Is it possible to take the Devil’s hand and pull him OUT of Hell? Without being pulled IN? My guess, experience-based, is that when one does this in a committed and empathic way, Hell disappears. The Devil does not, but he looks mighty familiar. However, there are Bad Lands, and they often look like home. (Or Star Wars.) Just as much challenged as daring mortals, a Satan who has left Hell but who turns to pull other Devils out needs special powers. It takes more than wearing a cross or sacrificing a chicken. Possibly even more than a fancy degree or even more than ordination. Anyway, ministers these days are only hoping for a successful fund-raising season -- they keep their hands clean.
Sometimes Satan is useful because he has been there. Why would anyone want to pull Devils out of hell anyway? Haven’t we got enough trouble? It’s their suffering. The blackened, burnt hands keep reaching up, begging. Some of them are small. I rarely see female hands -- maybe I just don’t want to. So now, in this metaphorical sort of visionary way, I’m going back over some of the same issues that I’ve been talking about but from quite a different sensibility and method than that of a neuro-research geek. Those who have been following this blog for a long time will know what Devil I’m talking about and what Hell clings to him. They question my wisdom in entering this “rogue and nun” scenario. Less so now, I think.
I’m reading “Wild Hunger: The Primal Roots of Modern Addiction” by Bruce Wilshire. The shelf category it’s assigned by the publisher (Roman & Littlefield, 1998) is “recovery/spirituality.” I sigh. If I were writing a contemporary version of “Everyman,” I would picture this category as a big swamp full of quicksand and greed. But the blurbs are from Thomas Berry, David Ehrenfeld, John B. Cobb, Jr., and Catherine Keller. My Demon will be pleased that Wilshire quotes William Burroughs: “Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.” Looking at the footnotes I see lots of familiar and valued people, though I’m a little startled to see Atkins, the diet doc, and always sigh when I see Black Elk. But there’s Eugene Gendlin and Anne Wilson Schaef. Enough to keep me reading.
The first bump I hit is a little anecdote about an anthropologist who took a drinking glass into aboriginal country. The people there admired and marveled at that glass and asked her how it was made. She didn’t know. Well, why the hell not? What is an anthro doing out there making judgements on people without knowing the history of glass-making, which is simply a matter of melting sand? If she doesn’t know sand, how can she discuss bone or paint, both of which are at the heart of aboriginal life? I’m being pedantic about this, both by using names and by demanding knowledge. So?
The Hell in this book is that of Tantalus, who could not eat or drink though he was standing in water (which receded when he bent down to it) and tempting food was just out of reach. It is a hunger Wilshire calls “ecstasy deprivation.” He identifies ecstasy with direct participation in nature defined as wilderness. I could quibble with some of this, but I’ll wait to see how he develops the ideas. (The book is 14 years old now.) In any case, I think he has something to say that I can use in my search for liturgical strategies. Sometimes -- though I’m only at the beginning -- he echoes Alvina Krause talking about acting/responding and once in a while he agrees with Daniel Bor, certainly with the idea of the Ravenous Brain. Nassim Taleb, that cranky realist, is convinced that we all need the occasional terrifying and arduous experience to be happy. Well, that explains why nuns are fond of rogues, esp. those nuns who are not constitutionally inclined to have the fabulous spiritually orgasmic experiences of Saint Theresa as portrayed in mid-spasm by Bernini. Ideas can vibrate.
Wilshire is a lovely writer. Here’s a sample:
“It seems that a residuum of the prehistorical world in which prehumans and humans were formed over millions of years emerges, particularly strongly in some persons. a world in which people were either intensely and habitually involved and alert as whole selves or didn’t survive to procreate others uninvolved like themselves. A world that was exciting and dangerous, one of close escapes or disasters, of rapt and astonished gratitude or despair, in which life was vivid and incredibly valuable, lived side by side with death. And a world in which we lived cooperatively with animal, vegetable and arboreal kind or didn’t survive. A residual memory of such a world would seem to best account for the boredom often felt by those who finally achieve the ease and security they think they want.”
Yes, he does quote Paul Shepherd who is so eloquent about his wish to get back to the days of the hunter/gatherer. I myself tend to think that we have returned to a kind of hunter/gatherer society. Today the hunting Demon must stalk the predatory virus and the therapeutic drug high. It is no less dangerous, requires no less caution and tracking skill. There is a certain side of humans that is wild indeed. There is a sense in which ecologies that are persisting and whole proceed in orderly fashion with nothing tumultuous about them. But my Demon friend himself is exalted by the long horizons where there are no people: far north, great lakes (even frozen), prairie and desert. This is one thing I share with him, from my locus next to the Rockies.
My continuing complaint is that people like Wilshire talk about nature -- and I grant that he includes accounts of his own encounters -- but never really go there, even in their own campus locations. (They do a little hiking.) I mean, the cat that snores in my arms while I try to read books over her back IS “wild” nature. She is a hunter/gatherer who only provisionally weaves her life in and out of my house. The other morning I woke and went to the kitchen to make coffee. There was this same tortoiseshell cat, embellished with a white mustache of dove feathers. The dove itself was under her front feet, living still even with most of its breast feathers ripped off and skin about to go with it. I took the dove and killed it without qualms. I have no illusions about it symbolizing peace -- the colony living in my blue spruce seems to spend most of their time having sex -- and the cat was only mildly disappointed by substituted catfood. My fingers still feel the dove’s trachea and my eyes still see its round eyes slowly become lidded. I didn’t eat the bird myself. They are federally protected. The cat is protected by me.