A few observations about the near end of the world, yesterday

1. It was an effective campaign. People everywhere noticed the billboards, the ads, and seemed to be talking about the rapture/end of the world happening at 6 p.m. yesterday. And I don’t mean just the talkers on Facebook and Twitter, the ordinaries on the street, like you and me. This got itself an article on the editorial page of our city newspaper, for example, and a news report in… well, last time I checked, there were more than 4800 articles that appeared in various media. I wonder why this grabbed so much attention?

2. I have no sense of humor. Of course it was bizarre. Of course I knew it wouldn’t happen. (Didn’t we all, except those poor deluded people who did?) But I just couldn’t get into a ha-ha or mockery mode over this. I wasn’t surprised by the jokes from the secular folks, but I was surprised, I have to say, by all the jokes from Christians. I don’t know why I’m feeling just a little cranky about that, but I am. Maybe I just wish we’d laugh as hard over the false prophets behind the ads for cereal, cars, Tim Hortons, you name it, that promise transcendence, the good life, justice through consumption.

3. On May 22, the end is still near. At least for me. Memento mori. (Remember that you must die. Remember your mortality.) Lord, have mercy.

4. A poem by Czeslaw Milosz posted by Debra Dean Murphy at her Facebook page touched me the most in the days leading up to May 21. I don’t pretend to understand what the poet intends here — I find it provocative, really — but it has me reflecting on everything so new and green this Sunday after two days of rain, and the meaning of “End,” and how we might expect yet still overlook it. With thanks to DDM for the link, here’s “A Song on the End of the World” by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Anthony Milosz. It was written in 1944, that is, in the context of the Second World War.

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be. 

7 thoughts on “A few observations about the near end of the world, yesterday

  1. Good thoughts, Dora, and I like the poem. On the humour thing, I plead guilty for laughing at the jokes of others, and even for making light myself. I wonder whether it’s our mechanism for coping with heavies, like death, disaster, and unknown, worrisome futures. For me, back of the humor was always an underlying sadness–at the gullibility of people, the human capacity for deception. I was dismayed to read the lament of a worker at Family Radio that $100 million dollars had been spent on the May 21 campaign. That could have helped thousands of people in developing countries start their own businesses. And let’s not be too harsh on the people who fell for this; don’t we all, to some extent, identify with Jesus’ disciples who wished he would reveal just a bit more of The Divine Plan. We may not be so desperate to have the Plan nailed down, but at least we have whispy thoughts. And maybe that’s why we laugh–and sigh, maybe cry; these false prophets just amplify those insecurities that make us human.

    • I appreciate your analysis of this, Byron, including the laughter — I think you’re right. I certainly don’t want to appear to be finger-wagging at others, surprise notwithstanding. Sadness. Yes, and maybe some nervousness too. If your analysis explains the laughter, maybe it’s similar for the not-laughing. I’ve been reflecting on why I was reacting the way I did, and wonder if it was the vestiges of a certain fundamentalism in my own child/youth environment, a kind of defensiveness, because “their” claims, misguided as they were, were nevertheless “close to home.” As you also point out.
      All in all, I find the whole event, or non-event as it were, except for the $ 100 million spent and a fresh round of date-setting, thought-provoking in terms of North American culture and the collective and individual psyche.

  2. Thanks for this Dora. I share your sentiments, especially with respect to #2. I can understand and, to some extent, appreciate the mockery and ridicule of people like Fred Phelps who burn Korans and fuel violence and hatred, but Harold Camping? As easy as it is to poke fun and smile knowingly, the hope for a mighty act of God to right wrongs and usher in what is new and good certainly resonates. And, as you say, it’s far easier to mock outlandishly false prophets than it is to identify the more subtle variety that we listen to every day.

  3. I share your ambivalence around the Camping story. Somehow when a deviant Christian does something like this we all feel tainted by it. I think it is partly because we feel that this end of the world impulse is somehow uniquely Christian. What annoys me most is that the same scorn does not seem to be heaped on the Nostradamus or Mayan end of the world predictions. Oh well . . .

  4. Love that poem. Thanks
    There is another option in thinking about end times. It is the sense of No Future. This is often an aspect of the lock-in of the post-traumatic experience.
    When you have time, I would appreciate your comments as I have tried to explore PTSD in one biblical framework.

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