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Monday, October 6, 2008

Culture Shock

3,408 years ago a man laid down underneath the head of the Great Sphinx at Giza. The sun god was at its apex, blazing heat down onto the lone figure and the colossal stone monument-to-mystery. At that time the Great Sphinx was buried in sand up to its powerful shoulders. The man searched for respite from the sun god in the Great Sphinx’s shadow. As he slept beneath the chin of the stone god he was visited by a living god. Hamarkhis-Khopri-Ra-Tum appeared to the young man. “You will become a great man,” he said, “Hear my words and heed them, and you will be made great.” The young man was stunned silent by pious awe—piety and awe are profound modes of life that modern men are no longer capable of, but they were once powerful forces nonetheless. As he gazed in silence Hamarkhis-Khopri-Ra-Tum spoke once more, “Reveal my earthly form to this waning civilization. Restore my majestic glory on earth. Do this and you will taste of immortality.” When the young man awoke from the dream he was sweating and shivering, but he was neither hot nor feverish. He had been given a sacred vision, and he knew his transcendent responsibility.

The young man was the future Pharaoh Thothmos IV. 3,400 years ago he excavated and restored the Great Sphinx, which had been buried in drifting sands after more than 1,000 years of standing watch over the Egyptian tombs called the Great Pyramids. That’s right. The Great Sphinx is over 4,400 years old. Four thousand four hundred years this mythic masterpiece of human spirit has endured. Nowadays we call it a “marvel of human ingenuity,” but that is because we moderns are alien to awe and piety. For us the sacred is just an idea, it is not a value to live one’s life in accordance with. For us such a masterpiece is a marvel of human “ingenuity” and this is why we can’t comprehend its construction. It was not mere inventiveness that made this creature possible. The Great Sphinx could only have been made by a culture in whom the infinite and omnipotent power of spirit moved. A culture quickened and galvanized by a true mythic ethos. A culture for whom ethos was not merely a word, but a living power.

In our day we pride ourselves on having abolished slavery. But I wonder how much different the life of a slave then would have been to the life of a blue collar worker now? We trudge, zombie-like, to our miserable jobs every day searching desperately for any form of distraction to keep us from facing the abysmal truth of our pathetic and hopeless existence. The life of an Egyptian slave must have also been quite painful. But I wonder what it would have felt like to know that you were working on a monument that was truly powerful? A monument that was truly meaningful? A monument that was truly sublime? A monument that was truly awesome? They had to know. There was no escaping the monumentality of that job. If Egyptian slave, Abdul, met modern slave, Bill, what would they say? Abdul would point to an image of the Great Sphinx and say “I helped make that.” Bill would point to a toxin filled burger and say “I put that in a box.”

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