Thinking allowed

the tree of knowledge of good and evil

This Sunday’s readings include part of chapter 3 of the book of Genesis, the central story of the fall, in which Adam and Eve are tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, planted in the centre of the Garden of Eden, and which God has forbidden them to eat.

The consequence of this is that the couple are expelled from Eden, and they will die.

What are we to make of this?

The key to our understanding this today is perhaps in the words ‘knowledge of good and evil’. Our human ancestors, at some point in their evolution, developed enough consciousness to become self-aware. This is a fundamental human trait — to be aware of yourself, and to be aware of other people and realize that they too are self-aware. Perhaps this realization, this consciousness, went hand in hand with the development of language, the development of communication with fellow humans. And consciousness and the recognition of others leads to conscience — the recognition of good and evil, as the writers of the Genesis story put it. Humans had eaten of the fruit of the tree, and there was no going back.

And along with this self-awareness must have come the realization that things die: that other creatures die, that other humans die; and eventually the realization that each of us will die too — the realization of our own mortality.

Like the writer of Genesis chapter 3 we can understand the link between this high level of consciousness, or self-awareness, and death. The writer of Genesis puts the story in mythic language, language that all can understand. He (most probably it was a ‘he’ or several ‘he’s) starts from the innocence in which we assume the non-conscious to live: the innocence where one does not have to make moral choices and the innocence in which one’s own life is the centre of the world, indeed the only thing that makes the world, the innocence in which one has no idea that one’s life is finite. And he points out that self-awareness leads inevitably to a loss of that innocence which culminates in the knowledge of our own impending death.

And in this mythic language we too can grasp at the truth, that in our self-awareness we do things that we know to be wrong, and in our knowledge of our own mortality, we live in darkness and fear, failing to reach the great heights of creativity and light of which we should be capable.

What then of Jesus? Jesus proclaims to us the kingdom of God in which is life in all its abundance. In this kingdom we are freed from fear of death to live life, a life in which we can make moral choices, a life in which we are not consumed with jealousy or with bitterness towards others, but a life in the light, a life of creativity. The apostle Paul wrote, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Corinthians 15.22.)


Grandsire Caters

This afternoon saw the Annual Meeting of the Huntingdon District of the Ely Diocesan Association. Last year we hosted this at our own tower in St Ives. This year it was the turn of St Neots, which has a 10-bell tower. As I have never rung at a 10-bell tower before this was something of a challenge. And a tenor bell of some 29cwt — ours is a mere 12cwt, so the bells are considerably heavier than I am used to. The tower at St Neots is large and spacious, certainly compared with the few other towers I’ve been in. Here is a comfortable ringing chamber, 30 feet or so up the tower, with plenty of space for the 10 ropes to fall nicely in a large circle, and room around the ringers to sit or stand.

Soon after I arrived the ringing master called for a plain course of Bob Royal — that’s on all ten bells — and I decided to stand behind one of the ringers (bell 7) and see what it was like.

Then some call changes were rung, and I had a go at this, partly to get a feel for the bells, but even so I managed to make a few mistakes. Sigh. I sat down, not entirely impressed with myself.

Next the ringing master called for a touch of Grandsire Caters — that’s 9 bells, and a tenor cover. I stayed in my seat, but was eventually persuaded to ring bell 7, with an experienced ringer standing alongside me. Now in theory I can ring a touch of Grandsire Triples, and Caters is ‘only’ a couple more dodging places in 8-9 up and down. The bobs and singles are the same as for Triples. And then there’s the extra two ropes — counting my place up to ninth place was one thing, but could I see what was happening amidst all those ropes?

So, starting on 7, I dodged with 6 and then up to the back — easy because it is over 8 and 9. Down to the lead is still okay because the bells are still just plain hunting (so every other bell: up the even numbers and down the odds). Then as I came off the lead a Bob was called. ‘You’re in the hunt now,’ said the friendly voice at my side; ‘Thanks,’ I thought gratefully, vaguely aware of the fact. (Hindsight is a wonderful thing: I started by dodging 6-7 up, so I knew my next dodge would be 4-5 up; I should have also considered that a bob at that point would mean making 3rds place and going into the hunt; I should not have been surprised, but somehow I had not thought about what to do at a bob — let alone the inevitable single.)

Still, plain hunting is nice and easy, except that it’s on 10 bells, well 9 bells, because the tenor is just covering. Oh, and the treble is always the last bell when you’re in the hunt in Grandsire, so I only had to worry about 8 bells. And in fact that’s only 7 other bells. But with all these ropes, that’s still quite hard to see, certainly when you’ve not done it before. It was a bit like ringing Major for the first time — then I could see my place when I was in 2nd or 3rd, and when I was in 7th or 6th, and somewhere in the middle was 4th and 5th. Here, however, I could see my place when I was in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and when I was in 9th, 8th, 7th. And somewhere in the middle was 5th place and 6th. So ring at about the right place and hope for the best! ‘Bob!’ came the call and I double-dodged 4-5 down, coming out of the hunt. Now carry on plain hunting, and remember that you have to dodge 6-7 down next time.

I don’t remember the exact details of the touch, but there were a number of other bobs, which had me, for example, double-dodging in 8-9 up. And there was another call of ‘Single!’ Help, what do I do at a single?! Another friendly word from my minder put me right, and the touch continued and eventually completed.

Everyone seemed to think I’d done quite well, although perhaps they were just being polite. For myself, I thought I did just about tolerably, and it was an interesting experience: my ropesight was pretty good, just about good enough to cope with ringing Caters (though probably not good enough to ring Royal); my striking and handling could be improved, especially when ringing these heavy bells, somewhat heavier than I am used to; and I need to commit Grandsire to memory just a little better — I really shouldn’t have been caught out going into the hunt, and I ought to remember about singles and what to do at one.

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body, mind … and soul

Another fascinating programme in Melvyn Bragg’s almost-always enlightening In Our Time — the last of the current series. This one considered ‘the mind/body problem’, starting with Descartes’ famous quotation, cogito ergo sum, and then tracing the history of this philosphical and theological question from Ancient Greece, through Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Berkeley, Spinoza, Huxley and through to the modern day (though I missed the very end — I’ll have to listen again.)