After posting last week’s journal entry here, I wondered whether I had not gone off the deep end, having read too much of mysticism lately. The jargon that crept in made what I wrote well-nigh incomprehensible.
What I meant to say was something more like this in plain English: As questions about life and death typically involve notions about God, however one imagines such a Being, why not imagine God in a way that deepens one’s spirits and contributes to what might pass as wisdom?
A lifetime of consuming literature and movies actually makes this somewhat easier than it may at first seem. It’s called “suspension of disbelief.” Just let go of what argues against irrationality. (The voice in your head that says, “These aren’t real people, just words on a page or actors on a stage.”) Thanks to this mental act of complicity, literature has developed its own way of raising questions about life and death.
To be sure, religions have long advertised themselves as having all the answers. My problem with the ones I have encountered so far is that they are typically answers to the wrong questions. Let’s say we do in fact live in a state of grace—all is forgiven—and I’ll admit that I do find consolation in this belief. How then does one go about living from day to day?
Besides the dos and don’ts of religions, I’ve found that cancer has its own way of entertaining alternatives. That’s why I asked last week whether God likes jazz, because I’d like to think the two of us have that in common. It opens portals to possibilities as I consider how to use each new day’s 24 hours.
I can watch and listen to jazz videos on YouTube into the night and experience a meditative state that shows me how to be human—improvising from moment to moment instead of living always by rules. I feel what it is like to touch and be touched by the life that’s been given to me. Meanwhile (here’s some mysticism slipping in), demands of ego and self dissolve away for a while and I become what I am, a speck of human consciousness, here for a while in this speck of time on a spinning dot in the vast universe. Not a bad place to be.
Sam Harris, in his new book, Waking Up, argues for something else, preferring the rationality of science to beliefs about God that require faith—faith being what we accept as truth despite the absence of evidence. He's an avowed atheist, imagining God as nonexistent, and that’s okay for him. Where he loses me is his claim that such a belief is conducive to ethical behavior. It may be, but his book doesn't explain what he means by “ethical”—or how in a godless universe you live that belief day to day.
I could be way wrong (I’ll even say dead wrong), but rejecting the same punishing and irrational God that Harris does, I prefer to invent one of my own, an alt-god who makes more of a congenial companion on this journey. For me, that would be a jazz lover who understands the sorrow-inflected joy that pulses through the fully functioning brains, bodies, fingers, and emotions of jazz musicians—humans with human souls. (As someone who has lost full use of one hand, I note for the reader my use of the term “fully functioning.”)
I’ll choose also to live my days as if such a God exists, there by my side, or there on the other side of the door marked “Mystery,” or anywhere beyond the wind-blown palms and palo verdes under the starry desert sky outside my back door.
God willing, I should add. Inch Allah.
The end of this journey may be no more than a blank, but in the meantime, I trust that there will be maybe a few soul-nourishing revelations and consolations along the way.
Health update. Last weekend I was in the middle of a 5-day round of chemo. That was followed by four days of fatigue that had me mostly lying down and sleeping, when I wasn’t reading. Food, again, had little appeal. Facebook, email, and keeping up with fellow bloggers went pretty much onto back burners.
For two days now, though, I have been able to take 30-40 minute walks in the desert again. A burst of autumnal weather has helped in that effort, cooling winds rolling in through the Banning Pass from the Pacific. Inside, the AC is taking a break. Yes, I am grateful, though for some of my family and acquaintance, the week has not been so good, and they have been in my thoughts throughout the days.
After last week’s post, a longtime friend sent me a link to a favorite jazz recording from the golden age of the 1960s, which I will close with today:
If readers here have favorite jazz videos of their own, links to them are welcome.
Previously: Does God like jazz?