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Sparks Ignite Here

Thank you, Nietzsche!


By Denise Connell, Publisher; Éclairity.org Founder

We're sitting at a bar in Baltimore, its counter running 15 feet, with a top of triple-wide 2x6’s overly glazed with polyurethane. Hanging bulbs strike straight down, their light intensifying the thick shine of the bar’s surface, revealing wide dark veins and stretched-out knots magnified in the wood below. It's attracting, intriguing, and kind of distracting. I look up. Iron pipes and metal trusses crisscross covertly beneath the 12-foot ceiling, neatly hidden under layers of pigmented midnight. And a scraped brick wall runs behind shelves of bourbon and gin, stretching confidently all the way to the glassed-front entrance, only looking back once to see if I noticed its strength of presence, rough-edged beauty, and forging-ahead adaptability.

I smile. I noticed. Impressive.

An unexpected dance of color catches my eye with blooms barely contained in a vase to my left. Wild indigos stretch tall in happy yellow pride, and pink tulips trimmed in white spill over with faces playfully reaching out and nodding Hellos! to the drinks below.

Incongruity at its finest. A kitschy bar, industrial metal, and flowers. I like it.

A man with blue-green dreadlocks washes dishes not more than five feet in front of us; a group of young adults laugh and eat and drink at a table next to us; and an older woman with a beautiful smile takes orders at the counter to my right. I close my eyes and tune into the buzz that rises all around and through me, bouncing from wood to iron, table to floor, history past to present to future. Spirit and smiles saturate conversations and connections, the myriad of diverse groups creating a colorful collage like flowers of humanity, melding the many into one beautiful Welcome! One community, one comfortability, one togetherness from all the differences.

I take a sip of hot chocolate and start typing, inspired by place to ponder possibilities that can only come out of revolution.

Emma Goldman, the anarchist and writer of the early 20th century, influenced the name of this bookstore-café where we sit, Red Emma’s. It seems the perfect spot to write about another pivotal writer of philosophical disruption, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Atheist and nihilist, or something more?

I don’t recall when I first learned of Nietzsche, but I distinctly remember hearsay’s deceptive authority of a knowing-not-to-be-questioned that lasted from that first learning until I was almost 52.

When I was young on through my masters, Nietzsche was the atheist and nihilist that served as a warning against straying too far into philosophy and away from established Christian theology, the latter of which was presented as the only safeguard of truth that should ever be considered.

Even though I had never personally read anything about or by Nietzsche, save for the same trite quotes trotted out by those in the believed-to-be ‘intellectual know,’ I trusted that those who had done the selecting and commentary had interpreted his writings correctly. It wasn’t until a short year and a half ago when I dug a little deeper that I realized, they hadn’t.

I have by no means completed my research into Nietzsche’s life and philosophies, but the little that I have done has opened distinct avenues for inspiration and deeper thinking that I wish I had discovered years ago. And all I can say is, thank you, Nietzsche!

Here are two reasons why I’m glad to have shunned the well-intentioned advice given when I was younger and finally explored his writings on my own:

(1) His philosophical presentation of eternal recurrence

Originally a concept heralded by Greek philosophers in 300 BC, it was reintroduced by Nietzsche in the 19th century through one of his novels, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, published in 1883. Eternal recurrence (ER) is the idea that time and events are on an eternal loop, destined to repeat and be relived. The Stoics, who were firmly behind the idea, believed the universe was periodically destroyed and reborn, and each universe returned exactly the same as it was before. However, Christian theologians, such as Saint Augustine, shot that right down, countering with man’s free will and the chance for salvation as a pushback to this loopy loop idea.

The cool thing about Nietzsche’s ponderings, though, was his focus on the need for people to learn to live fully, without regret, embracing all of life rather than just the good parts while resisting the “bad.”

I think he was onto something.

If we knew we were going to have to relive our every day experiences over and over for eternity, maybe it would encourage us to really make sure we are living the life we would want to relive. Maybe it would encourage us to come to terms and find our peace with what we label “bad” experiences, and instead learn to reshape, redefine, and reconfigure how to live with them in ways that wouldn’t make us dread their reappearance.

I’m not an ER believer, but the concept made me pause and consider:

  • What would I need to change so that I would welcome a reliving of this day?
  • How could I reframe what I consider “bad” experiences so they become…friends? Teachers? Something that would spur me on to welcome them, and grow from them to become a better person that lives a better day.
  • Put another way: How could I learn to dance with the dark as well as the light parts of daily living, so my tomorrows become the kind of todays I wouldn’t mind repeating, and maybe even look forward to?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite happy not anticipating a repeat of anything I currently deem a bad experience. But it does make me wonder how much freer I could be if I learned to be more like the tulips in the vase, reaching out with playful hellos to the drinks of darkness sent my way.

2. Nietzsche wrote, “I would only believe in a god that knows how to dance”

While this was written through his lead character in the same 1883 novel shared above, it struck me as kind of profound.

Here is a philosopher whose father was a Christian minister, and who pursued his own path to becoming a minister as well, excelling in his theological studies, learning Greek and Hebrew and the whole nine yards. However, somewhere along the way before completion, he lost his faith (at least the Christian version) and dropped out. There’s no clear understanding as to what happened to change his direction at this point, but it was shortly after, according to Wikipedia, that he wrote his sister, “Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire…” And the rest of his life was spent devoted to inquiry for the sake of truth.

I applaud the pursuit of truth in any era, and appreciate how he did it. His writings are insightful, probing and, in my opinion, brave in their willingness to question the previously established “unquestionable.” Not for the sake of being disruptive, but rather to dislodge inconsistency of thought, to hold a mirror up to theologies not backed by evidentiary history, and to be willing to question for the sake of deeper understanding.

And with that backdrop, his statement “I would only believe in a god that knows how to dance” creates veins of new thought that stretch my mind, attracting and intriguing in very non-distracting ways.

I don’t know that I’ve ever considered that God couldn’t dance or wouldn’t dance… but neither is that an automatic picture that pops up when thinking of the Divine Beyond. Maybe dancing was prohibited in the world Nietzsche grew up in and this was his pushback. Like in Footloose. Except instead of dancing with his feet Nietzsche danced with his words, and instead of Kevin Bacon, he swapped in God. By the response his writings have roused over the years, it’s not a far cry in comparison. And maybe that’s why he made this trait his line-in-the-sand distinction, to get people to think outside the boundaries of their inner religious counties.

When I think of someone who knows how and loves to dance, I think of someone who is open to joy and ready to jump in with… with whoever else wants to dance, or wants to learn to dance. I picture someone free, confident, unabashed and unafraid, who likes to have fun, and likes to be around people who are having fun; a person who laughs easily at him or herself, and knows how to tease and joke and laugh with others, too. I think of a person in love with life, who embraces all of life, who is willing to take risks for the sake of more life, and who knows that sometimes in the darkest of days of life, the only thing you can do is find a way to dance on through.

Somehow, that’s a God that makes me smile.

Incongruous? Maybe. But then, incongruity works sometimes. Like bars in bookstores, kitschy architecture, and colorful collages of humanity that bring connection and togetherness.

Not serious enough, profound enough, reverent enough? Probably.

But if there’s a chance eternal recurrence is real and could happen, I can tell you with all seriousness and 100% reverence: this would be the kind of God I would want to be on repeat with – the kind that knows how to dance - for all the light and dark days to come.

So, thank you, Nietzsche, for making me think. And opening my eyes to the kind of revolutions that can start and end with dancing.

Faith and Inspiration, Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy, What is one trait you would want to be used to describe God? What is eternal recurrence? What can I do to embrace all of life, even the bad parts? What is Éclairity.org? Red Emma's in Baltimore, Religion, What can I learn from philosophers, even if they don't believe like I do?


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