finding meaning in the present chaos

Laudo, laudas, laudat ...

Laudo, laudas, laudat … I can still conjugate a few of the Latin verbs that Mr. Kister, my freshman year Latin teacher, drilled into me.

Earlier this week, after nearly four decades since my last, probably unsuccessful, attempt at the subjunctive of credo in his class, I ran across his name, now Dr. Kister SJ, He is a professor emeritus at Sogang University in Seoul, Korea.

It seems that Professor Kister, as well as teaching drama in the English literature department of Sogang University, focused some of his academic research energies on Asian shamanism.

Shamanism arguably dates well back into humankind’s Paleolithic past. It marks our ancestors’ struggle to intuit meaning into the often chaotic world that they faced.

Shamanism linked the physical and spiritual worlds or as Mircea Eliade, a Romanian religious historian, termed it the sacred and profane.

“In the homogeneous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation is established, the hierophany (appearance of the Sacred) reveals an absolute fixed point, a centre” Eliade wrote in his seminal work The Sacred and the Profane.

Having this sacred frame of reference allowed for meaning, order and understanding to emerge.

This also “constitutes an esthetically satisfying symbolic dramatization of what it aims to achieve, the transformation of disparate individuals into a community centred on contact with the realm of the gods above,” writes Kister in his book Korean Shamanist Ritual: Symbols and Dramas of Transformation.

Kister sees the shaman as “a dramatic artist, working often with the simplest of means.”

The aim of shaman’s rituals is an attempt at “the transformation of people’s lives through the manipulation of their imagination.” These all spring “from a human urge to transform time, space, and a community’s life together into a realm of contact with the gods and ancestral spirits.”

Through these, life and the world around those communities became imbued with meaning.

The advent of monotheistic religions swept shamanism to the margins of human experience. These religions were not static, immutable terms of reference for human existence. The Bible clearly demonstrates that.

“From the multifarious traditions of Israel and Judah the eighth century (BC) historians built a coherent narrative,” writes Karen Armstrong in her most recent work, The Bible, a biography. This provided the core of the Hebrew Bible, its first two books, Genesis and Exodus.

Later in the early sixth century, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the first temple demanded, Armstrong argues, a new effort at reaching back into the Jewish people’s history to account for these disasters. Together with Deuteronomy, which some scholars argue was authored in the late seventh century, these later additions, Leviticus and Numbers, completed the Torah or Pentateuch. However interpretations of Old or New Testaments continue to this day in light of life’s contemporary demands.

As the Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week approach the spiritual sphere will be recognized by many Yukoners in solemn and celebratory rituals and ceremonies. In these times when we collectively seem to have lost our ethical moorings, it would be beneficial if we all took sometime to search for meaning in the chaos around us.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Namaste notes

Saturday, April 4—Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize laureate peace and civil rights advocate, was assassinated on this day in 1968.

Sunday, April 5—Palm or Passion Sunday. A suggested reading is Mark 14: 1 to 15:47

Tuesday, April 7—World Health Day 2009 “focuses on the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health workers who treat those affected by emergencies.”

Wednesday, April 8—Pesach or Passover begins at sundown. This eight-day Jewish festival celebrates their exodus from slavery.

Wednesday, April 8—Hanamatsuri or the “Flower Festival” is the Japanese observance of the Buddha’s birth.

Thursday, April 9—Holy or Maundy Thursday marks the Christian observance of the Last Supper.

Friday, April 10—Good Friday is the solemn Christian remembrance of the crucifixion and death of Jesus.