Pyramid or Something Else?

Pyramid or Something Else?

Pentecost 132

It is seven city blocks long and wide.  Known as the Great Pyramid of Giza (and yes, there are other “great pyramids” worldwide), it was constructed in 4500 BCE.  The name is something of a misnomer, however, since there are actually three pyramids.  They were constructed to honor the grandfather Khufu, the son Kaffre, and the grandson Menkaure.  The pyramid built to house the body of Khufu was coated with white limestone and had a gold capstone.  Like most pyramids’ purpose, we assume it was built to house the body of the pharaoh.  But could it have had a different purpose?  Was there another reason for the construction and why are the three pyramids placed in the positions they were built?

Storytellers in Egypt did not just tell stories.  They had archaeological show-and-tell artifacts to accompany their legends.  The legends of this region are plentiful and, although many visit things such as the Great Pyramid(s) and the various Sphinxes, not much is really known about most African and Egyptian mythology.  First of all, these stories were and still are mainly found in the form of oral tradition, passed from generation to generation by mouth.  Additionally, the belief systems were not that organized and it is difficult to identify the thousands of deities in these myths.  Froom Benin and the Fon religion to Mali with its Dogon mythology, every facet of living became symbolic, based upon some myth.

Egyptian writing refers to a limitless creator, the “Hidden One whose eternal form is unknown.”  In Egyptian mythology, a deity exists first as potential energy.  That energy or potential would then take shape, usually an animal form or combine with another deity.  It is really interesting to me that they treated their deities like scientists treat elements.  Think about the Periodic Table of Elements.  Each exists on its own and yet, most can and are combined to form something else.  Hydrogen and oxygen exist in their natural state but when combined, with twice as much hydrogen as oxygen, then they become what we known as water – H2O.

The Egyptian goddess Ra joined with the god Horus and became Ra-Horakhty; Isis, the Egyptian goddess who is the patron saint of mothers and children and not the radical terrorist modern group who goes around killing mothers and children, formed an alliance with Renenutet, a goddess of fertility and the harvest who was often portrayed in the form of a cobra, to become Isermithis.

It is important to note that while the Egyptians did not worship animals, they did hold in high esteem the animal forms they believed their deities took.  Animals were mummified so that they might be reincarnated.  Animals were also embalmed and received proper burials for much the same purpose.  It was believed that showing such reverence to these animal forms would give a person special blessings and consideration by the deities.  The reincarnated animals would act as liaisons between the gods and goddesses and mankind.

The power of a story is very evident in sub-Saharan Africa and it holds the attention today just as it did when the first stories were told.  One of the more famous myths is from the Ashanti of Ghana and it addresses how these mythologies came to be.  These Anansi stories, so named because the myth gives credit to Anansi, a crafty spider, for convincing the sky deity Onyankopon to release the stories in exchange for Anansi trapping various gods in his web.  The myth proclaims that Anansi, with the help of his wife, even captures Mmoatia, the spirit, considered a most impossible task.

The sky was very important to ancient Egyptians.  Writings known as Pyramid Texts refer to the stars as “imperishable ones”.  The Egyptians believed that, upon his death, the Pharaoh would be transformed into a celestial being.  Did they construct their pyramids, and especially the Great Pyramid of Giza to be more than just a large burial crypt?  The sides of all three pyramids face north, south, east, and west.  The entrance of the largest of the three pyramids faces due north to within one-tenth of a degree.  This is an amazing fact given the tools they had at the time of the pyramid’s construction.  Additionally the descending passage into the burial chamber itself also faced north.

The internal design of this pyramid is fascinating.  It is believed that the Egyptians determined due north using the Pole Star method.  The Pole Star would have been a fixed point and once due north was identified and the passageway built, then construction continued on the rest of the pyramid.  The King’s Chamber is at the heart of the sarcophagus and is directly on the center axis.  It would have contained the mummified body of the pharaoh.

The north and south walls have two shafts and we can only speculate at their purpose.  Was it to provide ventilation or perhaps illumination?  The Egyptians believed the soul was immortal and could not die.  They embalmed and mummified so that the “ka” or body could be unified at some point in the future with the “ba” or soul which, upon death, would be sent or beamed up to the stars.

Beaming a soul up to the stars may sound more like modern-day science fiction than ancient Egyptian mythology but the Egyptians thought of such long before Star Trek had Scotty beaming up Captain Kirk.  Remember, the Egyptians thought one’s soul went to the stars upon death.  The north and south shafts in the Great Pyramid of Giza bend at some point so they could not have simply been observation points.  They do, however, align with the brightest stars of the constellation Orion or rather, they would have aligned at the time of the construction.  We’ve discussed previously the North Star and how the North Star of today has not always nor will forever be the North Star due to something called precession.   The north shaft connected directly to Thuban or Alpha Draconis, a former North Star while the shaft on the southern side aligned with Osiris, the Orion’s constellation god of afterlife.  Osiris also represented the complete cycle of life to the Egyptians – birth, death, and resurrection.

We will discuss this Great Pyramid again but for now, ask yourself:  What captures your spirit today?  What gives your soul release?  What is it that allows you to feel free, really free in your mind?  The purpose of all of these myths was not simply to entertain but to explain.  We often forget to stop and ask ourselves some very important questions, questions like “What would really make my spirit soar?  I have a feeling the questions at the beginning of this paragraph, when you first read them, invoked answers in your mind that went something like this.  What captures my spirit?  Work and responsibilities; they capture and enslave me.  What gives me release?  Going home or, perhaps, going to the movies or out on the town.  What allows me to feel free?  A nice cold beer or piece of chocolate or maybe even a long hot soak in a hot tub or bubble bath.

It is important to know not only where we have been and where we are going, but also to know what drives us and what can give us rest.  Thuban is no longer the North Star but it remains an important nautical marker which continues to guide sailing vessels.  Naval historians know that the USS Thuban, an attack cargo ship served valiantly and was of great importance to the United States Navy during World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The naming of this ship is yet another instance of how ancient mythologies never fade away or die.  They are as immortal of the deities whose stories they tell.

Our living also leaves its footprint on the world.  We may never have a ship named after us or have a great pyramid built in our honor but we do leave our mark.  The trick is to make certain that we are leaving something positive.  We all have a legacy.  Unlike these myths and the spirits about which we are discussing, we can write our own story, create our own legacy.  What will you write today?

Journey of Mindfulness

Journey of Mindfulness

Pentecost 52

“Everything old is new again”. Evolution is the act of growing. That is my own definition. Short and sweet, I am certain most experts would claim it is incomplete and I understand that viewpoint. Nonetheless, I still defend my definition of evolution; it is the act of growing.

Hopefully, as we age, we grow up, maturing into that which we hope to represent – our beliefs, a good version of our heritage, a promise for the future. Recently, a great deal of discussion has ensured in the USA regarding the continued use of a battle flag from a dark period in the country’s history. Many have claimed it is their “heritage”.

I realize the importance of heritage. Growing up in the same part of the country from which this heated debate has ensued for over sixty years and having heard these arguments before, I was raised on the importance of remembering one’s heritage, honoring one’s ancestors.

The thing is, though, if all I thought generations of my ancestors had accomplished was one single piece of cloth…well, I’d be put in a chair and instructed for hours, days, even weeks. I would be told that my family was far more than any one year or four. I would be reminded of all that had been accomplished, challenges, met, struggles overcome, faith continued. I would also be admonished for living in the past. I would be told to remember the past but live in the present and prepare for the future.

The greatest gift any parent has is the hope for a future for their children. Sometimes those children grow up to be fine, upstand citizens. Sometimes they become the plague of society and sometimes they simply forget they ever needed parents at all.

It is a common buzz word today and the source of many internet businesses – mindfulness. Few realize its heritage is in the Greek mythologies of antiquity and illustrated in both the epic poems attributed to Homer and the two novels, one being released at midnight last night, of Harper Lee.

Experts disagree on whether Homer actually wrote both the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”. One argument for multiple writers uses both central characters: Achilles from the “Iliad” and Odysseus from the “Odyssey”. Achilles’ story is the story of a young man growing up while Odysseus is a man grown up living his life. Richard Martin describes the two as Achilles being “an initiatory hero” with Odysseus as a “trickster”.

Robert Fagles translated the opening of the “Iliad” thus: “Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses…”. Achilles goes through a series of battles that move him forward in his process of maturing. His eventual death at an age younger than desired is indicative of many warriors. Symbolic of a young man’s journey in becoming an adult, Achilles leaves his home and makes decisions that ultimately orchestrate his demise.

Odysseus lives in the everyday present of his life. His takes each day as it comes, handles each challenge with a mindset of winning for today. Greek mythology also followed an evolution of sorts. It was not simply content to have superhuman immortals that sat on high and pulled the strings of life. Their deities evolved into interacting with mortals, in losing and winning and sometimes losing again. Their deities were decorated not only with great beauty but also great emotions – good and bad.

In living in the present, Odysseus is seen as a trickster. He does whatever it takes to win the hour and take home the prize, whether he really needs or wants the prize doesn’t matter. Life is a competition to him and he wants to win.

Mindfulness today is about being present in the moment but realizing that life is not just a race, it is a pace. Any marathon runner will tell you that there are periods of fast running and periods of slower running. Life goes uphill and downhill and the successful person is one who stays focused on the steps before him so that he/she is ready for those ahead.

The two novels by Harper Lee speak of a period in American history where one man ran a different course and stood up for a disenfranchised accused man. The character of Atticus Finch is neither godly nor superhuman. He is a mere mortal but one who is neither foolish nor a trickster. Finch is a mature lawyer who decides to go against his community in upholding his purpose to uphold the law. He sacrifices his popularity in order to “do the right thing”.

In the mythology of our life that we all write in our minds, we have the courage and fortitude of Atticus Finch, the mature man, the leading character and hero of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He is a man who realizes his heritage is much more than his color or a piece of fabric representing a century old battle, in part a battle brought about by hatred. In the recently released novel, Harper Lee describes a younger Atticus Finch. Instead of her young man being the warrior Achilles, many have felt duped by Lee’s young Finch, the Odysseus trickster. Young Atticus Finch is trying to make his place in society and build a life. He lives very much in the moment, thinking his legacy should be one of status and wealth, not laying the foundation of a heritage of honor.

I believe many are rejecting this younger version of Atticus Finch because it speaks to our innermost nightmare and no longer represents the myth of who we are but the stark reality. I will leave it to the experts, those literary critics who feel compelled to write modern-day myths about great works, to determine if either is truly great or worthy of our time.

Evolution is not a done deal. Perhaps that is why it is never finished. Odysseus has an enduring character of mindfulness. He never loses sight of his prize. The telling of his history employs imagination, mythology, and the very core of humanity, that which is often not very humane. Fagles translation of the opening lines of the “Odyssey”: “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered…”

Psychology Today has written much on the subject of mindfulness. “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” It is a part of Buddhist meditation and seen as a tool to combat depression.

Mindfulness in the twenty-first century is about being alive – the most basic parts of life, the breathing, the silence, the feeling a part of all there is. It is not about combatting those forces but about simply being a part of them. Living in communion with ourselves is a very difficult thing to do. Living at peace with what we have made ourselves is even harder.

It is a journey, much like those of both Achilles and Odysseus. The myths of antiquity are also the myths of today. Atticus Finch made his journey, although many never knew how far he had to travel to become the beloved character in the second-written but first published novel. Perhaps the best thing about our journey is arriving at a destination of self. The journey is fraught with despair and challenges but it is a journey worth undertaking.

Pentecost 90

Pentecost 90
My Psalm 90

I am – The Family

Once upon a time there were meticulous records kept. After all, the first recorders of mankind were the priests and scribes. Rulers often had no reason to record the exact number they governed. If they did, they could be held accountable for their governing and let’s face it, not everyone was deemed worth governing or….saving.

Some anthropologists claim the need for self-worth is the basis of all spiritual beliefs, whether those of organized religions or simply tribal customs. Others list the library of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, in Salt Lake City, Utah, has evidence of the wisdom of religious records keeping. The Mormon Library contains one of the most extensive and expansive genealogies available in the United States of America.

We all have a past. How we remember it, though, is up for discussion. Get together with cousins and you soon realize that no two people remember the same events exactly the same. They might agree on who called together the group, the reason for the togetherness, and maybe even what food was served. However, who caught what fish, who started which water balloon fight, who put whose sandwich in the lake…..Those are the things that we remember differently and usually it is dependent upon our age and whether or not we were the aggressor or the victim.

In the early and middle parts of the twentieth century, the Episcopal Church was said to have the best-kept records of church membership among the more widely recognized and organized denominations. Some even offered the criticism that their administrative responsibilities overshadowed their other aspects of living their faith. After all, are we called to keep tabs or called to serve?

Today is September 5th. It was on this day that Sam Houston was elected president. What? Quickly go through the list of forty-plus presidents of the USA in your mind. “There is no President Sam Houston of the USA?” You’re right. He was elected President of the Republic of Texas. He would also serve two terms as US Senator which happened after he was adopted by the Cherokee Nation Indians…and that happened after he led their removal from their native lands in Tennessee to an Indian reservation in Arkansas.

Houston, known for the US Army post named in his honor and the metropolitan city and home of NASA which bear his name, was born in Virginia and raised in Tennessee. As a teenager he ran away from home and lived with the Cherokee Indians for a few years. A survivor of the fight at the Alamo, he later campaigned as governor of Texas after helping lead the admittance for statehood. However, he was against Texas seceding to join the Confederate States of America and lost the election. He died of pneumonia halfway through the Civil War. Known as a Texan in posterity, Houston was a man of many layers, many allegiances, all in one life.

Today is also the feast day of approximately sixteen saints. From a Vietnamese martyr to European followers, those remembered this day were also people with many layers. What strikes me about studying the lives of the saints is that none were perfect and that none generally set out to become saints. Some were rich people who lived a life of entitlement until coming to the realization that they were simply a small part of a greater whole. Others had life-altering experiences which led them to their faith. Some simply lived…and they died never imagining they would one day be remembered as such.

We remember, however, because someone kept a record. No wonder that small children are often told there is a great book in which are recorded all our deeds and transgression, our actions and maybe even our thoughts. This great library of our life, we are also told, will one day be used as the basis for our staying in a lovely eternal dwelling place or being consigned either to a life of nothingness or a dungeon of horrors. Little wonder then that we tend to expect our houses of faith to be excellent records keepers.

Another great source for genealogical discovery is the website ancestry.com. Subscribers can establish a family tree and search out similar names on other trees. Connections are made and there is a great sense of accomplishment when one’s name appears on a limb of such a tree. It is almost as if someone maintain these records, much like the church records of old, gives an added sense of validity to our beings.

My question to you is this: Do records really make our existence valid? What does it say about us if we need that? I have been in a religious organization in which the record of my membership seemed displaced. Constructing another took time and was irritating. However, I realized that if I felt it important, I needed to find the patience, forget the judgment of “You should already have this!”, and help recreate my administrative presence. I have felt the little sense of wonder and pride when my name popped up on the genealogical website with a little leaf beside my name. I have also searched census records and found a long lost maiden aunt’s recorded name beside a relative and been brought to tears. This woman who died without progeny was remembered for having lived, it seemed. Of course, by feeling that, I was forgetting her raising of the relative with whom she was recorded, the relative who did marry and produce offspring which continued the family line. All that was the result of this one woman’s efforts in helping raise an orphan. I was, in fact, proof of her existence.

No matter what your belief system is, you are the proof of their existence. The so-called prizes of living a faithful life, whether it be a city of golden buildings in the stratosphere or a number of lovely, eager women serving one’s every needs, are carrots to the metaphorical rabbit of our lives. They exist to encourage us to live a life of goodness, of following one’s beliefs. The living is the goal, not the after-life. Living is what makes a life – not records or the biggest house or the most killed.

Power has never been the goal of any belief system. The goal is to be a better person, to leave a legacy of goodness. That is the proof of our existence, not a name written down somewhere. Family will the ones we help as well as the ones we love and claim as relations. Some leave buildings in their name and some, even though they disagree with current events, are remembered for their actions overall, not just one day. Some simply leave descendants who one day will wish for better records to know their history. By forgiving, we focus on humanity. It was the humanity, not the written record or even the celebration of saints, which made us one family of man. It is the realization that all will err that allows us to forgive and love one another. The best family legacy might just be the ones we forgive.

My Psalm 90 – This is the only psalm attributed to Moses and so, I am writing as if Moses, talking to God near the end of his/Moses’ life

I call to you, my God.
Again I come to you asking for the why’s and how’s.
Ten little things, you said.
Ten easy steps for living.
They are not so easy for man.
What are we doing wrong?
Why do we not understand how to live them?
How do they explain life?

We are born in your arms.
We live in fear of your wrath.
We die and become that from which you made all of Creation.
This is the cycle of our life.
Where is the meaning?
What do we not understand?
Our lives are but a merry-go-round of effort and repentance.
To us they are forever; to you they are but a second.

We seek to understand
As we seek to grow closer in our lives.
Help us learn, O Lord.
Help us survive our living.
As the sands of our lives run out,
Let us use them to build.
Do not let the waves of others destroy what we seek to build.
Through pain and joy, let us remember you are always with us.