Every once in a while I have to retype, or reedit, an old column that is one of my favorites. I have written this column so long, and bounced between different venues, I’m not surprised a lot has been lost. This one isn’t political, though when politics and religion merge: as they so often do these days, I suppose one might say it addresses politics in a odd way. And I like the fact every time I rewrite a column new thoughts, new perspectives, flow forth. It’s also been rewritten as a somewhat odd Christmas/seasonal edition.
My father, Bill, was never a religious man until the very end. I guess the best description might have been an agnostic. But insisting on living in the middle of nowhere, known by his own choice as “The Ding-a-Ling Hermit of Twitchell Lake,” I’m sure he got lonely and started going to a church in Inlet, NY. The minister was Yogi Best. I knew Yogi when I was an ad salesman for for WADR in Remsen, NY: a station long gone.
The year before he died Dad and I were sitting in our home on Twitchell Lake and he was telling me about the miracle he learned about at church. “True” believers got lost in the Adirondacks: easy to do considering the vast amount forever wild. It was in a blinding snowstorm. They got down on their knees and prayed. The weather cleared and the way home became clear.
”How’s that for proof!?”
Problem is Dad taught us to think: a mission he claimed to be pursuing from when we were quite young. Maybe end of his life Dad, now a member of a more traditional, perhaps more fundamentalist church than the one we attended as kids, might have thought, “I taught them too well?”
My immediate response was, “But what about the bones of the believers?” Then I explained that I doubted we ever heard about believers who had the same faith, did the same thing, but froze to death. He had to admit I had a point.
Are prayers answered? I think maybe. I know I’ve had a few that I think were, including meeting my wife. But the old cliché’: “You may not like the answer,” sometimes applies. Do miracles happen? I’ve seen enough to type “seems so,” though logical explanations exist.
If a prayer isn’t answered as expected does that mean the divine isn’t there, or worse, that person must have been damned, was “evil?”” Think about all the martyrs. Were they martyred because they were less worthy?
Of course not.
The bones of the believers is my way of saying the result is not necessarily some blessing: maybe a warning you have more to learn. Not being saved from a tragedy not necessarily some condemnation. The answer given serves the purpose of the divine, not some condemnation. Bad things happen to great people.
Similar misconceptions abound: a relative of mine used to bring relics to hospital rooms to cure his sons. These are the supposed bones of the saints. His sons died anyway. The snow didn’t lift. They became bones. Does all that mean they were damned? Especially with his son Vin, I differ. Born with muscular dystrophy he achieved so much in his short lifetime, certainly had faith, and was generally kind to all.
The whole relic thing seems anti-Christian to me sometimes. Worshiping a cross? Thinking there’s special power in a cup he drank from? Or my frequent question: since when does “do this in memory of me” mean doing what was written exactly as he did it? Why that instead of using such moments to remember and think about lessons taught, parables said?
But in a more metaphorical sense the bones of those who has passed before do have much power. Not magical powers. No: the memories, lessons taught, help lift us up as we stand on the shoulders of our parents, our parents parents, back through time… people we don’t know but still provide support: so many bones we stand on that help us achieve what we achieve, reach to the very stars, be good people.
Both believers and non-believers stand on the blessed bones of who has been before. We stand on the bones of believers and non-believers. Our mission is to be the bones our children, and our children’s children, can be proud to stand on, can stand taller, reach higher.
In that way the bones of the believers, and dare I add non-believers, have far more power than a single incident of some snowstorm abating. Those saved by such a moment have a mission: live on to become worthy of being the bones future generations stand on.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years, first published in fall of 1972. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all rights reserved