Tom McMahon's commentary today could almost have been tailor-made to blend in with the conversations of recent days started by Tony Lawless and Dr David Tacey's essay. Ultimately this essay by Tom McMahon is exploring the nature of God. Can we describe God only in terms of what God is not? Are all other attempts at describing God are some projection of ourselves and our hopes, desire, dreams and insecurities? Discuss amongst yourselves!
Searching for god in a novel ... all aboard a drifting lifeboat...
Somewhere I heard about THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Rogan. It is the fictional story of the sinking of the Empress Alexandra in 1916 and the survivors who are together in a drifting life boat for fifteen days. Changing personalities and weakness and strength are the focus of these tragic persons who witness the death of twelve out of the original 40. I enjoyed the study of their psychological states of mind. A form of god enters the story.
A deacon who leads them in prayer is one of the first to die. Quoting scripture the god he presented was powerful, paradoxical and compassionate, right out of the Old Testament. "My shepherd is the Lord, there is nothing I shall want…though I walk in the shadow of death ..." and human beings are without food and water in terrible storm and crisis. Being summoned in prayer Jesus did not walk upon the waters of disaster.
Some choose to lighten the boat to prevent sinking, sacrificing for others by jumping overboard. All refused to eat dead flesh, yet they were emaciated. A lynch crew of three throw Mr. Hardie, the only Empress crewman, overboard and watch him sink below the heavy waves. They are crazed with fear, irrationality, starvation, a hopeless condition. An endless empty sea around them shows no signs of a caring god. The life boat seems abandoned.
The common human experience of projection – putting on to another one's own feelings – is obvious. Did the victims of the London Blitz and Dachau wonder if there is a god?
Dachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, northwest of Munich. Opened 22 March 1933 (51 days after Hitler took power), it was the first regular concentration camp established by the coalition government of the National Socialist Party (Nazi Party) ... Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners." ... Between the years 1933 and 1945 more than 3.5 million Germans would be forced to spend time in these concentration camps or prison for political reasons, and approximately 77,000 Germans were killed for one or another form of resistance by Special Courts, courts martial, and the civil justice system. [Tom's touring teens visited Dachau in 1967.]
Let's see what the narrator-survivor from Charlotte Rogan's novel has to say about her god experience while adrift in the vast ocean. We copy page 253...
The Lifeboat narrator continues on 254...
the girls in choir, children fiddling in their seats ..., the hush when they were gone.... How I longed to be gone with them even after I was grown. I remember the purple and white costumes worn by the minister and the funny hats worn by the ladies more than I remember anything that was said.
Perhaps it is the last few words that heavily impact me "funny hats ... more than I remember anything that was said". I see in these 10 words a massive challenge to the religious education systems that "teach" about god.
Do we get through to a child with word theories, or, is the only way a simple observation of nature-creation and relevant awe? Having experienced a Creator of love from my Mother I wonder if introducing Rachael Carson to our young might be the best way of education.
Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 - April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.
Tom McMahon can lead Catholica readers on a wild goose chase from Ancient Egypt 3330 b.c.e. to a Roman Catholic Church in Novato, California, looking for a clear picture of the divine entity. Tom knows he will fail as the divine mystery is beyond human endeavor. Thomas Aquinas in the 12th century offered the idea of god as a matter of faith, no clarity, no facts, no guarantees with little satisfaction for a probing and demanding human mind. This great theologian simply said that concerning god a little old uneducated lady could have greater insight than the most learned theologian. Maybe that is why Jesus encouraged us to be like little children when it comes to knowing his abba-father-god? We have only human projection when god is spoken of negatively. Every idea we have of god and/or the gods is human projection?
Perhaps rather than fighting over birth control/contraceptives the People of God, people and clergy, would do well to sit at a round table and have healthy dialogue about meaningful life issues? Such would be a fine example of peace and unity in a fragmenting hostile world. I’m sure Jesus will sit in.
Comments (mine and yours) can be found in the Catholica Forum at:
Tom in San Jose, Ca., near the end of the trail that searches for god! 13Jun2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?