There is more than a hint of apocalypse in the air these days.
Both "Legion" and "The Book of Eli" cinematically evoke the end times, loosely translating the Book of Revelation into an emerging genre that could be called Christian horror. In "Avatar" people from our world leave a dead planet behind to spread environmental depredation to greener more harmonious worlds. Prophetic warnings sound from the right and the left, the religious and the political. After Scott Brown's senatorial victory in Massachusetts, the end of meaningful healthcare reform seems nigh. And with the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are persons, many wonder if democracy will survive. Then there is Port au Prince, which has literally collapsed. And, as adherents of the Mayan calendar keep telling us, we still have 2012 to look forward to when we will be spiritually transformed--or doomed.
Last week I got an email from someone I didn't know who said he'd read an article by me I didn't remember writing. He wanted to tell someone how terrible the coming times would be, how waiting for this cosmic shoe to drop was so unbearable, disaster might almost be a relief. Get ready, he urged repeatedly. I pondered the email for a couple of days and then wrote back: "I hear you. I often feel the same way. Great courage and compassion will be required of us...I don't doubt we will have to face adversity. I hope we will meet it bravely."
The word apocalypse does not actually mean the end time or disaster but revelation. It comes from the Greek apokaluptein, to uncover. As a storyteller, I can relate. The end of the story is when all is revealed. As a reader, I confess, I often sneak a peek at the last page. As a human being living out her life, I can't know my own end. Yet, like everyone, I have faced many endings. Throughout history to this day whole cultures and civilizations have ended and are ending through war, famine, plague, holocaust, natural disaster. There is no need to strain our ears for the pounding of apocalyptic hooves. The end is always here. The time for compassion, bravery, and resourcefulness is always now.
Today I visited Olga, my 97-year-old mother-in-law who has Alzheimer's. She spoke slowly from a waking dream state. "Actually," she said, beginning her sentence over and over, "Actually what we need to do is find out is how much time there is." I do not know if she meant how much time she has or how much time we all have. But I was struck by her willingness to launch an inquiry, her leadership, her lack of fear. Olga's favorite expression is "So, all is well." Her end is near. May her apocalypse--and ours--surprise us with its beauty.
Elizabeth Cunningham is the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of novels featuring the feisty Celtic Magdalen who is nobody's disciple. Her other works include three previous novels, two collections of poetry, and a recently released album, MaevenSong. An ordained interfaith minister, Cunningham is in private practice as a counselor. She is also the director of the Center at High Valley where she leads singing and poetry circles as well rituals celebrating the Wheel of the Year. The mother of grown children, she lives in New York State's Hudson Valley. For more: www.passionofmarymagdalen.com and www.highvalley.org.