Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ozarks 20.6.04: Odd-Fellow Society and Summer Solstice

“But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society” (Thoreau, Walden, “The Village”).

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Brassie almost stepped over the porch edge into the stream bed this a.m. With her cobby, compact build and age, it surely would have been the end of her.

It reminded me of the time Arabella tipped over a cliff’s edge in Allsopp Park. Far below was the creek, which she could see and evidently thought she’d amble to as she headed off the trail . . .

little realizing that the trail was atop a cliff overhanging the water. So she found herself instantly in mid-air, as we, screaming with anxiety, saw a very surprised-looking dog seemingly hang for a moment in the air, ears flapping at right angles to her body. Arabella was a big girl: with a whomp and a whoosh, down she fell into the stream, legs splayed apart in a last-ditch attempt to have some purchase on anything other than air.

Fortunately, she was not hurt, though her ego may have been a bit bruised. She came up the hill with a chastened grin on her muzzle, having proven, once again, how this particular golden retriever had no difficulty at all in being the dumb blonde of the canine family. All she needed were a pair of big sunglasses, a floppy straw hat, and a piña colada with a straw connected to her mouth, to complete the illusion.

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Do writers write their way through and out of misery? Or is it that the writing diverts a writer from facing the misery evenly and directly?

Ah! Sun and blue sky atop the mountain to the southeast, the first today. It’s like a crown. Some bird with a rake-like trill in a treetop on this north bank is ratcheting up its song as the sun seeks to break through the clouds. Sun means everything to birds, as it rises and sets.

Tomorrow is the summer solstice, St. John’s eve. Am I correct in remembering it’s also Walpurgisnacht? No, I don’t think so. Those fires—do they go back to the Celts? Is this day somehow connected to Lughnasa? I remember we were in the Oberpfalz one summer as the evening neared, and could see the wood stacked for the fire.

It was eerie to see, and I was glad to be shot of it as the day itself neared. Shades of Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery”: we, the two Ausländer, the tight-knit little village with its Denkmal marking the spot where a sizable group of Hussites—men, women, and children—were slaughtered during the Hussite period.

There is that need of human communities to target someone: the thirst of the dirty institutions and desperate odd-fellow society to assure conformity, often by picking a hapless victim to demonstrate what will happen if one refuses to belong. That need makes one anxious when the tight-knit community with a history of slaughter celebrates rituals of belonging.

And with St. John’s eve competing with ancient memories like Walpurgisnacht and Lughnasa, Christianity with paganism, how can the fires not recall the Inquisition? We need our witches—someone to pin the blame on. We cannot permit midnight revels of scantily clad women. Allow that, as the sun shines at midnight and nature appears to have turned itself inside out, and anything might follow.

Catholicism has barely begun to reflect on these mechanisms, and the sin they so seductively enfold, because it has only begun to discover the social sciences. The great liberal theologians of the 20th century—Rahner, Tracy, Longergan, even Metz—all presume a model innocent of such social-anthropological insights.

As a result, their doctrine of sin is attenuated. Yes, celebrate God’s redemptive, sacramental presence everywhere in the world. But do so with an awareness of what original sin really means—of what it is we need to be redeemed from: not merely the sin that turns humans individually from the mark, but the sweet, sickening carrion whiff of corruption that inhabits all human associations, including the church. All are born in sin. Every human society is built, somewhere, on bones, on blood.

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