Random Asides

Patching a Hole in My Heathen Soul

Last night, the management company that owns the business complex where I work set up a stage in the quad between my building and the one across the way. Every once in a while, they’ll do special things for all the tenants, like host ice cream socials, picnic lunches, or beer and barbeque happy hours. It’s good PR, and it keeps everyone happy for at least a little while.

Well, after work yesterday I wandered outside to discover they had an evening of live music planned.

You know, it’s funny the situations where an understanding of the world through science and critical thinking actually bolsters the “spiritual” state many think is reserved for only true believers. I practice healthy skepticism, but as an emotional creature, I still often need my opiate, I need something good for my soul. And even though I don’t use the opiate favored by the proverbial masses, I’ve found that one borne of understanding instead of ignorance can be extremely powerful.

You see, as the sun was setting, the sky was clear, and the band and the lunar eclipse were both but a few moments away. I was excited, because I was going to get to see the eclipse and listen to some live music all at the same time. Two very good  opiates for this heathen.

Those of us in the quad gathered into a more cohesive crowd just as our little square of the Earth rotated away from the reach of the sun’s rays. And while milling about, waiting for music, thinking about the beauty of nightfall and the grand celestial mechanics that make it work, I realized the hour had progressed to a moment when our early brothers and sisters (early humans) perhaps felt the first pangs of fear at the approaching darkness.

Onstage, a man arranged the instruments for the show.

Before long, the sun dipped far below the horizon, and that old, inky nemesis leaked into the sky, as it does every evening. But with a child’s knowledge that in due course, the world would be light again, we offered no prayer that the great fire would return to the sky, and sought no shelter from the emasculated spirits that haunted the dreams of the ancients.

Neither darkness nor superstitions about its denizens stir more than mild amusement in us now, and none in the sparse crowd last night troubled his head over either. At this point in our history, we may still be a scared and trembling species, but as time goes by, and as our need to discover compels us to progress farther from the trees and caves and the plains, we tremble less and less.

It may well be that I alone attended the foibles of our early brethren at that moment, for such is the state of our thinking, or lack thereof, most times. But when the universe awoke fully, and the night sky exploded with starlight, many of my companions took note, offering prosaic yet heartfelt words on its beauty.

I personally was moved in a familiar way. Seeing and imagining the size of the universe and its terrible beauty has always been a source of inspiration for me, and the fact that it ebbs and flows according to natural processes, a source of amazement. The stars twinkled from the other side of time, and the moon rose slowly. It would only be a short while before it was eclipsed, and turned an orangy-red.

I prepared myself for that moment, but instantly marveled that such profound anticipation could be triggered by simply an impending eclipse. I know why an eclipse happens. Observation tells us that an eclipse is not really that rare, and it’s not a great leap to think that eclipses, or some variation thereof, happen millions if not billions of times everyday throughout the galaxy.

But that knowledge doesn’t reduce the feeling of wonder I get when I see one. It doesn’t diminish my amazement. The size of the bodies involved, the forces at work, moving those bodies along their paths, and the geometry they have carved out consistently for eons, enforce the feeling that I am small and insignificant, but also instill the feeling that I am a living part of something large, something grand.

There is something very comforting in that, and something very spiritual, even though we have an understanding of how it all works. It has an emotional impact on me, even though we know the universe needs no magical beings to do what it does. It evokes a desire in me to commune with it in more meaningful ways, and I’m elated because I know we will get there without having to die first.

How fitting that that which exists beyond this globe be referred to as ‘the heavens’. For if heaven be paradise, certainly to venture out among the wonders and the unknowns is a paradise meant for us to attain. Why bandy a comparison between ‘the heavens’ and ‘Heaven’ from the old mythologies? In one lies the future, in the other stagnation.

The old fantasies are great diversions, but diversions that can ground us forever, if not held in proper perspective.

But as we looked to Venus and at the very old light of the constellations and as far as we could stretch our vision, science muscled in, announcing itself in the lights and amplifiers onstage.

A nugget of sadness lodged in me, and dare I say others, that our dreams of the heavens had been interrupted. But in the activity onstage and in the devices and equipment used to present the show, we all saw that ours is not merely to dream, ours is to achieve, and the method that allowed the interruption is the magic that will ultimately take us to our dreams.

We clapped and cheered as the band played. The celebration was underway.

The joyous cacophony seemed to stir nature, and she sent a dark legion of clouds to investigate, each spewing fire and strident anger at having to perform the chore. I was disappointed. Seeing the eclipse, and indeed the canopy of stars overhead, would now be impossible. But at the same time, I was elated that the atmosphere had given me another opportunity to be astounded without any need for dogma or mythology or blind faith. The thunderstorm was powerful, and frightening, and right in front of our faces.

How those of old would have trembled.

But contrary to the fashions of poetry, we no longer find gods and demons behind thunder and rain. There is no one to thank or to curse for the storms. There are instead the amazing mechanisms of nature to inspire awe.

I imagined that somewhere in each of us, the idea that we are the product of beautiful randomness took hold, but the further notion that our reason for living is only what we make it also flowered. We have such a short time to walk this planet, and to breathe, and to laugh, and to love, we dare not waste it on dusty contrivances whose withered beauty pales next to that of the truth.

It seemed others had similar thoughts, as we set aside our umbrellas and reverted to something that might have seemed primal. We pulled off our shirts, and we danced in celebration of the glorious cosmic eye blink called life. The instruments and magic we created resonated onstage, and the cool shower sprinkled from the thunderheads, and the heavens awaited our arrival beyond the angry blanket and the ever-thinning air above it.

And we raised our hands and our faces to the sky, and we all sang.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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15 Comments

  1. Thanks for summing up the thoughts and feelings that I so often have… and so rarely articulate.

    When I come back from a long backpacking trip, I try to explain these same types of reflections. Judging from the blank stares, I don't do as well as you!

  2. When I come back from a long backpacking trip, I try to explain these same types of reflections. Judging from the blank stares, I don’t do as well as you!

    I often get those, too. I just take the blank stares to mean I've inspired them. I've rendered them speechless.

  3. I love it when I ask the universe a question and it answers.

    Last week in an email exchange with a fellow recovering Baptist, we were talking about exactly this topic. I wrote to him:

    "Do you ever feel like you don't know quite how to appreciate or be thankful for things when you don't have the religious aspect mixed into it? Take a sunset — you know the kind I mean, a Pacific Northwest special where the quality of the light is so golden and clear that it makes the sky a purer blue, the leaves a more true green, and everything warm and perfect even if it's just a clump of grass or a stretch of road in front of you that's wet from the rain. I always connected that enjoyment with thanking God for it, and now it's almost like I can't enjoy it at all because I realize that it would have happened anyway, and that God did not make that particular moment happen Just For Me. Do you have any idea what I'm talking about, or am I just a little strange?"

    He wrote back, "If this is all one big cosmic accident then I am one lucky SOB for being able to see a ball of fire 93 million miles from me sink into a vivid blue ocean. If it's all an accident, then how fortunate that I get to smell rain and asphalt."

    Your post, so beautifully written, expresses the same sentiment. Thank you. I needed to hear that.

  4. I'm a long-time ghost, but I had to register just to respond to this.

    That was beautiful, Sam. I'm recovering from a nasty bout of flu and was unable to watch the eclipse myself, but in a way, that may have been for the best: watching it through your eyes was better than seeing it myself would have been. Thank you.

  5. I practice healthy skepticism, but as an emotional creature, I still often need my opiate, I need something good for my soul. And even though I don’t use the opiate favored by the proverbial masses, I’ve found that one borne of understanding instead of ignorance can be extremely powerful.

    This is so important…thanks for saying it.

  6. Good grief. Don't post when you're stoned, dude. :-)

    I imagined that somewhere in each of us, the idea that we are the product of beautiful randomness took hold, but the further notion that our reason for living is only what we make it also flowered.

    Yeah, we're all gonna die, and life is utterly pointless. Great.

    It amazes me that fellow materialists purport to find solace in the notion that "life is what we make it." I just don't get that. Manufactured purpose is cold comfort. Maybe you don't have kids?

  7. Good grief. Don’t post when you’re stoned, dude.

    And don't comment when you're drunk . . . dude.

    Yeah, we’re all gonna die, and life is utterly pointless. Great.

    Apparently you're having comprehension problems. The passage you quoted says nothing of pointlessness. There is nothing defeatest in the entire post.

    It amazes me that fellow materialists purport to find solace in the notion that “life is what we make it.” I just don’t get that. Manufactured purpose is cold comfort. Maybe you don’t have kids?

    And it amazes me that some people think that squeezing out squalling little shit factories is actually a purpose in life. It's not a pupose. It's a function of life. It's an instinct. You'd have to reduce us to non-thinking biological hunks of meat, the drones for which religious texts are geared, for being fruitful and multiplying to be a purpose.

    And I'm sorry you think manufactured puspose is cold comfort. I really feel badly for you.

  8. Sam Ogden wrote:

    And don’t comment when you’re drunk . . . dude.

    Er, that was a joke. Hence the smiley face.

    Apparently you’re having comprehension problems. The passage you quoted says nothing of pointlessness. There is nothing defeatest in the entire post.

    Yeah, uh, didn't say it did. I was applying my own opinion to that sentiment. You wrote, "I imagined that somewhere in each of us, the idea that we are the product of beautiful randomness took hold, but the further notion that our reason for living is only what we make it also flowered.

    To me, that seems the epitome of pointlessness. But hey, that's just my opinion.

    And it amazes me that some people think that squeezing out squalling little shit factories is actually a purpose in life.

    Jeeze man. I never said it was.

    It’s not a pupose. It’s a function of life. It’s an instinct. You’d have to reduce us to non-thinking biological hunks of meat, the drones for which religious texts are geared, for being fruitful and multiplying to be a purpose.

    You're misunderstanding me. I'm not suggesting that having kids gives you any sort of greater purpose. I'm lamenting the fact that my children are going to suffer and die, just like everyone else.

    No matter how hardcore a skeptic I am, I feel incredibly compelling and undescribable emotions toward my children. It's one thing for me to resign myself to the pointlessness of life, but quite another to face the fact that my kids are growing to face that same existential reality, whether they choose to consciously face it or not. It's heartbreaking.

    And I’m sorry you think manufactured puspose is cold comfort. I really feel badly for you.

    OK (?).

  9. You’re misunderstanding me. I’m not suggesting that having kids gives you any sort of greater purpose. I’m lamenting the fact that my children are going to suffer and die, just like everyone else.

    Sorry. I misunderstood your comment. Me writer, but me bad word understander sometimes.

    I would say, however, that I take solice (and I suppose I would for my children, too, if I had any) that the concept of manufactured purpose precludes any innate purpose. So even though we are indeed all going to die, we can enjoy the freedom of doing with our lives exactly as much or as little as we wish. We are not bound by any innate or pre-determined purpose. And that to me is a very WARM comfort.

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