But let us consider this, now. The mythic Jacob which represents our quest to know our truest selves wrestles with more than a stranger at the midnight hour. What is most strange in any and all of us is the demon – or demons -- we carry within. Each human being knows this. And all the teachers of enlightenment and wisdom have taught it. Know thyself. Physician, heal thyself. Being mindful and honest in discovering the fears and doubts and worries and emotional storms within us is the pathway to acceptance, to courage, to wisdom. “Something within, I cannot explain.” Of course we wrestle with the stranger, daily, if we seek to be made whole – not to vanquish or destroy that which is inescapably within us; but to no longer be afraid, to no longer be in denial; to no longer let hatred and anger fester in us until we need no enemy but ourselves to destroy all that is our good.
No one can escape the journey into the valley of the shadow of death. No one, that is, except...
What began in 1981 as my meditation on my place within my religious community quickly evolved into my meditation on America wrestling with itself. It became the theme by which I read American culture: what those who were busy defining the terms by which all of us would be forced to live actually attempted was to suppress or vanquish the stranger on the riverbank – not seek to face the truth. How else do we explain the notion of privilege, of exceptionalism; of the violent suppression of the other at every twisted telling of the story that comforts some and excludes so many, many more?
As has been mentioned before, the great guardian spirit of humanity, Robert P. Moses, has devoted much of his teaching in the last decade to challenging all of us to discern just who is or is not included in the phrase, “We the People.” We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our Posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America.”
[And it was not written, but certainly was implied] And we therefore declare that no woman shall be free of the obligation to bear children so that we may have a secure “Posterity” – and we explicitly assert that none of those who inhabited the lands we have acquired for ourselves shall have the full rights of humanity; nor shall they have any recourse to the laws we shall establish for securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves...” Further we confirm our supposition that those we have imported for the increase of our material well-being and prosperity shall not be considered full human beings, and that they shall have no rights that the State will hold as paramount. We know who we are when we claim to be sovereign and free and blessed by the Creator.
This is the lesson demonstrated by the lives of those who constructed this republic using this Constitution. The only “we” in “we the people” were landholding men of European roots. And each time the notion of “we the people” manifests itself in that document, the meaning is clear: We have defined – and shall continue to define -- the terms by which all shall live.
For them, there was no, and, as far as they could decide, there would never be any wrestling with any demon.
But those who were demonized enjoined the self-defined hero and have struggled nevertheless. After all (one of them said), power concedes nothing without a struggle. The women struggled and continue to demand autonomy and independence. The transplanted abused enslaved less-than-humans struggled, claimed godlike powers and strove to upend the fiercely held fantasies that were used to constrain them eternally. The people who retreated further and further into the swamps, wilderness and forests, never forgot who they were and what they had held sacred. No memory is ever lost.
We hear much about extremism, terrorism and hatred of all that is “America.” We see devastation erupt more and more frequently. And we are told not to give in to fear – by those who are loudly shouting at every turn, “Be afraid, for you know not the time or the place.” We are, none of us, able to find a place that is safe. There is no home, no refuge, no hiding place. This is not what was promised on the Day of Establishment. This is not what “the general welfare” looks like. No one can “insure domestic tranquility.” How could the outcome ever have been otherwise? There has never been liberty and justice for more than a few. We have never been “the People.” We have been the alien, the stranger in the land, the outcast, the widow, the orphan...And this was never the Promised Land. Nor could it have ever been a “free State.” Too many died, too many were abused and far too much blood has poisoned the earth upon which we have built homes, factories and temples.
So what has been the fevered response to the impossibility of creating “a more perfect Union”? One sentence has been repeated with hypnotic effect, bringing false hope and security to those who desperately cling to the mistaken belief that they are the “we” in “We the People.”
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Madness has begotten madness. Those who know themselves to be “the people” know the true intent of their sacred chant. “We must protect ourselves from those who would otherwise destroy our freedom.” Being possessed by a demon means that one is not free. The other, the stranger, becomes a demon only in the haunted mind of one who cannot see the cancerous madness within. How was a sense of security ever possible?
The 2nd Amendment has a context, a history and will always be woven into the madness that is part of the founding of America. Before the writing of the U. S. Constitution in 1787, there were at least fifty-five notable insurrections in the American colonies, beginning as early as 1526 (in what was then the Spanish colonies, and what is now South Carolina). From Massachusetts to New York, to Maryland, to Virginia, to South Carolina, to Georgia, to French Louisiana, Africans and Native Americans and excluded white citizens rose up to destroy the oppressive system of enslavement, indenture and forcible acquisition of land. Some of the insurrections inflicted various levels of destruction of property and death. Some of the insurrections and acts of violence were thwarted by various means, including betrayals.
Every man who assembled for the composition of the U. S. Constitution knew this history – far better than any of us today know it. In order to protect “the security of a free State,” guns must be available in order to exorcise the demons that lurk to destroy our tranquility, our safety, our prosperity. The need for a well-regulated militia that could be mustered at a moment’s notice was to provide safety from those who would march across the bridges, emerge from the swamps, appear suddenly from the forests and wreak destruction and death on those who knew they held their freedom with only the frailest grasp. So they had to put their trust in death.
To exorcise the demons.
Every great heroic myth of America, from its inception as a story that claimed only the exceptional few, guns have been the talisman wielded for protection from all harm – physical and mental. To hear only one version of the paranoia (that David Brion Davis explores so well in his study, The Slave Power Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style), we bring forth the tortured mind of the most mythic of the mythic heroes: Thomas Jefferson. Only one passage is of particular importance here. (Other scholars and commentators can look at Notes on the State of Virginia and find, for example in “Query VIII”, a foreshadowing of the hysterical and scrambled speculations as to the effects of unbounded immigration to America of people who were born into less-enlightened cultures. There may indeed be nothing new under the sun...)
Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites, ten thousand recollections, by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race. –To these objections, which are political, may be added others, which are physical and moral.... (“Query XIV,” Notes)
“Deep rooted prejudices.... ten thousand recollections, by the blacks...new provocations...others which are physical and moral....”
The enumerations provided by Jefferson’s experience, history and imagination, could serve as an outline for the true examples of domestic terrorism that began in the Colonies and continued to Fort Pillow in the Civil War; to Wounded Knee in the late 1800’s; to Springfield and East St. Louis; to Atlanta; to Tulsa; and on to Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, and Orlando. Prejudices kill those who have been defined as other.
But we cannot exterminate the other without eventually exterminating our very selves. For just as the alien and stranger dwelt in Egypt and in the land the Israelites believed had been given them by their God, so too do all of us have to see that we are the strangers in someone else’s mind and heart and dreams – if not nightmares.
When does the murdering cease, so that we learn that whatever is darkest in us is the voice of truth? If the truth is not set free, we shall exterminate ourselves. And Rachel weeps, everywhere. (Matthew 2:18) “Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”
The child within each of us is no longer safe, if we do not heal the madness that now spills out of this darkness.