I downloaded this song, Revelations, over a year ago. I can’t recall playing it since, though iTunes insists it’s been played 7 times before. Yesterday it came on while on my way to my chiropractor’s. Something about it haunted me. I wonder if I’d ever listened to the lyrics before. Really listened to them. Revelations, the apocalypse, judgment day: these concepts of the end time are so prevalent in this western culture I live in that even I sometimes forget that there’s any other way to think about the cosmology of existence.
I played the song over and over again. It’s hauntingly beautiful. The lead guitar line, with it’s gentle repetition of falling notes, the lilting voice, the weepy electric guitar that so achingly fills the void left when the voice trails off, and the soft percussive padding on animal skin that flows throughout, lonely and aware, to the final fade. I could listen to it just for that, and were it not for the lyrics, I would have only listened to it once.
That the world was ending
That the sky was falling down
All of the people are in the streets
Crying all alone
All of the buildings are crumbling down
One by one
That my prayers were answered
Happy to be home at last
Heaven on earth now had come to pass
A final judgment day
Funny how all of our darkest fears
Islands in the stream
A flash of light
A winter sky
On a summer’s night
Islands in the ocean
Appear as one
A river of tears
Sparkling in the sun
I don’t know if there’s a gentler song about the apocalypse, or more poetic imagery of the separate and alone becoming one. Revelations evokes a much more quiescent and beautiful vision of the end-time than I grew up with as a Catholic, but its facts are essentially the same.
What struck me, though, and the reason I played it over and over, is how far my own understanding of cosmology has shifted from an apocalyptic day of revelation toward a more eastern perspective shared by Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and many other non-Judeo/Christian philosophies and religions. To begin with, there’s no ‘judgment day’ in eastern mysticism, no sorting of souls between heaven and hell for eternity. Instead, souls undergo a cycle of life and death until, as in Buddhism, that cycle is broken with the attainment of enlightenment.
We have a tendency, in the west, to think of enlightenment as a quasi-intellectual achievement. We associate the word with The Age of Enlightenment.
Logic, especially as formally practiced in the West, represents an intellectual process derided by Eastern mystics. Buddha attained enlightenment not by thinking logically, but by clearing his mind of all thought and connecting his spiritual being with his material one. Understanding the true nature of existence, he was no longer bound by neither the material aspect of his being nor the spiritual one. Unbound, he broke the cycle of death.
Judgment Day is the closest analog to Enlightenment we have in the West. It represents an Eastern sense of ascension. However, the one is an event ordained by a supreme being to determine the worthiness of every being, while the other comes as the culmination of one being’s journey of self-discovery, a discovery of the true nature of being, not their worth. No judgment involved.
As I listened to Revelations, over and over again, I understood how far my alignment had shifted from West to East. I can’t remember ever being entirely convinced of heaven and hell, but I was once ruled by reason and logic. Meanwhile, the more Eastern understandings of spirit, the cycle of life, death and re-birth, these have appealed to me for as long as I can recall. Now I have faith in them much in the way I was once asked to have faith in an omniscient and omnipresent God.
As I listen to Revelations one more time, I’m struck again by the final two stanzas. Islands in the stream; Islands in the ocean appear as one. In those words, I find the commonality among these disparate cosmologies… we live on this earth as separate beings, Islands in the stream, but our purpose is to become as one…heaven on earth.