Thursday, June 26, 2008

It Was BoundTo Happen Someday...

Saint Francis is a mixed bag.

On the one hand is my mixed feelings about his Way. I received a vision of being on a sinking ship with St. Francis. He said we need to make it our work on this downward journey to keep people alive (seemingly so they can see the end). I said why don't we just accept the inevitable; we had hit an iceberg on the voyage and it was just a matter of time before the entire boat was full of water. We had a one way nonstop flight, and barring any miracles would be spending the remaining days of our sojourn as beings of this world only chained by a weight of water, to the ocean floor, til we close our eyes and wake up somewhere else.

What struck me about this vision was how silly it seemed to be, the 'doing,' that is. While the "What Me Worry?" type assuredness of our inevitable death and the meaninglessness of doing anything rings confident within the intellectually insulated walls of the nihilistic mind, it is quite another when he answers the door to a very real and present Death. Still, the encounter in the realm of Life and Death turned out to be, in retrospect, an affirmation: that no matter what we do in this life, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." One can only laugh at the absurdity of our so-direly-serious efforts to have made sure we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner before experiencing the end of their existence. Kind of like the 'last supper' given to a death row inmate right before he is killed. "I'm sorry to hear you are dying tomorrow. Chicken or fish? And...Coke, Sprint, or Dr. Pepper?" If that is not absurdity, I don't know what is.

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The conscious preparation for death has always fascinated me. Cancer patients who are given six weeks to live have nothing else promised to them; you know what you are getting. That is when one either acquiesces to despair, or one realizes that they only have six weeks to get ready.

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So I propose to St. Francis another attitude to adopt: "We are all dead, so let's just try to enjoy ourselves on the way." I cite "those who try to keep their lives will lose it, and those who lose it for the sake of the kingdom will gain it." Francis starts going off anxiously about the poor Christ, the love of neighbor, the Good Samaritan. I whole heartedly agreed, and thanked him for his good work, and for his inspiration for others to follow his model of compassion for maintaining self-preservation. The work of Christ is accomplished through blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, death.

I lean back in my chair despite the waves crashing over the stern. I remind Francis of the words of our Lord: "If ye had but the faith of a mustard seed you would be able to say to this mountain "move from here to there," and it will move." If we have faith, maybe our death--which increases towards us with exponential velocity--would see like a birth into another world, the beginning of something new and good, rather than an end to an era that near its end had become so heinously deformed of its original purity and character, that it appears as a grotesque beast, unrecognizable to its former self; the mirror lies.

But both the face the the reflexion are moving infinitely closer--to Teillhard de Chardin's 'Omega Point'. To say that this meeting would be a glass-shattering reality-implosion would be an understatement. But it is at that point which we can no longer put off to choose a fork in the road, and the question becomes not, "Do you want to die?" but "Do you want to evolve?"

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If consciousness is the soup, then we are the tin can.

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So while it may be harder for me to devote myself to his mission of active service, there is something on the contrary that I have grown to admire about St. Francis, and that is his treehugger connection with animals.

I put animals and people on pretty much the same page; I generally don't like either very much. But today I saw a bird perched on a railing. He didn't fly away when I came close. I held out a french fry for him and he didn't eat it but he didn't peck me or fly away. A silly example of a profound truth, for me at least: that animals suffer, even when we deny that they do.

While I knew it was just a matter of time before I ironed out some of the philosophical wrinkles preventing me from becoming a committed vegetarian, I didn't know tonight would be the night that this garment was washed, pressed, and ready to be worn.

It was pretty straightforward, actually, once I figured out the question was not "Do animals experience suffering?" but was "How can we say if they do or they don't?" That uncertainty itself is the "reasonable doubt" in a trial that one must move beyond if a guilty verdict is to be rendered. If the fate of a man's life is in your hands, you had better make sure you are confident in your judgment.

This conflicted, agnostic ethical vegetarianism has given way to an assuredness that puts any "doubts" about the existence of God or the suffering of animals or whatever, at bay, and at that moment you cease to be an agnostic because you can say, beyond a reasonable doubt, "I am now not unsure about the existence of God," and while we will never known with certainty whether this is the case or not, we believe it anyway and hope for the best. I would hate to know in my next life how many deaths I was responsible for, even if they were animals, especially if my only defense was "um, they tasted good?" The judgment passed down: "My grain is sufficient for thee." Eucharist is a suffer-free meal--all have been nourished, healed, and unified by it.

There is no reason today to kill animals for food to live. Meat is (in most parts of the world, not all) a luxury, and a luxury that exists at the expense of the extinction of form-consciousness among animals we find tasty. We can live as vegetarians. Now it becomes "Do I want to devote myself to minimizing suffering among sentient beings in this lifetime?" and no longer, "Meh."

I don't want this to sound preachy. All I know is I realized tonight that animals might suffer, just as you and I suffer when imprisoned or tortured, and I would rather not participate in the process of perpetuating suffering for the sake of creature comfort anymore. So, I will eat the rest of the meat I have, just as a Native American that feels one with the suffering of the animal who sacrified himself so that his village could eat feels. But to buy anymore would be passive perpetuation of a suffering that is within my power to stave off. I just know that I don't want to be part of the cycle of suffering anymore, and if animals suffer when they are caged, skinned, put to death, then I don't want to eat them anymore. I never thought I'd see the day...or say the words.

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