IN ANSWER TO ALL YOUR QUESTIONS
On September 11, 2001, I joined the majority of my country in a state of confusion and shock. I'll spare you the poetic details of my grief, since you likely shared in it, but the story I'm telling begins with me stumbling down the then unfamiliar streets of Champaign, farther from my family than I'd ever been, seeking a point of stability as the world I knew transformed around me.
Though I was at that time already beginning to see with Erisian eyes, I was still a practicing Catholic ("Until I get it perfect," I would joke.) The cynicism of Discordia seemed ill suited to such a tragic day, so I wandered into St. John's Chapel on campus to seek comfort for the fears buzzing through my head.
I prayed for about an hour. I cried. I saw others on their knees with me--strangers, but members of my community all the same--and I felt our shared human struggles. As holy smoke wafted up through the rafters and the priest moved forward to begin his sermon, I thought to myself that here before me was the strength and benefit of religion.
But then the priest spoke. I don't remember much of what he said. Only one sentence, really, but I remember it now (perhaps overdramatically) as a turning point in my faith. The priest stood before us, in his capacity as shepherd, during his flock's time of greatest spiritual need, and told us that God had all the answers for us, though we might not know what they are.
We don't have to worry, he said, because God has all the answers.
I was furious. For twenty-two years I had been immersed in the church. For four years I studied its history and theology at DePaul University. Ministry was in my family's blood, and in all my experience of God and spirit, I knew the priest's words were empty. The answers I had seen in sermon and scripture were laughable in the face of death and evil. I could believe in redemption for all sinners, but the notion that there was a divinely dictated reason for what had happened struck me then as offensive. I wanted God to be as baffled by the world's violence as we are.
Looking back, there are many things that priest could have then said that would have eased the pain in my soul, pain that sprang from the brutal unreason of the days events, but to claim there were answers (and yet provide none) only poured salt into my wounds. I don't feel any malice toward him; I'm sure he was just as confused and scared as the rest of us. But we didn't need answers that day, we needed a way to cope with the lack of answers, and Christianity as a whole suddenly seemed bunglingly unprepared for those times when the universe thrusts nihilism upon us. The church had, for me, failed miserably at a crucial moment.
This memory came to me as I reflected upon today's celebration of the Discordian Wholly Apostle Saint Hung Mung, the ancient Chinese sage of primal chaos, who responded to all inquiries with ignorance. Where is Saint Mung amongst the established religions? Where was that old wandering madman who would have stood among the rubble of the twin towers, laughing and slapping his ass and proclaiming, "I don't know! I don't know!" as the world burned? In him, I may have found peace.
"The Earth quakes and the heavens rattle;
the beasts of nature flock together and
the nations of men flock apart;
volcanoes usher up heat
while elsewhere water becomes ice and melts;
and then on other days it just rains.
Indeed do many things come to pass."
Two years have gone by, and in that time we've seen two wars, the creeping growth of a police state, the fall of old dictators, the rise of new tyrants, and quite a bit of rain. The righteous stand leaderless and fools squabble over which monkey will be given the keys to the kingdom next. We tell stories of patriotism, stories of oppression, stories of a world on the cusp of some something, and the stories become increasingly incredible with every telling. God has God's answers, but Fox News has Fox News' answers, and Bush has Bush's answers, and Pat Robertson has Pat Robertson's answers, and the hippies have Commie answers and the Democrats have whatever answers they think will win your vote. We have an excess of answers, and they have piled up in the corners until the whole of human thought smells like manure.
Only now I can see him, laying there in the shit, inseparable from the chaos around him. Saint Mung the Honest, who only ever proclaims the abjectly truthful answer at the heart of it all. We don't know. We don't know why bad things happen to good people. We don't know why the stars remain fixed in the heavens. We don't know why we are here. We don't know why we must die. We don't know God's answers; we don't even know our own answers. We've never known. The world happens anyway.
Hung Mung strips away answers, melting the world of story until even our selves seem to be contrived fictions. Had I walked with Mung by my side that fateful September day, I might have found comfort in the bright afternoon sun that lit my path, or the birds that continued their song without awareness of terrorism or death. I may have seen our nation's sadness as temporary, as all things are temporary, just another wisp in the unpredictable flow of the Chao.
But I could not see the laughing man, nor could any of the others who went on to kill and imprison in answer to that day. Something within us demands a reason, and we're willing to make ourselves miserable rather than let go of our quest for justification.
"Ah! your mind needs to be nourished," laughs Saint Mung.
"Neglect your body;
"We all are as in the state of chaos,
"Do not ask its name;
Religion needs to reacquaint itself with Hung Mung. We need to acknowledge and cope with the world that happens despite reason. Our scientists and politicians aren't going to do it for us; this is a burden reserved for the spiritually inclined. It's something we must do for ourselves.
I'm a big fan of reason and order, when it elevates our soul, but I cannot honestly stand before my fellow humans and say that there exist answers for all the questions the heart may ask. I can say there's great freedom to be found in relieving oneself of the obligation to find them. God may allow the towers of man to crumble, as the lilies of the field wilt, but we needn't know God's reasons to enjoy life while we've got it. Set aside the quest for knowledge, and you will see that which you already have, that which was given to you without known purpose, that which you enjoy. There is too much trouble in the world for us to afford missing out on the harmony around us, the harmony that's there even when it shouldn't be, even amongst death. Return to reason at your leisure, but always keep a chaoist napping on your couch.
This year, take a moment to recognize Hung Mung. Tune your television to static. Call to mind all that ails you, and look for answers on the screen, for this is all we ever do. If you're lucky, the wandering madman will pay you a visit, smiling and offering warm soup as he whispers, "We don't have to worry. Not even God has all the answers. Have some soup."
Merry Mungday with Love
The ideas and events in this sermon are in some sense true, in some sense false, in some sense meaningless, in some sense true and false, in some sense false and meaningless, in some sense true and meaningless, and in some sense true, false and meaningless.
For more information on Hung Mung, start here.
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