I have come to believe that modern man & woman live in the wrong story. The big narrative we slavishly believe and repeat is away off the mark. We got derailed, it appears, with the Neolithic. I am not the first to point this out. Paul Shepard, Jared Diamond, Robin Fox and others have noted this. I, too, discuss this in several books.
What none of them sees is that we lost the Gift. We lost Grace. We fail to see that people like Jesus of Nazareth were part of the larger story of Grace and the Gift, and that his feckless disciples didn’t grasp what he meant—or what paleolithic mythology meant. (The apostles knew no such Pleistocene myth, of course.)
There is one continuous story of Homo and its theme is the Gift. This is what sets Homo in a special place in creation: that we can grasp the Gift and consciously live it. We can rejoice within it and help foster it. Above all we can celebrate it.
No, I’m not talking about Christianity. Christianity missed the boat. Between them, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam invented a horrific story—the cosmic tug-of-war between Good and Evil—thus launching the Mediterranean world and eventually the entire world on an insane morality tale ending in cataclysm.
It’s all in words. Language is the genie responsible for this unhinged narrative. Language got us into this mess and only the ancient language of the Gift and Grace can get us out. Mankind’s original language and consciousness invoked Presence. One might also call it Full Participation. Any other language is a counterfeit.
Modern man (“modern” since the Neolithic) lives in a dream spun by spurious language. The dream has turned to nightmare—the long loneliness, Loren Eiseley called it. Loneliness punctuated with frenzies of genocidal madness. Writing to Marietta Baroness von Nordeck in September 1917 as the “terrible, incomprehensible” Great War devoured everything he held dear, Rilke, desperate to find grace, called for a “new acoustic—a more open air and a wider space.” Adding darkly, “I grant you that only at the price of this prospect do I care to live on. Without it, everything that happens must remain like a mountain lying over us.”1
Amid air raid sirens of the Second War—another paroxysm of the Middle Eastern Combat Myth of Good v. Evil—T.S. Eliot pled for salvation via “another intensity / a further union,
a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.2
A new acoustic. A deeper communion through the vast waters of the storm petrel and porpoise. Somewhere in this “amassing harmony,” thought the poets, surely lies a state of grace.3
I have spent my adult life studying the people who live in this state of grace, one of whom matter-of-factly told me one warm summer evening, as I scanned the sea for orcas on an Alaska ferry chugging north through the Hecate Strait: “I am a Killer Whale.” Thomas Guthrie, Tsimshian councilman from the Metlakatla Indian Community, still heard the oldest acoustic of all.
Eiseley once wondered if the porpoise would ever talk to us. The question is tragic and pitiful, for the porpoise in fact has been talking to us since time out of memory. We simply dropped out of the conversation. Without this conversation, “everything that happens must remain like a mountain lying over us.”
1Jane Bannard Greene & M. D. Herter Norton, trans., Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, vol 2, 1910-1926 (NY: W. W. Norton, 1947), p. 165.
2Eliot, from “East Coker,” No. 2 of Four Quartets.
3“Amassing harmony”: Wallace Stevens, “It Must Give Pleasure,” Selected Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1953), p. 124.