Cocktails and Karma
I was at a party last Saturday night talking to a reformed-Baptist minister from rural
“The trouble,” he said, “is with evil. People get shut down by the tragedies they see in the world—they don’t see enough justice happening in their lives.”
“Ah, you mean like when bad things happen to good people?” I asked, wondering if he knew the book I was alluding to. That book had once helped me with that issue.
“Yes…” The minister had tired soft blue eyes. He turned his intense gaze on me while biting into a chocolate éclair. “How do you make things right in your astrological world?”
“It’s not easy,” I said, pouring myself a full glass of Pinot Noir. “I try to help people recognize life cycles and to trust the process of change, especially when they’re going through hard times. It’s a bit like being a cosmic cheerleader.” That’s a truthful, but light-hearted reply I thought, as I was absorbing the fact that a minister was asking an astrologer a philosophic question. It seems that it’s only rarely, at times like this--at the late night cocktail party---that “non-believers” are open to listening to a subject that falls right into that taboo region of politics and religion.
He stood there licking his fingers, as it occurred to me what an opportunity this was to create a bridge between our worlds, yet I wondered if I would have the energy or tact to do it skillfully. My Libra nature prickled at the thought of real confrontation, but his kind eyes inspired me. I offered another reply: “Do you remember that religious question---the equation that says: if God is all knowing, and if God is all powerful, then can it be true that God is all loving?” I looked up at him and saw him suddenly raise his eyebrows. I couldn’t tell if he was remembering that equation or getting ready for battle, so I quickly went on: “It just doesn’t equate for me that if God is all knowing and all powerful that he could allow evil to exist. It would be like a mother allowing her child to be hurt when she could do something to stop it….you know, if she was all knowing and all powerful.” I could hear a pleading quality in my voice.
“It’s true, he said, “but because God loves us he’s given us free will as well, and then the possibility for evil enters in. Unfortunately, in giving us the freedom to choose, evil was created.”
“Do you know the theologian Matthew Fox?” I asked. “He writes that we’re meant to co-create with God by choosing goodness and creating new solutions to old problems.” I was hoping that this famous Christian writer could be an easy connection between us.
“Oh yes, the maverick Catholic monk who challenged the Pope! Interesting guy; kind of righteous. Every person feels they’re right in some way. Each side in an argument-or war- believes they’ve got God on their side. Even astrologers too, eh? So, can you guess what sign I am?”
My heart dropped. “I don’t do that kind of thing,” I replied, as a wave of weariness crashed over me. I took a long sip of wine. “Well, from my studies I’m coming to believe that the only thing that makes sense---since you asked about evil--- is that God’s justice may not always be evident in one life, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I think it may take many lifetimes for divine justice to happen. It is a mystery for sure, because we simply don’t get to see life from his mountaintop view. ”
“God makes sense of it, for sure. It’s we who don’t. We just have to hold to our faith and not get discouraged. It’s hard to feel powerless at times, to feel like you’re strung on the cross, and to wait---simply wait. People wait a long time for grace…and forgiveness. He looked intently at me for a second, and then spotted another chocolate éclair next to us. He picked it up and smiled at me. “You look like you were born Irish Catholic, am I right?”
“Oh, yes.” I could hear the ministerial voice advancing in my direction, and I literally stepped back. “A recovering Catholic,” I laughed, but bowed my head. I was being way too bold.
“Nothing wrong with that--- but we all need to be reborn sometime in this life. There’s great peace in being able to surrender to divine will.”
“Surrender?” I said too loud. Surrender is a hard word for an Aries Moon and Aries Rising woman. “Surrender to a God who allows only one chance in one lifetime to get it right? What if you’re born into abuse and poverty?” I could feel my steam rising. “Even a good mother gives her child a few chances to get something right. That’s why I believe in reincarnation—we get many chances to get it right. Isn’t it a little righteous for Christians to believe they can know –from their interpretation of the Bible---who and what is right or wrong, or good and evil? It feels sort of righteous.”
He didn’t say a word but let my words echo around us. Did I really say that? My Libra Sun blushed, as my Aries Moon was rising up from slumber. Here was a challenge. I began pleading my case, waving my hand in the air like some Italian orator: “I trust, like you, that there is a benevolent order behind it all—but my “God” just doesn’t look like your God. The only thing that makes sense to me is reincarnation and the pattern of cause and effect—you know, karma.” I took a breath.
Any good Libra Sun would be heading for the hors d’oeuvres by now. Instead, I touched his arm. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so wound up. Can I tell you a little story I just remembered? It’s about good and bad luck, but you could also think of it as being about good and evil. He nodded ever so slightly, and so I began:
Once upon a time a farmer had a horse. But one day, the horse ran away and so the farmer and his son had to plow their fields themselves. Their neighbors said, "Oh, what bad luck that your horse ran away!" But the farmer replied, "Bad luck, good luck, who knows?"
The next week, the horse returned to the farm, bringing a herd of wild horses with him. "What wonderful luck!" cried the neighbors, but the farmer responded, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"
Then, the farmer's son was thrown as he tried to ride one of the wild horses, and he broke his leg. "Ah, such bad luck," sympathized the neighbors. Once again, the farmer responded, "Bad luck, good luck, who knows?"
A short time later, the ruler of the country recruited all young men to join his army for battle. The son, with his broken leg, was left at home. "What good luck that your son was not forced into battle!" celebrated the neighbors. And the farmer remarked, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"
The minister looked like he was trying to digest that one. “I’d say that farmer was a wise man. He trusted in God—that is, he had faith that he couldn’t really know what was good or bad.”
I nodded my head in agreement. “So what we agree upon is that good or evil and lucky or unlucky is not always evident in the moment. That we need a perspective of time to be able to discern the justice or luck of it all—yes?”
Before he could answer, a woman who I knew was a psychologist, walked over and interrupted us: “I couldn’t help overhearing you, and it reminded me that Shakespeare once said: ‘Nothing’s either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’”
We all smiled knowingly. Then she went on: “However, the problem is that astrologers like you, and Christians like you, both make people feel guilty at themselves or mad with God, when things go wrong!
How impressive to combine Shakespeare with a verbal attack! At this point I was making quick guesses as to how Mercury might be making a harsh square to Mars in her chart, when the minister came back with a quick defense---“Oh no, it was the Puritans who believed that if you were a good religious person that only good things would happen to you, and that if you didn’t live up to the word of God, then bad things would happen. Today we just say that we can’t always understand God’s will for us---but then, you’re right—people do get mad at God for allowing evil or pain to come into their lives.”
Then the psychologist shot me a look that could kill. “Yes, but then in the ‘70’s you people started resurrecting that old Puritan idea that we are somehow all responsible for everything---by saying that we create our own reality. Remember? So if something bad happened, you’d say: so why did you do that to yourself? You know you’re responsible on some level for your cancer…or whatever…. you shamed us again!”
Well, this was heating up in good Martian style, and the synapses in my brain started firing off---“No, there’s a difference” I said. “That’s why the astrology chart is so fascinating---I see it as a record of the Soul’s decisions, as a blueprint or a time-line for events on a soul-level. It’s the Soul that creates the reality, not the conscious person. And it chooses to re-incarnate to overcome a past conflict or to repay an obligation or to learn how to love better---that’s why we might have chosen to be born blind, or to die an early death---for a soul purpose that our egos will never know.”
“But the astrologer will?” The minister started tapping my hand with his sticky fingers. “Ah, is it the truth vs. the Ouija board now? Astrology or God? Do you think you know the Soul’s agenda, my dear? Maybe I should be taking notes for my sermon tomorrow?” He was laughing, but I wasn’t going to let him sidetrack me. I pulled my hand back and turned to the psychologist.
“Look at it this way: Who is the one responsible? I see a conscious ego and a mysterious Soul. Two parts of us. One dies, and one lives on. We have an ego that we identify with, but aren’t we more than this ego-centric self we’ve created? Aren’t we more than this person who has a story full of drama, trauma, sin and glory?” We both laughed. I noticed she was wearing a professional pin of some kind on her lapel, and the minister had a cross in the same place on his suit. But where was my shield or button for my club? Get over it, I thought to myself, as I felt myself reach out to the wall for support.
The minister looked like he was choosing to space out for awhile, but the therapist held her ground: “Some astrologers think they can read all this in the chart, right? I know someone who says she can tell you about your past life. Do you believe that?” I heard the hint of outrage in her voice. Astrologers must sound arrogant and righteous at times.
“Well, I would only go so far as to say the chart tells a parable of what our reincarnating story is about. It gives hints, not facts. There’s a lot of ways we can play out the stories of our lives, and I think it’s dangerous to get too literal. But I believe the chart can tell us more than our ego is aware of---it can re-awaken the soul to a vague memory of what went before, or at least of what’s really happening right now.”
“A vague memory? You mean the Soul has a memory, like a hangover from its past lives?” She took another sip of her sparkling water. She certainly wasn’t going to have a hangover tomorrow. But I might. I poured myself another glass of Pinot Noir as the noise in the room seemed to get louder.
“Well yes,” I continued, “you could say that the reincarnating Soul has an emotional memory of all its past lives, from the habits or karma it’s acquired. But what’s really interesting is that the personality and this Soul are like two different people not hearing each other! Kind of like this man here!” I gave a tweak to the minister’s sleeve to bring him back into the conversation.
“I’m here. I hear you, but what feels good or right for one person, doesn’t always feel good or right for the other.” He ventured a kind smile, and I forgave him instantly.
“But I still don’t get why a person would chose to be born in an abusive family or get cancer,” the therapist added, looking a little snarly, but perhaps that was my projection.
I re-adjusted my voice into my wise woman persona: “I think that difficult lives are not punishments but opportunities for spiritual growth---and in some mysterious way it may balance or repair an injustice or ignorance. For example, an ambitious Soul in the space between lives, might choose what our egos would call a short or difficult life. But it does so in order to learn certain lessons---”
“---really?” She was listening carefully. “So you’re saying that the Soul, on some mysterious level, may choose a bad situation to work out some unresolved issue even though it may make the person feel like a victim?”
“Yes. And it’s only on this level that we can say we are responsible for things that happen to us.” I remembered the metaphysical writer, Ken Wilbur, writing about this confusion of levels across the metaphysical playing fields, but there was no way I could retrieve that information at this time of night. But a distant memory surfaced: “I remember an older woman, a Theosophist, once telling me that there’s also a family and a national karma as well as personal karma, and that it’s not a tit–for-tat kind of thing.”
The therapist let out a deep sigh. “I don’t know. Your words sound good, but I hear this undercurrent of making the victim responsible for something awful that is happening to them. That doesn’t feel right.”
The minister nodded his head in agreement. “But if we have free will you’ve got to admit there’s some level of responsibility at times. It’s the struggle between good and evil, and we can’t control or even know what God’s will is for us.”
The therapist rose to the occasion. “God! I can get really angry at God if something bad happens to me or my children or my clients unless I can see the cause of the problem. We all make poor choices at times, and maybe it’s part of the human predicament, but if I look at it your way---
She was pointing an accusatory finger at me, so I flinched and cut her off-- “But what if—what if on some mysterious level you made a contract before birth to choose a challenging life? Then couldn’t you accept the idea that what looks totally irrational might not be? Could you accept it without getting mad?”
“Maybe you both have issues with anger?” the minister teased. I was feeling that the moment of bridge-making was beginning to collapse.
Yet I strode on: “I’d rather be angry at my own mistakes and choices rather than feel angry at God or at a random chaotic universe. But you know,” I said, as I leaned closer to them, “in this way of thinking, the soul really has a lot of free will as it makes those choices as to where and when to be born…and to whom. And then it forgets it all.”
The minister’s bushy eyebrows rose again. “Forgets?”
“Yes, it forgets,” I replied, thinking that there was just one more thing I could say that maybe they could hear. “Did you ever hear the old Hassidic myth about forgetting? I’m sure you remember that reincarnation was once part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and that wise men once looked to the stars….. but anyway, there’s an old Hebrew story about how an angel comes to each baby just before it’s birth and as she blesses the infant she places her index finger on this little indented spot right here above the lips and below the nose, and impresses her finger there, telling the Soul to forget everything that has gone before the moment of birth.”
“That’s a sweet story,” he sighed. “So perhaps we can trust in the angels as well as God, and not be angry then.”
“Or discouraged,” I added, thinking how hard his job must be. I think God and the reincarnating Soul have a lot in common—they’re both calling for us to trust the process of life, and to put evil into a larger perspective.”
The therapist took off her glasses and made her closing statement like a lawyer concluding a case: “I don’t think you can prove any of this. It still feels too much like blaming the victim, and it’s all too sad. But it’s good for you both to try to bring as much hope into the world as you can.” She smiled weakly as I noticed her glassy watery eyes. I couldn’t help but wonder how much pain she had suffered in her life.
“Well thank you too, and hopefully some day we’ll all really understand the Good News that Jesus talked about,” the minister added, “and then like that rebel priest said, we can help co-create a different world.”
“Or we can question our assumptions, and learn new behaviors,” the therapist was having a hard time letting the conversation go.
“That’s all so true,” I concluded. I liked the direction we had turned. “And we can continue to build bridges between each other and our ways of thinking.” I looked with affection at my two new acquaintances, and then looked at my watch. It was indeed time to go. All things at the right time and place. “You know, astrologers don’t all think the same way either, but we try to help our clients understand their lives by re-imagining their life symbolically. We try to help them find wise ways of handling good luck, and bad luck…” I could see just then that we had come full circle and had each said and done just enough. We knew we could have gone on and on, but instead we simply choose to say good-night to each other, kissed each other on the cheek, and walked away to our respective corners and went home…each of us happy and ‘right’ in our own way.