February 18, 2011

A Child's Questions, Lovecraft, and God

Like a lot of people, I received an Amazon Kindle e-reader for Christmas. I've really enjoyed it and have found several uses for it. One of my favorites is that it is for me like an ever-accessible version of the bin of random paperbacks at a used book store. So I've used it to pick up--mostly for free--all kinds of random old things I might want to read or read once again. One of these was a big collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories for only a couple of dollars.

I was really into Lovecraft for a spell in my middle teen years, and as I've read a few of these odd stories once again, full as they are with both fantastical beings and pointedly conservative old New England prejudices, I have wondered why they were once so enjoyable for me. I think I have an idea.

When I was little, like during recess in elementary school, I used to wonder idly sometimes about a lot of questions I had. Some of these were cosmic. Why was there something instead of nothing? What would it be like if there was nothing? I used to be fascinated by how hard it was to think about it. Others were about how the world seemed to be set up. If fog was the same thing as clouds, as I was told, why did the two look different? Did the water in the ocean go all the way to the bottom? How come you could sometimes feel the air, and sometimes not, but you could never see it? How come if you thought about it, you had to breathe on purpose or hold your breath and die (as I was told) but at other moments you realized that you were breathing all along without thinking about it? Still other questions, and in some ways the most interesting and frustrating ones, centered around my experience as an individual self-consciousness. Could this particular self-consciousness--which I am--have been born in another place or time? Or could it only have come to exist in these particular historical circumstances? When I was dead, I was told, it would be just the same as before I was born. But could that be?

I don't mean that I had the proper language for these questions at the time; mostly I felt them more than I was able to articulate them. Not having the language, my attempts to ask adults about them were mostly pointless. I remember in particular that when I tried to ask questions about the 'individual self-consciousness' I only had language to talk about particularity in terms of location and vision, and so I talked about my 'outlook.'

All this is just to say that ever since I was little I have had a kind of sense that there is more to the story, that we live in the midst of a much larger reality and history of which we are only dimly aware in our day-to-day lives. This is very much the sense one gets in Lovecraft; there is much 'more to the story,' to the history of the earth and the cosmos, and it is very, very sinister and will threaten your sanity even to become aware of it for a moment.

A few years later in life I would realize that the 'more to the story' of which I had always been aware and curious about at some level, was the Ground of all being that religious people call 'God.' Far from being sinister, this 'more to the story' was entirely benevolent. As one of my professors likes to translate what the medievals call the benignitas of God, it is 'aggressive goodness.' I was grateful to discover that this reality, which turned out to be more a reality than anything else, could be stepped into through the Word made flesh. And so I got to be the Christian.


Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I used to wonder about what it was about this place and time that placed me here as opposed to any other past or future part of the vast timeline of humanity. That would later translate into Why me? Why here? Why now? Why my parents? and all the other people in my life at any given point in time? Unlike you, the mysteriousness of the question and my complete lack of possible comprehension led me not to God, but to Agnosticism. I knew my mind was limited, hence I stopped wasting my time thinking about something I couldn't possibly comprehend. There could be a God and there couldn't. I couldn't reconcile it one way or another, so I stopped thinking about it. It was sin that reopened the door to God. That's why I'll sometimes say that it wasn't me who found God, but that it was God who found me.

Brother Charles said...

Brilliant! It is always an optical illusion of the interior eyes to imagine that we have found God. We are found by Him, or find ourselves in His Light. Peace.

G.B. Sadler said...

I too was fascinated with Lovecraft's stories as a kid, and I think for some of the same reasons. His fiction addressed those "bigger picture", "more to the story" questions -- albeit in an ultimately unsatisfactory manner. they had what we might call metaphysical depth, and they coupled that -- as any good scheme ought to -- to some moral narratives as well.

I was fortunate enough to have somewhat more sophisticated adults to ask questions to -- but their usually rote, fairly unthinking answers were for me rather dull, so they were unsatisfying. I may very well, of course, have missed what they were actually saying, not been open to it, etc. So, Lovecraft's fiction, at least in an imaginary way, satisfied some basic desires.

I went back several summers ago and started rereading his texts. They did still hold up as interesting fiction, but seemed distanced, one might say, from the thoughts I dwell with most in the present, having come back to the Church and become a Catholic philosopher.

Sara said...

I was also a Lovecraft fan as a kid! I know just what you mean about the bigger picture. Reading his stories I felt so puny.

4narnia said...

i wasn't a fan of Lovecraft (or even of reading much) i'm more of a visual person. although i have read about a few favorite saints, the chronicles of narnia and i always read and pray with Sacred Scripture. i agree, Fr. C, that we don't find God, but that He finds us. PAX! ~tara t~

Barb, sfo said...

Kindle freebies: www.ereaderiq.com/free
Continuously updated!

I know what you mean about the "bargain bin." My kindle is the same way, and I am a big fan of those bargain bins. I've found some of the best books in there!

Scottius said...

I too was a horror story enthusiast, though most horror movies turned me off, because they were nothing but shock and gore. As you said, certain stories open you up to the idea that there is more to reality than what we see in front of our eyes.

The big scary monster is that which we don't want to confront but is still present nonetheless. My most interesting dreams were those where I managed to stop running or hiding from the monster and instead engaged in some kind of dialogue with whatever it is was that was creeping me out. Like most dreams, the dialogue was mostly nonsensical, but I had the impression of opening up to a new set of possibilities, rather than trying to avoid them.

Greg said...

Such questions have always been a part of my life as well. I used to assume that everyone pondered these issues but later in life started to wonder if the assumption was warranted.

It would be interesting to conduct a survey to discover just how universal such inquiry really is ... and if it varies from group to group. I wonder if it is not correlated with one's involvement, later in life, with religion? Is there a tendency among some, and not among others, to be tuned in to the Holy Spirit?

Jeanne said...

It's so funny, but I had the same reaction to Lovecraft. I read his works avidly as a high school teen and haven't looked at them again until this year. I tried to read them and couldn't get into them. Interesting, isn't it? It's as if the maturing perspective somehow puts us off to certain things.