Category Archives: faith

The Elusiveness of Truth

Trump is again demonstrating his alienation from what most of us know as “truth.”  He foolishly claimed a few days ago that he and Vladimir Putin discussed a joint cyber security unit but was immediately confronted with how the rest of us saw this as complete nonsense.  So he changed his tune yesterday, suggesting…and I paraphrase…”You must not take me literally.”  His handlers found the temerity to challenge him privately and let him know just how completely inane and foolish a “cyber security unit” with the Russians sounds.

Trump definitely believes in “truth” but he reserves the prerogative of getting to define the notion without reference to what others think.  He sees “truth” as a static quality and to him it amounts to whatever whim and fancy courses through his brain.  He reserves the prerogative of defining the term…and all other terms…without regard to how the notion is seen in the context that he lives in, that context which most of us call “reality.”  This arrogance resonates with many of his followers who also see truth as a static quality, some “thing” which they have certainty about without any consideration to the rest of us.

I increasingly believe in “truth” and I even have the temerity to spell it out as “Truth.”  But this Truth is an elusive quality which can best be described as a process, a “process” which the Christian tradition sees as a person, illustrated with the words of Jesus, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  But this “Truth” lies deep in our hearts and, while always seeking expression, it denies the objectification that would permit any mortal to say that he owns it, objectively.  Those who claim to know “the Truth” objectively always do so with a certainty, a certainty which always betrays itself in real time as specious.

Here I wish to let poet Carl Sandburg present this notion beautifully in a poem entitled, “Who am I?”

My head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of
universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of
destiny.
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading “Keep Off.”
My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive
in the universe.

“Within be Rich, Without be Fed No More”

Shakespeare knew that life was a spiritual enterprise, that the essence of life was buried inside what Hamlet described as “this mortal coil.”  The Bard knew that human nature was to avoid this inner essence, preferring instead to invest in the external where sensual experience offers a ready deterrent from the excruciating labor involved in delving into the heart.  In his 46th sonnet he encouraged us to overrule those “rebel powers” that encourage arrayment in the gaudy apparel of this ego-driven “mortal coil.”  He knew that the accomplishments and accouterments that culture entices us with to avoid our inner essence gives us a sense of fulfillment that is illusory, leaving us with an inner emptiness gnawing away at our soul.  He suggested a different emphasis, “Within be fed, without be rich no more.”  I do not think that he would say that cultural contrivances have no value.  But when these superficies become predominant and we become the “Hollow Man” of T.S. Eliot or Willy Loman in the Arthur Miller play, “Death of a Salesman,” we have allowed superficial accomplishments to predominate at the expense of paying attention to our own soul.  This is what Jesus had in mind with his famous question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

And, with the quotation of Jesus, I think Shakespeare was quite aware of false piety and hypocrisy which facilitate a gross misinterpretation of that famous verse from the Bible.  Even spirituality can become a “thing” purveyed by a “thing-oriented”, objectifying culture and we can miss the danger of letting “godliness” and “piety” be merely a thing of the external, a matter of adherence to creeds and dogma while allowing the “stillness” of our heart to go untouched.  Thereby we reduce this teaching of Jesus to the superficial cognitive grasp of his teachings and disallow them penetration into our heart, failing to realize that in keep his teachings and the whole of our life on that superficial cognitive dimension we are “losing” our own soul.  This is the truth that Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he expressed fear of coming to the end of his life and realizing that what he had lived was not life at all but a mere facsimile of life.  And that can be readily done under the guise of spirituality.  As Shakespeare noted, “With devotions visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.”  Shakespeare was the most astute teacher of the human soul since Jesus.

 

Sonnet 146, Shakespeare

Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel pow’rs that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
  So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
  And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are:

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

Ego Integrity Amidst Constant Change

Hope consists in asserting that there is at the heart of being, beyond all data, beyond all inventories and all calculations, a mysterious principle which is in connivance with me
Gabriel Marcel

This French philosopher echoes Shakespeare who assured us that “There is a divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.” It is easier to a linear-thinking mind to extrapolate from this the presence of “mind” (i.e. “god”) who is calling all the shots. I understand that line of thinking but I think it reduces God to finite terms. But I like the idea of being “rough hewn” and having the hope that there is some “method to the madness” of what I’ve called, and do call, my life which is working out the loose ends. And I really like Marcel’s description of “a mysterious principle which is ‘in connivance’ with me.” I like the idea of having a hand in my fate, being in “conniving” with this “mysterious principle” which I still like to call “God.”

A similar theme as presented here was put into words by the poet Stanley Kunitz in his poem “The Layers” when he posited the notion that through the vortex of changes that characterize our life there is some “remnant of being from which I struggle not to stray.” Psychologists call this consistency “ego integrity.”

BY STANLEY KUNITZ
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

Here is a link to the entirety of “The Layers”: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/54897)

Shakespeare’s Advise to the Wounded Soul

Shakespeare offered wisdom for all dimensions of the human experience.  For example, here he offered insight into maladies of the soul still relevant to modern times:

MACBETH   Cure her of that. 
                Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, 
                Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, 
                Raze out the written troubles of the brain 
                And with some sweet oblivious antidote 
                Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff 
                Which weighs upon the heart?

PHYSICIAN  Therein must the patient minister unto herself.

Shakespeare was one of the greatest spiritual teachers we have ever had.  He certainly realized the value of “the healer’s art” I’m sure but he knew that ultimately each individual is alone, left with the responsibility of “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”  Others may assist us, and should, but ultimately we have to muster up the courage to confront the demons that haunt us in our inner most depths.

In religion and in the mental health profession, the quick cure is always fashionable.  These two enterprises often proffer only fads and fashions designed only as a band-aid that can only temporarily cover an existential crisis that needs to be “lived” through.  As someone put it, matters have the heart cannot be resolved by “thinking” through them but only by “feeling” through them.

Here I include a modern translation of the above Shakespearean quote:

In a modern translation, this part of the scene would say “Cure her of that. Can’t you treat a diseased mind? Take away her memory of sorrow? Use some drug to erase the troubling thoughts from her brain and ease her heart?” This is describing how Macbeth is pleading for his wife’s health. He feels compelled to treat her and is saddened when he hears from the doctor that one cannot mend the emotionally ill. This leads Macbeth into a rant that almost accuses the doctor of not being a doctor at all because he’s not able to cure someone emotionally sick. Macbeth is needing the doctor to be able to do something, use some drug that can help her in any way

 

Shakespeare and Our Collective Madness

Shakespeare viewed the entire world as “out of its ever-loving gourd” mad.  Thus he would describe life itself as a “tale told by an idiot” as he was a keen observer of the human predicament and was bewildered by what he saw.  Therefore in Hamlet, he lamented, in so many words, “Why bother” in the first place, why “toil and sweat under a weary life” when one could take exit with a “bare bodkin” and escape to golden mansions and streets of gold.

But I think that Shakespeare recognized that he too was mad but took comfort in that he had in his heart “something else” than madness.  His plays and sonnets revealed the presence of “the pauser reason” which allowed him self-awareness enough to own his “madness” but to realize he was not totally mad as was so many people around him who lacked that self-awareness.

I’m curious what he would say today about Donald Trump.  I think he would have a field day as Trump is about as close to “nothing else but mad” as one can be and merit the label “functional.”  But the only thing that gives him this label are his handlers who often appear to be going mad in their desperate effort to make his daily insane behaviors and statements palatable to the press and public.

To illustrate our collective madness, I have read that our world has the resources to eliminate hunger.  If so, why don’t we?  It seems to me that failure to do so is totally irrational yet you can bet your sweet bippy it will not happen in mine and your lifetime.  This is because “reality” grinds relentlessly onward, mindlessly, heartlessly, mechanically like the “tale told by an idiot” toward some unknown end and “chooses” to be oblivious to egregious ills.  But I, like the Bard, do affirm that “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”

Shakespeare and Consciousness

Hamlet lamented in a famous soliloquy, “Thus conscience (i.e. consciousness) doeth make cowards of us all.” Shakespeare demonstrated in his plays and sonnets a profound grasp of the human condition and beautifully illustrated our foibles in various characters such as Hamlet.  Hamlet, as well as many literary figures, portrays for us a soul tortured by consciousness and Hamlet noted in this same soliloquy that such “awareness” can stymie one into inaction.  In clinical lore of recent decades I have often run across the “Hamlet Syndrome”, the plague of many young men who are so conflicted they have trouble making decisions, thus their many dreams and fancies, “lose the name of action.”  (And this “syndrome” usually captures only males…but not exclusively.)

Another theme of Shakespeare was madness and his understanding of this common human malady was not unrelated to his insights about consciousness.  For, consciousness is a phenomenon one is to be immersed in and to step outside for even a moment and become aware of “consciousness” is not unrelated to madness.  For this leap into meta-cognition for someone who has never doubted his way of looking at the world, i.e. his conscious grasp of the world, will find the sudden dawn of a perspective on his perspective frightening.  As philosopher Paul Ricoeur noted, “To have a perspective on one’s perspective is to somehow escape it.”  The terror of this meta-cognitive leap is so threatening that most people live their entire life comfortably ensconced in the narrow view of the world they were given by their tribe, usually deemed as decreed valid by the gods/God.

By discoursing here on this matter I am giving the impression that I’m in the camp of the “conscious” ones and in some sense I do feel I am.  BUT, consciousness flows from the depths of the heart and to be conscious is to realize that the depths of the heart are endless so that one can never bask in the comfort of thinking he has arrived with a wholly “conscious” grasp of the world.  The best I can personally ever hope of doing is to own my very skewed view of the world and hope that as I continue to age my “skewing” might be increasingly open to other viewpoints, leaving me always without accomplishing “objectivity.”

But damn it, it was so much easier in my youth when I mindlessly and dutifully imbibed of what the Apostle Paul described as “the wisdom of this world.”  Yes, in my case doubt was always there nagging at me but I always returned to my script and just doubled-down on unexamined truth, not yet willing to acknowledge that I was merely demonstrating the “bad faith” noted by Jean Paul Sartre.

Confessions of a “Scaredy-Cat”

 

As a child we would taunt each other with, “You’re a scaredy-cat, you’re a scaredy-cat” in an effort to goad a friend…or someone we didn’t like…into doing something risky.  And of course, that would produce the expected exchange, “No I’m not, you are!” on and on for a few minutes until laughter broke out or someone had submitted and done something stupid.

Well, I was a scaredy-cat, being a little too timid…and I still am in the depths of my heart.  That fear base which terrorized me in my youth is still there, murmuring to me quite often, though now maturity has given me some balance so that these taunts from my reptilian-brain fear base do not have the power they used to.  For example, this morning I read a news story about an antibiotic-proof strain of virus that is now in our country and first thought, “Oh no, here comes the hysteria!  Here comes the fear-mongerers crawling out from underneath their rocks to announce national and even global catastrophe!”  And, true enough, this is a serious event and, true enough, things could get out of hand.  And the “scaredy-cat” did stir for a moment in my heart and I felt that fear-base taunting me on multiple issues.  But on this occasion I employed a newly found maturity to be able to “name the demon”…so to speak…to put words to the subjective experience that was having and not allow fears to predominate.  The fear was there but I was able to employ “the pauser reason” and not imbibe of the hysteria that media is always trying to create.

Life is inherently tenuous.  At the moment when we are born, and certainly at the moment when we come “on line” as a conscious being, our little ego is fragile and desperately needs that “fig leaf” that God so graciously gives us to hide us from our nakedness.  T. S. Eliot described that moment of vulnerability as “That tender point from which life arose, that sweet force born of inner throes.” The “fig leaf” of ego structure is a necessary part of life and allows us to “join the human race” by acquiring a persona and taking our place in the tribe.  But ideally when we reach middle age…and certainly old age…we will achieve maturity enough to open up a bit, broaden our view and experience of the world, which always means encountering that subterranean fear-base to some degree.  Most of us get this piece-meal and only have to deal with some degree of internal duress—maybe anxiety or depression.  Some are not so fortunate and are overwhelmed and crash and burn, the filter provided by their ego structure proving to be incapable of handling the turmoil of unconscious energy.  Many simply go through a mid-life crisis, then “gird up their loins” and get back into the trenches and resume their life.  Others have to endure the “Dark Night of the Soul” that St. John of the Cross wrote about.  And then many others have an ego that resists fear feverishly, and they cling desperately to their persona.  And these “darkened” and “unlightened” souls have a very important place in the unfolding of our world also and rarely do any of them merit the description of “darkened” or “unenlightened.” (But oh how delightful it is to be able to make that judgment!!!  The ego just loves the power of drawing distinctions and casting someone into “outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”)

Actually, what I’m now trying to say is, wording it facetiously, “I fear that I have found courage.” And I have found that courage does not mean the absence of fear but having the wherewithal to persevere even in the midst of fear, of doubt and insecurity.  I credit this to something which happened about two and a half years ago as a result of having read Stephen Levine’s book, “Healing into Life and Death.”  Levine taught that “healing” occurred when one embraced his fears, “stepped into” them, rather than running away from them.  In his book he was talking about helping people who were facing terminal illness and reported that the “healing” often meant coming to acceptance of death and being able to die peacefully. But he also reported that with many others when they embraced their terminal illness and accepted the finality of death, they were healed of their illness.  Two and a half years ago I stopped running from fears and insecurities, began to embrace them, and am discovering the wisdom in the mantra, “This too shall pass.” But when we run from “stuff” it we only perpetuate it and allow it to continue thwarting the unfolding of our life. The culture of my youth taught me to run from “stuff” rather than deal with it.  Even my Christian faith imbibed of this avoidance principal, using the teachings of Jesus to avoid reality rather than to embrace it.

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mutant-superbug-us_us_57474a21e4b055bb11719d35)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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