Many Mansions

(Something I reprint every now and again. Usually around this season. First appeared here. Seems a right day to print it again. For all the new little Christmas stars out of Connecticut. And everywhere else in this world. This universe. And all the others.)

* * *

In my Father’s house are many mansions.

—John 14:2

Christmastime again is here, and so be Santa, and so be Jesus.

A couple years ago, in contemplating Santa and Jesus, the two began to get confused in my mind. Santa Claus, for reasons that have never really been explained, devotes each year to overseeing minute laborers who fashion gifts which he annually delivers, in a single night, to all deserving children the world over. Jesus Christ, for reasons that have been variously explained, roamed for a short time across a relatively minute plot of land, uttering gnomic wisdoms, then was seized and subjected to excruciating suffering, so that all, deserving and undeserving alike, might be gifted with salvation.

When a sprout, I was taught that while Santa’s labors never end—a yearly, year-long grind—Jesus’ was a one-shot gig. Wander around Palestine, ascend the cross, into the tomb, three days later out again, brief appearances before various friends and lovers, then up to heaven for a well-deserved eternal rest.

I no longer believe that. I believe that, as is set forth here, “Jesus Christ suffers from now until the end. On the cross. He goes on suffering. Until the death of the last human being.” That is the mystic meaning of his tale: he suffers with all beings suffering in the exile of existence. And we are called upon to do the same—to grow to empathy, so that thy neighbor truly is thyself, and suffering everywhere, for everyone, may be eased. With this meaning there is no need for the resurrection. All of us are him, doing the same work; our work, his work, never ends.

For those who are wedded to the resurrection, the advances in science and philosophy in my lifetime, in the understanding of the multiple dimensions and multiple worlds about us, too mean that his work never ends. For the planets, it is now known, are innumerable, and so are the dimensional variations of this one. And if salvation is indeed his calling, he will forever be busy as twelve bastards, for there are those who need saving, inhabiting every one.

I have always really liked the “[i]n my Father’s house are many mansions” line. Particularly with our contemporary understanding of the word “mansion”—a grand and opulent residence—it even has a quantum physics feel to it: how the hell are all these “mansions” supposed to fit into a modest ol’ “house”? Well, the same way somebody can simultaneously be a wave and a particle, or remain whole while also splitting to pass through two tiny subatomic “doors,” or be both dead and alive, a la Schrodinger’s Cat.

Mormons told me, many years ago, that this “mansions” line was one of several in the “approved” bible that signaled that Jesus, after emerging from the tomb and saying goodbye to Mary and the fellows, indeed traveled to North America, where, it is said, he communed with the Indians of the plains—riding around on buffalo, chewing jerky, bringing them the Good Word. We know from illustrations in the Book of Mormon itself that Jesus also traveled to South America: in the drawing above, that is clearly a Mayan temple set before those green hills, as in the foreground Jesus appears before the “nephites.”

Meanwhile, there are people like Alain Danielou, author of Shiva and Dionysus, who believe that during his pre-preacher “missing years” Jesus, as it is said, journeyed “to the East”—in Danielou’s estimation, all the way to India, where he absorbed ancient pre-Brahman beliefs and practices stretching back to 6500 B.C.E. We know from the Da Vinci Code folks that Jesus, Mary, and their sprout, after that awkwardness in Palestine, traveled through Europe and settled in France. There is a strain of Irish monk who believes Jesus passed through the Emerald Isle. Polynesian peoples speak of a god named Lono, who in many respects resembles Jesus. So rather than a homebody confined to Palestine, we are looking at a Jesus who embarked on something like a world tour.

The word that the King James renders as “mansions” is in the original Greek mone, which could be more precisely translated as “abode” or “dwelling place.” That his “Father’s house” contains many “abodes” or “dwelling places” could certainly indicate that Jesus was envisioning a weary slog through a multiplicity of other hovels and holes where various assorted knuckledraggers and mouthbreathers would bollix up his message and then drive huge nails into his body.

Some people, in seeking to bring more conventional “sense” to the passage, stretch the translation a bit and seek to render mone as “rooms” . . . which brings us nicely to Clifford D. Simak, one of the first science-fiction writers to play with dimensions, in his novel City, and who describes the way they are set up as a series of rooms, in a house without end. Sometimes one can hear, in a muffled sort of way, what’s going on in the next room, but that’s about it. In the course of City, however, dogs, robots, and mutant humans manage to make the trans-dimensional leap: to this motley crew I would add cats, for their unnerving habit of fixedly staring at things that “aren’t there.”

That Jesus knew he would need to suffer and die limitless times in limitless “rooms,” or dimensions, brings new meaning to the phrase “Jesus wept.”

At least Jesus could take comfort in knowing that in the vast majority of those rooms Saul of Tarsus would not run his grubby paws all over his message. For each dimension varies at least ever so slightly from the next, and I choose to believe that, just as our solar system is flung out at the far arm of our galaxy, so too must Saul, so noxious and repellent a creature, be a far-flung aberration occupying but a minute corner of the overall trans-dimensional Jesus meme.

In our particular “room,” Saul is a sort of seamy carnival barker, a fast-talking con man who rudely transmuted a Jewish mystic into a pagan sun king. In The Last Temptation of Christ, director Martin Scorsese perfectly cast the weaselish Harry Dean Stanton as Saul. In the scene rendered below, Jesus, having been tempted down off the cross by Satan (appearing in the guise of a young curly-tressed blond girl, passing as an angel), and rewarded with the life of a happy, contented, normal man—the “last temptation”—years later comes upon Saul working the street, delivering his invented Christos spiel. Jesus, rightly, is appalled. Saul, in the film, as he must have on earth, reasons that the Jesus he has invented, is far superior to the real thing.

As I’ve observed here before, when I was a lad it was Common Wisdom that there existed no planets outside our own solar system, and that there was no life anywhere but on this bright blue ball we call home.

These days, as DarkSyde expressed it over on the Great Pumpkin, “astronomers have [] detected so many exosolar planets that it’s reasonable to assume there are more of them than stars in our galaxy.” And with the seeming ubiquity of water on nearby orbs, and the probability that Mars harbors some form of life, even those would-be conquistadors who just months ago were burning to saddle up the ships and ride out into space to pillage and rapine, are beginning to reflect that it might be wiser to tread gently out there.

So. “[M]ore [planets] than stars in our galaxy” . . . and presumably some form of life on every one. This, again, brings new meaning to the phrase “Jesus wept.” For if Jesus’ father made this world, he surely made all those other worlds, too. And as nothing in the Big Guy’s makeup or history indicates that he would have done a better job of it anywhere else, this means Jesus will be needed to clean up the mess on every one of those worlds—worlds without end, amen. Truly: his is a job that will never, ever end.

The notion of Jesus as weary galactic traveler first entered this brain when it was 11, courtesy of those happily heretical wormholers of the original Star Trek.

In “Bread and Circuses,” Kirk & Co. beam down to a planet where a Roman Empire is grafted onto a 20th Century. Our Boys are summarily heaved into a gladiator pit, where the combatant-slaves gibber ceaselessly about “the way of the sun,” which involves “a bond of brotherhood and a commitment to peace.” Kirk & Co. regard these as pleasant enough fellows, but are bemused as to why they are so solarly-fixated.

After surmounting various perils, the boys arrive safely back on the bridge, where they muse amongst themselves on the gladiators, and their peculiar affection for their light-bringing orb. Lieutenant Uhuru, who has been monitoring the radio chit-chat down below, sets them straight. “It’s not the sun up in the sky,” she says. “It’s the son of God.”

Kirk, forever self-absorbed, says: “Wouldn’t it be something to watch, to be a part of? To see it happen, all over again?” Never does he seem to consider what it would be like to be Jesus, to personally go through it, “all over again.” For the nails can’t get any easier, no matter how many times they’re driven home.

Finally, there is this song, which, for me, has sounded Jesus since the first time I heard it, nearly four decades ago. Seems to me that’s him singing it, every time he reaches the can’t-you-pass-the-cup, Garden-of-Gethsemene portion of his story. Every. Single. Time.


1 Response to “Many Mansions”

  1. 1 jumar63 April 27, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
    I heard the announcement:
    If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
    Please come to the gate immediately.

    Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
    An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
    Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
    Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
    Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
    Did this.

    I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
    Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
    Sho bit se-wee?

    The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
    She stopped crying.

    She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
    She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
    Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

    Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
    We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
    I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
    Would ride next to her—Southwest.

    She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

    Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
    Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

    Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
    Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

    She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

    She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
    Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
    And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

    To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
    Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
    The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
    Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

    And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
    Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
    American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
    And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

    And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
    Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

    With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
    Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

    And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
    This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

    Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
    —has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

    They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
    This can still happen anywhere.

    Not everything is lost.

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When I Worked

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