I’m listening to a podcast on Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Professor Professor Glenn S. Holland, Ph.D.Allegheny College)
It’s a propos because I just heard that the job I’ve worked at for the last 11 years, the Big Bang Theory is winding to a close. As long as there’s life, whenever something ends, something else begins. So the question of how our ancestors three thousand sum odd years ago thought about beginnings — in this case the beginning of everything — has a special resonance for me.
What are new beginnings? We have some sense of what it’s like for the same-old same-old to continue. We wake up and go to the same job. We stop by the coffee place and get the same thing we got yesterday. But what is it for something tobe new?
Our remote ancestors — in Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopatamia — said things can start new in four ways. They are:
1)Making something out of primal matter or chaos. The idea is that before everything there is chaos and confusion — a watery mass in which everything is mixed together. A god takes this primal matter and forms it into something new.
So one way we start something new is we take a look at the chaos we are swimming in and try to order it. This is important, this is not important. This is worth caring about, that is not. Once we clarify where we are for reals — we put aside all the equivocation, all the dishonesty, all the luke-warm water that deserves to be spat out — what we are left with is something cosmic. A cosmos.
So that’s one way to make a new beginning.
2)Killing a chaos-monster and making things out of his corpse.
This is a pretty gruesome one. A pretty Manichean one. We have to imagine we are in a life-or-death struggle with something bad. But maybe we don’t have to imagine it — maybe there are forces, both external and internal — call them demagogues, call them self-delusion, call them what have you — which strive to make it impossible for us to grow. The god in this story kills those forces and then figures out what gave them their energy, and makes something new out of that energy. Another way to begin.
Many of our forefathers and foremothers said the universe came from a god or goddess doing IT. And why not? I came from that. So did you. If we want to conceptualize the source of creation, that is a ready analogy.
Love causes us to combine with something that is different with us and issue forth something that is like both of us and also different.
We can make a new beginning like that — by overcoming our fear and letting down our guard and becoming one with something that until we did that, was something other.
4)Speaking reality into existence.
The moment we say something new (as opposed to just playing a tape in our mind of something our bosses or parents or the other kids in the class said, or something from a book or a television show) we make a new world.
I’m not saying these are the only ways to make a day or a conversation or a moment of looking at a human being or an animal or a plant of a sunset new — to make love to it, to speak to it, to kill it and use its energy, to forge its chaos into order. But they are some ways.