Why is a bit of me corroding away?
"When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord." - Proverbs 19:3. This verse was part of my daily readings this morning. Now I'm a theologically sophisticated man but still, with my guard down, this verse did surface a naive question that's always there, bubbling away under the just under the surface, out of sight. Why me, God? Is all this my fault? Has my folly brought my way to ruin?
Well, naive or not, the short answer is, I guess, "yes" although the long answer is a bit more complicated.
Prostate cancer is a very common affliction, but the rates at which men acquire it and the rates they die from it differ significantly from country to country. The percentage of men diagnosed with the disease in Britain has trebled over the past 30 years, and this is typical of developed, Western countries. The increased rates are partly because men are living longer and thus giving dormant cancers more time to show up; but partly also they are because there is a link between the lifestyles we lead and the diseases we get afflicted with.
Certainly animal fats and possibly also pollutants, smoking, chemical additives and some industrial processes are linked to the cancer. Stress, diet and sedentary living don't help either. The lifestyle I have co-operated in acquiring for myself is the one that is strangling the life out of the planet and it is the same one that is, partially at least, causing me to rust away from the inside. My folly has brought me to ruin. It's no use asking the really silly theological question:
"why me?" The answer is
"well, why not?" Praise God he's preserved me from the effects of my folly for all these years 'til now.
"Is God punishing me?" No. I'm managing the whole business of actions and consequences quite nicely for myself without having to drag God into it.
There is a theological problem here though, that I am still hoping to work on despite the distractions that have appeared over the past few days. As well as the lifestyle thing, there is the simple point that I am a man living in a body designed to last about 70 years. Bodies, like all things in the Universe follow a common pattern. They come into existence, they increase in strength and in their presence in the world, they reach full expression and stay there a while, then they decline in energy and presence and finally they go out of existence altogether. If you trace it on a graph it's a pattern like a bell curve. Everything does this - atoms, gophers, continents, solar systems, microbes, governments, civilisations, relationships, ideas - and I am doing it.
I have never seen it explained quite so well as by Francisco Varela in "The Embodied Mind". But here's the problem. His explanation of the pattern and the dynamics of existence behind it, which all makes so much sense to me is Buddhist. While I can't deny the truth of Varela's explanation, neither can I deny the reality of all I have experienced over 35 years of the living presence of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Can both of these perspectives, Christian and Buddhist, be true? Where is the link between them?
I suspect I have an answer, but only at an instinctive level and not in a fully formed way which I could explain satisfactorily to anyone else. The link is Meister Eckhart, the Catholic Christian mystic whose writings resonate so closely with the Dharma and yet are completely Christian. Eckhart, the exponent of the mysticism of Being, has greatly influenced the later German philosophers of Being, Hegel, Heidegger and Husserl. His influence is mediated through them to Levinas and the contemporary Phenomenological Existentialists. There's a bridge hidden in here, between Christian experience and the insight of those who wrestle with the great questions of Being. I hope to find it, despite my body needing a bit of rust work before it can pass its W.O.F. Or maybe not despite. Maybe because.