Monday, April 20, 2009

Cry havoc!

'Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war, that these foul deeds might stink above the earth with carrion men groaning for burial.' ~ Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1. 

I've had this sentence stuck in my craw for some days now and I've been gnawing on it diligently, with tired determination, pondering its stubbornness. 

True, I saw it at first for only a moment as it flashed across my screen, but since it's taken up unpleasant residence in my mind and mouth, bitter and chewy, like so much lemon rind ground to a mealy paste and slathered over my gums.

An irritant of the highest order, second only to George W.B., but its message remains elusive no matter how long my mouth and mind work it over.

It resonated all the more when I read this passage from Acts 20 today:

'I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock.'

Some sort of fear, perhaps? Regret? An omen? A portent of darker days? Some sort of hiraedd? I don't know, but wish I did. 

I don't necessarily believe in fate, but rather something closer to wyrd (pronounced 'weird'). It's an old Anglo-Saxon concept that has reflections in the Catholic understanding of time and God. Concepts like wyrd helped create understanding of a linear perspective of time, even though true wyrd is more like a web than a line. 

Think about it like this: If wyrd is like a spider web, there are may parts, and although a fly lands on one small sub sect of the web, its actions vibrate and impact the entire web's existence, telling the spider that dinner has (maybe) arrived. The fly is not doomed, not yet. Certainly, its wyrd is grim (chances are it's a goner) but still, the fate of the spider and the fly depend on how well the insects react, move, interpret sensory data and so on. Wyrd is the web of our lives, the situations we find ourselves in, the choices we have to make, the past influencing us here in the present, and how what we do influences the future.

Wyrd is like one of those Celtic drawings you see of interlaced knots that are really only one strand wound irrevocably round itself. If you imagine your life like one of those drawings, a giant road that you walk on, then whenever we come to a knot in the pattern (a fork in the road, a choice in the present) we have the chance to impact the direction we travel and perhaps even untangle the knot (make straight the path) to ease our travel. So, the next time we come to a similar situation (crossroads in our life) or find ourselves right back where we started, we'll have an easier time figuring out which way to go and perhaps even accepting the outcome of our decisions.

So, wyrd is a concept that means while what will happen to us in the end is known (after all, the web is a predetermined shape), how we get there is of our own making. We can face our situations how we choose, with what values and beliefs and character we possess, and make the best of every opportunity. 

Maybe these messages, from Caesar and Acts, are meditations on how well we confront adversity? One the avenger of the betrayed (Antony spoke the lines), the other with courage enough to leave the flock with the weapons he provided, trusting them to fight off the wolves (Paul was speaking to his disciples for the last time before leaving Asia for Jerusalem)? Maybe it is a meditation on how good must always struggle, or that even those with the best intentions may be led astray?

What are your thoughts?