Chapter 21: Thou Also Dwellest In Eternity
Work hard, play hard, converge to a transcendent and unified end state of human evolution called the Omega Point as predicted by Teilhard.
Noon, May 12, 2017
The resemblances between San Francisco and the Biblical Jerusalem are uncanny.
The highest point in Jerusalem was King Solomon’s Temple Mount; the highest point in San Francisco is the suspiciously-named Mount Davidson. To the north of the Temple was the Golden Gate, leading to the city of Tiberias; to the north of Mount Davidson is the Golden Gate Bridge, leading to the city of Tiburon. Southwest of Jerusalem city center was the Roman legions’ camp (Latin: “castrum”); southwest of San Francisco city center is the Castro District. To the south of Jerusalem lay Gehennam, the Valley of Sulfur; to the south of San Francisco lies Silicon Valley. To the east of Jerusalem was the giant dungheap where the Israelites would throw their refuse; to the east of San Francisco is Oakland. Like I said, uncanny.
The east gate of Jerusalem is called the Bab al-Buraq; the east gate of San Francisco is called the Bay Bridge. The Bab al-Buraq has been bricked up since the Crusades; the Bay Bridge has been barricaded since the 1970s.
Ana Thurmond spoke a Name, became invisible, and slipped past the barricades, the guards in their guard towers none the wiser.
Just inside the Bab al-Buraq was the Temple Treasury; just past the barricades on the Bay Bridge is Treasure Island. The Temple Treasury became a base for the Knights Templar; Treasure Island became a base for the US Navy. Both military forces abandoned their respective bases a few decades later; both had their partisans who prophecied they would one day regain their former glory. The Temple Treasury, upon the coming of Moshiach and the construction of the Third Temple; Treasure Island, after the San Francisco government completed an environmental impact evaluation and approved a real estate development plan. God in His wisdom alone knows which will happen first.
Ana passed Treasure Island, went into the tunnel through Yerba Buena. There are tunnels underneath Jerusalem, too, built for sieges. Some of them have the earliest known paleo-Hebrew inscriptions on them. The Yerba Buena tunnel had a sign. It said:
AS PER THE CALIFORNIA SECURITY ACT OF 1972, SECTION 22 PART 10:
This has been declared a restricted area
It is unlawful to cross beyond this point
Deadly force will be used upon violators of this ordinance
Ana left the tunnel, walked onto the second half of the bridge. The sun beat down on her. The span of the bridge seemed to shimmer and sway. The city ahead of her grew larger with each step.
John of Patmos described the New Jerusalem as “having the glory of God, and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal”. The buildings of San Francisco were…varied. Ana had seen them before, but only from afar. There’s a park in Berkeley where you can sit on the edge of the Bay and stare directly across at San Francisco. Throughout the 70s and 80s, such watchers were rewarded with strange sights. New skyscrapers arose. Old ones were torn down. A huge lidless eye opened on the top of the Transamerica Pyramid. Weird structures that seemed to defy gravity were erected, geodesic domes, spiral minarets in every color of the rainbow. Iridescent spheres the size of city blocks that hovered in midair. The northern end of the Golden Gate, shrouded in a luminous mist.
Now as she stepped off the Bay Bridge, she saw it face-to-face for the first time. It was even stranger than she had expected. The sidewalks were covered with kabbalistic diagrams written in gold chalk. The walls of the buildings were covered with murals depicting alien worlds, and every spot of greenery burst forth with flowers that were out of season or totally unrecognizable. Young children played in car-free streets with asphalt white as pearl.
(“Thus says the Lord,” prophesied Zechariah. “Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.”)
“Transcendent joy,” a little boy told Ana as she passed him, heedless of her invisibility. “Universal love,” said the little girl he was playing with. “Holy, holy, holy!” barked their little dog.
An old man was sweeping the streets with a broom. His faces sparkled like that of a young man looking into the eyes of his beloved. “Transcendent joy,” he told her, and Ana replied with an awkward “Thanks”, breaking her invisibility – not that it seemed to be useful here. Whatever had made them like this must have also –
Wait, thought Ana, did that dog just bark the word ‘holy’ at me?
Francis of Assisi had been unusually holy even for saints. His father had been a rich businessman, and he grew up in a world of luxury, sports, and feasting. One day, he was out selling cloth for his father’s business when a beggar approached him and asked for alms. Francis tossed him a coin, and the beggar went away. Then he sat and thought for a few minutes. Then he ran after the beggar, caught up with him, and gave him everything he had.
When he told his father what had happened, the old man was outraged. Why had he blown away his money like that? Well, why indeed? Francis couldn’t answer. He just thought…well, doesn’t the Bible say we should do good? “Not that much good, Francis!”
His father sent Francis off to war. On the way to battle, Francis saw another knight with worse armor than he, and gave the man his armor. Apparently he was no more a soldier than a merchant. “Look,” his father told him, as they sat selling cloth together in the marketplace, “good is all nice and good in moderation, but it’s a give and take thing. You’ve got to find a happy medium.”
(But the soul is still oracular, amid the market’s din / List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within / They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.)
(“I’m not saying make compromise with sin. I’m just saying it wouldn’t kill you to be less than maximally saintly sometimes.”)
(“Exactly what do you think compromise with sin is?”)
Everyone likes goodness, in the abstract. Everybody agrees that things that are more good are better things to do. But somehow it slips away. We use words like supererogatory, phrases like “nobody’s perfect”. We set a limit to our duty, reach it if we’re lucky, and past that we just give the usual excuses – “yeah, but if I gave all of my stuff to beggars, I’d end up as a beggar myself”, or just “I never said I was a saint.”
St. Francis gave his clothes to a beggar, then took the beggars’ rags for himself. He swore an oath of perpetual poverty and begged for bread in the streets of Rome. He started hanging around in hovels and ministering to lepers, on the grounds that this sounded like a very holy thing to do. He rebuilt ruined churches with his own hands, stone by stone. When he read that same Bible verse Peter Singer must have read – “if you would be perfect, sell all you have and give it to the poor” – he sold all he had and gave it to the poor, mildly confused that other Christians didn’t when it was right there in the Bible. When someone stole his cloak, he literally ran after him to offer his robe as well.
He attracted a following of thousands of people. He fasted for weeks at a time. The Pope started to have dreams about him.
He decided to stop the Crusades by converting the Sultan of Egypt to Christianity. Unarmed and provisionless, he walked from Italy to the Middle East, performing various miracles along the way. In Egypt he was captured by Saracens and beaten nearly to death. But they let him have his audience with the Sultan, maybe just for the comedy value; Francis dusted himself off, got up, and started talking about how everyone should live in peace and harmony with one another. The Sultan was so impressed that he converted to Christianity on the spot, according to later historians who were all Christians and who never quite got around to citing their sources and who changed the subject when asked why there continued to be Crusades.
After this Francis just went around preaching to everything in sight. When the cawing of a flock of birds interrupted one of his sermons, Francis preached to the birds, telling them that God had provided them with beautiful feathers and the gift of flight, so instead of screeching randomly all the time why didn’t they help him at his prayers? The birds immediately quieted down and began to pray with Francis. When a wolf was eating people in the nearby town, Francis reminded the wolf that men were made in the image of God, and the wolf was so ashamed it slunk into town in an apologetic-looking manner and begged the townspeople for forgiveness. He invented the Christmas nativity scene. He saw visionary angels. He inexplicably developed wounds that looked a lot like the stigmata of Christ.
“Preach of God at all times,” they said he would tell them. “If necessary, use words.”
I am a kabbalist. Names have power. The Spaniards who settled California named a mission after him, Mission San Francisco de Asís. You give a place a name like that, things happen. Maybe it becomes a nexus for countercultural love and tolerance. Maybe it starts to develop uncanny geographical resemblances to Jerusalem. And maybe the Right Hand of God descends upon Mount Davidson into the body of a drug-addled hippie and ushers in a city-specific version of the Messianic Age, leaving its neighbors deeply concerned.
The whole thing happened suddenly, over the course of a couple of days in 1970. Early June they were debating a couple of big banks’ proposals to build new skyscrapers; late June they were pretty much just singing songs of praise for the glory of God. Worse, it was catching. Anyone who stayed in the city long enough seemed to become like that – with long enough being anywhere from days to months. They never got better and they never left. The whole place was sealed off as a public safety hazard, which seemed to bother them not at all.
“The true servant unceasingly rebukes the wicked,” St. Francis had said, “but he does it most of all by his conduct, by the truth that shines in his words, by the light of his example, by all the radiance of his life.” Whatever had happened in San Francisco, the city was happy to stay self-contained, leading only by example. And the rest of the world was happy to place a military barricade around it and keep trying to ignore that example as long as possible.
There were old maps, from the time when the city was still a part of the outside world. Ana remembered certain names: Market Street, Lombard Street, Embarcadero – but she didn’t see any of them, and the street signs seem to have been torn down and replaced with standing stones covered in Enochian, the language of angels. So she followed the waterfront, looking for some kind of official building where she might be able to get some information, register herself, figure out who the authorities were. Back when people had still visited the city, they could go native in as little as days; Ana didn’t plan to stay that long. She would get the kabbalistic books she needed to reconstruct the Vital Name, then get out.
The bulbs of the streetlights had been replaced with lidless eyes, each ineffably wise and beautiful. The mailboxes were made of jasper, and the parking meters of carnelian. Seagulls called “Holy, holy, holy!” down at her from the roofs.
A man in a food stand offered her a churro. Ana fumbled for currency, sputtering that she had only American greenbacks and not whatever passed for money in San Francisco. “God has provided us this food,” said the vendor, “and you are a child of God. Would God let His children go hungry, when all food is His?” He refused to accept a single cent. She sat down on a pier with the churro, drank water from a water fountain made of onyx and abalone. Seals splashed around in the sea in front of her, heedless of her presence.
It was the hottest part of the afternoon now. The air shimmered more than she was used to. The streets were changing color in a seven second cycle, red-yellow-green-blue-purple-red. The stars were clearly visible, though it was day. The seals barked “Holy, holy, holy!” at her, and the seagulls answered with “Universal love!”.
“Universal love,” a woman walking a Golden Retriever said to Ana. “Transcendent joy,” barked the dog. “Everything has been perfect forever,” the woman told her dog, and it quieted down.
There was a tower on a hill, a few minutes’ walk from the waterfront. The lure was irresistible. She left the shoreline and begin to walk inland, gradually uphill. She wasn’t sure if the streets were spiral-shaped or, if so, how she continued to cover distance. The clouds came in tens, ten of one type, then another. Ana thought this might be important. In a yard ahead and to the right of her, two men were talking to a flock of scarlet macaws, and the macaws were listening intently.
“Universal love!” screeched one of the macaws, and the men sagely nodded their heads in agreement. “Transcendent joy,” one of them said, and the others laughed knowingly.
She reached the tower. Needless to say, there was a spiral staircase. The inside was covered in colorful murals. The symbolism was unclear. A man crumpling a newspaper. A library. Endless fruit trees, vast machinery, scenes of devastation. Empty-eyed people crammed together like crabs in a bucket or the damned in Hell. A woman swimming in a cloud, a thousand feet above what was recognizably San Francisco. A doorway flanked by the sun and moon, with two great Eyes staring forth from thunderclouds above.
Ana stepped through the doorway and reached the top of the tower.
The sky was now very clearly glass, and she could see the gears and conduits above it, the part Ginsberg had called the machinery of night. She could see the connection between the machinery and the pulse of San Francisco. She knew the city’s hidden pattern now, she saw it all laid out in order around Mt. Davidson. She knew she could go there in an instant if she wanted, but there was no need, not here.
She spoke the Zephyr Name and called the winds for no reason but exultation.
They came to her, the sirocco and the squall, the monsoon and the derecho. The mistral, the levante, the tramontane. The haboob, the marin, the simoom. They all presented themselves before her, but came no further.
She had never spoken a kabbalistic Name like this before. Before they had just been letters, the appellation of a distant and transcendant deity. Now God was with her and beside her. John of Patmos had said that there would be no Temple in the New Jerusalem, because God would dwell there everywhere alike.
Last of all the winds came her own wind, the Santa Ana.
She danced in the wind, maniacally, singing, laughing. “Holy, holy, holy!” she sang, and the wind carried the word to the four quarters. For a brief moment, she passed beyond time. “Transcendent joy!” she shouted at all the poor people trapped in the sublunary world, but they didn’t hear.
Someone grabbed her body, the part of her that was stuck on the tower, the part of her that meant nothing. “Stop!” he told her, in a man’s voice. “You’ve got to come back!”
Ana soared. She circled the Transamerica Pyramid, and the giant lidless eye watched her course impassively.
“Listen!” said the man. “One plus one is two. If you don’t eat, you die. P implies not not P. Prices are controlled by the law of supply and demand, and are the only fair way of managing scarcity.”
Ana began to lose altitude.
“Organisms evolve according to the laws of natural selection. Reproductively fit organisms pass their genes on to the next generation. Uh. The wages of sin are death. Everybody dies. In a closed system, entropy always increases.”
Ana flapped her arms vigorously, trying to regain altitude, but her flight had never come from wings to begin with, and she fell further.
“Matter can’t be created or destroyed. Uh, calculus. Taxing a product disincentivizes its production. The light speed limit. No mathematical system can prove itself consistent, or else it would be inconsistent.”
Ana gently landed somewhere. She wasn’t in the tower. She was on a wharf. There were people all around her, dousing her with water, holding her hands, saying things to her.
“Prisoner’s dilemma! Can’t square the circle! Nothing exists but atoms and empty space, all else is opinion! Bad money drives out…no, look guys! She’s awake!”
Ana smiled, like someone awaking from a beatific dream. The men around her began to hoot and slap each other on the backs. She barely noticed.
In front of her was the most beautiful ship she had ever seen.