Category Archives: Noah

After the flood

In the wake of yet another series of terrible man-made storms, it seems fitting to write about Noah again. Some people are building Arks for wildlife to survive extreme heat waves these days – the time for desperate acts is already upon us. And they can only save so few – the tragedy unfolding around us is relentless.

I’m lucky to live in a part of the country where the electric grid is already almost carbon-free, and where the public transit system is robust enough that I don’t need to use a car to get around. I remember how helpless and resigned I felt when I didn’t have all these advantages of place. Now it’s easier to feel angry, and impatient with the rest of the world for not changing fast enough.

Is it really enough, in a global economy, to, “think global, act local”? My “local” goal for this year is to further reduce my carbon footprint by eating more local organic produce and cutting back on internet shopping. My “global” goal is to focus my retirement investment portfolio on financial products that have divested from fossil fuels. What’s yours?

This poem is based on the 69th Psalm.

God of my father, pull back these waters,
for the deluge now robs me of breath.
I have sunk to the basins of the damned,
on my knees in the slime – now all is lost.
I embarked on your voyage, my calling:
the frailty of my own heart failed you.
I am hoarse from prayers of supplication.
My strength gives out – I cannot lead on.
My very eyes dim in this gloamy hell
from straining after signs, bereft of hope.
Harried the whole of my life by the damned,
inexplicable hatred pursued me.
The men who intended to slay us drowned,
yet I see their weakness still, in my sons.
What Methuselah smuggled from Eden
bore fruit – how can I root out our line?
My weakness is not so different from theirs;
though I withdraw with shame, love stayed my hand.
Let these souls hope for grace in spite of all.
Creator, your Word decides each struggle.
Let my reluctance not condemn my sons,
for you are the father whose help they need.
In their eyes, in your name, I stand to blame,
and they turn aside, they avoid my face.
My wife has turned her back on all we once shared –
I became a stranger to my children.
The courage to attempt to do your will
has branded me a traitor to mankind.
I turned from the fruit of the earth and wept –
my own person seizes me with disgust.
I rolled naked in sand upon the beach
to the shame of my sons, who looked on.
Their talk then could only be of reproach,
for the vine and the press left me helpless.
And I – dare I offer another prayer?
In this afterworld, dare we mortals hope?
Creator, the kindness you showed us once
gives me courage – I ask again for help.
Wash away my fault, for it bears me down.
Pull me back from the riptides of despair.
I fear being swept far from those I love,
naked as driftwood on a barren rock –
the alien shore of death would have me.
Answer what poor remnant I am, O Lord,
out of your strange and perfect compassion.
Bare your face to your weary messenger,
for what I built for you is not enough.
Time runs short, and I would be near you.
Those that seemed vanquished corrupted us all.
Only you can plumb the depth of my fault,
I who have failed all those you sacrificed.
My very being stutters from the shame;
I look for a reprieve where nothing is,
and though I would be understood, none can.
Instead I suck on vines, eat bitter fruit,
and slake my thirst on dry, fermented dregs.
Just so, I longed to see Cain’s huntsmen choke,
who dragged each other down when all were drowned.
All this, that men blinded by greed see no more,
all this that men raised without shame should quake.
Torturous anger moved heaven and earth,
a convulsion of hatred engulfed them.
All the inhabited earth is stripped bare,
that of mankind nothing should remain.
The descendents of Cain are now wiped out,
long having hunted the innocent down.
To men who disowned their own guilt, add blame,
deny them the earth, and all that’s in it.
Their ways and their writ are rubbed out for good,
and their wickedness must be unlearned.
But what am I, save wretched and forlorn?
What shelter can I seek from works undone?
How can I sing my grandchildren to sleep,
whose heritage was meant only for God?
Theirs now the oxen, the flocks and the droves –
the innocents under them shy and stamp.
Those that survive now warm to the sun,
yet I cannot tell if they still trust the Lord.
But God alone hears us cry out in need;
when we quaked in his power, he softened.
The gray skies, the blue earth, stir at his touch,
green mountains, sea meadows – all life responds.
The Creator gave warning, saved our line,
to us gave the stewardship of all life,
to husband the fields and preserve the wild.
Perhaps we are equal to this great task,
and can ready the world to turn towards love.

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Filed under Corruption, Economics, False controversies, Noah, Poetry

Noah

What was new about the myth of the deluge in this film, for me, was the way it brought home the pathos of Noah’s vision of a world made more perfect by the extinction of humankind, as a husband and father whose sons wish to beget children. This hits close to home, as someone raised by atheists who tend to see humanity as a curse on the planet Earth. It’s a theory that is hard to dismiss in the face of global warming – the theory that our world would be better off without us – meaning ALL of us. Helluva thing for a patriarch to embrace though.

Simone Weil writes beautifully of the tension between justice and Creation in her essay on classical science, written at Marseilles in 1941:

“Our simplest actions are ruled by a necessity which, when we relate it to all things, presents the idea of a world so totally indifferent to our desires that we feel how very nearly nothing we are. By conceiving ourselves, if one may so express it, from the point of view of the world, we attain to that indifference about ourselves without which there is no deliverance from desire, hope, fear, and becoming, without which there is no virtue or wisdom, without which one lives in a dream. .. [classical science] tries to read behind all appearances that inexorable necessity which makes the world a place in which we do not count, a place of work, a place indifferent to desire, to aspirations, and to the good. The sun which it takes for an object of study shines indifferently upon the just and the unjust. … [but while] it is true that the matter which constitutes the world is a tissue of blind necessities, absolutely indifferent to our desires [and] spiritual aspirations .. if there has ever been real sanctity in the world then in a sense sanctity is something of which matter is capable; since nothing exists except matter and what is inscribed in it .. We are ruled by a double law: an obvious indifference and a mysterious complicity, as regards the good, on the part of the matter which composes the world; it is because it reminds us of this double law that the spectacle of beauty pierces the heart.”

I also love how, instead of reifying the tribalistic post-hoc analyses of why the children of Ham were “not-us” and disinherited, the film shows how totally human and at the same time utterly unexpected Noah’s reaction was when Ham walked in on him in the nude.

Simone Weil has some intriguing ideas about a lost prophecy of Ham that I’d like to track down, somewhere in her essay Waiting on God. She mentions this in a fragment on Greek philosophy:

“Concerning this Pherecydes there is an extraordinary text of Clement of Alexandria, which is a strange confirmation of my hypothesis about the sons of Noah and also throws a singular light – which could be used in propaganda – upon the origin of Yggdrasil of the nordic mythologies: ‘Pherecydes the Syrian has said: ‘Zeus made a large and beautiful cloth and embroidered on it the Earth and the Ocean and the dwellings of the Ocean’ … Isidorus [a contemporary gnostic] .. taught what are the winged oak and the embroidered cloth that hangs on it, allegories which Pherecydes included in his theology and whose basis he borrowed from the prophecy of Ham.’ ”

This poem, in which Noah speaks to and prays for his family, is based on the 29th Psalm. It is situated before the end of the deluge, and thus before Noah’s escapade of skinnydipping in Iceland, and all that follows from that.

Grant only to God, my sons, glory and strength,
grant to the children of God no such conceit.
Acknowledge our maker, grant His name’s glory.
Humble yourselves before His perilous might.
Listen – His voice rises over the rivers.
Our Creator bore witness – now, he thunders.
God is unfurling all the mighty waters.
Can you not hear the Lord’s voice, in His anger?
Can you not feel the Lord’s awful majesty?
The Lord’s voice tearing out cedars by the roots?
His voice shattering proud Lebanon cedars?
He makes Lebanon’s mountains dance like a fawn,
Syria’s valleys toss like a young wild foal.
The Lord’s voice hewed my doubts in portents with flames.
Can you not hear Him make the wilderness shake?
The Lord’s voice makes the near wilderness tremble.
Who but the Lord brings on the birth pangs of does
and lays waste the mountain forests in a flood?
His glory says all, the world in ruin waits.
Our God was enthroned in this monstrosity
and by this flood, His will be done, for all time.
May the Lord give strength to our sons; forgive them.
May He look on their ways kindly when they err.

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Filed under False controversies, Noah, Poetry