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Descend the Stair | "Turn back and descend the stair…"

Speaking to the Dead

I rail on about politics elsewhere, so this post puts aside the political brutalities of war in order to talk about something that always revolves around it. Death and camaraderie.

Consider the following video, which although filmed over a year ago, just recently went viral:

A bit of the back-story behind this can be found here.

I was profoundly moved by this video. Those who know me know that that’s no small feat. Suffice it to say, I’m not one to be overly maudlin or sentimental about much at all. “Stoic” is a word I would use to describe myself. Friends and family may have other words, but “emotional” wouldn’t be one of them.

There is little in the world that can explain or compare what it is like to belong to a band of brothers. There is nothing in the world that can explain what it is like to be baptized by fire and sharing that experience with your brothers.

No book I’ve read or movie I’ve seen has ever done it the experience justice.

Certainly no words I type here will get the job done either. It’s not an experience that can be translated. It’s not even an experience that can really be talked about…even with your fellow brothers.

Oh, it might be bandied about a bit when the alcohol flows. It’s touched upon. The outer perimeter of the topic is probed. But ultimately, it’s just something that’s left unsaid.

Unsaid is better.

Unsaid honors the dead better than words, because words are too imprecise. Too imperfect. Words intrude. They alter. They disturb. To be perfectly blunt, words push at the bonds of brotherhood. You cannot trust words in these situations because words can betray you. They have the power to shine a light on a weakness you’d rather not show, and would rather not see in others.

But, here we have men grieving as one. No words. Just raw, visceral emotion.

This is how brothers speak to their dead.

But, more importantly, this is how brothers speak to each other about their dead.

The Face of The Deep

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1-1:2

This is some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever run across. I’ve always loved these verses. When I was a child, I would imagine what the face of the deep was. The waters could be easily envisioned. The spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters is something even a child’s mind can conceive.

But, the face of the deep… Well, that’s something else altogether. It sets up the mystery. It speaks of the numinous even more than the spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters does. It’s the ultimate foreshadowing.

In our minds, the deep can represent a physical place, or the very mansions of our souls. The deep sits outside of time. It is not subject to any physical laws that we know of. Like mathematics, it very well may be the building block of all reality. Or, it may be taken as symbolic. It’s stands as the ultimate nature to be conquered. God conquers the deep just as man conquers the jungle. God pushes against the darkness, just as man pushes against the darkness. God wrestles with entropy, just as man wrestles with entropy.

God is infinite, but we fight against infinity with every breath we take. We breath fire into our bellies in order to oppose it.

Because, infinity wants to destroy us. We are literally its very antithesis. As we are immolated, we are sweetly ignorant of the constant cooling. Amorphous edges burn and pulse with resplendent heat. Infinity pushes back. Heating, cooling. Life, death. It’s impossible to sustain. Infinity is too wicked. Infinity abides.

And then, there’s the deep.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light…

I’m going to skip forward a bit, because the rest of the first chapter of Genesis sets the stage for a little speech God gives Job later on.

Job, after losing everything he has ever loved and struck down with pestilence, cries out to God: I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not. Thou art become cruel to me: with thy strong hand thou opposest thyself against me. Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou causest me to ride upon it, and dissolvest my substance. Job 30:20-30:22

He’s essentially asking, “Where are you? Why is this happening to me?”

Before God answers, he must first suffer his friends accusing him of all kinds of wrong doing. Why would God allow this, Job, if you didn’t deserve it? What did you do? Confess! Confess!

When his friends are done with him, God shows up and tells Job what went down in Genesis 2:2

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if though hast understanding.

Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or, who hath stretched the line upon it?

Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof;

When the morning stars sand together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?

When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,

And brake up for it my decreed place and set bars and doors,

And said, Hirherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place;

That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it? Job 38:4-38-14

But, God is just getting started.

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or has thou walked in the search of the depth?

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? Or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? Declare if thou knowest it all. Job 38:16-38:18

In the movie The Tree of Life, there is a scene where the narrator asks God “Where were you?” after he witnessed a friend of his drowning at the municipal swimming pool.

What follows is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in cinema.

“Where was I? Where were you? Behold! Genesis!

Where were you when I was walking in search of the depth?”

This 15 minute scene is the subject of great controversy among my friends. Some of them got up and walked out of the theater because they thought it was the very height of ridiculousness. The word “pretense” was bandied about so much, that I began to think people took this scene personally.

But, they got it all wrong.

God is essentially saying. “Look what had to happen in order for you to even ask that question. You won the cosmic lottery. You even existing is a statistical impossibility. And yet, there you are, asking me where I was. Where was I? I was pushing back against entropy…just like you. I was fighting infinity…just like you. I was breathing fire into my belly…just like you. We’re not so very different, you and I.”

There is a strange irony to all of this. With the advent of the Hubble telescope and our ability to peer into the cosmic past by mapping out background radiation created seconds after the Big Bang, if God were to appear in a whirlwind today to ask, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?,” we could very nearly say, with all honesty, “I was right here, watching You…but You knew that already, didn’t You?”

Let There Be Light

“It’s not my intention to mock or deride. I’m simply reading this from my own particular point of view and writing about it. Honestly, I don’t even know where this is going to take me.”

That’s how I described my attempt at “Blogging the Bible” several years ago over at Shrubbloggers. What actually happened was…I mocked and derided, and only got 6 days into it before I threw up my hands and gave up.

It was mainly because of Eric’s spot-on criticism that I folded so quickly. Back then, I was much more hard-nosed about the whole atheist thing, and I was a bit too enthusiastic to take on some of the “new atheist” talking points.

I’ve softened up quite a bit over the years. I’m much more sympathetic towards Christianity now, and have learned to approach the subject while leaving much of the literalness and over-simplistic narratives behind.

I firmly believe that if one wishes to get closer to an understanding of Western Civilization, one should read the Bible.

Now, I take quite a bit of flack for this transition and emergent stance with some of my friends. That’s fine. I’m not out to convert anybody or justify anything. This coming iteration of “Blogging the Bible” is simply me writing down notes and exploring some thoughts I have (or will have).

Look for posts to follow soon.

And, of course, I welcome all comments.

One Gravestone, Two Epitaphs

Found on an ornate grave in Holly Springs, Mississippi*:

William Henry Coxe
Born: Jan 1, 1824
Died: Sep 30, 1865

Generous and confiding in his disposition: Sincere and ardent in his feelings, he was a devoted husband, father and brother: An unfaltering friend: A kind and indulgent master. Loved most by those who knew him best. He died without an enemy, and his untimely grave was moistened by many a tear.

Mathew James Coxe
Born: Nov 27, 1819
Died: Nov 7, 1886

Modest and retiring in his manner. Only those who knew him best could appreciate his superior mental aullure and literary attainments. Always the model gentleman and true Christian. He gave cause of offense to none. His companionship was genial, his friendship steadfast and without allay and his affection for his kindred fervent and tender.

*Copied here as written, punctuation and all.