A Man Named “N”

A Man Named N

Pentecost 139

There was a drought – a dry period that seemed to go on and on.  Lushly landscaped lawns became shriveled and lost their beauty.  The days of letting a sprinkler run without conscious effort to control the water were gone.  Restaurants only served water when it was requested and if you ordered water, you were expected to drink it… all of it.  Collecting water from washing machines to water around the foundation of houses became the norm.  Cars no longer glistened after being washed every few days.  Neighbors were asked to report on each other if water restrictions were not followed.   So when the rain came, people were gloriously happy, right?

The man named N lived in a time when there were no cars.  One’s neighbor might have been a friend but more often than not, usually became an enemy.  There were no restaurants.  Travelers might find a local who would share food with them but generally, it was a time of everyone for themselves.  Water came from wells or nearby streams.  Liquid nourishment often was in the form of fermented juice or what today would be considered alcohol.  Living off the land was the normal and it was not easy.  Man needed water just as plants and animals did so when it fell from the skies, it was a good thing, right?

We all get deluged by life sometimes.  Earlier this week the state of California saw almost one hundred miles flooded with mud along a busy highway – Interstate 5.  Known as the I-5, this stretch of heavily traveled roadway became a sliding nightmare for travelers as rains triggered mudslides.  More of the same is predicted today for Arizona, Colorado, and parts of New Mexico and Utah.

I myself have been overcome with life events.  In four weeks, a family member was in a very serious traffic accident and remains in a coma.  I attended a conference and returned home to succumb to  pneumonia.  My significant other and life partner, also known as my husband, also became ill but he recovered sooner than I.  At the same time I became a grandparent again and was ignored by the person who is supposed to be my minister of faith.  Joy and sorrow; sunshine and rain; presence and absence – and my life has not been that different than the lives of most people.  It is easy to get bogged down in the daily floods of our lives and forget to believe that the rain will stop, the floods will recede, the sun will once again shine.

The Hebrew flood mythology has served as the basis of both Jewish and Christian principles for thousands of years.  It states that the monotheistic deity known as G-D or God, became greatly disturbed with man’s behavior, behavior that increasingly became more self-centered and wicked.  A man named Noah seemed to be the only human who was worth saving.  God instructed Noah to build an ark and to take eight members of his immediate family and a pair of all types of animals on this ark.  Legend states that it rained for one hundred and fifty days, almost half a year.  Then the rains stopped and the ark came to rest at a place called Ararat.  After forty more days, Noah sent out a raven.  Next he sent out a dove which returned, apparently unable to find a dry place.  A week later Noah sent out the dove again and this time the bird returned with an olive leaf in its beak.  At the end of the next week, Noah again sent out the dove which failed to return.  The story tells of Noah and his family leaving the ark one year and ten days from the start of the flood.  As a sign to never again flood the world and destroy almost all, a rainbow is sent by this one great deity.

The Islamic version of the great flood myth states that Allah sent Noah to warn the people to serve only Allah.IN this mythical tale, one of Noah’s sons drowns due to his disbelief.  The Islamic Noah and his ship come to rest on Al-Judi.  Noah was distraught and angry with Allah at the death of his son but then repents and asks for forgiveness.  Noah is told that great nations will arise from those who were on the ship with him.

There are, of course, many variations of these two tales.  Some believe that before the Hebrew flood, mankind lived very nicely with a single harvest producing enough for forty years.  It is even told that pregnancies lasted only a few days instead of nine months.  Some legends have Noah attempting to convince people to live better lives, a mission of preaching that in some stories lasted one hundred and twenty years before the flooding of the world.   Some myths claim the male waters of the sky met the female waters of the earth, the waters falling onto the earth from two holes in the night sky which came from the constellation Pleiades.  These two holes were later closed by God using stars from the constellation known as the bear.  This is why, in the nighttime sky, it appears as though the constellation Ursa Major or bear is always chasing the Pleiades.

Another version of this myth has three hundred and sixty-five species of reptiles being aboard the ark and another thirty-two species of birds.  Another version claims that Falsehood and Misfortune took refuge on the ark.  Still another story has a lion maiming Noah during a feeding time and this is the reason Noah could not serve as a priest.  One story has Adam, the first man, instructing his body was to be taken aboard the ark along with gold, myrrh, and incense and, after the flood waters receded, was to be placed in the middle of the earth.  In the Book of Revelations, there is a story of a good woman saved from a flood which erupts from the mouth of a demon.

“N” is the fourteenth letter of the alphabet used for English and other Romance languages.  It is one more than half, significant for some people, just as the numbers of days of the flood seem to have meaning for many.  For me, “N” is both no one and everyone.  Thousands are injured every day in traffic accidents and on one fateful day, that “N” was a member of my family.  While there are many questions that will need to be answered and some that will most likely never be fully answered, the fact remains that on that day, I knew the injured person.

I have friends in the affected areas of California but fortunately, none were stranded or impacted by the mudslides and accompanying floods of the past few days.  But someone was – several thousand someones were.  Today the weather moves a little bit east and again, I have friends in the path of these storms.  I don’t think they are being targeted due to their behavior but certainly how we treat nature does have an impact on developing weather systems.  Greenhouse gasses, global warming are not just phrases coined by the media; they are scientific facts and they affect our lives and weather.

What we sometimes forget, in the face of all these flood myths and when encountering devastation ourselves, is the message of the myth.  The point of the telling is not to scare or create a suspenseful moment.  The point of the stories, all of them, is the recovery and yes, there is recovery.  My family member remains in a pervasive vegetative state which is a very dour prognosis and yet…Over fifty percent of all adults who go through such do come out of it.  My pneumonia took longer to recover from than my husband’s sinus infection but…hey, they are different types of infections.

Life is not a competition about who can amass the most toys, the flashiest cars, the biggest houses or even the lushest of all landscaping.  Life is about living and living together for the good of all.  When we are faced with such problems as flooding, we come together.  Family vacations are delightful but sometimes the car ride to such can be…a bit trying.  Can you imagine being on an ark for half a year?  Life sometimes floods us with unpleasant stuff and yet, it is in the midst of such that we really live.  It is when we are at our lowest that we remember to seek the highest and live the best that is within us.

How the Wind Blows

How the Wind Blows

Pentecost 135

Since I have been “under the weather”, a phrased used to imply illness brought on by existing weather conditions, it seemed like a good time to discuss a common theme found in mythology around the world but most especially in the mythologies of Egypt and Africa, two of our primary discussions for the month of October.  [Note:  To ensure you don’t miss anything, there will be postings in the Am and PM for the next several days.]

Every culture has a Creation myth.  Since myths were used to explain, instruct, and/ or answer the most elemental question of all – “WHY?”, I do not find it unusual that each culture has myths that correspond.  After all, living on the same planet means we are going to experience some of the same occurrences and ask the same questions.  Last year, during Advent, we explored various spiritualities and religions around the world based upon their Creation myths.  Right now seems a good time to explore the “flood myths” that, like mankind’s beginning, are found in every culture.

We will begin with the land and culture most often associated with mythology – Greece.  There are actually several flood myths that the Greeks believed.  One speaks of Zeus sending a flood to destroy all who lived during the Bronze Age.  In an effort to save him, Prometheus is said to have warned his son Deucalion to construct a chest.  Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha floated for days in this chest as all but those who sought refuge in the highest mountains perished.  As a sacrifice to Zeus, once Deucalion and his wife landed safely on Parnassus, they threw stones over their heads.  Those thrown by Deucalion became men; those thrown by Pyrrha became women.  It is said the Greek word for people, “laoi” comes from the root word “laas” which means stone.

It was believed by the Greeks that this first race of people found themselves destroyed due to their wicked ways.  Deucalion, however, was pious.  Another Greek myth has Deucalion loading his family and all animals onto an ark and with God’s help, the animals remained together without incident while onboard the ark.  In one story, the flood waters escaped throughout a drain or hole in Hierapolis while an older legend states that the ark found dry land on Mount Othrys in Thessaly.  Another version states Deucalion and his ark landed on a peak known as Phouka in Argolis which was later known as Nemea.

A myth told by the Megarians stated that Megarus, son of Zeus, escaped this same flood by following the calls of cranes until he swam to the top of Mount Gerania.  The Greek culture has another myth that places a great flood occurring in the time of Ogyges who is considered to be the founder and first king of Thebes.  This flood covered the entire world and left the country without a king until the reign of Cecrops, the mythical king of Athens who had a serpent’s tail instead of legs.  An ancient Greek proverb which describes “weeping for/like Nannacus” also refers to a flood myth.  Nannacus was king of Phrygia and lived before Deucalion.  He was said to have foreseen his own death and those of his people in the coming of a great flood.  After this flood, the legend states that Zeus commanded Prometheus and Athena to sculpt mud images which Zeus then breathed life into.  The location of this is known as Iconium after the Greek word for images.

The Romans also had a variety of myths regarding floods.  In one, it was said that Jupiter chose water to cover the earth because he feared setting it afire would cause the heavens to ignite.  Early cultures had no defense systems to guard against flooding which is, after all, a natural phenomenon.  In the past week, country sides in Indonesia, Guatemala, and the southeastern Atlantic seaboard in the United States of America have all suffered from devastating floods.

What exactly is a flood?  The European Floods Directive states that a flood is “a covering of land that is usually dry”.  There are a variety of types of flooding.  Riverine flooding occurs along or because of a river while areal flooding is when a low-lying area receives more water, usually from snow melting, than usual.  Estuary or coastal flooding often occurs as the result of weather patterns.  This type of flooding is often due to a combination of high winds and tidal patterns but is often exasperated by the addition of high water flowing from nearby rivers.

There is also urban flooding.  Typically this occurs from overloaded sewage systems that simply cannot handle the capacity of water going into them via street gutters, etc.  This problem can also be attributed to urban sprawl and the building of neighborhoods in areas that perhaps cannot support the accompanying systems found in urban areas such as water supply, sewage, etc.  Flood damage has increased in the United States in the past century in spite of better planning and forecasting.

Tomorrow we will continue to explore flood myths and celebrate the resiliency of the human spirit in surviving them.   Flood damage can be a truly life-changing event both in ancient times and modern times.  Immediate physical damage and life-threatening conditions are not over once the flood was/is survived.  The immediate losses and repairs are followed by personal needs, business concerns, and rebuilding.  Just as with any big event one survives, the psychological trauma must also be considered.  Additionally, the destruction to ecosystems, vital to mankind’s survival, must be addressed.

It is easy to understand why every culture has at least one flood myth.  They not only give answers to the world’s ever-changing landscape at the hands of natural weather events, they also give testament to the human spirit.  We all get “swamped” by life at times.  The important thing to do when that happens is to hang onto our beliefs and live our faith.