This handprint appears above a depiction of a spotted pony that was painted in a gallery of a cave at the end of the last ice age some fifteen thousand years ago. Scholars point out that the gallery was far away from any living quarters and difficult to get to and therefore posit some religious – perhaps magical – significance to the artwork. It is one of the first recorded instances of a hominid making a characteristic gesture across time – a message that cries, “I was here. Remember me.”
Later, in one of the first super civilizations, the Egyptians went to great lengths to have their respective deity remember them each as specific individuals.
Of course, the more resources one had, the greater the lengths attained…
Who will remember me?
When you face that question, it becomes easy to see the selling points for religion as it exists today. What peasant, toiling in the mud of the fields during a short brutish life wouldn’t want to be re-united with God and family in an Eden-ic paradise?
Marcus Borg’s historical, metaphorical approach to the Bible makes a keen distinction between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus, and if accurate, makes literally derived ideas from ‘scripture’ about eternal life no more reliable than other approaches. Borg seems to suggest that Jesus’ gospel, at least the one the gospels say he shared, was mostly not about Jesus so much as it was about something called the Kingdom of Heaven – that is - it looks like Jesus was trying to say something about God, not himself – something about how to live while you’re alive and not about setting aside happiness and rewards for your eternal afterlife. (JESUS: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.)
How do we leave a mark on the world?
Who will remember us?
In Munich, a man approached me and began speaking, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. His appearance was weathered and merchant-marine-like. His skin was deeply tanned and crackled like old leather. His coat looked lived in with the polishing that comes from wear. I figured he was a beggar or panhandler. He carried a box of cheap white candles. He could see I didn’t understand his words, so he tried some different ones, finally asking, “English?” to which I nodded. He started over again in very good English, telling a story about a friend of his who had just died that day in the underground. He said he was collecting money so he could buy candles to make his friend a small shrine. I had never heard this approach used by panhandlers in Portland, so I handed over several Euros. No doubt my contribution would put him that much closer to acquiring a bottle of cheap wine. I didn’t think of him again.
At the end of a day’s worth of sightseeing, I took the underground train back toward the hotel. As I walked in those long, perpetually lit mall-ways, seeking the surface, I passed a dead end of sorts and chanced to see the ‘beggar’ with 4 or 5 friends standing around an arrangement of candles.
Bad public high school history classes talk about ancient cultures as if the people who lived in them were primitive next-to-cavemen like monkeys who foolishly worshipped the sun. But looking at the art the Egyptians made to mark the event of death lets you see that, if the perspective were to be reversed and they found themselves somehow looking back at us, they would likely shrug at a culture that worshipped the son and look askance at our sheet-rock architecture designed to last for a decade or two.
I think we humans, across cultures and time, are all identical in the desire to be remembered.
It isn’t a pyramid of course, but last night I left my hand-print on some of our more durable examples of contemporary construction. Since I used a spray bottle of water to make the negative hand-print, it seems I will only be remembered for about a half an hour at best.
(Detail of figure above)
Here, where homeless people sleep, the hand-print still seems pretty eloquent.