Sam I AM: Green Eggs and Ham as Secret Mystical Revelation
In 1960 Dr. Seuss published his classic text Green Eggs and Ham. The book was the product of a bet with his publisher1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Eggs_and_Ham as to whether he could write a book using only 50 words. Like a great bluesmen, the ability to work with so few words and such repetitive rhythm brought out of Seuss a classic for the ages.
Some friends of ours kindly gave a copy of the book to my daughter for her second birthday last year and she and I have been reading it frequently ever since. I hadn’t read it in years prior to reading it with her but the more times we read it I started to discern a deeper underlying message and pattern.
I came to see in Green Eggs and Ham a very sophisticated theology of incarnational nondual spirituality, with the book acting as a modern re-telling of great spiritual texts like The Bhagavad Gita. This essay is an attempt to reconstruct this mystical reading of Green Eggs and Ham.
Though people remember the famous catchphrase “Sam I Am,” the opening words of Green Eggs and Ham are in fact “I am Sam.” The text opens simply with a radiant, beaming creature, tipping his cap and announcing his being–I am Sam. Astride a Seussian pony-like creature Sam appears as a yogi atop a lion. This opening salvo, “I am Sam” is a pronouncement of the highest order, a declaration of profound realization.
I am Sam. Sam I am.
Sam is short of course for Samuel, which literally means “Name of God.” “I am Sam” means literally “I Am [The] Name of God.”
In Judaism the Name of God (Ha-Shem) is a euphemism for God’s Presence. The Name of God is a way of speaking of that which cannot be named. So the first words out of the mouth of this enigmatic character are “I am the Name of God.” Or more directly, “I am God.”
This being, Sam, who has no backstory, no history, no context, very clearly articulates from the first that he is awake, a Buddha (from bodhi, wakeful). Sam has realized his oneness with the Divine. For all we know, within the Seussian cosmology, perhaps he is an Avatar, a spontaneous incarnation of the Divine in corporeal form (I will return to this hypothesis in a moment).
Perhaps by synchronicity Dr. Seuss’ real name was Theodore Seuss Geisel. His first name meaning God’s Gift, Theo = God, Dore = Gift. And his surname Geisel interestingly ends with the name of God (El), Geis-El, in the same formation as Samu-El.
I am Sam.
If we now understand Sam[uel], what does the statement I am indicate?
Here we see a further example of the nature of Divine Consciousness at work in this story. In the Biblical book of Exodus The Prophet Moses famously sees a burning bush and hears the voice of God telling him to go to Pharaoh and command him (Moses) to release the Hebrews whom Pharaoh had enslaved.
But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is God’s Name?’, what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am. Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I Am sent me to you.” (boldface mine) Exodus 3:14
When God is asked God’s Name, God replies, “I Am.”
I Am means Eternal, beyond past, present, and future linear-based time.
I Am, Utterly Awake, Conscious, Being.
To tie this all back then to Green Eggs and Ham the opening lines are:
I Am Sam. Sam I Am.
Given everything we’ve investigated, that translates to:
I Am The Name of God. The Name of God I Am.
I AM is The Name of God. (I Am Sam).
When Moses asked God for God’s Name, God said, “I Am.” Samuel means Name of God.
Hence the first statement of the book is a kind of mystical mathematical hypothesis.
I Am = Name of God
I Am = Sam
The reason Sam can and does say, “I Am Sam” and then “Sam I Am” is because as in any good equation you can reverse the order and the statement works out to be the same.
Returning to the story, Sam next passes by an unnamed character–a character whose name we never in fact get in the story. This character is the ego, is humanity (or more correctly creaturehood) symbolized in a singular character. Though not so named in the text, convention has sometimes named him “Grouchy Guy,” which is a fairly apt description of the ego. I will refer to this character as Grouchy from now as it’s unclear that the character can be identified as male.
Sam comes to Grouchy and declares, Sam I Am. Recall that Sam is riding his steed, a sign of awakening in multiple traditions.
With no backstory, context, or understanding the unnamed character (aka Ego, aka Grouchy) yells out, “I do not like Sam I Am.”
In saying so, Grouchy-Ego shakes their fist. This is the first of multiple times (four) that Grouchy will clench his/her/their fist in the story.
The clenched fist is highly meaningful. In the 5th century the great Christian theologian St. Augustine called the self/ego, “incurvatus se,” literally curled in on itself. The egoic self for Augustine was a serpentine identity, coiled in on itself. By curving in on itself, the ego was rejecting relationship and intimacy. The self was a deep fundamental no to life.
“I do not like them,” an almost perfect description of the ego in its negative, reactive, unconscious form.
The curved-in-on-itself ego, according to Augustine, rejects relationship with its Creator (Sam I Am), with Life itself (which we will see in the story shortly), with others, and even with its own individual depths.
Contemporary spiritual teachers speak often of the ego as the “self-contraction,” not typically acknowledging Augustine’s original recognition of the fact (nor for that matter Seuss’ understanding of it either).
So the stage is now set. We have two characters: God and Ego. In this way Green Eggs and Ham harkens back to the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord), one of the great classics of Indian spirituality. In the Gita, Arjuna enters into dialogue with his charioteer, who turns out to be none other than Lord Krishna. The dialogue then between Arjuna and Krishna becomes a dialogue between the self and The Lord.
In the Christian tradition, in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks in the voice of I AM. He speaks directly as God’s mouthpiece in human flesh. In John’s Gospel Jesus declares “I Am the Light.” In John’s Gospel–much like the Bhagavad Gita–Jesus is speaking through a human voice articulating Divine Speech. Jesus is The Word of God Incarnate. The little w words that come out of his mouth are exteriorizations of his interiorized reality as The Word (The Speech, The Utterance) of God. The words Jesus speaks carries the transmission of Divine Consciousness (that transmission being the Holy Spirit). Christian theology speaks of Jesus Christ as The God-Man. In the theology of Green Eggs and Ham we have The God-Sam.
In exactly the same way as both The Gita and The Gospel of John, in Green Eggs and Ham Sam is God, the great I AM, and now the dialogue with Grouchy-Ego takes on a revelatory affair. The entirety of this divine-creaturely conversation revolves around God (Sam) seeking to give a gift of green eggs and ham. Sam is God. Sam desires to give gifts, that is gifts from God (i.e. Theodore or God’s gift remember was Dr. Seuss’ real first name).
Grouchy-Ego clenches his/her/its/their being in response to the Divine Gifts of green eggs and ham, the clenched first being the outward sign of the inward reality of egoic self-contraction.
Grouchy spends almost the entirety of the book turning down God’s (Sam’s) offer of divine food. Sam (God) is unrelenting in seeking to persuade Grouchy to say yes. Many religious and spiritual traditions speak of God as a Lover trying to seduce the individual soul into a Love-Union with God.
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads She (Wisdom) takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she (Wisdom) cries out:
‘To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.” (Proverbs 8: 2-4)
Grouchy-Ego however begins a long litany of denying the gifts of Wisdom—Wisdom being another name for the Unnameable Name of God’s Presence immanent in all creation—aka Sam.
On the Nature of Space, Duality
The first set of questions has to do with the nature of space, location, and where precisely might these green eggs and ham be consumed (or not). Sam begins by asking Grouchy if he would like the green eggs and ham “here or there” to which Grouchy famously retorts:
I would not like them here or there/I would not like them anywhere.”
The conditional world arises as a series of binaries. Up or down. Left or right. Here or there. In Buddhism this is known as dependent co-origination. Namely a term, a concept, a thing only has meaning in relationship to another, which itself only has meaning in relationship to another (or others). For example there is no up without down but there’s also no down without up. They are dependent on one another and co-originate.
Same with here and there. There’s no here without there and no there without here.
When Sam asks whether he would like the divine gift of green eggs and ham here or there Sam (God) is inquiring of the ego (Grouchy) whether it wants to receive divine gifting anywhere, within space itself, which is always demarcated by some “here” and therefore some other place being “there.”
Here and there turn out to be the proper arch question. All dualities are plays upon this primary one.
I do not like them anywhere.”
The first realm of closing in on itself for the ego then is space. Grouchy does not want the green eggs and ham anywhere, that is anywhere in space. As Einstein observed space is actually space-time, so Grouchy not only is denying the desire for divine green eggs and ham anywhere but also any-when. No-where and no-when.
The next binary the Sam will explore with Grouchy is nature and (so-called) civilization. Basically the natural-animal organic world versus the human fabricated inorganic world.
The organic/inorganic pairing runs throughout the text:
Would you like them in a house/Would you like them with a mouse?”
Further such pairings are:
The animals here symbolize community, friendship, and relationality. Food is the primary means of forming community (we’ll return to this point in a moment vis a vis eating with God.) The boat, trains, boxes, houses all speak to the realm of humanity (either domestic or travel-based). The idea here being that the food that unites a community will take place within well structured contexts: homes, boats, trains, etc.
In traditional teaching the human is the summation of the entire creative process. The human includes the physical, the biological/animal, as well as the self-conscious human possibility. Sam (God) is trying to reach the human on any and all levels of its being.
And yet still Grouchy-Ego is having none of it: “I do not like them with a goat, I would not eat them on a boat…I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere.”
Grouchy has denied divine grace through space and time and through all levels of being.
Grouchy’s last sense is the perfect summation:
I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am.”
Full stop. No qualification. I do not like them. Period.
That last half-verse translates of course to: “I do not like them God.”
Which raises a classic theological conundrum for Sam/God. How does Sam/God respond to the free will of it’s very own creation particularly when the creature is denying communion with said Creator?
In process theology2See: http://www.ctr4process.org/publications/audio-video/process-theology-introductory-introduction, flowing from the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, God may only work (so to speak) through persuasion. In this view God may never override the creative free will of all beings. God therefore may inspire, allure, beckon, romance, seduce. God, it may be, pushes the envelope but never (at least according to process thought) overrides the core freedom of any creature.
In just that manner, Sam-God through simply repeatedly offering a gift of food, in ever changing locales, with an ever changing retinue of characters, overcomes the resistance of the ego. Finally Grouchy exasperated, relents and says:
If you’ll let me be/Sam I will try them you will see.”
What now takes place is a revelation, literally an “uncovering.” In the great reversal, Grouchy turns out to love green eggs and ham. Grouchy is no longer grouchy but truly surprised. Surprised by Joy as C.S. Lewis would say. Surprised by the Grace of The God-Sam.
Grouchy immediately proceeds to negate their earlier negations. Whereas before Grouchy would not eat the green eggs and ham on a boat or with a goat, on a train or in the rain, in a box or with a fox, now Grouchy will. Grouchy will eat them in a house, with a mouse and will eat them here and there. Lo and behold, Grouchy will eat green eggs and ham everywhere.
In the world of dualistic samsara (prior to awakening) the pairs of existence create suffering. They are always built out of desire and revulsion, likes and dislikes. We want to be successful but not failures or we seek to be happy but not sad and by always seeking one side rather than another we perpetuate endless suffering.
But in the great reversal of awakening everything comes back into view as radiance. Grouchy experiences redemption by eating the green eggs and ham and in that redemption the world undergoes sanctification. The world of boats and goats, boxes and foxes, a house and mouse, all these become expressions of divine radiance in light of the deep surprise and joy Grouchy experiences by tasting the delicious green eggs and ham.
In nirvana, samsara ceases to be samsara but becomes nirvanic.
By eating the green eggs and ham Grouchy basically sees the world through the eyes of Sam, which is to say the eyes of God. And God’s eye are Love, they see everything in The Light of Love. Which is why Grouchy would eat the green eggs and ham (and remain in a deep start of joy) anywhere. For God is all-wheres and every-wheres.
The green eggs and ham then are divine sacraments, they are according to the logic of the story, the food of the gods (or rather God). The green eggs and ham function very much like the bread and wine of the Catholic mass. The green eggs and ham are a food one consumes and in so doing one communes with the god (or rather God). When Grouchy eats the green eggs and ham Grouchy finally enters into true relationship and communion with Sam, who is after all God. Grouchy has finally embraced God’s Gift. The green eggs and ham are the means, the medium, the physical tangible, consumable reality of the divine offering. They are the sacramental means of entering into devotional relationship with God, not unlike ceremonially drinking the ayahuasca brew and thereby communing with Mother Aya herself. Or again eating and drinking the presence of Christ which is communicated through and as and with the bread and wine.
All that is to say that the green eggs and ham are a divine sacrifice. In the ancient understanding a divine sacrifice was a meal held by a god (or gods) at which humans were invited. Divine sacrifices in the ancient world were joyous occasions. In our world spiritual sacrifice has become a dismal, puritanical, even grim affair. Spiritual sacrifice to us means having to cut off some part of ourselves and send it away to appease some vengeful deity.
But in the ancient world a sacrifice was a celebratory meal shared with a deity. It was a feast, typically involving food and drink. A portion of one’s harvest or perhaps a piece of a slaughtered animal were burnt on fire as a gift to the god(s). So in one sense it was true that the sacrifice was a gift from the human side to the spiritual realm. It was just as, if not more, true however that the god was seen as offering the food to the humans. The sacrifice was then the gift of the god(s).
Sam sacrifices, that is Sam offers green eggs and ham. The only thing Grouchy has to “sacrifice” is his reluctance to trust, their closed off-redness and posture of outright rejection. What Grouchy gains in return is the loss of an identity as Grouchy and a transformation into joy.
As Divine Realty incarnate, Sam reveals the Path of Wisdom. Sam, as God, offers words of Wisdom. Sam offers the way of Life. Sam also offers the bread of Wisdom or rather the green eggs and ham of Wisdom.
Green Eggs and Ham then is a revelation. Under the guise of a children’s story (which it of course also is) the Divine Voice speaks. This Divine Voice of Wisdom engages us in a dialogue-with the unnamed character standing in for all of us (Everyperson).
In the face of such grace, all that is left for Grouchy (and us) to say is:
I do so like green eggs and ham,
thank you, thank you,
Sam I Am.”
Thanks be to the God Sam.