Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

Some people say, everything happens for a reason. It feels to them like there’s a divine plan. They say, there are no coincidences. They like such sayings as: "Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end."

I don’t talk that way much. It seems to me to make just as much sense to say: "Nothing works out in the end. If it seems to have worked out, it’s not the end." Which sounds like one of those corollaries of Murphy’s Law, but what I mean is: it’s never the end. Whether things seem all neat and tidy or a total mess, it's never the end.

And there are coincidences. I don’t think events are part of a divine plan, and, while everything happens for causes, only some things happen for reasons – let alone a reason. But those who are drawn to speak that way are, I think, in their own way, pointing to something underlying, something important.

In this world of grief, loss, and pain, there is a glory somehow shining through. In the midst of all the oppression and injustice, there is a fundamental rightness about life and this world. Yes, wrong really is wrong. It’s also always in a wider context – a context within which everything is all right.

Take, for example, predation. The Fox hunts the rabbit – kills it and eats it. There is an inherent tragedy here: painful death for the rabbit, or else painful starvation death for the fox. Every day I vow to save all beings. How do I save both the Fox and the Rabbit? To save one is to doom the other, isn’t it? At least one well-known ethicist – Martha Nussbaum – argues that we should provide textured vegetable protein – fake meat – to all the predators, and perform enough vasectomies on prey animals that they don’t overpopulate. Then prey and predator alike could peacably live out their days. The lion could lie down with the lamb, without either of them fearing. I have yet to meet anybody who agrees with Martha Nussbaum about this.

Some years ago, trying to come to terms with this issue, I wrote this poem. It’s titled: Prayer to the Rabbit God.
the rabbit god made bunnies
as morning brightened into day.
she gave them a green planet to eat,
made them love to hump
like rabbits
and love their babies.

bunnies make bunnies faster than plants grow, she noticed.
so, as evening darkened into night,
the rabbit god made foxes.

predation, she said,
will give my lovelies
sharp ears,
beautiful speed,
a touch of cleverness.
let them be grateful for the red fur death
and the fear that makes them so alert.

thus the rabbit god became the fox god too.

bodies are made of nutrients,
there being no other way to make them.
there can't not be carnivores.

dear god of hunter and of hunted,
i, too a body made of food, pray
to be eaten
rather than outconsume providence
and to love
the beauty of my fears.
So that’s me expressing the glory shining through the tragedy, pain, and death – and without complacently exempting myself from that tragedy. There is, we might say, a kind of intelligence in the cruelty with which natural selection shapes species and ecosystems. I say “intelligence” without meaning to suggest intention. Natural selection has no intention, has no aim, no aforethought of where it’s going, yet through the passing of eons, the arms race of predator and prey – that cooperative competition of pushing each other to ever more sophisticated abilities – it brings forth ever more wondrous and unpredictable beauty: the sharp eye of the hawk, the graceful speed of the gazelle, the rabbit’s ear, the fox’s nose, the turtle’s shell, the porcupine’s quills, the skunk’s spray. It brings forth human bipedalism that makes us not as fast as our quadruped prey, but able to run longer distances, and our loss of body hair so we can dissipate heat while our prey succumbs to heat exhaustion over a long chase. Who could’ve seen that coming?

And it brings forth our big and ultrasocial brains – that allow us not only amazing cleverness, but the capacity to share it, preserve it, and build on each other’s discoveries and strategies. All of this took massive heartless cruelty to bring forth.

Joseph’s way is to think in terms of a divine plan – but I offer to you that that is but a rhetorical flourish for orienting toward the beauty of life inseparable from its harsh pain.

Stephen Mitchell writes of the transformation that came over Joseph as he lay in that pit where his brothers had tossed him.
“The stone cistern where Joseph lay was the womb of his transformation. He had to descend to the depths of himself and stay there, in that inner darkness, without refuge, without hope. This was the only path that could lead him upward. Then he had to find his way through a world of paradox, where exile is homecoming, slavery is freedom, and not knowing is the ultimate wisdom. No one, of course, wants to suffer. And yet the fortunate among us manage to learn from our suffering what can be learned nowhere else. We become – clearly, joyously – aware of the cause of all suffering. The remembered pain drips into the heart, and an understanding dawns on us, even against our will, that there is a violent grace that shapes our ends. Humility follows as a natural result. We learn how to lose control. We discover that we never had it in the first place. . . . There is no humiliation or shame in any of this. It’s total surrender to what is. You discover that you have let go into an intelligence that is incomparably vaster than yours. . . . You stand in what’s left of you, and you die to self, and you keep on dying. It’s like a tree that lets go of its leaves. That beautiful clothing has fallen away, and the tree just stands there in the cold of winter, totally exposed, totally surrendered.” (Stephen Mitchell, Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness)

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

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