Each month here at the ranch we have an Earth Liturgy, a time when about a dozen of us gather to . . . celebrate life together. It's a mix of various traditions, shamanistic ('calling in the directions', cleansing of heart and mind with sage smoke, beating drums and shaking rattles), Christian (communion), and Eastern (meditation). And although I quite frequently experience some 'spiritual' up-lifting at these get-togethers (despite disliking church and ritual), their most important aspect is, I believe, that they simply do get us together. It binds us together as a mutually supportive community.
Yesterday, we had such a get-together which had as its backdrop the winter solstice, that time when the sun is furthest from the earth, a time to acknowledge the cyclic nature of things, their arising and passing; an acknowledgement of darkness as well as light. And appropriately, it had in the foreground the terrible event of the shootings in Connecticut.
We lit 27 candles for those who died and reflected on the nature of 'evil'. No 'answers' were forthcoming; no conclusions were drawn. A poem addressed to Kali, Goddess of Death and Destruction was read. I'm not much into gods and goddesses, and Kali least of all. She is horrible, with a garland of skulls about her neck, a severed head in one of many hands, and a tongue bright with blood lolling from her mouth. I have visited her temple in Calcutta, and it was a fearsome place. Yet none of this fell from the sky as revealed religion; it welled up from within the human heart as an acknowledgement of a darkness within. Kali provides no answers beyond that this too is life.
And so too we lit a candle not only for the victims of this incomprehensible crime, but also for the shooter. And it is perhaps he, more than any of the others, for whom such an acknowledgement seemed necessary. When we think of these horrendous, methodical murders of innocents we want to declare him "evil", a "monster", and thereby excommunicate him from the human race, from our own hearts. But he remains one of us just the same. And, yes, he is also in each one of us.
Only a terribly sick person could have committed this crime, but like Kali, he did not fall out of the sky. He is the product of humanity and of human culture. He is a product of a nation that rains death upon innocents all around the globe, while it proclaims itself "exceptionally" moral and its people scurry about accumulating more and better stuff, oblivious to it all.
There is an answer. And that is that when humanity is no more, this and every crime, as well as every act of compassion, will be as if it had never been. But though that realization may liberate and inform our present, it does not negate our involvement in that present, nor does it abolish our grief or our responsibility.
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