Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Explaining All That Is Mad

The Apple Universe

The Hazelnut Universe

The Multiple Hazelnut Universe

The Convenient Hazelnut Universe

And in pis he shewed me a lytil
thing pe quantite of a hasyl
nott. lying in pe pawme of
my hand as it had semed. and
it was rownde as eny ball.
I loked per upon wt pe eye of
my vnderstondyng. and I
pought what may pis be. and
it was answered generally thus.
It is all pat is mad.
Julian of Norwich (Showing of Love)

UNDERSTANDING, FOR ME, COMES SUDDENLY. I recall vividly the first time I truly understood gravity. I'll tell you the story.

Our physics laboratory at Warwick Academy had been created by dividing the former lunchroom (which was where we were supposed to eat if it was too rainy to go outside) into two rooms. The two rooms were unequal in size; the much larger space being devoted to the biology lab, the physics lab might have been twenty feet square. In order to reach the physics lab, one had to troop through the room in which a biology lesson might be in progress.

We had two tables, and two benches, without backs, on which to sit, rescued from the lunchroom's detritus, in the physics lab. The room had two small windows. Overhead, the usual fluorescent lights flickered. The master's desk and chair faced us, behind him a blackboard and, high above that, not easily reached, was a shelf. On the shelf, a few books and a number of plaster busts, each a little over a foot tall, of the great physicists (Galileo, Faraday, Maxwell, Planck, Einstein, and so on). I remember, also, a dusty set of scales. We never used them. The only hands-on lesson we ever had involved pouring blobs of liquid mercury into our palms and feeling the weight and magic of it. We'd let the metal slide from our hands back into its clay jar and go out and eat our sandwiches.

One day (it's always one day, isn't it?) the physics master, a Welshman with a fondness for the bottle and the art mistress, was scribbling out a diagram on the blackboard, an electrical circuit of some sort with rheostats and switches, and his chalk broke. It crumbled, actually, and fell onto the floor. The physics master muttered SHIT! and thumped the blackboard with his fist. That's when a bust, that of Sir Isaac Newton, fell off the overhead shelf, accelerating at 32.2 feet per second per second, onto the master's head. The master hit the floor like a sack of apples.

At that very moment, I fully understood gravity. Gravity is having dignity or sobriety of bearing. Clearly our physics master had neither.

I WAS BROUGHT UP A CHRISTIAN. I still have a Church of England hymn book for children, purchased in Canterbury Cathedral in 1952 by my two grandmothers (doing a little sightseeing), and sent to me back in Bermuda, where I might be raised amongst Heathens for all they knew. I was two at the time and couldn't read. I still cannot sing at the age of 59.

I attended the Anglican Church in Bermuda as a small child. It was racially segregated; I guess God thought that was a good thing, certainly his devout servants did, and they preached it. I have no doubt that the Vicar had black servants in his oversized rectory. The pale, frequently sweating, well-fed priest with his double chins and fat wife would not have mowed his own lawns either. God must have liked that set-up, and provided the money required to pay for it.

Curious as it may seem, I became a Mormon when I was not long out of my teens. I was attracted by the fellowship, the friendly nature of the members, the welcome and the abundant food. There was something else, something more important. I met somebody, a young LDS missionary from Utah (wherever that was), and the very moment I set eyes on him, I had an understanding. It was clear to me, it did not require further thought, I knew him from somewhere.

A little about Carl Burke, and this is not a completely invented story like the one about my physics master and the bust of Isaac Newton. [Or was that something I made up? A creator might be thought clever if nobody realises what his occupation is.] Carl was born about three years after I was, into a Mormon family in Utah (which I discovered was just beyond the peaks of the Rocky Mountains). His father, Bill, was a convert, originally from the American Midwest, I believe. Verna, Carl's mother, was the daughter or granddaughter of immigrants from Europe who had converted to the Church. The couple had two sons when they were getting on in years, and Carl was much younger than his brother.

I do not know what pressure was put on Carl to conform to Mormon ideals and beliefs, but he got into a good deal of trouble. He liked anything mechanical, fast cars were appealing, and he developed a taste, a longing, for alcohol and, particularly, drugs. It was the early 1970s and he wasn't the only one. I was never much for drink, though I didn't shy from it, I just didn't really enjoy it. It would never have occurred to me to drink at home alone. I liked drugs though. I made a career of abusing drugs.

Needless to say, Carl got caught. In 1972, the year my manic depressive illness began as severe anxiety and mild depression, Carl was nabbed breaking into a drugstore. I didn't know him then, he told me about it in 1974. It had looked as if Carl was going to be spending some time in jail: His behaviour was out of control, his health and addictions were at a crisis point, his emotions were shot to hell. And somebody pulled a miracle out of a hat. If Carl would go on a mission for the Mormon Church, under the particular and knowing supervision of a Mission President approved by the courts, and would behave, he would not be jailed or otherwise institutionalised.

Carl was sent off to the Eastern States Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the care of Mission President David Lawrence McKay. David Lawrence McKay was no ordinary Mormon; his father was David O. McKay, the Ninth Prophet of the Church, from 1951 until 1970. David Lawrence McKay had read his father's sermons in General Conference from time to time. He knew everybody. He was connected. The Eastern States Mission was centred in a grand Mission Home on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and among Carl's duties was keeping track of Mission vehicles. He also travelled and tracted, wearing that uniform (white shirt, dark trousers, tie and knapsack, and the Elder Burke badge).

In February of 1974, Carl Burke was sent to Bermuda, then in the Eastern States Mission area, and the day he arrived his companion, Elder Steven Love, brought him around to meet me. I wasn't a Mormon then. And I shook Elder Carl Burke's hand (his handshake was not the crushing one some elders seemed to affect on the likes of me) and had this understanding, quite naturally, that he was an old friend.

Within weeks, Elder Burke was taken seriously ill and arrangements were made to get him back to New York City as soon as a replacement could pack his bags. And I knew that this wasn't the way things were supposed to be. Carl and I had not just become fast friends; we'd resumed, somehow, a friendship. Despite the activities of the Bermuda Branch leadership in preparing to ship Carl out, I decided to contact Mission President David Lawrence McKay (who I'd never met). I told President McKay the story: Elder Burke is an old friend, he has a real purpose in Bermuda, not least of all to change my life, and he's meant to be here. Be damned, but President McKay had to agree with me!

Carl Burke did change my life. He's even responsible for me uprooting myself from Bermuda three years ago and returning to England, my family's home country, where I've longed to be all the years I was away. Three years ago, in his early fifties, Carl died quite suddenly. He'd developed heart troubles, had been put on the waiting list for a transplant, and died. All within a very few months. His daughter, Gina, expecting her first child, contacted me a few hours after he'd passed. And I had to wonder where, when and how I might bump into my old friend, who'd been Carl Burke to my Ross Eldridge, again. I did think that I might go on something of a Mission of my own. Home to England.

THE REVEREND DR. PETER MULLEN, rector of the Anglican church of St. Michael's Cornhill and St. Sepulchre without Newgate in the City of London, made headlines recently by positing and posting, on his church blog, the following:

"Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH, and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS."

Dr. Mullen, the sort of doctor who doesn't really do anyone much good, was rapped over his knuckles, we're told. However, I don't think they took a Pectoral Cross to him, at best a Tippet.

I decided to look up Mullen's church blog, and found that the offending remarks had been purged. (St. John 15:2). However, by their fruits, and all that, I decided to look up some of Mullen's sermons. The Rector preaches regularly, and is Chaplain to the Stock Exchange (so he must be up to his Amice in prayer requests), and tackles many subjects as a very (very) conservative cleric.

One of Mullen's sermons was on science and religion, and he chose to tell the tale of the mystical nun, St. Julian of Norwich (1342 -1416), who had some sixteen "shewings" or revelations, visions, in about 1373. Mother Julian was deathly ill at the time, but recovered. She wrote up her experiences (as we all should, particularly if God appears to us, and he visited this nun), and rewrote them about twenty years later. Her spelling didn't improve, but that's the way it was when Richard II was King of England.

Reverend Dr. Peter Mullen preached that Mother Julian asked God, during one of his visits, how big the Universe was. Those nuns, eh? And, according to Mullen, God said nothing, but placed an apple in Mother Julian's hand. And Mullen went on to relate that recently when scientists, astrophysicists and so on, got together with Einstein's work (and that of others) on the table, they decided that all the matter in the Universe, when packed together, as it was at the moment just before the Big Bang, was the size of an … apple. Which kind of made Julian of Norwich look pretty good, or Stephen Hawking, or both. I imagine Mullen's flock were chuffed to hear that.

However, if you bother to get yourself a copy of Revelations of Divine Love, the account of Julian of Norwich, you'll find that God, when he popped round to see Mother Julian and answered her query about the size of the Universe, placed a hazelnut in her palm. Apples, hazelnuts, astrophysics. I think size matters, I really do.

The Reverend Dr. Peter Mullen was misleading his parishioners. If he knew what he was saying, which was inaccurate, and said it just to impress, the man needs to be defrocked. Be interesting to see if he has any tattoos under his skirts!
Does one bad apple, one bad Christian apple, spoil the whole bunch? (Please excuse bunch as the collective of apples!) I have this understanding that it just might, given the pyramidal nature of religion.

Of course, I do not know if all the matter, when compacted, is as big as an apple, or as small as a hazelnut, and I'm not going to ask God about it because I'm not exactly sure about this God thing right now. I'm certainly not counting myself as a Christian, I believe in eternal matter, eternal life, but as reincarnation. I'm looking at Past Life Regression.

I have this peculiar understanding that we've been this way before. And that one must keep looking out for old friends. One may well, in fact, one must change. So, let's not be afraid of all that.

No comments: