Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Are We All Hollow Prufrocks? Or Can We Lead Meaningful Lives?

This sermon was delivered on Sunday, 22 February, 2015, by Doug Trenfield.

Are We All Hollow Prufrocks? Or Can We Lead Meaningful Lives?

must’ve been 17, a few years into having a sense of my deepest self. I often felt alone in this, but I knew I wasn’t completely alone. I had a few people -- my twin younger sisters and my friend Ken -- with whom I talked about such stuff. But mostly those around me seemed absorbed by the trivial. Basketball games. Dumb movies. Silly homework assignments. Mowed lawns.

So I must’ve been 17, but in a sense new to myself and new to poetry. I wrote some, and it wasn’t completely awful. I am proud to this day that as a writer and as a reader I wasn’t too given to the maudlin, the cheap trip to the emotional jugular. I was 17, and sitting on the floor of Waldenbooks, at our mall, the Muncie Mall, in the poetry section (which was probably a half rack toward the back of the store) perusing volumes of poetry. I did this a lot. And still think perusing is a good way to find poems that fit you. Anyway, this particular evening, I found a slim -- about 120 page -- volume of poetry, T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems. I began perusing. As I recall, I turned right to “The Hollow Men”:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Whoa. Cool, I thought. Yeah, T.S., I hear ya’. Bunch of hollow men all around me. Talking trivial stuff. And it ended:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Very cool, brother T.S. Preach it.

I told my friend Ken about this cool poet, T.S. Eliot. Because I never thought of Ken as a hollow person, even in my most self-infatuated days. I swear, he made a lemon face. Ewwww. He had had to or was having to study him in his English class, and it was horrible, he thought.

And here's why this story is important. I found Eliot on my own. I had no idea nor nor care about Mistuh Kurtz -- the central character from a 19th century novel, Heart of Darkness, I later learned -- or what his death meant. He’s in the epigram:

Mistuh Kurtz -- he dead.
A penny for the old Guy.

Or that “the old Guy” was probably a reference to Guy Fawkes, a seventeenth century British revolutionary whom at the time I’d never heard of. I just thought, Hollow men, cool. And the images, so dark. And I believe I was affected by the musicality of the poem, though couldn't have described it. Ken, a literature loving guy, read him under duress, probably with some expectation of being able to articulate all the allusions even if they didn't mean anything to him.

I’ve told that story many times to reluctant readers of poetry. I never taught advanced English classes, which I was fine with. I think I had a greater talent for helping students find good reasons to have literature in their lives than I had for helping students pass AP exams. And I’m telling you this story because I’m guessing most of you -- most -- don’t really like poetry, but you probably have a vague and unpleasant recollection, like that of having a cavity filled when you were 10, of Prufrock, and you might even recall that he’s in a poem by T.S. Eliot. And there’s a good chance that you, like my buddy Ken, didn’t like that poem or Mr. Eliot, and when you saw the first part of the title of this sermon in the newsletter, “Are We All Hollow Prufrocks?” you very likely thought, well, it’ll be good to see so-and-so, and maybe the snacks’ll be good. But I’m here “to tell you all, I shall tell you all” that there will be no explicating, scansion, or deconstruction going on here. I’m going to tell you about my 41 year relationship with Prufrock and the poem Brother Eliot wrote about him. Well, yeah, there’ll be a little analysis. How could there not be? But I promise you won’t need to take notes, and none of this will be on the test. And it looks as though the snacks today are pretty good.

Back to 17 year old me sitting on the floor at Waldenbooks. I bought that book, T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems, 1909-1962. If you remember Eliot at all, you know most of his poems are very long -- “The Hollow Men,” coming in at four pages, was one or the shortest --  so I saved the longer ones to read at home. At home, I discovered Prufrock.

I think it’s important, when discussing a poem, to have heard it, or to have read it aloud, recent to the discussion, so even though it’s long -- about seven minutes -- I’d like to read it aloud to you. You have the text. Scan as you listen, or just listen. Up to you. I’ll skip the epigram, but if you want to brush up on your Italian, have at it. It’s from Dante’s Inferno, I understand.

            The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
                        T.S. Eliot

            S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
               So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
               And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
               And should I then presume?
               And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
               That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
               “That is not it at all,
               That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

When I first read “Prufrock,” I didn’t know much, so many of even the most accessibe I’d heard of Hamlet, but I know I hadn’t read or seen it, and I wasn’t a careful enough reader that I would’ve researched it. And besides, the depth of that allusion, even if I could’ve articulated what it “meant,” according to some English teacher, would’ve been lost on me.

It wle allusions were lost on me. “I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”? I’m suras Prufrock’s failed attempts at connecting with women riveted me at 17. That I could relate to:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, . . . .
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question, . . .
If one, settling a pillow by her head
               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
               That is not it, at all.”

Don’t you see? Prufrock was deep.  And so was I. He could’ve “squeezed the universe into ball” and rolled it “towards some [unspecified] overwhelming question.” No hollow man he, nor I. We were deep, but no one (not the females we were attracted to, anyway, and that’s all that mattered) got us. Grokked us. Yeah, if we were to speak, Prufrock or me, what was really on our minds, we’d’ve gotten, “That is not what I meant at all; that is not it, at all.” Damned hollow people. We were better than that, Prufrock and me.

But now. You see, I aspired to be a great writer. I even imagined the documentary that would be made about me late in my life. Oh, not a whole documentary, goodness no! Just like, maybe, a segment on Sixty Minutes, you know? I imagined, as I walked back to my high school, mid-morning, after skipping Mr. Melby’s class, how my high school would look in the documentary. So what happened? Why didn’t I become a great writer? When I talk about this, I often invoke a story told by Frank McCourt, author of the best selling memoir and his first book Angela’s Ashes, that he told in his third book, also a memoir, Teacher Man. When asked why he waited so late in life to begin writing, he said, “I was busy.” And while there’s truth to that, it’s a bit o a ruse, a distraction. Like Prufrock, I hesitated. I did not dare to eat a peach. And I rarely squeezed the universe into a ball and rolled it toward some overwhelming question. I rested in Prufrock’s refrain, “There will be time.”

But now. I hear this poem differently. I’m 58. I’m retired from teaching. I never became a great writer. As yet, 60 Minutes has shown no interest in my life’s story. I now see a different dimension to Prufrock’s lament. I thought I’d be a Hamlet, with a life that mattered on a large, public stage. (Let’s set aside for our purposes that Hamlet’s life was thrust into importance largely by forces beyond his control.) Or that the mermaids would sing to me as they did Odysseus, that my life would matter enough that mermaids would try to deter me from my purpose. But I, like Prufrock, now “hear the mermaids singing each to each,” but, “I do not think they will sing to me.”

Eliot was 27 when he published “Prufrock.” A young man, with hope for an important life, and indeed in pretty broad circles -- poetry, drama, criticism -- his life was an important life. Bully, Mr. Eliot. He might’ve looked at his character Prufrock, or the chorus of hollow men in “The Hollow Men,” jealous of “Those who have crossed/ With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom” -- the people of action, the movers and the shakers -- with disdain. I did, at 17. And probably at 27 as well. But not now, at 58. I don’t really care what Eliot thought. (I’ve always believed, as a literary critic [and we are all literary critics when we read, but those who get the job title just know more than the rest of us], that some critics put too much emphasis on what a writer meant. Poo. Call him and ask him. Asking that question is like asking me what I meant for my son Mike to be at age 25. I could answer, but it doesn’t change who Mike is.)

To the question that is the title of this sermon -- Are we all hollow Prufrocks? Or can we lead important lives? -- I guess my answer is, Yes. We are both. Well, not hollow. (I wrote this title weeks ago.) But, yeah, we’re Prufrocks. Even those who’ve become great writers or well-known for anything have Prufrock in them, I think. And I think regardless of our fame, in our circles of influence we are all important. The circles of our concerns -- maybe not. I mean, those circles get awfully big, like universal, or multiversal (something Steve might be talking about next week when he talks about the Pale Blue Dot). Even to say those circles dwarf us is to aggrandize our existence. But in my family, in my community, we are all players. This perspective, that the universe is at once too huge to fathom and too small and delicate to not be taken seriously, has changed me. I may write one day, and I may not. But I will, I hope, treat each moment and being I encounter with the love and respect they deserve.

At 58, I love Prufrock. He’s my brother. I want to walk along the beach with him, with our trousers rolled, and talk about . . . the ocean. How best to hang a door. Philosophy. Whether the Yankees are the Evil Empire. Why he converted to Anglicanism from UU-ism, and how his family felt about that. I want to grow old with Prufrock. Share dreams we fulfilled, want to fulfill, and will never fulfill. And I want to do things with him. Maybe we could take up fishing. Or volunteer together somewhere. Or work on someone’s political campaign. We could “swell a progress, start a scene or two,/ Advise the prince.” Be an easy tool -- but proudly, because that is what we have to offer.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ragnarok and the Death of Reason

This sermon was presented on Sunday, 1 February, by Ashley Hummel

Reading 1:
On Communication—unattributed

May our minds work together to find mutual understanding.
May I see you true and be seen in kind.
May our words reveal more than they obscure.
Most of all, may our minds, eyes, and tongues be guided by our hearts,
And the language far older than words.

Reading 2:  

The myths of Northern Europe reflect a universe in which the
physical environment often threatens human survival. Consequently, Norse
myths are populated with evil giants and monsters that heroes—both
divine and mortal—challenge in combat.

The Norse gods share the same unalterable fate that mortals do. When
Ragnarok, the last great battle, occurs, famous human warriors will fight alongside
the gods against the giants. Nevertheless, the gods will be defeated by the
giants. Odin, ruler of the gods, knows their destiny is defeat, but he can do nothing
to change it.

The Norse creation myth introduces the major concept of the conflict
between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The myth describes the destiny
of the universe from its creation to the destruction and inevitable death of the
gods and mortals.
Sermon: Ragnarok and the Death of Reason

First, I should explain some things about modern Heathenry and Norse religion.

The Norse had a religion based on an oral tradition of stories. To our knowledge, all of the texts about the gods and heroes weren’t written down until after the Christian Conquest. The two Eddas, the most comprehensive collections of Norse mythology, were compiled by a Christian Monk named Snorri Sturlson in order to preserve what the thought were wonderful stories. I tell you this story today with the caveat that it may have been embellished or altered by a Christian monk many thousands of years ago.

Modern Heathenry is based around a set of recurring themes found in the Eddas, which again are Norse stories compiled by a Christian monk. The Nine Noble Virtues of modern Heathenry weren’t codified until the 1970s, by two men who wanted to unify and essentially, “religionize” the diverse group of already practicing Heathens. Honestly, I think they wanted to make an official church to gain legal standing and probably some tax benefits. Today, Heathenry is so organized that it is officially recognized by the US army, and their common icon, Mjolnir, is permitted on military grave stones in Arlington cemetery. Even with this haphazard beginning, there is value in the Nine Noble Virtues. The men who created them did sort-of a content analysis of ancient texts, found the recurring themes, then concluded that those themes were the central virtues of Teutonic tribal life. It’s almost scientific!

The Nine Noble Virtues are:

1.       Courage

2.       Truth

3.       Honor

4.       Fidelity

5.       Discipline

6.       Hospitality

7.       Industriousness

8.       Self-reliance

9.       Preseverance


We are, of course, looking through the lens of hindsight, which can be dangerous in religions based on prophetic wisdom. It is important, when interpreting ancient or holy texts, to look at the words from an historic perspective, not from our current scientific understanding or modern world-view.

That being said, what I present to you today is something I consider a fundamental truth; one that is central to my own eclectic spirituality. has an explanation of the Nine Noble Virtues for kids, and I particularly like this bit on truth:

Probably the most important thing to know about practicing truth is that not everyone agrees about what is true. Sometimes things that seem to contradict each other can both be true. There is a story about a group of blind men who “looked” at an elephant and then argued about whether an elephant was like a snake, a wall, or a tree, or a vine. Each one had an idea that was true (the elephant’s trunk, body, leg, and tail), but none of them had the whole picture. If you really believe something is true, you don’t have to make other people agree with you. You are only responsible for yourself. Maybe the people you disagree with know something you don’t. Maybe they aren’t ready to see what you do. Good friends can “agree to disagree” on lots of things without having to quit being friends.

In the interest of truth, this is my complete disclaimer for today: this sermon is simply about a powerful lesson I learned from some Pagan stories that were preserved by a Christian monk. I believe the lesson is the truth.

But before the lesson, the story, abridged a bit for time (adapted from a mythology textbook):

The Death of Balder

Balder was the son of Odin and Frigg. He was the favorite of everyone among the gods because he was so good. He was the best of the gods, the wisest, kindest, and most gentle of them all. Purity and virtue surrounded him, and he shone with a special radiance.

One day, Balder the Good approached the assembled gods and said, “Last night I hade a dreadful dream! I dreamed I was in Niflheim, the land of the dead, and Hel herself embraced me. My dream terrifies me, for it shows that I shall die very soon!”

The gods were horrified at the thought that their beloved Balder would die. They decided to search the world for whatever could possibly endanger Balder’s life and to remove any threat. They were certain that they would be able to prevent his death. Frigg, Balder’s mother, volunteered to take this great task upon herself.

She traveled from one end of the world to the other. She approached every plant and every animal, every bird and every serpent, every metal and every stone, every illness and every poison, every drop of water, every speck of earth, and every spark of fire. She made each in turn swear a sacred oath that it would do nothing to harm Balder. They were happy to do as Frigg asked, because they too loved Balder.

Once the gods knew that Balder was safe, they enjoyed testing his invulnerability. Some would throw darts at him, some would throw stones, and others would strike him with metal weapons. Balder’s eyes would sparkle, and he would grin and announce, “Try again! I did not even feel that!”

Loki watched Balder’s invulnerability and hated him for it. He disguised himself as an old woman and visited Frigg for a chat. Loki told her, “Woman to woman, I thought you should know that some of the gods have gathered an assembly to throw things at one of their own. He is such a wonderful god, it would be a shame if something bad happened. Maybe you should go down there and do something about their foolishness!”

Frigg explained why she wasn’t worried, but Loki, trickster that he is, got the information he came for. Frigg did not ask a little mistletoe bush to swear the sacred oath, because it seemed too small and innocent to harm anybody. Loki left Frigg and went in search of the mistletoe bush. When he found it, he stripped a branch and sharpened it to a fine point.

When he returned, the gods were still amusing themselves with Balder, all except one. Hoder, Balder’s blind brother, was standing apart, looking forlorn. Loki asked why he was not also throwing things at Balder.

“Because I cannot see where he is,” Hoder replied. “And besides, I have nothing to throw.”

Lokie exclaimed, “You should be able to honor your brother as the other gods do! Allow me to help you. I have here this twig, and guide your arm with my own.”

Hoder took the twig of mistletoe and, letting Loki guide his arm, threw the twig at his brother. The twig went right through Balder’s heart, and he fell to the ground, dead.

The gods were so stunned that they did not even try to lift Balder. A few noticed Loki walking quickly towards the door and knew who was to blame. They wept, but one wept more than the others. Not only had Odin lost his beloved son, but he knew that the death of Balder was the first in a series of events that would end in the destruction of their race.

Balder’s funeral was the greatest ever seen, and his funeral ship was loaded with each of the gods’ most treasured possessions.

Frigg asked which of the gods would win her gratitude by riding to Niflheim and negotiating Balder’s release with Hel, Loki’s daughter and ruler of the land of the dead. Hermod the Bold, another of Balder’s brothers, took on the task.

After a great journey, Hermod arrived in Niflheim and spent the evening with Baldur. In the morning he said to Hel, “My name is Hermod, and I have come from the home of the gods to ask if you will let me take my brother, Balder, back to Asgard. The hearts of the gods are filled with grief at his death, so great is their love for him. Frigg promises you a fitting wergild in exchange for Balder’s life.”

Hel replied, “I shall release Balder only if you can meet one condition. You must prove to me that he is so loved that everyone and everything in the world, both alive and dead, will weep for him. If one thing objects to his return or refuses to weep for him, then Balder must remain with me in my kingdom.

Hermod was certain this condition would be met, remembering that all things had sworn an oath of loyalty to protect Balder’s life. Before he left, Balder gave Hermod the treasures from his funeral pyre, asking him to return the gifts to the gods as a token of his love.

When Hermod returned to Asgard, the gods sent messengers to each corner of the world requesting that all things, living and dead, weep for Balder’s return.  Every plant and animal wept, every bird and serpent wept, every metal and rock wept, every illness and poison wept, every drop of water, every speck of earth, every spark of fire wept. All things wept as though they had been covered with a frost and suddenly exposed to the hot rays of the sun.

The messengers were returning to Asgard, quite pleased with their success, when they came upon a giantess in a cave who refused to weep. The giantess was, of course, Loki in disguise.

When the gods heard what had happened, they knew who was responsible, and hunted down Loki to punish him. When they found him, he was hiding at the bottom of a waterfall in the form of a fish. Their vengeance was brutal, and lasted until the final battle of Ragnarok, when Loki broke free and fought on the side of evil.

The entire world came to an end with Ragnarok. Gods and giants killed each other. Raging flames destroyed anything the earthquakes had left untouched. The earth became a wasteland, and in time a great flood covered it.

At the dawn of the new age, the earth rose from the sea, fresh, fertile, and green. Balder left the kingdom of the dead to rule over the new age, one hoped to be better than the last.

Now for the lesson:

What strikes me so about the Norse stories is that the gods can die. Not only that, but the gods know that they will die in the final battle. They accept this fate and continue to be good gods. They are able to experience joy and happiness. They don’t mind that they will die, because to go down fighting evil is better than being evil. We can all agree that’s the honorable thing. It’s better to take a punishment for doing what is right than it is to live a life indifferent to wrongdoing.

You are probably familiar with some of the gods in this story. Odin, the All-Father, ruler of all the gods, his wife Frigg is sort of like Hera from Greek mythology. Frigg sees the future, but doesn’t tell anyone. Thor we all know from the comics, cartoons, and films. Thor is best known for symbolizing strength, but his other principle skill is endurance. Thor can endure tremendous amounts of pain without flinching. Balder is less well known, but in the stories he is equal in importance to Thor. He is symbolic of wisdom and kindness. He loves poetry and music. Here is our first lesson: strength is well and good, but it must be tempered with wisdom and gentleness. There is a reason everyone loves Balder the most. Loki is also well known from comics and movies. He is a trickster, a fiend, and not even really a god! Loki lives among the gods because, for some unknown reason, Odin swore an oath of brotherhood with him. He is the one who always gets the gods into trouble, and, to his credit, he usually gets them out of it, though not without prompting. Loki is vice and jealousy.

Looking at this story purely as a metaphor, we see that it is our human flaws, our vices, our jealousies, our petty hurts, that destroy our virtues and damage our world.  When Hermod visits Balder in Niflheim, Balder does not ask Hermod to avenge his death. Instead, he sends the gods’ treasures back with a message of love. It is as if the wrongdoing doesn’t matter. Loki, on the other hand, holds out in his jealousy and maliciousness, and in the end he is the one who suffers for it.

What we learn from this story is everything dies but love and kindness.

When wisdom falls from our lives, we resort to strength alone, and destroy ourselves in the process. History is riddled with examples of this,the fall Rome being the first that comes to mind.

Scholars consider Balder a fertility god, even though he isn’t responsible for any fertility-related human activies, pregnancy, childbirth, or even planting and harvest. He is just good. Balder, to me, represents a different kind of fertility: hope.

Hope that even when people seem the most destructive, wisdom will re-emerge and help us to flourish.

Hope that even when we fail, when we rely only on strength, when we are unreasonable, or when we make careless and harmful mistakes, that it is not the end. We can do better, we can be better, when we return to wisdom and kindness. We are redeemable, even after we have been at our worst.