Sunday, February 26, 2012

Four Brownbagger talks

Over the past few weeks I've been going to the Brownbagger's Lunch, a one-hour lunchtime free lecture sponsored by Acadia Lifelong Learning (ALL). I get regular notifications for this lecture series and for the most part have not seen anything that really grabbed me, but this month there were four lectures in a row that I wanted to hear.

The first was Marilyn Manzer's "In Search of a Moral Economy", the second Uwe Kaufman's "Kluscap, Blomidon and Wabanaki Mythology", the third Chris Mansky's "Blue Beach---Evolution's Greatest Mystery in Our Backyard", and the fourth Bill Zimmerman's "Finally, Free to Be!" The lecture this week is of less interest to me so I will happily take a break.

Of the four, Marilyn's was most inspiring and Chris's the most interesting (to me). Bill's was also interesting, his message was that as seniors/elders we are in a unique position to participate effectively in political life and have some impact on social justice issues. Uwe has done considerable research on Miqm'ah/Wabenaki mythology surrounding the character of Kluskap (Glooscap) and told a number of the stories he has gathered over the years about Kluscap. The Kluscap stories are interesting, they are not about a god but a being with supernatural powers in a time when supernatural was natural. Animals spoke, rocks moved. Each story is about some dilemma solved and the ramifications of that long ago solution. Kluscap is compassionate and caring but also just. He once had an evil twin, Malsum, but he killed Malsum in a kind of duel and regretted it ever after. One version of the story that I read was that Kluscap and Malsum lived in what is now Newfoundland, but after Kluscap killed Malsum he had to move away, to what is now Nova Scotia.

Locally, Cape Split is considered to be Kluscap's stone canoe, forever beached at the head of the Bay of Fundy. One day Kluscap will return.

Chris has created a museum of fossils he has found at Blue Beach and has done considerable research on these and related fossils. Blue Beach rocks date from the Carboniferous era, a time when vertebrates were first emerging from the water onto land. The "Greatest Mystery" that he refers to is about how that happened, there are large gaps in the fossil record that evoke a large amount of speculation as to how exactly the evolution from water-adapted to dry land-adapted vertebrates occurred. Blue Beach is a tidal beach of sedimentary rocks (mostly slate, some shale), and depending on the strength of the tides and the amount of mud, what is hidden or exposed on the beach changes daily.

I have an old photo from when my youngest son was about 3 years old; I was in first year university and enrolled in a Geology 101 course. A field trip to Blue Beach was organized by a couple of the Geology Dept profs one weekend, and I took my kids along. We got to see several sets of tracks in the exposed slate rocks, of early "tetrapods". One set of tracks was large enough for my youngest son to stand inside a single footprint while I photographed him. As I recall it looked like it had three toes.

The Geology profs said that they could tell by the positioning of each footprint in relation to the others in the track how the legs were attached to the body, a significant piece of evidence in determining whether one is looking at an amphibian or a reptile, and how developed or primitive it might be. I just thought that it was amazing to be looking at footprints created hundreds of millions of years ago, well before even the dinosaurs lived. Some living creature walked across the mud and left a permanent, almost eternal, record of its passing.

Marilyn's talk was more personal, she kind of told her autobiography and the development of her own thinking about the state of the world and her life in it. She referred to God a lot, and right at the start of her talk gave her personal definition of that word so as to avoid mistaken impressions of what she was talking about: "the spirit of love and connection between all living beings and the natural world."

Towards the end of her talk she recounted hearing a CBC radio show that really brought together her sense of what life was about. It put into words what she had been feeling and struggling with over most of her life. I had heard that same radio program and I remember that my own reaction to it was that it was revelatory, I had not thought of things in those terms before, but it made a lot of sense.

The program was "Beauty Will Save the World", an episode of CBC Ideas in June 2010. Marilyn took some notes of what was said in that program, and she does a remarkable job of capturing the essence of what was discussed, so I am going to repeat them here. The title of the program is a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn used in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Here are Marilyn's notes.

Plato argued that beauty was the revelation of God in the here and now.

John Keats wrote, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all you know on earth and all you need to know." (Ode to a Grecian Urn)

Beauty has the power to redeem desperate and tragic situations. Beauty saves us from acts against humanity, against ourselves.

If I didn't sing, I'd have to take drugs, because drugs kill the pain but beauty is bigger than pain. (a recovering drug addict)

Transcendent beauty---a spiritual beauty---can come in the most obscene places. People searching for dignity and human respect is a beautiful thing. Anyone can exhibit immense grace.

Beauty brings you joy. Beauty dwells with wisdom and wisdom dwells with joy. People who have beauty and wisdom and joy are capable of enduring the most terrible things.

Acting out survival of the fittest diminishes us as human beings and we know it. We need transcendent beauty to save us.

People are afraid of beauty like they are afraid of real freedom. The price of real freedom is security. Beauty is like that too. You can't hang onto it or possess it. It opens your heart and soul and makes you vulnerable. It is scary. You are not in control.

The fate of the world depends on unleashing the beauty that will save the world.

Marilyn's talk has been published and is available on the Argenta Friends Press website (Canadian Quaker Pamphlet No. 71). Look for "In Search of a Moral Economy" by Marilyn Manzer, in the pamphlet section.

No comments: