The Pit and the Pendulum

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17.

Row, row, row your boat, softly down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.

I love that Jesus and John preached: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”. On my lighter days it speaks of a simplicity. “Turn around, God’s behind you!” God’s waiting for me to simply turn around. God won’t interrupt us if we don’t turn. In fact God will send people to wander into our line of sight as messengers. People like Jesus and John.

But then on my darker days I am enraptured by the theatre of life and the shadows of my own mind. Being bi-polar is a bit of a bugger; and there are times when I can’t see the wood for the trees (or perhaps a better simile would be that I can’t see the trees for the forest).

BBC. ITV. A hundred other channels to watch. Each offering to entertain, or educate, or just engage. There are even channels where someone can find a partner, or a new set of saucepans, or even God. Amazon Prime, Netflix, Youtube, so much more to browse until something catches my eye. It’s all there, all of life. All clamouring for my attention, it is demanding and demands much more than it gives.

It’s all pretty safe I suppose, until I get to my laptop. It’s not really about me when it’s on TV. It still feels like I’ve chosen it rather than it’s chosen me. But suddenly there are emails, Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, and it all becomes a bit more personal. Posted by friends, colleagues, people, or charities and groups that I know or at least feel an empathy with. Fluffy kittens playing silly games, dogs in China being skinned alive. Someone unexpected wows an audience with their talent; someone shouts hate at some poor woman on a bus; dogs in silly costumes looking cute; the bodies of child refugees washed up on a beach. One more point for the liberals as a country or state recognises some human right, and then a point for the fascists as some human right is denied.

The pendulum swings one way. And then it swings the other. Edgar Allen Poe’s pit and pendulum played out for me across every screen. No safe place. No peaceful place. I am trapped beneath its inexorable swing.

There was a time when I had helped a little, and rejoiced as the pendulum reached one side, but then, as it inevitably swung back, I wept as it reached the other. And over the years the pendulum itself has become a torture, inexorably sweeping into me, through me, of me. It does not stop. It cannot stop. It is the theatre of life.

The rats of my survival gnaw through the ropes that tie me down. I stopped channel surfing and now only watch what I think I will enjoy. I plan for it and ignore the urge to surf the wave of sludge. I trash emails by the bucket load, often without reading them, and only leave the ones that are personal or useful. Even then, I read them when I choose to. My bank statement. My utility bills. My friends and church members. An offer to enlarge my pride. (I thought I’d deleted that one.)

I turn away from the pendulum swing. I reach into the depths of my being. I resist the urge to bring the judgements or measure of things with me: what people think of me; the value of my person; or the worth of my contribution. They remain in the pendulum swing. I resist them all. I turn from them, and look within. I repent. I turn around.

And fall. And for a moment I think perhaps that I have found the pit.

In some paradox of measure, some extraordinary move, I am looking down upon the pendulum as it swings. People to the left, people to the right, a world in the middle, all struggling so hard. Some struggling to move the pendulum faster or further towards some goal, cheering as they go. Horrified, screaming, hate-filled as it swings back to the other, a counter-swing ironically empowered by their push. A macabre playground see-saw. Some try to slow or stop it. Some are using its measure and force to serve themselves; some in monstrous ways, and some in grace-filled ways. I look down upon it all; and I realise that somewhere I am also in its midst. And I realise how absurd the tableau is.

Here I am in the Kingdom of God. Or, rather, I am a guest who witnesses the human drama, rather than being a victim of it. I am aware that I am participating in the human species, a specific being bound by time and space; but I am also aware that I can retreat into another dimension of self that is eternal. Here, I am never abandoned, for I am a part of it. All is one. The world is a dream.

On better days I row my boat softly down the stream, understanding that my true worth is found in my humanity itself, and perhaps in my relationship to it.

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