Rivers of Memory (3)

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Havilah extended beyond the fabled garden, beyond ‘Eden’. If it was the whole land mass that encompassed them then Havilah is Africa; a land of great stretches of deserts, savannah and rainforest, crossed and fed by rivers such as the Congo, the Nile and the Zambesi. The fertility of this region is steeped, as is all fertility, in water. Hunter-gatherer families followed it through the rich waterlands of the Great Rift Valley. This richly rivered region in the east of Africa led west to the Congo and east to the sea. Southward lay savannah, woodland and the Zambezi from which they had come. To their west, between them and the Congo, lay the far ridge of the Great Rift Valley rising to over two thousand feet, above the tree line, keeping them to the east. Through the Rift Valley itself ran the chain of rivers which fed Lake Kalahari. Lake Victoria however flowed out to the river that would become the Nile. And the Nile led them north.

‘The name of the second river is Gihon, it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.’
Genesis 2: 13

 The land of Cush is what we now call Ethiopia, where even older remains have been found, and Gihon the Nile or perhaps the narrow split which opened in the northeast of Havilah and has opened further since then to become the Red Sea which is growing even now. It drew our ancestors on, eventually to Mesopotamia: the land of the Hittites, Tubal, and the Sumerians; the gateway to the eastern arc of the fertile crescent and the country of Ararat. The naming of Assyria shows it was established by the time Genesis passed into written form.

Tigris and Euphrates

‘The name of the third river is Tigris which flows east of Assyria. And the name of the fourth river is the Euphrates.’                                                                                                                                         Genesis 2: 14

And so to the last of the great rivers associated with the genesis of humankind whose names we still know today: Tigris and Euphrates. Here the sequence of the rivers is broken. To get to the Tigris from Africa you must cross the Euphrates first, yet the Euphrates is placed fourth. The Tigris was the more important waterway. Ninevah, capital of Assyria, was built on its banks, as was Asshur, the city of the Assyrian god. The placing of the more important river first may be explained by the oral history having been written into this later historical setting.

The names of the earliest rivers are lost in prehistory, somewhere, long after the Taung child who was given the name Lucy,  between the time that language developed enough for us to tell stories and share memories and histories, and the development of writing, perhaps around the time long before writing, when we recorded our daily lives in cave paintings. Nowadays the name Pishon means a bouncing or jumping waterflow, conjuring pictures of falls and white water, whereas Gihon us a river that gushes on. The earlier root sounds may have had other meanings.

We will never know how much of the prehistoric oral record survives and how much is later addition, but we do know the history of our ancestors is rooted in these stories of ours as much as in our genes.

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Rivers of Memory (2)

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Pishon & Havilah

Pishon… that flows around the whole land of Havilah where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’
                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

These early names carry echoes of a homeland, Eden meaning pleasure. Havilah means stretch of sand, a dry or coastal land associated in the collective memory with dry savannah, desert or coastal dunes, yet watered by the waterways of our first home. Fertility in the midst of a parched land of fragrant gum trees, precious alluvial deposits and banded quartz. This memory, handed down orally from our earliest understanding of home, is earlier than the ‘Garden’ of Adam and Eve. That was not Eden; the garden was in Eden, a dim, half-recollected image of another land in the west, unnamed and scarcely understood, from which Eden was eastward.

The only thing we are told which might identify Havilah is that there was good quality gold there, and bdellyium and onyx. Gold must be panned or mined and refined. It must be melted, moulded and crafted; bdellyium is a fragrant resin or gum from which perfumes and unguents were made. Onyx is a dark, banded agate, often treated by immersion in sugar or honey solution for several weeks, then soaked in acid solution turning its natural colour to bands of black and white. A jewel in its own right, the dark and light layers lent themselves to the production of cameos. The worlds choicest supply is in Algeria; one of the earliest onyx quarries was in Egypt.

The story of Pishon and Havilla would have been an oral tradition from long before the development of writing. Gold, bdellyium and onyx imply a level of expertise, co-operation and sophistication way beyond what one would expect in such an early society, but this has become a written account. By the time of the development of writing these skills were well developed, and writers have always been ready to add an editorial comment, here illustrating the land of Havilah with products known to readers.

To come, the final part: rivers Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Rivers of Memory (1)

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

There are personal and race memories: the past, woven into the present in language, in relationships, and in stories. Words and names have roots in history. Etymology, the study of the origins of words, can throw light on the history of humanity. With what we know already, with archeology, palentology, and old stories that predate writing, we can get a glimmer, a tiny vision, of our past.

There were once four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

Pishon

‘A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon…’ Genesis 2: 10,11

In 1924 in the southern heart of Africa, limestone quarrymen in Taung in the Kalahari, found the skull of a female, early pre-human child, who lived and died there two and a half million years ago. Taung is some fifty miles from the African township of Bethlehem, but there was no Bethlehem then, no Taung, no Kalahari. We might not recognise the humanity in her family group with modern eyes, but it was there; tenacious, adaptable. They had survived for a million years and spread throughout Africa in the tropical rainforest through valleys and plains, following the provider of fertility: water. Today we have given these waterways names: the Orange River, the Limpopo, the Save, the Zambezi, and its tributary the Shire into which Lake Nyasa empties, falling, some fifty miles downstream, over the Kholombidzo Falls to the coast. As well as these great rivers there are lakes like seas. Lakes we call Tanganika, Rukwa, Jivu, Rwanda, Mobutu Kyoga, Turkana and many others. Greatest of all is Lake Victoria.

Somewhere here, in what is still among the most densely populated regions of Africa, early humans found their voice, language. We have few clues to the nature of their early speech: just a collection of root sounds common to later tongues, but home must have a name. Crows are said to have two main calls: kia! which signifies returning to their roost, and the deeper kaa! which signifies flying away from the roost to feed. These two cries can be heard in competition in any flock. They are voting. Whichever cry predominates determines the action of the flock.

One of the early root sounds in human language is pi, associated with drinking. Perhaps it came from the lapping sound. Another is a group of sounds all associated with water and beginning with s such as Spu: spit, sru: flow or stream and snu: to bathe, swim, float or flow. These sounds are not a language, they are roots from which language springs. Just possibly they had two sounds that joined meant home: pi-snu (drink-flow) or Pishon.

… the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’

                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Sea Waves

How shall we describe the world?
With what shall we compare it?

The world is like a sea
over which the wind blows.
Its ripples chase the wind and one another,
‘I am a standing wave!’
‘I am a running wave!’
‘This sparkling expanse is our world!’

None know of the depth beneath,
and little of the wind above,
or unbounded space and time
where other waveforms speed.
All fear the shore where they will die.

They are each a focus of the whole:
the depth below, the wind above,
the sea, the shore, the great beyond;
that symphony in which their echoes carry,
which makes the world ring,
where their souls sing
in harmony.

Harmony

On a clear still morning beside a pond
with clouds and trees mirrored in its face,
and rushes, and a lonely fishing place,
I watched a single dewdrop fall.

It fell from a leaf tip, back into its element
like a tiny buddhist soul.

Lost, I thought, lost in its destiny,
one with its own infinity
and all is still again.

And yet the surface trembled with its ring,
spreading, shimmering the clouds, the leaves,
the rushes and the fishing place;
spreading, reaching for the farthest shore.

And was it felt in the darker depths?
and echoed in that tiny ‘plop’ in my ear?
and in the air, and in the woods,
spreading forever to the farthest star,
seeing eternity
through the eyes of God?

The Self Creating Prayer

There is a moment
when egg and sperm become a fertilised cell.
Another before fission,
before one cell becomes two.

Another before the embryo becomes a foetus,
Before the first heartbeat,
the first formation of the brainstem,
the first input from developing eyes and nerves.

Until it ceases to be a foetus,
becomes an unborn child,
still entirely I
before the awareness that is we?

Flesh is translucent to light, carries sound.
The womb is warm, with room to move.
The inborn baby kicks,
sucks, feels, sees, hears.

It learns existence is co-existence long before birth.
Do we re-create this moment
in the fleeting moment of waking from sleep?

Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am,
flees before I am therefore there is other.
The awareness of one’s body in the world,
when I becomes we.

Existence is a common possession,
without which there could be no we.
It gives us our sum – our I am
our summa – our totality.
It sustains and guards us.

Language can be traced back
across continents, across times.
Sustain can mean feed
or provide continuing support.
feed and guard have the same root PA
from which by different routes
we get paternal and father.

There is a paradox.
The first father of whom we become aware
is our mother.

We co-exist in a world interdependent with us;
in which we live and breathe and have our being,
our all in all.

From the heart of I
to the farthest bounds of all our sight and knowing,
all that provides intimacy,
the wonder of our existence;
the familial closeness of child and parent,
within which we are constrained
and free,
calls for humility,
honour, respect and reverence;
all steeped in holy awe.

We renew it in our waking moments each day.

The I that seemed to be at its heart
is an echo of a greater I who keeps it all,
in whom we place our trust
our hopes for the coming day,
the feeding and guarding that a father provides:

Our Father …

All the Time in the World

Linespace

Concerning time we tend to ask,
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If time began with the Big Bang,
what happened before then?’
before when there was no before,
when there was not a when,

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
when never was was never found
nor ever was again.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If time began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very young,
we two, the world and I,
when time was nothing to be found,
except we heard a bugle sound
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the minutes turn to hours
and the passing of the clouds
is passing time.

Concerning space we tend to ask
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If space began with the Big Bang,
with what beyond did it compare?
beyond where there is no beyond,
where there is not a where?

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
where nothing there is ever found
nor ever will be there.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If space began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very small,
we two, the world and I,
when there was nothing else at all,
except we heard a bugle call
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the sky and space are ours
and the passing of the clouds
is far away.

Spacetime began with the Big Bang,
with no before or any where.
There must be something other.
Other than the world and I,
Other than the clouds and sky,
Other than the words we choose,
Other than the facts we use,
Other in the most extreme,
Other than all other.

Could that Other that is other
than this universe be nothing?
No time? No space? No thing?
A song we cannot sing?

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
a void, an emptiness.
An emptiness in what?
So we look for something else,
for something Other.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

In the heather banks of spacetime,
in the flower bells of space,
tiny quanta flicker and tiny quanta chase,
ghosts of Might and Might Not,
ethereal as lace.

We two, the world and I, are lost in idle chatter.
Matter in our cosmos has mirrored anti-matter.
Is the Other anti-universe?
The Other in the Looking Glass,
converse of our own converse?
Has it mind? And does it matter?

Matter and anti-matter
annihilate each other,
What would become of spacetime?
No more us and no more Other?
No-thing, no where, no when,
questions in a circle, circles in a round,
where never was was never found,
nor ever was again.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I,
and we talk again together
and ponder altogether
just what it is to die.

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
we look in an abyss, into an emptiness.
Asking emptiness in what?
always wanting something else,
something Other.

We two, the world and I,
have much to take and give.
We two were born a single kind
The world is home for humankind.
It is our home, we are its mind
we much search and we must find
just what it is to live.

We’re conscious here, why not the Other?
Years of searching, years of dreams,
for others here found nothing more.
Are we rarer than it seems?
Are we alone?

Mitochondrial DNA
has one root through all the Earth.
Cells of mosses and of trees,
spiders, antelopes and fleas,
the lion and the lamb, all these,
the fossil and the newborn babe
are each other’s families.

Only once was life’s seed sown,
in this dear Earth we call our own.
Once in this land and all its seas,
once in four-plus billion years,
with so slim chance are we alone?

We two, the world and I,
have much to give and take.
we lie and talk together
and still we wonder whether
If conscious mind is scarce to find,
what chance is there in Other?
Does it know? Is it awake?

Here the chance of consciousness
is cut by the click and chime,
of fourteen billion years or less,
but Other has all time.

Infinite is far without end.
Eternal, an ageless when.
If far is as far as the dice are cast,
and an age is as long as spacetime lasts,
and when all time and space is past,
the Other is beyond then.

More than ‘eternal’ and ‘infinite’,
Unbound by time and space
pervading here and now,
in every time and place,
distance, seconds, years, alike,
our world is a treasured seed
Other has all the room in the world,
Other has all the time it needs
to nurture and to weed.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.
And the sheep go grazing yonder,
while the world and I still ponder
how the bush that flamed with wonder
could speak in tones of thunder,

‘I AM what I AM.’