Torque and Shrek: Love and Nurture
Shrek the infant owl was taken away from his mother because of concerns, presumably based on her behavior, that she might attack and kill him when stressed. So Torque raised him instead. The adoptive-mother-adoptive-child relationship has worked out very well.
Editor’s Corner Essay: The Least of These
The famous passage from Matthew 25, “I was hungry, and you fed me . . . I was a stranger, and you welcomed me . . . .When you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” is often quoted to encourage people to engage in works of kindness and mercy.
How is the passage to be explained? It is understandable that some would explain it as referring to identification with another we love, such as a member of our family; gifts and acts of goodness to a close relative are usually gratifying to the whole family. (Parents, famously, identify with their children, sometimes to the extent of living vicariously through them.) The passage implies that God then identifies with every one of us.
I believe, however, that this expression can be understood as referring to an even closer union, a shared consciousness of all living beings, not only those such as family members with whom we identify and feel closeness. Though in ordinary situations we may not be aware of such a shared consciousness, whether with a family member or with a stranger we may pass on the street, it may become conscious in extraordinary situations such as a mystical experience or a Near-Death Experience (NDE).
Researcher Kenneth Ring in his book Heading Toward Omega recounts examples of such a shared consciousness during an NDE: Tom Sawyer (not Mark Twain’s fictional character but a real person from Rochester, New York, 1945 - 2007) came close to death during a freak accident in 1978. Tom, who was a competent mechanic, had jacked up his vehicle and was lying under it, doing repairs, when uneven support in the earth under the jack caused it to shift, and the vehicle fell down on him–all two tons of it.
Unable to breathe, he began to suffocate. In the course of his NDE, after first finding himself moving through darkness that was like a tunnel, he re-experienced his entire life, beginning with his infancy. He re-lived it, not only from his original point of view, but including the perspective of others he had had an impact on, including animals, down to the tiniest insect. He recounted vivid incidents from this huge panorama of his events: in one of the first he shared the consciousness of his mother, who had dressed him in a cute outfit she had bought, and felt great delight in her perfect blond baby, though she was a little worried that the outfit had cost too much for the family budget. In another incident, Tom shared the semi-conscious awareness of a fine tree he had loved.
One incident that wasn’t so pleasant, for Tom and especially, for the other party, took place when Tom was nineteen years old, driving his beloved pickup truck down a Rochester street. He was stopped at a red light when a pedestrian nearly walked into his truck. His window was open, and
the pedestrian, feeling defensive, attacked him verbally. That did it! Since the other guy had “hit” first, Tom felt more than justified to hit back physically.
He got out of his truck and attacked the man with his fists. In his NDE, Tom re-experienced the encounter both from his own and the other’s viewpoints. He looked at Tom Sawyer’s flushed face out of the other’s eyes, and felt the pain and humiliation of every one of the thirty-two blows Tom had delivered. Tom knew the man’s age, knew that he was drunk because he was in grief over the death of his wife. He knew the stool in the bar where the man had sat drinking; he knew the path he had taken to that encounter. He knew the man’s house; he knew many intimate details of the man’s life.
The man went down, and, triumphant, Tom got back into his truck and drove off. Afterwards, it occurred to him that he might have killed the man; with some anxiety he drove back to the spot, but he saw no police tape, nothing special there. He heard nothing from the police, so apparently he had not killed his victim; and he had gotten away with it. Until, that is, the empathic life review!
Out of the billions of people in the population of earth, comparatively few have NDEs with empathic life reviews. But, sooner or later, everyone dies. Do we all have empathic life reviews at some point after our deaths? And if so, is this the Great Judgment that Christianity and other major religions predict for everyone–an encounter in which we are judged, apparently not by God seated on a throne, but by ourselves–or perhaps, more accurately, by God dwelling in ourselves and in all the others we have encountered in our lives? Experiencer P.M.H. Atwater, who also had an NDE with an empathic life review, describes her experience as if it were such a Judgment. She says “There was no heavenly St. Peter in charge. It was me judging me, and my judgment was most severe.”
Incidentally, the reason this experience was near-death and not final, actual death was Tom’s canny 10-year-old son Todd, who had the presence of mind to run into the house and call 911. The paramedics arrived in time to lift the truck off his father and give him oxygen. The experience left Tom with no doubt at all that we are all deeply linked together; it is as though we are our friends, our foes, and every stranger, every animal, every being in the universe. It is as though “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you” are just ordinary common sense; and eventually we will all know it when we look at ourselves out of their eyes and feel the feelings we caused them, and may ourselves need healing love.
I would have expected the experience would have left Tom a vegan or at least a vegetarian, but when I met him at a conference in the 1990s,, he was still eating flesh, even as we talked. Apparently ceasing to kill and eat animals did not occur to him. I hope it did later.
“When you did it to the least of these my [sisters and] brothers, you did it to Me.” –Editor
The photo is a still from a 1980s film clip in which Tom is interviewed about his NDE.
Pioneer: Apollonius of Tyana, ca. First Century A.D.
Depending on who you believe, he was an extraordinary sage or a demonic deceiver, a rival of Jesus (or even an inspiration for the “Christ myth”) or a pagan whom Christians could admire. In any case, as a Neopythagorean he was definitely a vegetarian, and one of the most intriguing figures of the ancient world.
Apollonius was born in the city of Tyana, in what is now Turkey, of a prominent Greek family. Sources are not consistent on his dates, but it appears that he lived a long life, into his nineties, throughout most of the first century. He was thus a contemporary of Jesus (or slightly later than him), though whether he and the Galilean rabbi knew of each other is unknown, and seems unlikely. But Apollonius, like Jesus and a number of others of those times, undertook the role of a wandering philosopher/teacher, going here and there to learn and teach. He traveled much further than Jesus did, visiting Rome at least. (In the third century the Empress Julia Domna, consort of the Emperor Septimus Severus and an intellectual in her own right who ruled when her husband was away, and enjoyed hosting gatherings of philosophers, commissioned the philosopher Philostratus to write Apollonius’ biography. This work is by far the most detailed source for his life and legend.) The wise man of Tyana was said by Philostratus to have also traveled to India to seek out the wisdom and lore of that spiritually fecund subcontinent, at the time a daring but not unknown venture.
Apollonius otherwise is best known for his reported miracles, amply recalled by Philostratus. It is said that when the Emperor Domitian was murdered in Rome in C. E. 96, the sage in faraway Ephesus perceived it taking place on that same day. Moreover, Apollonius rejoiced in the regicide, having earlier confronted the ruler in Rome and denounced him as a tyrant to his face. That got him in trouble with the Empire, but unlike Jesus, who was crucified at age thirty-three, Apollonius survived into his nineties.
As for other wonders, from early life to alleged ascension rather than death, they can be presented in connection with comparisons made between the philosopher and Jesus. Both ancient opponents of Christianity and more recent Enlightenment Deists and other critics have cited similarities between the Tyanan and the Nazarene, particularly in the area of marvels. The point was to indicate that Jesus’ works were not unique, but equaled by those of another, or may even have been the basis of the fictional “myth” of Christ created by the evangelist. To make the point, here is the way the Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman reports he would begin an introductory class on the New Testament:
Even before he was born, it was known that he would be someone special. . . As an adult he left home and went on an itinerant preaching ministry, urging his listeners to live, not for the material things of this world, but for what is spiritual. He gathered a number of disciples around him, who became convinced that his teachings were divinely inspired. . . He proved it to them by doing many miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. But at the end of his life, he roused opposition, and his enemies delivered him over to the Roman authorities for judgment. Still, after he left this world, he returned to meet his followers in order to convince them that he was not really dead but lived on in the heavenly realm. Later some of his followers wrote books about him. (Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. HarperCollins USA, 2012, p. 208)
Ehrman said he did not tell his class that this was taken from stories told about Apollonius of Tyana, not he whom they probably thought it was about, until afterwards.
But there are also persons–including Christians–who do not see the two figures as competitors, but as both showing divine love and gifts, as well as concern for others.
What were Apollonius’ actual teachings? Unfortunately, the several books he was supposed to have written, including a biography of Pythagoras, are lost. We have only fragments from Philostratus. But these include lines from his book On Sacrifices, in which, as a good Pythagorean, he rejects the practice of sacrifice to God or the gods, but says that God, the most beautiful of all beings, cannot be swayed by human prayer or sacrifice, and does not want the ordinary kind of worship by humans. But contact with God can be attained by spiritual practices, no doubt like meditation, in which the human nous [mind, intellect] reaches out to kinship with the divine nous. God is pure nous, and our own nous is the greatest part of humans.
Apollonius of Tyana remains as enigmatic as ever. If I could time travel back to the first century, I would first of all want to see and hear Jesus, but I would then journey further to see and hear Apollonius and find out what he was really like, no doubt somewhere between the alleged extremes. In any case, for us today he demonstrates that there is nothing wimpish about being a vegetarian, but one can be an activist able to denounce an emperor, and an adventurer able to trek to a distant exotic land, while still respecting the souls and bodies of our sister and brothers the animals.
Jacky Colliss Harvey, The Animal’s Companion: People and their Pets, a 26,000-Year-Old Love Story. London: Allen & Unwin, 2019. £14.99 / $18.38 hardcover. 294 pp.
Jacky Colliss Harvey’s first book was Red: A Natural History of the Redhead, an informative, amusing and totally can’t-lay-it-down study of this particular segment of humanity by a writer who was one, and so knew firsthand both what the redheaded peculiarity has meant over a long history, and also how every case is different, sometimes in subtle ways.
Now, as an equally lifelong companion to animals, she brings the same insider plus scholarly perspective to that other human proclivity, our virtually unique desire to share our living spaces, and indeed our lives, with much beloved animals of other species. Most, of course, are dogs and cats, but there is also reference to the different sort of interaction we may have with horses and donkeys, as well as the more exotic companionships some have with monkeys and turtles and more.
We take this human animal-yearning almost for granted – though not all humans have felt it equally – yet when we think about it we find ourselves facing far-reaching questions. Where did this companion-animal desire come from, and why did it come to have such importance for many of us? Why, as Harvey inquires at the book’s beginning, do we “cherish and indulge and care for them as if they are the exact thing they so unalterably are not – like us”?
Harvey goes on to rehearse the importance of her own childhood animals, in the spirit of novelist Edith Wharton’s remark that Foxy, her first dog, made her a “conscious, sentient person.” Harvey adds that in her own case too, “all the most important lessons of my life were taught to me by animals: the realities of love and loss and the impenetrability of death. . . the imperatives of sex; the largeness of care and of responsibility.”
The present reviewer can add a loud Amen, or in Quakertalk “That friend speaks for me,” to these lines. Despite all that my parents tried to explain to me, or I was told in school, nothing brought home to me the deepest meanings of love, responsibility for the care of another, reproduction, and death more than experiencing them in companion animals. Seeing a dog’s anxious hunger and knowing my feeding job, finding a mother cat’s litter of newborns, and being unable to look away from a once-lively animal’s dim eyes and motionless body, taught me more about life and death than could all the words in the dictionary.
To all this is added a corresponding observation of Harvey’s: “The animals I grew up with were like and unlike me at one and the same time.” They didn’t have to go to school or wear clothes, yet they clearly could get angry or show affection and were supposed to follow rules. They shared the house and sometimes even the beds of their people, unlike most other humans. What exactly are such creatures?
Harvey (pictured) is well aware that this is one of those issues that might seem easy to define at first glance, but becomes harder and harder to reckon out precisely the more one tries to do so. Despite the companionate title, she notes major objections to the now-popular term animal companion. The expression implies equality, she avers, but while that may be the ideal, in fact the relationship is much more complicated, with the human usually having the better part of the responsibility for the animal’s food and shelter, while no less abundant though subtle gifts (of what, exactly?) flow the other way.
Throughout the book, Harvey also employs such terms as “owner,” “pet,” and “master,” well aware that they will offend many contemporary readers, but wanting thereby to get their attention as she wrestles with some difficult but important realities. “Owner” does imply responsibility, as mentioned, in the eyes of the law and of our next-door neighbors. “Pet” in English is a complicated word, implying caressing and fondling as a verb, yet also related to adjectives like “petite” and “pettish.” “Master,” related to magistrate, implies one who makes the final decisions, but also refers to one who is highly skilled, as a master of a craft, and moreover, especially in British English, a respected teacher. Much to reflect on in all this regarding our relationship to the animals around the house.
After treating of these substantial definitions in the opening of the book, Harvey goes on to history, starting with the dawn of that 26-millennia love affair. This onset she decides to place in the Chauvet cave in France, famous for its paleolithic paintings, where the tracks of a boy accompanied by those of a dog have been detected in what was once mud. The canine, clearly in a relationship s/he valued, occasionally veers off to sniff at something as dogs will, but quickly returns to the companion.
Leaving Chauvet, the author goes on to inform us of the human-animal relationship in ancient Rome (despite the horrors of the Coliseum, there are also Latin tributes to beloved beasts), in Elizabethan England, Flemish art, and Chinese philosophy (Yi-Fu Tuan, in his famous essay Dominance and Affection, argues those two qualities together make a pet rather than a slave).
One should not expect Harvey’s text to be chronological from Chauvet on. The text is more thematic, with chapter titles like “Choosing,” “Naming,” “Communicating,” “Caring,” and “Losing,” all referring of course to animals. Even so, the writing is what I would call rambling, wandering from one topic – usually a vivid companion animal anecdote – to another. In this case, however, rambling is not meant, as it so often is in talk about writing, as a criticism however mild. Harvey is a great rambler, one we might like as a fellow-rover on a hike across the colorful countryside of her English homeland. Strolling down her pages, one hardly makes a turn without coming upon a sight even more picturesque than the last, all informative about our life with animals. Like Jesus, she tells what she has to say through pilgrimage and parable, and the telling is all the more memorable told along the roadside.
The Animal’s Companion is for all lovers and companion animals who want better to understand that relationship. It belongs on their bookshelves, and would make a magnificent gift.
3 medium potatoes, cut in small pieces
1 stalk celery, cut in pieces
2 medium carrots, in small pieces
1 C. canned coconut milk
3 C vegetable broth
2 Tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan butter
1 ½ tsps salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Parsley or chopped green onion for garnish
Steam cauliflower, potatoes, celery, and carrots in a heavy pot until tender. Heat broth, coconut milk, vegan butter and seasonings. Put a cup of liquid in a blender or food processor with part of the cauliflower and other vegetables; blend until smooth and creamy. Repeat with the remainder of the vegetables and liquid mixture. Return the soup to saucepan and simmer 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Taken from A Feast of Friendship: A Sanctuary Cookbook, produced by the Central America Committee of Orange Grove Friends, 1987. Veganized.
Poetry: William Wordsworth
The World is Too Much With Us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
(Pictured: George C. Scott as the pre-transformed Ebenezer Scrooge from the 1984 TV film A Christmas Carol)