When I put on my watch it makes me look smaller in the mirror. My wrists shrink, my hand becomes, misshapen, thick-veined, wrong-looking. I can hear the insect sound of the second hand ticking. How many seconds until my hearing goes? How many seconds between this one and the hour of my death? How many thousand, how many million? There are roughly 2 billion seconds in the median lifespan of an American citizen. It’s been about 900 million seconds since I was born. I follow the seconds back like stepping stones, to the year I spent in the office on the fourth floor, sleeping under a desk, with clothes and hygiene products in the bottom drawer. I would listen to the Gospel of John on my computer, trying to gently force myself unconscious.
That time–and the things I came to understand then, the book I was reading over and over during that period–opens before me. I step over the sill of the closet, cross beneath the lintel into the darkness of that time. The light socket screwed into the ceiling is bulb-less. And the book is like a chinese box that folds and unfolds, locks and unlocks forever, for as long as I vainly attempt to fiddle with it.
Some drawers are plain. Some drawers have brass mounts in in fleur-de-lys like patterns of brass, screw dotted petals, capping the corners of each drawer. There are small drawers, and drawers with wide faces; shallow drawers, slender drawers of surprising depth, deep and skinny as the barrel of an arquebus.
I open the drawers, and the drawers in the sides of drawers. I pull out, and swing to the side tall columns of drawers, which rotate on thick iron hinges. And I keep going. I keep opening and unlocking, until I am backed out of the closet. I open cabinets and cabinets within the cabinets, drawers within drawers within the cabinets. In my exploration of the box’s innards, I find a number of interesting artifacts.
The feather of an unimaginable bird, of vivid colors, lies at the bottom of a long slender drawer. It has a tennis ball colored shaft or rachis and canary colored barbs with a dappling or brilliant orange along the inner and outer vanes. In another drawer I find the skeleton of a tiny baby tiger. It’s packed away in a series of labelled manila envelopes: femur, 1st thoraic vertebra, T7, tarsals etc. It takes me quite awhile to reassemble the thing. It can’t have lived long. Deeper in, I find–floating in jars which had originally been filled with different types of baby food tiny reptile specimens floating in formaldehyde. They belong to a genus and species with which I am not familiar. I find cakes of soap in silver-gilt jadeite boxes of octagonal form, with tiny pearls inlaid along the borders of each green plaque. I find fireworks–unexploded ordinance–their gunpowder wrapped variously patterned brocade cases, secured by a sash tied in a bow. I open a drawer–its almost like a card-catalog drawer–whose bottom is buried beneath a thick layer of ash.
All of this happened during the year when I heard the Gospel of John. I don’t mean that it happened during a year when I listened to some section of the Gospel of John at a church service and–due to that oddly assembled text’s profound effect upon me–I therefore remember that year as, “The year when I heard the Gospel of John.” No. When I talk about “the year when I heard the Gospel of John,” I am referring to a period of time which lasted actually a little bit more than a year, when I played the Gospel of John through from beginning to end twice nightly, catching bits and pieces of it consciously, and absorbing every edge and thimbleful of the text in endless repetitions semi-consciously.
That year the Gospel of John sat next to me while I struggled at the edge of sleep, swimming the butterfly stroke between Beta and Theta so to speak, jackknifing repetitively just above and then just below the surface of slumber. The version of the Gospel of John that I listened to–or at least heard–almost every night that year, either once or twice, played about 3 and a half hours from beginning to end. Which means that I was listening to (or at least on some level hearing) the Gospel of John about 7 hours a day, most days.
I would estimate–roughly, very roughly–that I spent around 5100 hours hearing the Gospel of John during a period of about 18 months. During that time the frequency of my hearing the Gospel of John crescendoed and decrescendoed. There was a long period in the middle when I listened to the Gospel of John twice a night, every night, virtually without fail. I would lie down. Turn it on. I would start to drift. When it stopped I would either suddenly realize that, disturbingly, I was still near full consciousness, or if I wasn’t I would wake up at that point. And then I would start the movie over, close my eyes again. When it came to an end the second time, it was time to rise and continue…existing?
At the beginning of these 18 months, I was losing my mind, marginally employed and alone in an apartment in the midwest at the onset of winter. By the end of this time, I was still losing my mind, only now I was in DC on the fourth floor of an office building near K St., which if that street name is unfamiliar to you, it’s where all the lobbyists hang out in our nation’s capitol. When I finally lost my mind completely, it left me sitting on a stone bench underground somewhere in a tunnel. It was such a relief. People passed in fussy, constantly colliding arcs, whose ends and beginnings would remain forever outside of my field of vision. My hands hung loose at my sides, knuckles on the stone and palms loosely opened up towards the ceilings. What was I supposed to do with my hands? Why should I even have hands, hanging there at the end of my arms? It didn’t matter anymore. I no longer cared. What a sweet fucking relief to no longer have to worry about that. Somewhere up above me, aboveground, it must have been late spring. Nothing meant anything, and everything could just as well have been anything, could have been anyone else.
Why they weren’t that other thing which they just as easily could have been was a question whose answer no longer held much interest for me. I would continue to be dragged along towards my destiny like a dead horse, an iron filing sliding diagonally into place within the quiet flowering of a magnetic field. So I probably got up and rode the escalator up and I bought a hot dog and down the street I spent my last dime on a copy of the New York Times and a cup of coffee and I went to the Circle Club to huddle in amongst the others who’d come to confess.
When I first read the Gospel of John, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I found that I continued to be even more surprised, with each reading/listening. With each encounter. I would be sitting on my blue couch starting at the plaster stippling the ceiling. Or I would be sitting at my desk, staring across the battered plane of oak at the spines of my books lined up along its edge where it was flush with the wall. And I would feel like there was something else in the room, someone else. And if it was really there, then I was the ghost that was haunting it and not the other way around. I felt like a creature that had developed optic receptor nerves that registered light, long before the eye evolved around the stripped and rudimentary wiring through which it filtered the world. I felt, on the other hand, like maybe those eyeless, microscopic creatures had known something–without knowing it–that I didn’t.
I would burn sage in a tea-ball and wave it around in front of me as I paced the shitty blue carpet. I would return again and again to the desk, to double-check a passage here or there and then return to my pacing in the room. In the room, in the middle of the night, with the lamp turned on, and my reflection framing the darkness and the blue crust of snow beneath it outside the window, on the other side of the glass.
I read a lot of books about the book. About the Gospel of John, that is. There are at least many theories about how the thing was put together as there are scholars. I have never heard a compelling case made for there being a single author that didn’t stink of self-righteous, self-aggrandizing piety, and willful ignorance. The story that makes the most sense to me goes like this:
There was some person who actually knew Jesus. Not sure exactly who, but it wasn’t John Zebedee. It may have been John Mark, the naked boy who ran away the night of the arrest down a dark aisle in Gethsemane. It may have been some random disciple who wasn’t around for much of the ministry until the end, and who wasn’t among the twelve. Probably his name was John, or Yohannon.
He must have given some testimony, or it’s possible that he wrote something down near the end of his life about his experiences with and thoughts about Jesus from Nazareth (Yeshua min Nazareth). This became the skeleton of the Gospel. It was later fleshed out by others. Most likely most of the heavy lifting was done by a leader in a monastic community in Ephesus during the early second century and then bits and pieces were added and the thing was shuffled, a lot of stuff about John the Baptist was cut out and the final version ultimately compiled by a number of people. It would be canonized in the 4th century. It is the only Gospel in which Jesus seems to be explicitly, and more or less consistently identified with deity. However Jesus says at one point, “The father is greater than I am.” He says a number of things throughout the Gospel that thoroughly screw up the whole Athanasian creed about the Trinity. On the other hand the only phrases and passages which could really be considered compelling evidence for the Athanasian creed also appear in John, especially in the first chapter.
It seems to me that the first chapter of John and the Special Theory of Relativity are talking about the same thing.
The Trinity is a word that doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. Other people made it up, centuries later.
Trinity was however, in point of fact, the top secret code name for the first detonation of a Nuclear device, in an area of New Mexico called Jornada del Muerto. Jornada del Muerto is Spanish for “the route of the dead man” or “the day-long journey of the dead man.” Something like that).
Here is a video of the Trinity test:
The first hydrogen bomb was 100 times more powerful than the Trinity bomb. The warheads we have today are 4000 times more powerful.
We are broken. We are ontologically broken. We are irremediably, psychically and genetically in a state of self-nullifying contradiction and paradox. Realizing this came as a relief at the time. It still is a relief, when I think about it. At least in terms of its explanatory power as a lens through to look at the universe.
What do I mean? For example:
In the Gospel of John there is no institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Which is a fancy way of saying that the author(s) of John make no overt indication that they were aware of the fact that the night before Jesus was crucified, he passed around bread saying, “This is my flesh,” and passed around a cup of wine saying, “This is my blood,” and told them, “When you break this bread and drink this cup, do this in remembrance of me.”
This is a real problem. Especially for people (such as myself) who are convinced by arguments for the primacy of John. The primacy of John is the theory the earliest draft of John–the skeleton which remains visible but buried inside of the final draft–is the earliest written account and is probably the only account where one of the authors was an actual, living witness of the events described. The other Gospels are based on the memories of later disciples remembering the accounts of witnesses which they may have heard some time ago. Etc. Etc. So if you believe in the primacy of John, you look at John 6, where Jesus says, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood,” and he seems almost desperate, like he’s trying to communicate but not getting his point across and many of his disciples leave him because they think he’s lost his mind. You look at that, and you think, “Well maybe that’s what really happened, and they just cut and pasted that part into the last supper. Or maybe both? But if both, wouldn’t the message at the last supper have been redundant? So then–did that not happen at the last supper?”
But this brings up a deeper problem: if our understanding of the last supper is flawed, than we can’t know anything. It is the only event where all of the key witnesses and one or more of the actual authors of the gospel are actually, definitely, simultaneously present. It is here where the agitated and probably frightened Jesus tells the disciples: “Don’t you understand? This is it. The thing you’ve been waiting for? It’s happening now. You want to know God? You’re looking at God. You are as close to the center of the universe as you’re going to get.”
To anyone who knows the gospels well, letting go of the last supper is a little bit like peeling the banana and then throwing away the fruit instead of the peel.
But that’s the way it is. The one person who is supposed to be whole, is shattered, is fragmented, is a broken mirror of discontinuities. The one person whose life force flows indestructibly from before all worlds is tortured and murdered. Who spoke the stars into space is not heard, is misunderstood. Unsurprisingly, perhaps. He is broken. There are four Gospels, not one. And more than four authors. And any one of the the authors–even where there is a single, clear voice speaking alone, it will inevitably contradict itself. They are broken things. He is a broken thing. When we look at him, we realize that we are broken too.