Death: Symbol and reality

Death: Symbol and Reality 

Random Thoughts after reading 

The Seventh Seal by Igmar Bergman

January 1984

How right Professor Kreeft was when he spoke of the familiarity of the symbols used in The Seventh Seal. I really experienced nostalgia reading things like "women giving birth to calves heads" and "spewing up cut up worms and chopped off hands." Ah, yes, I remember it well... Like an old friend! The richness of the language of the psyche. The comfort comes in having these grotesque images to describe a flash of dread, a moment of psychic terror, and, once so absurdly concretized, made laughable. The devil cannot bear to be mocked!

I feel completely at ease and at home in a graveyard at midnight, but I think I would be struck with blind mortal horror if I had to walk into an abortion clinic at noon. I think I would be deafened by the silent cries in the air. Symbols are our friends; but the reality of carpeted, paneled waiting rooms, smiling receptionists, suspended ceilings and polished corridors would be too much for me to take. I would become obsessed with truth in that house of euphemism, and I would want to tell people things—things that only God should tell them; in His absolute mercy, His perfect wisdom and timing. And probably through the use of symbols—mercifully, in their sleep, especially the one biggest victim of them all: The woman.

I pray that the angels will escort her by the hand to her priest where she says, "Father, why am I waking up in terror?" I pray that he gives her the sacrament of the sick, because she'll need it. I pray that he knows what he's doing and has the very compassion of Christ, and knows something about healing of memories and the psychic devastation of mother-child amputation.

Believe it or not, I am not really a banner carrier for this cause. I hate the issue; I wish it would go away. Nor do I mean to come off sounding noble or dramatic or colorful in this paper; hypocrite I may be, I would ignore the matter if I could.  The reason I can't, to be honest, isn't my conscience (although I know abortion is wrong), isn't my heart (although it aches), isn't my mind (my head spins on the issue), but it is the way my body reacts to the issue. I remember being present at a lecture and film on the subject at a parish some years ago. (I just happened to be there at the time; I would not have made it a point to go.) I was intellectually fence-sitting on the issue as I watched and listened. Suddenly during the presentation I realized I was in a cold sweat and that I had to literally hold onto my chair with an act of cold will to keep from keeling over in a dead faint on the floor. This, no doubt, would have thrown a real wet blanket on the proceedings, although it would have been an excellent witness, now that I think of it....

I hate the politics of abortion; I hate the realities of abortion; I prefer my death in the form of symbols and metaphors. But metaphors, ultimately, are only symbols for reality. What I think my dizziness and lightheadedness were trying to tell me in terms of the connection between symbol and reality, was that each act of abortion had horrendous ramifications in that place where symbols come from, that place we need symbols to interpret. The results are like dropping a nuclear bomb into the pool of universal consciousness. This shock wave of death simply had to bubble up to the surface and call my attention to it simply because I was alive; and by symptoms of physical illness if nothing else would work.

The universal mind has always been a coy mistress, wooing us by means of symbols either romantic, or charmingly grotesque, to clue us, warn us, or soften the blow of the mysteries of life; but of late she is sounding desperate. There is a lot of scuttlebutt in the prophetic circles of the Church about a coming chastisement. I think the purpose of such a divine chastisement would be to scare people out of their wits back to God. These prophecies often conjure images of stars falling to Earth, Earthquakes, and so on. But wouldn't it be just as effective for God in His mercy to simply allow each person's inner being to collapse like rotten floorboards under the weight of its own sin? So that whether they were looking within or without they were peering into an abyss of non-being, from which there is no escape but to throw oneself prostrate before God in repentance? The universal mind, our once coy mistress, would no longer be sending fanciful enigmatic symbols, but rather bubbling up the wailings of a lamenting fishwife gone insane from being too much sinned against.

Symbol and reality... As we contemplate our antiseptic abortion clinics, let us pray for Grace and Mercy on our world, (and for our old friend the universal consciousness—I got a message that the old girl's in a bad way...). At least the Nazi death camps had the decency to look like hell holes.

© 1984, 2007, 2020 by John Mallon