggle against both (except Jane Austen who in Sense and Sensibility does it so perfectly that nothing sweaty shows). Mere mortals guard constantly against moralizing, and ferociously edit out melodramatic gushing, and the result often creaks and slides with remnants of both. How in fact do you approach an obviously evil world? What do you make of those moments of love and joy? What do you live for?And what is the truth, and is it upper- or lower-cased?

Personally, I can't help but criticize bad actions, bad people, bad outcomes in politics and business and love. I can't help but fall aswoon on Beech Hill, Lucia Beach, in my backyard on the first warm day of spring, in a reading-aloud of Richard Selzer's "Skin." But bringing them together? It seldom works for me on paper.

It's really a religious question, I guess. Do you believe in something ultimate? I obviously have trouble both ways: if you don't believe in something beyond human perception, what's the point of living? If you do, it's logically (and often emotionally) impossible.

I'm (obscurely) comforted by the notion that Easter is just the Christian manifestation of countless pagan rites throughout history and geography. It seems to fit with the maxim (slightly preachy, I admit, even Calvinistic) that although an absolute Truth (God, Nature, Art, Music, Love) is unattainable, we have to go after it anyway. Isn't every day of our lives both an affirmation and a denial? Yes/No seems a perfect answer to Easter.

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