Qur’an 26: The Poets

“The Poets,” the twenty-sixth chapter of the Qur’an, directly addresses the previous chapter, “The Criterion.” In “The Criterion” you are expected to the a Prophet of God, and to elaborate the Book, the logos, in your “criterion.” But what happens when others ignore the way you point to God, and mock the book of your life?

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Matthew 23:37

A reading, from the Book of Genesis:

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” And Noah did according to all that the Lord commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth.
Genesis 7:1-6

Alleluia, Hallelujah

On the very same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark
Genesis 7:13

Alleluia, Alleluia

A reading, from the Second Letter of St. Peter:

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment
2 Peter 2:4-9

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:

“Woe to you, Chorazin!

Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
Matthew 11:20-24

Communion Antiphon

Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses.
Exodus 14:31

A Qur’anic Homily

While addressed to a specifically Arab-speaking audience, the twenty-sixth chapter of the Qur’an continues to speak directly to you, the reader. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to you, as it speak to your ancestors and the great figures of the Bible:

This is indeed sent down by the Lord of all the worlds, brought down by a Trustworthy Spirit upon your heart (so that you may be one of the warners), in a clear Arabic language. It is indeed in the scriptures of the ancients.
Qur’an 26:192-196

Catholics concerned about the Universal Call of Holiness may face despair at all those who seem totally deaf to holiness. Likewise, the Universal Call to Prophethood found in the Qur’an’s twenty-fifth chapter can lead to despair over those who not only do not join in the universal call, but who are deaf to the resulting signs pointing to God.

You are liable to imperil your life that they will not have faith.
Qur’an 26:3

But the results of prophecy — whether others actually listen or not — is up to God, not the prophet. You, as a prophet, do not have the power to compel obedience or worship. God can do all things as He wants. For you, responding to the Call is enough.

If We Wish, We will send down to them a sign from the heavens before which their heads will remain bowed in humility. There does not come to them any new reminder from the All-beneficent but that they disregard it. They have already impugned, but soon there will come to them at the news of what they have been deriding.
Qur’an 26:4-6

Indeed, the twenty-sixth chapter of the Qur’an includes six summaries of prophets, both biblical (Moses to Egypt, Abraham to the Chaldeans, Noah to his antediluvian people, Lot to Sodom) and otherwise (Salih to Thamud, Shu’ayb to Aykah), each of which are described as following this pattern.

The universal call to prophethood gives each individually a mandate to ensure the book of their lives — their “Criterion” — points to God. You have a duty to protect those you listen to you to the best of your ability. But do not despair of those who reject your righteous signs.

Warn the nearest of your kinsfolk, and lower your wing to the faithful who follow you. But if they disobey you, say, “I am absolved of what you do.” And put your trust in the Almighty, the All-Merciful, who sees you when you stand, and your going out about among those who prostrate.
Quran 26:214-219

By doing so you will be writing a book of your life within the logos — elaborating the Book in daily living — and thus prophet. The opposite fate is to be writing a book that is outside the logos, and elaborates something different than the Book. These “poets” ultimately channel ideas from devils:

Shall I inform you on whom the devils descend? They descend on every sinful liar. They eavesdrop and most of them are liars. As for hte poets, the perverse follow them. Have you not regarded that they rove in every valley and that they say what they do not do?
Qur’an 26:221-226

An Example

The archetypal imagery of Light and Water, order and chaos, are repeated in the life of every prophet.

Have they not regarded the earth, how many of every splendid kind We have caused to grow in it? There is indeed a sign in that; but most of them do not have faith. Indeed, your Lord is the All-Mighty, the All-Merciful.
Qur’an 26:7-9

But so is the narrative. Within “The Poets” the most detailed example is of Moses, but every poet in his own life lives the same drama. Obeying God and starting on a heroic path:

So approach Pharaoh and say, “We are indeed envoys of the Lord of the worlds, that you let the Children of Israel leave with us.”
Qur’an 26:16

Rapidly leads to a reminder of your weakness and your past missteps:

He said, “Did we not rear you as a child among us, and did you not stay with us for years of your life? Then you committed that deed of yours, and you are an ingrate.”
Qur’an 26:17

God, in His greatness, may send a sign:

Moses said to them, “Throw down whatever you have to throw!” So they threw down their sticks and ropes, and said, “By the might of Pharaoh, we shall surely be victors!”

Thereat Moses threw down his staff, and behold, it was swallowing what they had faked.
Qur’an 26:43-45

Which — for a few, at least — maybe persuasive:

Thereat the magicians fell down prostrating. They said, “We believe int he Lord of all the worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron.”
Qur’an 26:46-48

But often enough, ignored by the person we think we are there to prophecy to:

He said, “Did you believe him before I should permit you? He is indeed your chief who has taught you magic! Soon you will know! I will cut off your hands and feet form opposite sides, and I will crucify you all.”
Qur’an 26:49

Our good deeds, once more leading to insults and humiliations:

Then Pharaoh sent heralds to the cities: “These are indeed a small band. They have aroused our wrath, and we are alert.”
Qur’an 26:53-55

But have patience. God works wonders in His time, not yours.

Thereupon We revealed to Moses: “Strike the sea with your staff!” Whereupon it parted, and each part was as if it were a great mountain. There, We brought the others near, and We delivered Moses and all those who were with him. Then We drowned the rest.
Qur’an 26:63-66

These patterns repeat over and over, in the Scriptures and without, in Arabia and without, in your life and in your years and months and days. They repeat endlessly.

Until the last day.

Conclusion

The twenty-sixth chapter of the Qur’an, “The Poets,” examines the consequences of responding to the universal call to prophethood. Your life is a book, the criterion by which you will be judged. It is a Book of the Lord, or merely a book of poetry. If it is a Book of the Lord, have patience. God could show dazzling signs and wonders to all who reject you if He wished. Your prophethood is not wanted because God needs a prophet — Your prophethood is wanted because God is all-good, and prophecy points to the good. If the book of your life is not a Book of the Lord — if it is merely a book of poetry inspired by devils — well, you will see how it ends soon enough.

Impressions of “Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers,” by Richard Garriott with David Fisher

Explore/Create is an odd book in need of a better episode. It is composed of episodes from two of Richard Garriott’s passions: making computer games and space. These two stories eventually converge, with exciting and unexpected results. Because of the nearly-random ordering of chapters, though, most of the dramatic tension is lost. The story is still fascinating if you care about either — or better, both — of these passions, however. Garriott is a legitimate pioneer in both fields.

I knew Garriott from computer games, where he is known as “Lord British.” Garriott was the writer of one of the first commercial computer games — Ultima — and the founder of one of the first successful games publishers, Origin Systems. Even before I had a computer I knew of his work through Ultima IV, a computer game where the moral “alignment” of the player character is under continued development. Likewise, I remember following the launch of Ultima Online in high school, as well as the famous assassination of Lord British.

But while this is happening a loving but titanic figure looms in the background — the astronaut Owen Garriot. Richard had grown in up Houston near Mission Control. A number of chapters which at first seem to be self-indulgent narcissism lead to Richard’s contributions to human space flight: his company Space Adventures was an early funder of the X prize

I greatly enjoyed the episodes of the history of computer games. Growing up in Houston near NASA, Garriott was part of the Texas computer scene (indeed, he founded Origin around the time that Compaq was founded.) But while California was a golden light for the Compaq founders, for Garriott it was a warning: the flightiness and drug-use of early California entrepreneurs served as things to avoid for Origin.

I wish Garriott spoke more about the transitions Origin made. He writes about the painfulness of transitioning from Apple-based to a PC-based clones, but has few details. Origin is sold to EA, but beyond making shelf space easier to get, little is said to why.

While at EA Garriott created Ultima Online, the first large-scale massively multiplayer online role playing game. Garriott describes some of the corporate politics that went into creating the game, including the unexpected consequence of people selling in-game “gold” for actual money. Even though the creation of Ultima Online is one of the most detailed parts of the narrative, I was left wanting more of these details (And less of, say, Garriott’s Titanic themed party in Austin).

Much more is said of why Garriott left NC Soft, and the subsequent lawsuit. And here’s where the two threads of Garriott’s life — attempting to reach space and making computer games — clearly interacted. Richard was fired immediately upon returning from the International Space Station, while still in quarantine. His $32 million victory would be the highlight of many lives — Garriott’s life is exciting enough that it’s a transition from one chapter to another.

So I wish these threads were better connected. Garriott’s love of space, and his skill at the game business, lead him to dramatic climaxes at nearly the same space and time. In my mind I organize the stories in the book this way. But instead the book begins at a seemingly self-indulgent tale of Garriott viewing the Titanic, and events that make the lawsuit with NC Soft more meaningful (like previous experience at Origin) is treated only superficially.

I also wish there was more on Garriott’s space exploration work. I don’t know if what appears to be a gap between what Garriott describes (funding for early space companies, a role in the creation of the X-Prize, etc.) and what I can find elsewhere represents Garriott’s grandstanding in this book, or his unfair marginalization in other work. Frustratingly, not enough detail is given in this book to even have a clear idea.

Last, it’s too bad that Richard did not narrate his own book. Garriott is charismatic and a good speaker, and many of the events in this book are better told in Garriott’s interview on Retro Tea Break. Richard Garriott is justly respected in the history of of computer gaming, yet an openly admiring interviewer is able to extract a more coherent narrative out of Garriott than he presents of his own life.

I really want to read an Explore/Create 2.0. I want to know more of Garriott’s work at Origin, more about EA, more about space, more about NC Soft. Hopefully, one day I will be able to.

I read Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers in the Audible edition.

Qur’an 25: The Criterion

The twenty-fifth chapter of the Qur’an, “The Criterion” contains a universal call to prophethood.  “The Criterion” contrasts blasphemy and prophecy — blasphemers and prophets differ in how they relate to the Logos, or in Qur’anic terminology, the Book. Blasphemers are unable to do anything outside the Logos (outside the Book), even though they call themselves “gods.” Prophets, following the sign of Jesus and Mary, are called to spread the good news to all nations. To the extent you allow your actions to be guided by God’s Spirit you are a prophet, and The Criterion is your elaboration of the Logos in this world.

Readings

Entrance antiphon:

For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:21

A reading, from the Book of Numbers

Then the Lord met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, “Go back to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” So he came to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab were with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the Lord spoken?”

Then he took up his oracle and said:

“Rise up, Balak, and hear!
Listen to me, son of Zippor!

“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Behold, I have received a command to bless;
He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.”
Numbers 23:16-20

A Psalm, from the Psalms:

Let all be put to shame who serve carved images, Who boast of idols.
Worship Him, all you gods.

Zion hears and is glad,
And the daughters of Judah rejoice
Because of Your judgments, O Lord.

For You, Lord, are most high above all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods.
Psalms 97:7-9

A reading, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Alleluia, Alleluia

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 28:19

Alleluia, Alleluia

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew:

And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
Matthew 10:1-10

Communion antiphon

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Revelation 1:3

A Qur’anic Homily

Briefly, the Qur’anic author describes a number of Prophets, and the written works they were given. The phrase “We gave—,” when attributed to angels, can apply to…

Moses and the Book:

Certainly We gave Moses the Book and followed him with the apostles, and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and confirmed him with the Holy Spirit. Is it not that whenever an apostle brought you that which was not to your liking, you would act arrogantly; so you would impugn a group, and slave a group?
Qur’an 2:57-58

Other Prophets the Book:

And We gave [Abraham] Isaac and Jacob and guided each of them. And Noah We had guided before, and from his offspring David and Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses and Aaron — thus do we reward the virtuous — and Zechariah, John, Jesus, and Elijah — each of them among the righteous — Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah, and Lot – each We preferred over all the nations — and from among their fathers, descendants and brethren — We chose them and guided them to a straight path.

That is God’s guidance: with it He guides whomever He wishes of His servants. But were they to ascribe any partners, what they used to do would not avail them.

They are the ones whom We gave the Book, the judgment, and the prophethood. So if these disbelieve in them, We have certainly entrusted them to a people who will never disbelieve in them. They are the ones whom God has guided. So follow their guidance.
Qur’an 6:85-90

Then We gave Moses the Book, completing on him who is virtuous, and as an elaboration of all things, and as guidance and mercy, so that they may believe in the encounter with their Lord.

David and the Psalms:

Your Lord knows best whoever is in the heavens and the earth. Certainly We gave some prophets an advantage over the others, and We gave David the Psalms.
Qur’an 17:55

And Christ the Gospel:

We followed them with Jesus Son of Mary to confirm that which was before him of the Torah, and We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, confirming what was before it of the Torah, and as guidance and advice for the Godwary.

Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has sent down in it. Those who do not judge by what God has sent down — it is they who are the transgressors.
Qur’an 5:45-47

As St. John calls he who reads and hear prophecy “blessed,” so is the Logos itself Blessed. For all right words come from the Logos, and all right hearing is the hearing of the Logos, and all mercy is in the Logos:

And this Book We have sent down is a blessed one; so follow it and be Godwary so that you may receive mercy.
Qur’an 6:154-155

This is the context for the unknown prophet and his Criterion. God is known through the Logos, and the Logos (in an elaboration of the Book which is not the Torah, or Psalms, or Gospel, but something else) is sent down to an unnamed prophet in a work called the Criterion.

Blessed is He who sent down the Criterion to His servant that he may be a warner to all the nations.
Qur’an 25:1

The phrase “all the nations” seems reserved for Jesus and Mary in the Qur’an, meaning the unnamed prophet is associated somehow with bringing the Christ and the Virgin into the world:

And her who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and made her and her Son a sign for all the nations.
Qur’an 21:91

The identity of this prophet and his elaboration of the Book, the Criterion, is the dramatic tension that drives the opening of this chapter. So what do we know about the Prophet?

The Identity of the Prophet

The Prophet is embodied — he buys and sells. He is vulnerable to persecution — he does not have any visible angelic protection. He is limited as all men are limited — he does not possess unlimited wealth:

And they say, “What sort of apostle is this who eats food and walks in the marketplaces? Why has not an angel been sent down to him so as to be a warner along with him? Or why is not a fortune given to him, or does he have a garden from which he may eat?’ And the wrongdoers say, ‘You are just following a bewitched man.”
Qur’an 25:7-8

The prophet preaches to those who need conversion:

He was indeed about to lead us astray from our gods, had we not stood firm by them.” Soon they will know, when they sign the punishment, who is further astray from the Way.”
Qur’an 25:42

People will mock the prophet…

When they see you, they just take you in derision: “Is this the one whom God has sent as an apostle?!”
Qur’an 25:41

And if you need to re-read the above sentence: the prophet is you, insofar as you spread the good news of salvation and warm others of the wages of sin:

We did not send you except as a bearer of good news and warner. Say, “I do not ask you any reward for it, except that anyone who wishes should take the way to his Lord.
Qur’an 25:56-57

You and the Bishops and God

The Qur’anic authors views of the the Christ’s commissions to his disciples is much closer to the Presbyterian or Unitarian perspectives than to the Catholic one. The Qur’anic author clearly does not see a role for apostolic succession and does not believe Christ is establish it. Rather, Christ’s commissioning of the apostles is a type of the Holy Spirit commissioning men after Pentecost.

A notable difference int he Qur’anic authors terminology, as opposed to the early Protestant Reformers, is the use of “Prophet” as opposed to “Saint” to describe a follower of the Logos. The Qur’an presents the Logos as a passive Book to be read, rather than a an active Man united with God, so the prophetic rather than saintly aspects of a godwary Logos-follower are emphasized.

Thus, those who point away from God are basically anti-prophets, taking gods who are not God. Without God and His Logos these fake gods (and there was a species of bishop at the time who called themselves “gods”) are only men without the ability to truly destroy or create. (As with Reformation-era Presbyterians and Unitarians, the Qur’anic author is rather obsessed with the Catholic hierarchy.)

Yet they have taken gods besides Him who create nothing and have themselves been created, and who have no control over their own harm or benefit, and have neither control over death, nor life, nor resurrection.
Qur’an 25:3

Also like the Presbyterians and Unitarians of the Protestant Reformation, the Qur’anic author emphasizes the value of prophecy and ministry, against the Catholic view of office. Aaron’s role as the first High Priest is minimized, his personal role as a minister is emphasized:

Certainly We gave Moses the Book and We made Aaron, his brother, accompany him as a minister. Then We said, “let the two of you go to the people who have impugned Our signs.” Then We destroyed them utterly.
Qur’an 25:36-37

The “false gods” (the bishops) and the the “prophets” (the godwary) are both men. The Qur’anic authors emphasis of the incarnate nature of the bishops does not by itself deny their divine mandate, but does serve to emphasize that at best a bishop can point the way to God, but should not be taken for a God Himself:

Have you seen him who has taken his desire to be his god? It is your duty to watch over him?
Qur’an 25:43-44

The Justification of the Prophet by Works

The prophet — that is you — should not despair at the lack of conversion of the powerful. God will judge them in time. God will decide which of them are god-fearing and which are not. Judgment is reserved to God, even from those who are made to be prophets:

On the day that He will muster them and those whom they worship besides God, He will say, ‘Was it you who lead astray these servants of Mine, or did they themselves tray from the Way?’ They will say, ‘Immaculate are You! It does not behoove us to take any master in Your stead! But You provided for them and their fathers until they forgot the Reminder, and they were a ruined lot.”
Qur’an 25:17-18

They mock you as they do not see your guardian angel. But they will not be mocking when they do see the angles.

The day they will see the angels, there will be no good news for the guilty on that day, and they will say, “Keep off!” Then We shall attend to the works they have done and turn them into scattered dust.
Qur’an 25:22-23

Yet in at least one way the Qur’anic author would have been uncomfortable with the Protestant Reformers: his focus on the importance of good works. The righteous “prophets” are defined their actions, from social actions such as saying “Peace” to their manner of prayer:

The servants of the All-beneficent are those who walk humbly on the earth, and when the ignorant address them, say “Peace!” Those who spend the night for their Lord, prostrating and standing. Those who say, “our Lord! Turn away from us the punishment of hell. Its punishment is indeed enduring. It is indeed an evil station and abode.
Qur’an 25:63-66

Belief and action are not taken as separate things in the Qur’an, but as a unity. For instance, the right prayer itself is a work. The Qur’anic author does not make salvation as easy as a question of belief, but nor is it physically impossible for any accomplish:

And those who say, “Our Lord! Give us joy and comfort in our spouses and offspring, and make us leaders of the godwary.” Those shall be rewarded with sublime abodes for their patience sand steadfastness, and they shall be met there with greetings and peace, to abide in them, an excellent station and abode.
Qur’an 25:74-76

A Prophet, not a “God”

Unlike the bishops who during the Roman period say themselves as temporal rulers, the ruler of this world (According to the Qur’anic author) is clearly God: God organized the cosmos…

It is He who merged the two seas: this one sweet and agreeable, and that one briny and bitter, and between the two He set a barrier and a forbidding hindrance.
Qur’an 25:53

along the lines described by St. Ephrem the Syrian

The upper waters, because they had been separated on the second day from the lower waters by the firmament set between them, were also sweet like the lower waters. (The upper waters are not those that became salty in the seas on the third day.)
St Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis

God uses water to bring the dead to life:

And it is He who sends the winds as harbingers of His mercy, and We send down from the sky purifying water, with which We revive a dead country and provide water to many of the cattle and humans We have created.
Qur’an 25:48-49

And even water to create the first life:

It is He who created the human being from water, then invested him with ties of blood and marriage, and your Lord is all-powerful.
Qur’an 25:54

It is God, and not man, who placed the lights in the sky: For as these lights help man to know the night from the day, but cannot create themselves, so a prophet is a boon to his fellow man, but is not a god to be worshiped by him:

Blessed is He who appointed houses in the heavens and set in it a lamp and a shining moon. It is He who made the night and the day alternate for someone who desires to take admonition, or desires to give thanks.
Qur’an 25:61-62

Conclusion

The Criterion is the work of your life, you are the prophet who hears the Book from the Spirit. Does your prophecy point to God or to seductive idols? Do you look ahead to a house with many mansions, or to an evil abode in hell?

Impressions of “#1 in Customer Service, The Complete Adventures of Tom Stranger,” by Larry Correia and performed by Adam Baldwin

I said it last time, and I’ll say it again:

The Tom Stranger stories are the best comedies I have read since Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

#1 in Customer Service: The Complete Adventures of Tom Stranger includes the previous Tom Stranger stories, three new tales

  • A short story, “Doughnut Run,”
  • A new full-length story, Apocalypse Cow
  • and another short story, “The Custies”

Of these new stories, my favorite is “Doughnut Run.” It is told largely from the perspective of an arrogant manatee visiting Tom Stranger’s office. The way we are re-introduced to familiar friends from a comically villainous perspective is terrific. Manatees make such arrogant antagonists.

The tropes are always the same, and always delightful. Jimmy the Intern is a hapless fool who is well intentioned but makes the situation worse. Tom Stranger is comically flawless. Manatees are tough and often rude. Villains are both topical (like FBI Director Robert Mueller) and hilarious. Instead of a Douglas Adam’s ultimately gloomy atheist galaxy, Larry Correai presents a libertarian multiverse where anyone who MSNBC praises on this earth is at risk of ridicule in these pages.

Now that I’ve read five Tom Stranger stories, it seems fair to compare the entire work to the five Douglas Adams books. But — the Tom Stranger stories are likely to live in. Douglas Adams’ work began with the destruction of earth, proceeded to the end of the universe, and then by way of a galactic genocide went through the loss of wildlife and the death of our main characters. But Tom Stranger is there specifically to avoid these bad outcomes. An insurance agent against for cross-dimensional skulduggery, Stranger would never let his clients come to harm (provided they had the right policies).

I strongly recommend all Tom Stranger stories, and I can’t wait until the next one.

I read #1 in Customer Service: The Complete Adventures of Tom Stranger in the Audible edition.

Qur’an 24: The Light

The twenty-fourth chapter of the Qur’an, “The Light,” uses mythic language to describe God and Christ in an Arian cosmology. God is a Light, and Christ (according to the Qur’anic author) a lamp who held the light upon a Tree, allowing it to shine to the world. The Light is known to the world through Water (a feminine, passive medium, and a type of Mary), through which The Light created the world. . The ideal life of the faithful is to be like pure water, receiving God and making Him known to the world.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

The daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her father. She shall be burned with fire.
Leviticus 21:9

A reading, from the Book of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
Genesis 1:1-3

A Psalm, from the Psalms:

Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Extol Him who rides on the clouds,
By His name YAH,
And rejoice before Him.

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God sets the solitary in families;
He brings out those who are bound into prosperity;
But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.

O God, when You went out before Your people,
When You marched through the wilderness, Selah
The earth shook;
The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God;
Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Psalms 68:4-8

A reading, from the Second Letter of St. Peter:

And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit…

But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.

These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
2 Peter 1:19-21,2:12-17

Alleluia, Alleluia

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14

Alleluia, Alleluia

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel According to John:

Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them…

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.
John 12:35-36,42-46

Communion Antiphon

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelation 22:17

A Qur’anic Homily

This is a chapter of signs, of symbols that point to the Way. You have to read and understand the sign. But with advice from God, and the clarity that comes from God, the meaning of these symbols should be clear. God is the source of knowledge and wisdom and, by understanding the signs in this chapter, you can grow in these things.

God advises you should you ever repeat the like of it, if you are faithful. God clarifies the signs for you, and God is all-knowing, all-wise.
Qur’an 24:17-18

The Signs of Light and Water

Consider the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the Spirit was over the Waters, and there was Light. As St. Ephrem the Syrian, a Doctor of the Catholic Church, wrote:

It was through light, then, and through water that the earth brought forth everything. Even though God was able to bring forth everything from the earth without these things, it was His will to show that there was nothing that was created on earth that was not created for the purpose of man or for his service.
St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis, c. AD 350

Remember the meekest, the most humble, the most passive, the most feminine part of this primordial creation: the Water

God created every animal from water. Among them are some that creep upon their bellies, and among them are some that walk on two feet, and among them are some that walk on four. God creates whatever He wishes. Indeed, God has power over all things.
Qur’an 24:45

The Waters is not a Creatrix because she is more powerful than God. The Waters is not a Mediatrix out of her own power. The special place of the Waters is in receiving the Spirit, and joining her heart to His. In the Qur’an the ideal human female — Mary — is contrasted against the false male ideal of the Bishop.

Femininity without the Logos is chaos that can never be light.

Masculinity and femininity are paired, and (in the Qur’anic view) methods of God revealing himself through the Logos, the Book: Vicious masculinity earns the response of vicious femininity, but we know God through orderly wisdom within the Book. Masculinity within the Logos is responded to by femininity within the Logos:

Vicious women are for vicious men, and vicious men for vicious women. Good women are for good men, and good men for good women. These are absolved of what they say. For them is forgiveness and a noble provision.
Qur’an 24:26

The limits of Gods love is only an individual’s ability to accept it. The only masculine response to chaos — femininity without the Logos — would be tyranny, and not God’s loving command of “Light.” The only right response to tyranny — masculinity without the Logos — would be chaos.

As for the fornicatress and the fornicator, strike each of them a hundred lashes, and let no pity for them overcome you in God’s law if you believe in God and the Last Day, and let their punishment be witnessed by a group of the faithful.
Qur’an 24:2

But we know God within the Logos – in Qur’anic terms, the Book, and He responds to a sliver of order with graceful wisdom, and a sliver of wisdom with merciful order:

Were it not for God’s grace and His mercy upon you in this world and the Hereafter, there would have befallen you a great punishment for what you ventured into.
Qur’an 24:13

Marry off those who are single among you, and the upright among your male and female slaves. If they are poor, God will enrich them out of His bounty, and God is all-bounteous, all-knowing.
Qur’an 24:32

The Sign of the Clouds

Look up in the sky, and you may see another sign sent by God, to remind you of the beginning: Light and water, mixed together in the Clouds. A dark cloud, without light, is foreboding and a great danger. Light without water is too bright to bare, one would die in the radiant summer of eternal sunshine. But for us creatures, light and water, held by the breathe of God in the sky, allow life to thrive. But light and water can be a reminder of the power of God too — hailstorms and lightning:

Have you not regarded that God drives the clouds, then He composes them, then He piles them up, whereat you see the rain issuing form their midst? And He sends down hail from the sky, out of the mountains that are in it, and He strikes with it whomever He wishes and turns it away from whomever He wishes. The brilliance of its flashes almost take away the sight.
Qur’an 24:43

It’s important to remember that Water, if not for Light, would become darker and darker, and fold in on itself. All life is created by Light and Water, the formlessness and chaos of Water without Light is not a condemnation of water, but a reminder of Water’s need for Light to produce life.

Or like the manifold darkness in a deep sea, covered by billows upon billow, overcast by clouds; manifold darkness one on top of another: when he brings out his hand, he can hardly see it. One whom God has not granted any light has no light.
Qur’an 24:40

But it is not God’s will that we know Him without Water — without Darkness.

God alternates the night and the day. There is indeed a lesson in that for those who have insight.
Qur’an 24:44

The Sign of the Light and the Tree

Consider the Tree of Olives, at the very center of the world. On this Tree is a lamp which holds the Light. On this tree is a Light that signs like a star. A tree on the very edge of turning into flames, but a Tree that is protected from all burning. This Tree is Light Upon Light.

If the meaning of this isn’t clear, the Qur’anic author spells this parable out in the first words: God is the light.

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp — the lamp is in a glass — the glass as if it were a glittering star — lit from a blessed olive trees, neither eastern nor western, whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it. Light upon light, God guides to His Light whomever He wishes. God draws parables for mankind, and God has knowledge of all things.
Qur’an 24:35

But this is not Nicene Christianity. The Son is not Water, but nor is He Light itself. Instead we have the Light, through a Lamp, through Glass, shines. This is a ordering of the Trinity — Father, Spirit, and Son (and thus the processional priority of the Spirit over the Son) also found in other places in the Qur’an:

They question you concerning the Spirit. Say, ‘The Spirit is the Word of my Lord, and you have not been given of the knowledge except a few.’
Qur’an 17:85

And in ancient Christian writing:

God caused that holy, pre-existent Spirit which created all things to dwell in a body which he chose. The body into which that holy Spirit was placed served the Spirit, walking rightly and purely in humbleness, never defiling that Spirit. The body obeyed that holy Spirit at all times, laboring rightly and virtuously with Him and not faltering in any way. That wearied body served in humility, but was mightily approved to god with the Holy Spirit, and was accepted by Him. This courageous course pleased God because e was not defiled in the earth but kept the Spirit holy. Therefore He called His Son and the glorious angels as fellow councilors, so that this body might be given a place of honor — since it had served the Holy Spirit blamelessly — and that it would not seem to have lost the reward of its service. For the body in which the Holy Spirit dwelt that has been found without spot of defilement will receive a reward.
The Shepherd of Hermas, “The Fifth Parable”

The Qur’anic then immediately transitions from this parable to an observable reality: monasteries. Relative to God all souls are feminine, because He is active and generating while we are receptive and receiving. The Spirit works through us, not us through the Spirit. The most virtuous mate of any soul is God, we are the water through which He is made known on the earth.

In houses God has allowed to be raised and wherein His Name is celebrated, He is glorified therein, morning and evening, by men whom neither trade nor bargaining distracts from the remembrance of God and the maintenance of prayer and the giving of alms. They are fearful of a day wherein the hearts and the sights will be transformed, so that God may reward them by the best of what they have done and enhance them out of His grace, and God provides for whomever He wishes without any reckoning.
Qur’an 24:36-38

You are Like Water to Light

You are the Water, the appropriated beloved of the Light. The Water makes the Light known, as an Apostle makes God.

One of the most common phrases in the Qur’an is “This is the Book,” — that is, “This is the Logos.” In Qur’anic theology any person who reads The Book (whether the Torah, or the Psalms, or the Gospels, or the Qur’an itself) is a prophet, and apostle, someone who repeats the word of God in human words.

You know what to do. You know what God wants. So command yourself, and do it.

All the response of the faithful, when they are summoned to God and His Apostle that He may judge between them, is to say, ‘We hear and obey.’ It is they who will be felicitous.
Qur’an 24:51

The Qur’anic author (foreshadowing not just centuries of protestant thought, but St Augustine) that Bishops are not mediators or “partners” of God. Worship God, don’t call creatures “god,” have faith, do good works, and you will inherit the earth:

God has promised those of you who have faith and do righteous deeds that He will surely make them successors in the earth, just as He made those who were before them successors, and He will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them, and that He will surely change their state to security after their fear, while they worship Me, not ascribing any partners to Me. Whoever is ungrateful after that — it is they who are the transgressors.
Qur’an 24:53-55

The cross that you carry — to the Qur’anic author — is your own. God has sent Signs to show you what to do, and to the Qur’anic author Jesus himself is a sign. You have no helper except God, and no worker for your soul except yourself:

Say, ‘Obey God and obey the Apostle.’ But if you turn your backs, he is only responsible for his burden, and you are responsible for your own burden, and if you obey him, you will be guided, and the Apostle’s duty is only to communicate in clear terms.
Qur’an 24:54

And the terms are, to the Qur’anic author, as clear as can be. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Give alms to the poor. Obey the words you know that you have spoken. And God will have mercy on you.takes

Maintain the prayer and give alms, and obey the Apostle so that you may receive mercy.
Qur’an 24:56

Conclusion

“The Light” describes Creation as ongoing, with The Light working through Water to be known. At the beginning this was the Deep, at the Incarnation she was Mary. The ideal for the believers is the monastery, where the Light that shone from the Cross is praised and remembered.