Monday, August 19, 2019

The Gospel According to Sisyphus: Chapter Three

This is the third installment in a seven-part thought experiment, in which the myth of Sisyphus collides with the gospel of Jesus. Read chapter one, along with an explanation of the project, here. Read chapter two here. If you find yourself starting to stan Sisyphus, read my "Triumph of Sisyphus" here.


Before too long there was a group of us. The overseers didn’t know what to make of us—we climbed up the hill and back down every day, but we did so freely, with no back-breaking labor to slow us down. Sometimes we helped other people with their boulders; sometimes we convinced others to join us. Fairly often, as was inevitable in this line of work, someone would be gravely injured while pushing the boulder, and he would walk up to them and whisper something or rest his hand on their wound or even just look in their direction, and they’d be suddenly, miraculously healed! The first time we saw it happen I was dumbstruck. By the seventh or eighth time I had come to expect it, but I never wasn’t awed by it.

Everyone we talked to, he repeated what he said to me: This is not how it’s meant to be. There’s a better life for us. He would help us find it. He’d say it and people would look from him to us, as if to ask if he was telling the truth. We would nod our heads, eyes wide, every time. It occurred to me every now and then that he hadn’t actually taken us anywhere—we were still on that same hill every day—but even so, this really was a better life. Everything about it was better: I had friends, I had work that I could do that wouldn’t kill me, I had a soul that was healing from the damage that I didn’t even know had been done to it. Futility festers, it turns out. It takes a while to get to the root of it and flush it from your system. But I could tell I was better. Life was better. I believed it.

Eventually, in the eyes of the overseers, he ceased to be a curiosity and started to be a threat. Those boulders weren’t going to push themselves, and more and more people were walking away from the work and taking up with him. I remember the first time I heard one of them speak. He had just healed someone, midway up the hill, I think, and in an unprecedented move a group of overseers had tromped down the hill to see what he was doing.

We were all celebrating. This woman’s hand had been crushed, and then suddenly, it wasn’t.

“She can get healed on her own time,” the voice announced, with the same conviction I always heard from him.

We all looked at her, this angry overseer, with shock and fear. What could she do to us? What would she do to us? We hadn’t been doing our work for some time now; maybe today was the day it caught up to us.


Tune in for chapter four, wherein Jesus has strong words for the overseers and challenging words for everyone else.

Monday, August 05, 2019

The Gospel According to Sisyphus: Chapter Two

This is the second installment in a seven-part thought experiment, in which the myth of Sisyphus collides with the gospel of Jesus. Read chapter one, along with an explanation of the project, here. If you find you can't get enough Sisyphus in your life, read my "Triumph of Sisyphus" here.


I had a lot of coworkers, but not a lot of friends. None of us had much energy to talk, to begin with, and while our work was the same, it didn’t overlap. I saw those other boulder-pushers as competitors for the affection of the overseers and whoever oversaw them: Surely someone out there has the power to release us from this work, to end this torture. Better me than them, I thought.

Then he showed up.

Right there next to me, just the latest sacrificial lamb to the unrelenting work. Turns out he was a little chatty.

“This is not how it’s supposed to be,” he declared. That’s really the only word for it. I don’t know how he mustered up the energy for anything beyond a grunt, but he said it with force, conviction.

“Yeah,” I responded. I didn’t have the energy for more. I was impressed, but I also didn’t want to get distracted. Maybe today would be the day I’d be delivered.

“Work,” he continued—turns out he was just getting warmed up—"is meant to mean something. This work is an exercise in futility. Seems like it’s designed to tear up your soul.”

Seems like I was in a conversation. I slowed my pace a bit so I could engage. All I could manage was, “It certainly tears up your body.”

“Why do you keep doing it?”

That stopped me short. He seemed to think I chose this life. I glared at him and returned to pushing. This conversation, I decided, was over.

“There’s a better life for you. Trust me. I can help you find it.”

I tried pushing harder, moving faster. Why should I trust him? I just met him! He was the competition, and this was the work. I wasn’t going anywhere.

And yet even as I tried to get away from him I kept turning his comment over and over in my mind. What if there was a better life? Should I trust him? Could I trust him? He spoke with such authority—he seemed to have something specific in mind when he talked about a better life.

We reached the top and our boulders slid back down the hill. Given how distracted I’d been, I was surprised we made it to the top. I started off down the hill but he grabbed my arm. “Follow me,” he said.

I surprised myself when I did.


Tune in next time for chapter three, wherein we see a movement begin to grow and the powers-that-be begin to act.

Both Inspiration and Cautionary Tale: Excerpts from Middling

What follows is an excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of Middling, my quarterly newsletter on music, books, work, and getting older. I'...