Abdiel’s Party

“In my case, I found that my interest was most vividly caught by the meaning of the temptation-and-fall theme. Suppose that the prohibition on the knowledge of good and evil were an expression of jealous cruelty, and the gaining of such knowledge an act of virtue? Suppose the Fall should be celebrated and not deplored? As I played with it, my story resolved itself into an account of the necessity of growing up, and a refusal to lament the loss of innocence. The end of human life, I found myself saying, was not redemption by a non-existent Son of God, but the gaining and transmission of wisdom. Innocence is not wise, and wisdom cannot be innocent, and if we are going to do any good in the world we have to leave childhood behind.”

-Phillip Pullman, “The Sound and the Story Exploring the World of Paradise Lost.” The Public Domain Review. December 11, 2019.

I read Milton’s Paradise Lost over two decades ago. And while I loved it, my interest was most vividly caught by the scene of Abdiel, a single voice among the infinite host of the rebelling angels, who rose up to answer Satan’s arguments, and stood alone against him:

"Among the faithless, faithful only hee;
Among innumerable false, unmov'd,
Unshak'n, unseduc'd, unterrifi'd
His Loyaltie he kept, his Love, his Zeale;
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind
Though single. From amidst them forth he passd,
Long way through hostile scorn, which he susteind
Superior, nor of violence fear'd aught;
And with retorted scorn his back he turn'd
On those proud Towrs to swift destruction doom'd."

Everyone imagines that they would stand up, as Abdiel did, against the mob in the cause of what is right. Everyone wants to believe that they are, or could be, the guy who refused to join in the Nazi salute:

But, maybe there can be only one. Or, they are only few and far between. Like the appearance of a Buddha or a Bodhisatva living in limbo, trying to save everyone.

I like to imagine that Abdiel, in a scene not in Paradise Lost, arguing against God, his Son and the heavenly Host about throwing Satan and the other rebelling angels into Hell, and just as he resisted the rebelling angels, he remained as the only rebelling angel in Heaven, a loyal Opposition.

Note: Standard Ebooks has a good epub edition of Paradise Lost. There is also a BBC Paradise Lost audio drama from 1993 available via Archive.org.

Just Follow My Example

The number of days since I left the world and
Entrusted myself to Heaven is long forgotten.
Yesterday, sitting peacefully in the green mountains;
This morning, playing with the village children.
My robe is full of patches and
I cannot remember how long I have had the same bowl for begging.
On clear nights I walk with my staff and chant poems;
During the day I spread out a straw mat and nap.
Who says many cannot lead such a life?
Just follow my example.

-John Stevens, trans. "One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan." New York: Weatherhill, 1977. Pg. 55.

Pity the Feeling

On top of Everest, in my mind,
a dark cloud, lightning blasts, 
a hurricane of controversies, unwind
below, nonsense sea, fish net casts.

The Sherpa is fishing about
prefers an understanding cartel.
Procrustean commodities—easier without 
a heart, a totalitarian Tinkerbell.

Feelings, the repugnant social Other,
are the dream within the dream.
Before we think, we must feel, brother,
a mind | heart alone, cannot reign supreme.

Uncle Walt

“To be servile to none, to defer to none, not to any tyrant known or unknown…

No fumes, no ennui, no more complaints or scornful criticisms,

…And nothing exterior shall ever take command of me.”

—Walt Whitman, “A Song of Joys.” Leaves of Grass.

h/t Daily Stoic.