There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house--for I have five brothers--that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.'He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' Luke 16:19-31
About This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation
Of course the chasm divides us here and now. A chasm in education, opportunities, justice, access to healthy food and clean water. Today is Judgment Day!
But what if we don't care? What if we have no conscience at all?
Martin Luther writes,
Therefore we conclude that the bosom of Abraham signifies nothing else than the Word of God, …. the hell here mentioned cannot be the true hell that will begin on the day of judgment. For the corpse of the rich man is without doubt not in hell, but buried in the earth; it must however be a place where the soul can be and has no peace, and it cannot be corporal. Therefore it seems to me, this hell is the conscience, which is without faith and without the Word of God, in which the soul is buried and held until the day of judgment, when they are cast down body and soul into the true and real hell. Church Postil 1522-3 Conscience may move me to activism to strive for justice and sacrifice to seek peace - assuming I have a conscience at all. But if I keep myself from seeing Lazarus at the gate, or choose to ignore him, my conscious need not trouble me, just as "Dives" settles into the warmth beside his fire in Melville's piece (Meditation One) or as the fashionable stroll in the park in gorgeous silks as in Norton's sonnet (Meditation Two).
Chasms form not only between rich and poor, but over religion, politics, customs, access to knowledge. In the third prompt for meditation an awakened conscience torments Salieri many years after the death of Mozart in Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus. Envy creates a chasm between genius and mediocrity. Salieri's conscience opened hell for him in the bosom of his success (Meditation Three). There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all. - Ogden Nash
Meditation One (introit) Drinks the Tepid Tears of Orphans
Euroclydon!* says old Dives, in his red silken wrapper—(he had a redder one afterwards) pooh, pooh! What a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals.
But what thinks Lazarus? Can he warm his blue hands by holding them up to the grand northern lights? Would not Lazarus rather be in Sumatra than here? Would he not far rather lay him down lengthwise along the line of the equator; yea, ye gods! go down to the fiery pit itself, in order to keep out this frost?
Now, that Lazarus should lie stranded there on the curbstone before the door of Dives, this is more wonderful than that an iceberg should be moored to one of the Moluccas.* Yet Dives himself, he too lives like a Czar in an ice palace made of frozen sighs, and being a president of a temperance society, he only drinks the tepid tears of orphans.
-Herman Melville 1819-1891 Moby Dick
* Eurclydon: 1. a stormy wind from the north or northeast the occurs in the Levant, which caused the ship in which St. Paul was traveling to be wrecked (Acts 27:14) 2. any strong wind
* Moluccas: Spice Islands, Indonesia
Dives and Lazarus, Master of the Codex Aureus Epternacensis, c1035
That rich man, when he finished with an illness of delights, came into one of torments. That poor man, on the other hand, finished with illness and arrived at perfect health. But what he got afterward, he chose here; and what he reaped there, he sowed here.
- Augustine 354-430, Sermon 97
Rich Lazarus! richer in those gems, thy tears, Than Dives in the robes he wears: He scorns them now, but oh they'll suit full well with the purple he must wear in hell.”
-Richard Crashaw 1613-1649
Dives and Lazarus, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestar's Bible Historiale, 1372
Meditation Two (insight) Little They Think
Little they think, the giddy and the vain, Wandering at pleasure 'neath the shady trees, While the light glossy silk or rustling train Shines in the sun or flutters in the breeze, How the sick weaver plies the incessant loom, Crossing in silence the perplexing thread, Pent in the confines of one narrow room, Where droops complainingly his cheerless head:- Little they think with what dull anxious eyes, Nor by what nerveless, thin, and trembling hands, The devious mingling of those various dyes Were wrought to answer Luxury's commands: But the day cometh when the tired shall rest, - Where weary Lazarus leans his head on Abraham's breast! Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton 1808-1877 Sonnet xiii, The Weaver
Meditation Three (integration) Tormented Conscience
Salieri: I remained in Vienna- City of Musicians - reverenced by all. And slowly I understood the nature of God's punishment! … What had I begged for in that church as a boy? Was it not fame? … Fame for excellence? … Well now I had fame! I was to become- quite simply- the most famous musician in Europe! I was to be bricked up in fame! Embalmed in fame! Buried in fame - but for work I knew to be absolutely worthless! This was my sentence: I must endure thirty years of being called "Distinguished" by people incapable of distinguishing! -Peter Shaffer b. 1926 Amadeus The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul. -John Calvin 1509-1564
The Last Word
There is no witness so terrible and no accuser so powerful as conscience which dwells within us. -Sophocles 497/6-406/5 BCE
My Own Chasm of Conscience
I went to a party recently and all the drinks were served in non-recycalble plastic cups. I was shocked.
Giant swirls of broken down plastic poison the world's oceans and the creatures within it up and down the food chain. It's raining micro plastics in the arctic, on mountaintops in Colorado, anyplace where such tests are done. Once you know this, your conscience is forever raw. Some plastic purchases I can't avoid. But where does the plastic go when I throw it away? Some gets recycled. But the oceans get worse and naturalists from Jane Goodall to Sylvia Earle won't eat fish. Ever.
I feel privileged to have lived and worked with people for whom the purchase, the care of, and the disposal of material goods is carefully discerned. Such small sacrifices! But the awareness of our American profligate lifestyle - even when we're trying - is painful.
The clothes I'm wearing right now? Who made them, and where, and under what conditions?
And my wonderful computer and cell phone - have I made reparation for the direct link to war in Central Africa for the coltan (columbite-tantalite) necessary to create my communication toys? And what of that evil weapon of this war in particular- mass rapes of women. What can I do? At least I can begin with awareness and prayer and support of those helping at the women's hospitals in DRC (Congo) and keep in touch through activists and medical personnel serving them. It isn't much, and it doesn't feel good, and self-righteousness does not enter into it.
Okay, I'm sparing you reading my lists of other guilts I carry just by virtue of enjoying this culture of consumption and waste. Of course I'm a consumer down to my bourgeois bones. The chasm between Dives and Lazarus is in me.
Why do I go out of my way to know these things when I could have a clear conscience by not knowing? (So easy in our culture!) Why would I rather know and feel guilty and miserable than not know and accept what is easy and at hand? I suppose it has to do with being alive. I want to be alive. I want to continually wake to Reality. It has to do with human responsibility. And I suppose it has to do with love. I share this human adventure for good and evil. But I'd better know the evil if I'm luxuriating in the good.
If I strive to discern truth, I can gather my guilt and pain into my prayer and present at least this pathetic little offering from my heart to the bosom of Abraham.
In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
May Angels lead you into paradise; may the Martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of Angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.
A good conscience is a continual Christmas. -Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790
And, for a completely different twist- To Dives
Who am I to condemn you, O Dives, I who am as much embittered with poverty As you are with useless riches?