Saturday, June 16, 2012
The End: A Final Death or A Chance for Rebirth
The End: A Final Death or A Chance For Rebirth
These stories of the End Times speak of a great change that is somehow pre-ordained. The question is: do we have to go through a time of literal suffering, physical death and destruction, or can we make the transition easier by changing ourselves? If we are indeed at the End Times, we are in the death aspect of the cycle of Life. When we study Nature, we can see this cycle at work: gestation, birth, growth, maturity, producing new seeds and death, so new seeds have space to grow. Our Western perception of life is that death is the End.
But endings are deceiving, because even though something is dying, a transformation is going on, and you can be sure that something else is being born. It appears that humanity is being called upon to 'die' to an old order, an old consciousness. As would be expected in such a materialistic culture as our own, we have projected that death outside ourselves. It is being embodied - both in our own bodies and in the earth's body. What we haven't understood is that this death has to happen on a deep psychological level within each person, just as it is happening in the collective unconscious or the World Soul. If it is true that the inner and outer worlds are reflections of each other, than what we are seeing is how destitute Western culture and consciousness have become. It is a killing mentality and it is killing itself. If we are to get through this death to new life, we must face these End Times with the knowledge that it is a call to action, not despair. Only in facing this death honestly and openly will we be able to bring about transformation and new life for ourselves and for our world.
The chaos of this death can give birth to a leap in consciousness, an awareness that we are all one, and that we have the source of our being here on our mother Earth. Our individual and collective purpose has to be to get through these End Times and to become the cornerstone for a new age of peace. As has happened in the past, it will be the 'rejected cornerstone' that the prophet Isaiah spoke of, the voiceless ones - women, people of color, the trees, the waters, the air, the children - those aspects of our culture that are devalued by collective consciousness, that will be the foundation stone of this new vision of life. We need to understand that the power of compassion and a loving heart can bring about peace and change in the world, for in the most essential ways, we are truly all one, which is the ultimate lesson of the Piscean Age. We have the seeds of this new life within us.
Before we can go out to colonize the starry heavens, we must become a responsible race here on earth. If we cannot face and clean up our own toxicity, both individually and collectively, perhaps we will not be 'permitted' to go beyond the borders of our own solar system. C.S. Lewis once wrote about earth as The Silent Planet7, the one planet in the solar system that was barred from communication with the rest of creation because our 'Eldil' or ruling spirit, Lucifer the fallen one, refused to recognize his place in the cosmic order. Before we can know our place in the cosmic order, before we can truly know that 'we are all one' and that we are part of one world, we have to deal with our demons, we have to look at our shadows. We have to face death, if we are to go on to new life. We have to come up against the End Times and discover a new cosmology, a new story about creation and our place in it.
Other cultures view the End Times as a time of purification and rebirth. These same themes can be found in the End Time visions of the three major Western religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), which also have many things in common. The Jews wait for their Messiah, who will lead them to victory over their oppressors and set up a kingdom of justice. Islam believes that the Mahdi, their Messiah figure, will return and bring about the final judgment at the last day: those who are sinful will suffer in a physical fire, while the blessed will have physical pleasure and happiness. Christians also believe in a last battle between good and evil and a last judgment, when the evil ones will be cast into Hell for eternity and the Chosen ones will be given their New Jerusalem. There is a common theme in these beliefs that (1) some people will be Chosen, and that (2) there will be a battle between good and evil. To be chosen implies that others are not chosen. And there is an innate cruelty in the battles between good and evil, so that the ‘chosen’ people come out looking just as vicious as the ‘evil’ people. These stories are very much male visions of the world. It is interesting that in most apocalyptic visions, women play such a small part. My guess is that women didn't have much of a say in passing on those visions.
Christianity's End Time Story: The Book of Revelation
Christianity has given us its own vision of these End Times in the Book of Revelation. The Revelation of St. John the Divine8 is written in the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic thought, which has its roots in the conquest of the Israelites in 586 B.C, when the Babylonians, under the famous King Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the city of Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon's Temple. This Babylonian Exile made the Jewish people rethink their religious and political history for all time. Following in this tradition, both Jesus and John the Baptist believed they were living in the End Times and expected the manifestation of the kingdom of God. The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible, speaks to that belief. Believed to have been written by Jesus’ disciple, John, the son of Zebedee, while he was exiled by the Romans on the island of Patmos in the last years of the 1st Century, it is a visionary book full of astrological symbols and Jewish apocalyptic prophecies that speaks of the end of the age and God’s judgment of the world. The images and symbols have fascinated and terrified people throughout the ages. The images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are well known to most of us - for war, plague, famine and death are most definitely part of our world. A literal reading of the book shows a vision of judgment and punishments and destruction except for the chosen few. A symbolic reading can be a guide to self-understanding and transformation, for this book can be understood as a story of our collective Christian shadow as well as the possibility of evolving to a higher state of conscious spirituality.
The American Christian fundamentalist version of the End Times has a very powerful influence on American politics today. Besides a literal belief in the events described in the Book of Revelation, these fundamentalists believe in a doctrine called dispensationalism, formulated by two 19th Century American preachers. This doctrine states that Israel must exist as a nation to play a key role in bringing about the end of the present age, the ‘rapture’ of the chosen ones and the second coming of Christ. Bill Moyers, in a January 30, 20059 article, describes the essence of their beliefs. “Once Israel has occupied the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to Heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.” Mr. Moyers has reported that these Christian fundamentalists “are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation where four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man." A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed -- an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 -- just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter Heaven and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.”
The Christian End Time story can give rise to fanaticism, for not everyone is called to be one of the 'righteous remnant’, those who are chosen to live in the New Jerusalem with God as their constant companion. In other End Time stories, everyone goes through the change together. To avert disaster, people have to take responsibility for saving the world. In the Christian version, if you are not one of the saved, you will die painfully and burn in hell for eternity. Is it any wonder that after all these centuries of hearing this story we fear death? And yet, other cultures have not feared death as we do.
Other cultures saw death as a doorway to new life. Jesus Christ showed us this truth with his Resurrection – the promise that we are more than our bodies and that our souls live on. Nature also shows us that the cycle of life includes death, which in turn leads to a rebirth. We are the children of Mother Earth and therefore subject to Her laws. This is the knowledge that Wisdom offers us. Just look at the turning of the seasons or the cycle of the moon. Rebirth is part of our DNA coding. It must be, for we are children of the Earth, and Earth Herself has not cut us off from her blessings, even if we imagine we have left Her far behind.