And I saw heaven opened, and behold a pale horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.
Dreams. John’s Apocalypse, the Book of Revelations, that hallucinatory revisioning of Nero’s Rome is a lot of things. Among them a fevered dream of vengeance against oppressors. But also, something more. It’s that “more” which particularly haunts me.
Today, the 22nd of October, 1844 was when the Baptist preacher and prophet William Miller proclaimed the Second Coming of Christ was to happen. The next day, the 23rd is known in circles that embraced Miller as the Great Disappointment.
But. And. All those things. It’s the more in that fever that led to the prophecy, and with it the power of the disappointments of various sorts.
I look around and see a lot of fear. We can be overwhelmed with passions about so much that is going on that feels wrong. Some of it is deeply wrong. Fevered emotions rage attach to terrible stories repeated and echoing. What feels obvious is that we are in a moment of change where the sins of our age are laid bare, and some response is called for. It comes as a deep yearning, if not to lay blame and seek justice, to find a way through.
I’m deeply concerned with that way through.
Of course, nothing about this is new. Those words of apocalypse from nearly two thousand years ago confirm this. And it’s important to notice how these feelings and dreams, fears and hopes can be applied to nearly all times of transition. Maybe all times.
The story is as ancient as human reckoning. Bad things happening to good people. Bad people rising to the pinnacles of power. The rich get richer, while the poor are told the foreigner, the person that doesn’t look like them, the person who has crossed one social boundary or another is the problem. So begins the ancient and current litany of persisting ills. For us today, we add in how our planet itself is seriously compromised at our hands. Our little wrinkle on end times for our moment. Our ability to take an ancient dream and make it as real as real can be.
This is something ancient and intimate.
I recall my first sense of some looming end of the world. It was 1962. I was fourteen. The nightly news and the morning papers were focused on one thing. The standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union over the placement of nuclear tipped missiles in Cuba. It came to a head as Soviet ships were transporting the missiles and the American president John Kennedy had drawn a line in the water. Beyond which he said was a declaration of war.
As the Soviet ships continued their course, I begged my mother to take us away from Long Beach where we were living, and up to the mountains. She tried to comfort me. But there were hard facts. We couldn’t afford to move. My father, once again, was in jail. And she had work. We had to stay. And what would be, would have to be. I learned several hard lessons in that hard season. One, among them, a big one: was that the world could end. And end ugly. And there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.
Of course, this sense of looming disaster is a universal encounter. In Christian terms we can call that moment the Apocalypse. In Hinduism this is the Kali Yuga. In Buddhism, there are plenty of insightful people noticing we’re fully in the Third Age, the time of corruption, a drawing to some end. So. Perhaps, the end times just as it has always been. Yes, we have some unique abilities to rain disaster down on us here in our particular time and place. But for human experience, disaster, end times, it’s just as it has always been.
There is a sort of bottom line to this. If we’re paying attention, something is wrong, terribly wrong. We’re always tottering at the edge. That’s the deeper fact, the one amongst all the others. Even if we’re not consciously noticing, something creeps into our dreams.
That longing for a way through.