Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: The Memory of Man; Religious Psychosis

The Memory of Man

I saw two prides of sea lions on the rocks
Across a cove filled by a clear green sea.
I was alone. I sat there harmlessly
While pelicans flew by in ordered flocks.
I posed no danger, but the sea lions’ young
Looked warily at me with huge dark eyes
Of deep translucent black, and their surprise
Was soon confirmed by action. A pup hung
From the rock’s edge, then plopped into the sea.
His mother followed and the other young
Followed behind, while one male, unimpressed
Stayed on his back, lounging in luxury.
I wondered why the beasts became unstrung
Then recalled guns and clubs and all the rest.

Yesterday was a bad day. I had at least three weepy/weeping spells, two of them on the cliff across from the sea lions that made for the sonnet above. What really made me cry was the idea of God and an attempt at prayer. I have such feelings of rejection from the Almighty, and the idea of approaching him fills me with such a sense of unworthiness I can’t begin to describe it. I feel like a bug under glass, but smaller. It’s a feeling of primal abandonment which likely goes back to infant bonding issues with my mother, and is subsequently projected on that great screen, God. It’s a grief over a vacuum that persists from my adolescence and young adulthood. Back then I was such a fanatic I felt I had to have a message from God to do nearly anything of consequence.

For some strange reason I received the impression at the age of 17 that God wanted me to become a doctor. When I didn’t get in to medical school the first year with a 4.0 from UCLA, I felt betrayed—“Look, God, I’ve done all this work for you getting through college, working three jobs and the rest, and then you thwart the ambition you gave me?” I later realized this was the sin of presumption. But just when being a doctor began to make sense in the third year of my psychiatry residency, I fell into a severe depression that caused me to drop out. There went my hope to make something of being a doctor, something I could bear, as psychiatry dovetailed with the humanities. After this debacle, my primitive thinking was: “I tried to do God’s will, but he screwed me.” How could I be so special that God would screw me? All this demonstrates the narcissism of the depressive. When an infant does not have enough human bonding, he makes up people in his head, and his life revolves around his head instead of society. To the degree you were isolated in your earliest years, to that degree will your head fill with chatter as a substitute.

I know that my feelings toward God are opposed to Christian theology, but I can’t help how I feel. If I have a relationship with God it must be infantile on my part. Especially in depressions, prayer only makes me sadder. Yes, I did pray for myself yesterday. There’s no harm in that. But any emotional wholeness from a perceived contact with God is something I’ve never experienced. I wish for healing, of course, but at my age I settle for acceptance. This is how I’m built. My emotional wounds go way back to infancy. I project them on authority figures, even an authority figure presumably on my side.

Mental illness lends itself to hyperreligiosity and religious psychoses, in which I was an avid participant, though to be fair, I didn’t know of the illness that possessed me until I was 30.

One more thing: When I am well I like to say, “It is not I who have a relationship with God, it is he who has a relationship with me.” Let the burden be on the Almighty. He can take it, one assumes.

At 3 kilorats,



  1. good poem.

    last line, sums up most animal and man. not sure if there is much we haven't hunted in our history...

    as for the god stuff...
    i tend to find the idea of god wanting anyone to do anyone thing in particular, well, delusional...

    only one good thing springs to mind as far as religion goes, and that's the phrase, do unto others,
    a good philosophy, but the rest? imo,it's bunkam.

    i'm enjoying your poems, so keep up the good words :)

  2. ??? missed out hte word interaction after animal and man...

    silly me.

  3. You were understood the first time.

    I am completely open to other paths than Christianity; as I've said before, the sticking point is that I can't convince myself that it's not true. But in terms of individual direction, I agree; there may be saints with special callings--like a Ghandi or a Mother Teresa. That's for them to know. The idea of a "calling" in secular life has been favored by Calvinists, and may not be bad, as long as that calling accords with the impulses of the natural personality. But a supernatural calling to be a dentist or a doctor? That belongs in the looney bin.

    Myself, I always wanted to be a poet, but I entered adult life thinking God was opposed to anything I wanted, that the sacrifice of self and one's own wishes was a prerequisite for true faith. Boy did I get some lousy guidance when I was young.

    Thanks for commenting on the poem. Glad you liked it.

  4. I like the sonnet. You set up a very interesting scenario. I felt the final couplet wasn't as good as the rest of the poem.

    I don't think your comments are "opposed to Christian theology", mainly because there is no such thing as "Christian theology", only a vast number of theologies. Look at Job - was he not opposed to certain populist brands of theology (represented by his friends)?

    Job rejected these, correctly. It strikes me that many people who reject an entire belief/wisdom system as "bunkum" are rejecting the superficial, populist varieties of faith (the kind of "guidance" you got when you were young), and not its much deeper centre.

  5. well, if it's any consolation, i suspect you are a poet.

    even your comments on your depression are crisply written.

    and although i don't understand the structure of the various types of poetry you produce, imo, they are good.
    but then again...what's my opinion worth...


    well, they're bloody good anyway!

  6. Thanks for the read, Rob. It may be too general but there is an orthodox skeleton of Christian theology: virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection, etc.

    Was it the last couplet's form or substance that disappointed you? Would you prefer I left speculation open, not make a conclusion about the sea lions' flight?

    Inconsequential, your opinion is as worthy as another's; to know something I wrote impacted you, whatver your level of literary sophistication, means a great deal to me.

  7. Anonymous4:09 PM PST

    "...I can't convince myself that it's not true."

    That's right out of Tertullian, CE. "I can barely discern the chair in the dark corner of the room, so I'm reluctant to rule out the possibility it might be blue."

    I'd like to hear your thoughts on the passing of William Styron. Maybe a blog for another day?

    take care

  8. I see man's arrogance in the calm and understated ending to this poem..."oh yeah, guns and clubs and all the rest". One can almost hear the man dismissing the animals with a nonchalant "So, what's the big deal?".

  9. I very much liked your sonnet and the story, the form seemed to me not to infringe much on the poem at all - which is the way it's supposed to be (unlike mine)!

    As regards God's calling - I used to always be searching for His great plan and purpose for my life but I've since learned to look for His purpose in the here and now, in the eveyday - the people I meet, the conversations and situations I find myself in etc. Have you heard of Oswald Chambers? He lived around the beginning of the last century, died fairly young and his wife put together a daily readings book from his devotionals called 'My Upmost for His Highest' - I truly recommend it as an intelligent, biblical and intensly thought-provoking daily reading book.

  10. "Was it the last couplet's form or substance that disappointed you?"

    I wouldn't say I felt "disappointed" exactly. It's not bad. But you'd just introduced this very interesting sea lion who is unimpressed and stays where he is, contrasting with the actions of the others. That contrast isn't picked up in the couplet, and I thought it might have been worth trying to explore it.

    I don't mind the fact you're coming to a conclusion though, as the sonnet is told through the eyes of a curious narrator trying to make sense of the scene. But how does the conclusion make sense of the unimpressed sea lion?

    Other people seem to like the couplet a lot, so you're probably best to ignore me in this instance. I guess it's possible to see the reaction of the sea lions, both running or staying, as a very natural reaction in the face of potential violence.

  11. Sorlil--I know Oswald Chambers. His spiritual intensity is exactly what I don't need in depression, but thanks for the well-meant suggestion. I admire him as well.

    Rob, thanks for following up. I see what you mean. To me, the unimpressed sea lion was the only one to confirm the narrator's harmlessness, whether out of incaution, self-satisfaction, or knowledge. I think he is the sea lion of hope despite our past sins. But nothing is more unreliable than a poet interpreting his own poem after the fact. At least my sonnet wasn't as dark as yours! I won't forget the road kill sonnet soon, and recommend the experience to others.


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