January 16, 2010

The Spirits of Haiti

A tragedy of unthinkable magnitude has overwhelmed the poor island nation of Haiti, as every world-aware person has seen through the news. The loss of life and destruction is beyond imagination for people who live in nations that can afford decent infrastructure and code-built buildings. It's beyond the ken of nearly everyone who will be reading this blog post. It is a shock to the subtle web of connections that unites us all, knowingly or unknowingly, to those suffering people in Haiti, and to suffering people everywhere.

It's just in our human nature to help others, and in our nature to be thankful for our own fortunes, to be filled with joy at our own survival. But I've seen too much "us and them" thinking, all my life, especially with respect to disasters. I'm one of the "lucky" ones, as we are called; I live in one of the few nations on the planet where disasters strike with less frequency, one of the nations best equipped to deal with disasters.

What happened to Haiti wasn't just an earthquake. People are dying at the very same moment I'm typing these words not just because of an earthquake, but because their country can't build buildings safely enough, can't get clean water and medical aid and communications from place to place quickly enough, and can't keep social order easily enough. This disaster is multi-layered.

But most people just see it on the news, then change the channel. We're all part of this world. Even though my ceiling didn't collapse on me, and even though my children weren't killed by falling rubble, and even though clean, cold water runs straight from my tap in great abundance, I am not a "lucky one" who is far away from this. My body may be far from it, but my mind and spirit are involved, just like every other human being on this planet. It cannot be otherwise; the spirit of us far exceeds the simple boundaries of flesh that we ignorantly label as "the limits of my being". A human tragedy anywhere is my tragedy, and yours.

Maybe if everyone, all my life, hadn't told me "we're the lucky ones!" when something bad happened somewhere else in the world, I might have come to this conclusion earlier. Now, rage and grief and pain and terror fills the air in some other place, far to the south of me, and the air drinks it up. The sky drinks it up, the earth absorbs it. More of the human experience is pouring into the environment, integrating, and the world is remembering. This is my legacy, your legacy, everyone's legacy.

We have to drop these ideas of "lucky". It's fortunate that my house isn't destroyed, sure, but it isn't fortunate that my stability and all the fine distractions I have help keep me trapped in a cycle of self-interest, a cycle that makes disasters on TV and the internet just more morbid curiosities to be glimpsed from a secure distance. I want to help every Haitian parent who, like me, loves their children more than anything, and who have suffered the cruelest loss imaginable to a parent. But I feel so helpless.

And this feeling unites me, again, to the bulk of humanity who view this tragedy with shock and awe. Here is our human experience. And I wish I could say that was all; but no... among us, the most wicked of our number have raised their burned-out voices, voices that have croaked out so much filth in the past, and accused the Haitians of bringing this tragedy upon themselves because of the "satanic rites" of their ancestors. Pat Robertson, a man whose unutterable foulness has cost him his meaningful participation in the sacredness of human warmth, love, and life, has yet again gone on television and mingled his hate and ignorance with a discourse that should be focusing on compassion, sorrow, resolve, and help.

He does it for publicity; the media eagerly gives it to him. He did it on 9/11; he did it during Katrina; he'll do it again and again until his body dies. His soul and the principle that united him to mankind once has long ago fled. The most perniciously wicked of the protestant or Catholic flock- missionaries- have long tormented Haiti with their folk and native-culture destroying nonsense, their complete, disrespectful ignorance of Haitian Vodou and other native beliefs, and their spiritual condescension and imperialism.

Now, they'll line up in greater numbers, seeking to cash in on the natural grief and shock that follows any natural catastrophe. They'll answer Pat Robertson's call to save Haiti from the devil- but what Haiti needs is salvation from white Christians, most especially the ignorant protestant fools who pile there in narcissistic droves. No amount of "aid" they give to Haitians- or anyone else- is worth it, if the cost means alienating people from their native spiritual paths and their native cultures.

Let me set the record straight, although to be very certain, Jason over at The Wild Hunt has already set it straight: Haitian Vodou is not devilry or satanism. The brave ancestors who delivered the Haitians from slavery didn't make deals with any devil in return for victory; they prayed to the spirits of their ancestors and the Gods of their people in Africa. And they won. Vodou is good for Haiti, and for the world. It is one of the last remaining animistic faiths on the planet that has a presence in the midst of the materialistic and monotheistic west. It is a treasure to be preserved.

Does this earthquake have anything to do with Vodou? No, not at all. If we were to look for spiritual flaws in Haitian native spirituality to explain natural disasters, we would be forced as well to look to spiritual flaws in American or European Christianity, as well; no amount of Christiantiy, of any brand, has prevented even a single horrible disaster from befalling Americans or Europeans.

If Christians wish to ask where the Lwa were during Haiti's recent disaster, we have to ask where God and Jesus were during 9/11 or during Hurricane Katrina. We have to ask where God and Jesus were when the Oklahoma City bombing destroyed the lives of toddlers and infants in a daycare center in the federal building that was targeted.

Pat Robertson says that the Haitians brought this on themselves. He said that Katrina was also divine punishment. What did the toddlers in Oklahoma City do, to bring that on themselves? Perhaps I should email him and ask.

We can put aside God and Jesus, in the same place we put aside all wishful thinking. But spirits are another matter- the Lwa of Haiti are, unlike the inventions of churches, real spiritual forces, real non-human persons who exist and have a real relationship to human beings all over this world, and to many lands. Like the Gods of Old Europe, they cannot and do not control Fate, and do not fully control the tapestry of Nature, which is Fate's loom. Spiritual powers must bow to the great unfolding of events, as well. They are like humans in that way. They suffer their own tragedies, and they can suffer alongside us, and with us.

That's where the Lwa are now, suffering with their people. Perhaps they help now in their own powerful way. I have to believe that they have seen these sorts of tragedies many times, and have always helped in what ways they could. Perhaps in older times, people more in touch with the spiritual world could have seen a tragedy like this coming, but now, thanks in large part to spirit-denying and spirit-hating Christianity, the air is obscured with fear and ignorance.

The loom of Fate being what it is, some things in the unfolding of events are structured such that they cannot be known. These times, and events like these, test us, make us reconsider what is real and worthwhile. Perhaps the good that will come of this more than justifies what appears now. I hope so, and I believe so.

But there's more. In my estimation, it is not healthy or wise for millions of people to live jam-packed into crowded urban areas. It never has been and it never will be. If the population of Haiti- or anywhere that ever suffered a great flood or earthquake- was smaller and more spread out, such a disaster never would have reached these epic, shocking proportions.

What sort of unwisdom has gripped the world, that has forced people into overwhelmingly urban lifestyles, replete with over-stimulation of population growth, even in the most desperate of situations, and forced them into reliance not on natural wisdom, but the dullness of spiritual and political bureaucracies?

The answer is simple: organized religions that teach the myth of human exceptionalism and deny the animistic worldview, and the imperialistic, domineering governments they helped to create and support. Take that however you like. We're all victims of it, and the Haitians are with us, on the victims list. None of the victims of this earthquake chose to build a massive city on or near a fault-line. Those plans were laid out long before their births. This is another mundane factor that adds to this tragedy, and which is the fault of no one.

* * *

Haiti needs its spirits now. It needs to take shelter in living spiritual powers that are part of the land and people. It needs pride and hope for healing. It needs to see that other human beings are in heartfelt solidarity with it. It needs to build a better future from this tragedy. All tragedies are opportunities for better futures. The ways they have been thinking before can be changed now; how they have thought and acted before, influenced in unhealthy ways by unwise powers- this has gotten them nowhere. To repeat the mistakes of the past would only lay the groundwork for future catastrophes to have equally as horrendous impact.

I love the native, animistic spirituality of the Haitians. I respect it, admire it, and hope that it undergoes a new revival now that the world is having many myths about it dispelled through media scrutiny. I hope that churches in Haiti lose membership, now that the people can see that no God is looking out for them, with the power to control natural forces- if he is, he is surely not worth their worship; after all, putting aside the innocent men, women, and children who were wiped out in less than a minute, "God" also either destroyed, or allowed to be destroyed, the great Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, and saw to the death of the Archbishop of Haiti.

Only one religion for humans- the religion of spirits- can stand up in times of tragedy like this. The spirits didn't cause this; they must dwell among natural powers, too, and cannot redirect some things. They can only help as far as they are able, like human beings can only help as far as they are able. Spirits are parts of this unpredictable system, just like humans. That's solid. That's a faith you can trust. No one is to blame for this earthquake; it is part of the natural shifting of forces. There is no divine punishment here. There is no guilt here. There is only the natural indifference of energy and grinding tectonic plates.

And, amid the strange and sometimes dangerous weave of reality, exist we humans and the beings in the unseen world, and all the other living powers seen and unseen. Here we are, all together, none more fortunate or less fortunate, none better or worse, save those whose ignorance has led them into soul-extinguishing depths of evil and unnatural disconnection.

We're all in this together. We are our best strength, together.

There is no "one God beyond all Gods" or "one real God" who will lift a finger to stop tragedy or alleviate it, as disasters like this prove. We humans cannot and must not put our responsibility to being together, helping together, and fighting together for a better day, in the hands of an imaginary being.

Those who must pray for extraordinary help, should ask the unseen powers that swirl, even now, around these tragedies. They may be able to help. Beyond that, every human must look to their own innate personal force and to whatever love they feel for others and this world. That's all, and that has to be enough. A person can do no more, and the universe never expects a part of itself to do more than it was shaped capable of. We have to find peace in that.

We must not judge tragedies as though they were the work of a big, angry being in the sky; we must not judge other humans on the basis of their tragedies. We have to judge them on the basis of our shared humanity. To fail in this would be to fail in everything that is meaningful or proper to humanity.

May the Lwa bless Haiti and all people who suffer. May Haiti recover from this tragedy and have a better future. May my sorrowing heart find peace. May my own heart explode and turn to ash if it can spare even one Haitian mother the terror and despair of a dead or missing child. May my heart perish in that same way if it can spare any human mother, anywhere, that same pain. May every parent who has had to see their children slain or killed one day know the peace of communion with those children again, in the reaches of life beyond this one.

I am not a "lucky one." I'm a human, connected to every other human that lives. That makes me lucky and unlucky- for I share the fortunes and luck of human beings out there, and the misfortunes of humans out there. In times of tragedy such as this, let the deep parts of me that I do not know reach back and help alleviate the suffering of others. Whatever hidden powers or graces I have, let them leave now and fly swiftly to the aid of others who need it. If they never come back, let them outlive me in their good work.