The Impossibility of Crows
Noah “. . . sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.“ Genesis 8:7
The bird did not return.
Imagine the raven searching for dry land over an endless ocean. The bird approaches that point of no return and decides to go on. Is it defiance or delirium?
The dove that Noah released a few days later returned to safety in the ark. Why did the raven reject comfort and choose uncertainty?
Thinking of the biblical flood as a parable of a second creation, I believe the raven’s message is a stark one: “Find your own way or perish. I will show the way and I will not return.”
I believe in paradox and unresolved absurdity. I believe in reason and freedom. I believe in the irreconcilable contrast between the shadow-bird in flight and bright light on an endless sea of possibilities. I believe in mischief and mission. I prefer the company of a person seeking the meaning and destination of life to someone who has chosen the comfort of absolute Truth. I enjoy being alone.
Voices of intellectual and moral authority seductively and persistently appeal to our desire for peace of mind. William F. Buckley, for example, wrote in his 2005 This I Believe essay; “. . . it is intellectually easier to credit a divine intelligence than to submit dumbly to felicitous congeries about nature.” My great joy and sadness is that I am free to leave these false and indistinct dichotomies between intellectual ease and dumb submission unanswered. I will seek my own way.
Franz Kafka wrote: “The crows declare that any one of them could destroy the heavens. This undoubtedly is true, but it proves nothing against heaven, for heaven means precisely this: the impossibility of crows.”
As metaphorical messengers, ravens and crows are rich in mythic complexity and contradiction. In Northwestern Native American legend, the raven is the creator and dark deliverer of light, as well as a trickster, a liar and an oracle. In Norse myth, Odin’s twin ravens, Thought and Memory, bring him news from the surface of the earth. Mark Twain characterized the bird as an “accumulation of all damnable traits.” That, for me, describes the delight and the condemnation of the human condition.
I believe in the power of each of us to choose to live between, within or even outside faith and reason. I believe we have no choice about whether we exist between death and immortality and I believe ambiguity unresolved is the essence of freedom. I will live my life as a protest against the impossibility of crows.
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