Death and the Absurdity of Heaven

image02I remember, as an undergraduate, reading Spinoza for the first time. I came across the sentence, “The free man thinks of nothing less than death.” Spinoza meant, of course, that a free man never thinks about death.

But I managed to read the sentence in the opposite way. I took the phrase “nothing less” in the way you might say, “I want nothing less than the best cheesecake in the state.” I thought Spinoza was saying that the free man demanded the very best to think about. Death, obviously, tops that list.

I took it for granted that everyone thinks about death almost all of the time. On becoming a Catholic in my adulthood, I was excited by the prospect of joining the morbid parade of suffering souls trudging stolidly toward the grave, fingering our rosaries and muttering under our breath about the veil of tears.

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Epic Tales: an Interview with Amit Majmudar, part 2

Claude_Lorrain_024Guest post by Sarah Arthur

Continued from yesterday. 

SA:  In your essay “Me and the Monotheists,” you say that even though you are a Hindu, many Christians seem to warmly welcome your poetry (e.g., I’ve included your poem “Incarnation” in the anthology Light Upon Light). You say this is primarily about “aesthetic resonance”—particularly with imagery—but you also point to the English language itself as being encoded with biblical influence.

And yet not every contemporary English-speaking poet writes this way. Can you elaborate?

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The Photographic Eye of God

WeegeeHe called himself Weegee The Famous. Weegee, for short. His real name was Arthur Fellig. But even that wasn’t quite real. Born in a little town in what is now Ukraine in 1899, Weegee was originally named Ascher Fellig. He was a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Ascher’s family immigrated to America in 1909, where he became Arthur.  In the 1930s, Arthur took up freelance photography, roaming the streets of his new home. That’s when he performed his third transforming act, into Weegee The Famous. No longer an Austro-Hungarian, he’d become a New Yorker.

There are competing stories about how and why Arthur (née Ascher) became Weegee. The most satisfying story is that Weegee is a phonetic form of Ouija. Weegee was so quick getting to the scene for a good photograph (often a crime scene), people started to say he was like a living Ouija board. He knew what was going to happen before it happened.

More than anything else, Weegee liked to photograph murder scenes. Asked what he did for a living, he would reply, “Murder is my business.” It is said that he photographed as many as five thousand dead bodies, murdered bodies, during his career as a photographer.

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My Big Bang Theory

redwoodsGuest post by Cathy Warner

I awoke one morning from a recurrent nightmare of nuclear apocalypse to see towering redwoods dripping with fog outside the window. I stepped from the cabin into a chorus of frogs and crickets, interlaced roots spreading wide into bracken fern, neon banana slugs sliding across fragrant duff. I breathed crisp air and sensed that I was in the midst of an ecosystem in perfect harmony.

In that instant I was convinced this hadn’t happened randomly (as I understood evolution), or because the trees had “willed it” (as I understood the Beyond War manifesto I’d recently embraced).

It was the first time I felt God revealed—not a bearded cloud-bound giant calling for repentance, a la the Bible-thumping students on the campus quad I’d tried to avoid—but a presence, being—in and behind all that existed.

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The Trouble with Time

father_time.jpg2They talk. They talk to. They talk about. God. Please, God. Dear God. Thank you, God. Comfort, heal, save us, God our God dear God. They should talk. That’s what they’ve been told.

I don’t know. I don’t know from God.

They say God is the One who shaped the ear. I’ve said it, too. God, the One who gave life listening: Ishmael, God listens, God hears. They say God is near, near to all. I’ve said it, too. Near to all who call upon God in Truth. Where is that, Truth? Near here?

They have names for God: Rock, Redeemer. What shall I call you? And if I call, will you listen, respond?

You are near. I know you are here.

I’m exhausted. You: inexhaustible.

I swoon, wobble. You’re steady.

Are you everything they say God is?

Time, Your most precious gift, they say, talking to God about you.

And here you are: a few moments of silent prayer as the organ softly plays. It’s my favorite moment of the service at Temple Emanuel, the temple of my youth. But the Temple has moved on; it has followed the Jews of Cherry Hill east. You moved with it. I, too, have moved away, and you’ve stayed with me wherever I’ve roamed, settled. I can’t get away from you.

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