. elsewhere . . letters from the inaccessible .


27 September 2001

In Which the Protagonist Waxes Verbose on Happiness and
  Desire, With a Little Old Testament Flare Thrown In, But Who
  Reserves the Right to Change His Mind at a Later Date

Today marks, with a little room for statistical error, the completion of my ninth month among what many Christians I know call the "unchurched." As I wrote, the day after my last regular attendance day in a church, I still have cause to doubt the memory of God passing through my soul. Can I, with any honesty, say that I am any happier now than I was when I was attending? No. Conversely, I cannot say that I was happier then. So who is God, anyway? I have met God. I have heard God. I seem to recall a time when God passed through my soul: there are studies which imply that a sense of religious rapture, in its descriptions by those who experienced it, is not unlike the experience of an orgasm. Another recent article I have seen has said that music can act upon the same part of the brain as food and sex. What does this all tell me? What does this mean about God, and who He is? To be perfectly honest, I don't know.

So, to use one method of roundabout catharsis here (where is there a better location for such an outpouring?), I find myself bitterly jealous, and not of those who have achieved something which appears to be true happiness -- scratch that, I'd like to pose a slightly conflicting definition of happiness further on in this page -- satisfaction, or contentment in their lives; I find myself feeling jealous (why do we use feeling as a term to describe emotion? Because so many of them have somatoform manifestations, and this one for me can only be described viscerally as a cramp of a muscle somewhere in my mind) of those who are, like me, often displeased with their situation, their lack of situation, or their continuing flux of situation. I'm thinking here of a someone(s) specific, but prudence dictates that I not speak their name. Suffice to say, it is someone for whom my feelings are deeply and turbulently mixed. A half-realization, perhaps even a mere intimation of an epiphany took place recently, and I should probably make a long story short here and distill this thought to its most concentrated (though not quite pure form): I am jealous of those who have loved and lost. Perhaps I should elaborate upon this to some measure: I am jealous of those who, through fault of their own discard that very thing to which they aspire. Of course, this is a misshapen jealousy, to be sure, as I am as much a criminal of such behavior, seeing, by some measures, the very thing which I claim to desire and not accepting it. Averting my eyes from some who wish to exchange a trust. Though I cannot. Or I do not. In a base and indescribable way, I am jealous of myself, in that regard.

What we seek is unattainable. It seems there is no lasting happiness in this life, and if someone wants to tell me otherwise, I am still waiting (and willing) to be proven wrong.

It is often said that happiness lies in acquisition and not possession. I take this to define what happiness is and what happiness isn't; it is a word which describes a state of change, that is, change for the better, by some standard. Happiness is not in possession, happiness is not to be found in a state of stillness, it is not to be found in a state of having, but a state of getting. And it is, I believe, unhappiness which results and propels all measures of progress. We have been bred into unhappiness by generations untold: human progress is the progress of dissatisfaction. As George Bernard Shaw said, (something to the effect of) progress is made by the unreasonable person, because reasonable people conform to the world, while the unreasonable seeks to make the world conform to them. This said, everything from paper clips to water wheels to spaceships and skyscrapers are constructed out of a desire to create a new flux of acquisition: to spark the flare of happiness.

We gather to ask happiness of the fire, and then we ask happiness of the ashes.

Asking of the circumstances that surround us, asking of the capricious neurochemistry that inhabits and inhibits us is the manifestation of the desire: and it cripples us. It is this desire which makes me dread calling someone, dread sending or receiving an email from someone in whom I've taken an interest. It is the dread that this Other (whatever Other it may be) is not combustible, that it is immune from my method of feeding this seemingly biological imperative to improve my world, to improve my self, to improve my station, or, in the most banal Darwinistic terms, improve my chances of procreation; Dread that I will burn and scar alone, topple and crumble to a heap of bitter dust.

Where, you may ask, does God fit into all of this? Where, Tim, is your grudging admission that there is hope left in the world and that all is not lost to a bleak despair?

T.S. Eliot writes that we are between fire and fire, and here is the crux of my persisting Christianity, though I have, for the time being certainly, removed myself from the organized church: where happiness may be fleeting, contentment can persist. Novelty is the mantle of humanity dropped upon my shoulders, and when I hear lovers lament that their lover has become more a brother to them or more a sister than a lover, they ask, now that we are presented with ashes, what are we to do with this love? The answer is, I don't know. Perhaps we are meant to move from lover to lover, as often (or as rarely) as our need for novelty insists. Perhaps we are meant to know that we are alone; naked we came into the world, knowing nothing but desire, and naked we shall depart, knowing nothing of fulfilled desire. We are consumed in the fire of our desires and our passions, our ambitions, despairs, loneliness, and painful togetherness. Suffering is, perhaps our lot.

We will, and do burn. Suffering is inescapable.

God makes almost no sense to me. Someone dear to me posited that as one of the reasons I am a Christian: my humanity (say it like an epithet, you'll feel better) is pleased to know that there are things I cannot know, and can continue to become to know: God being, by definition, unfathomable in whole, but continually comprehensible in part, after part, after part. God and Science: two things I have always loved to learn about, and two things which I have become increasingly certain aren't as different as either the priests or scientists want you to think. I have been in flux of acquisition of understanding, I know the happiness of love and friends and togetherness, I know the beauty of destruction and creation, abolition and embrace. And I know the ephemeral nature of all those happinesses: they do not persist. I seek a fuel which can fire the sense of change and happiness and not destroy me.

We are between fire and fire: the flames of desire which maims, and the fire of God in the burning bush which, while it was consumed, it was not destroyed.

So tonight, here I sit, typing away at a keyboard and slathering another brick with mortar to build another edifice, typing and listening to (what else?) Barber's Adagio for Strings, and bowing before the altar which my DNA has constructed for me. This is merely tonight's novelty. Tomorrow we will be bored with this old thought. Ashes. God has the fire which consumes but does not destroy: change without destruction, change without change. Happiness eternal.

I know enough of God that I will not presume to say that God will not make me happy in this life. I know so little of God that I will likewise not presume to say that God will make me happy in the next, however that next manifests or fails to manifest.

musings of señor prod.

Come back later.


©2001 Timothy A. Clark -|-