Category Archives: religion and spirituality

Tribute to My Dear Momma!

Mother’s Day in my chlld hood always meant wearing a white rose to church, announcing to everyone that our mother was still living.  Wearing a red rose was what those would do if their mother had passed on.  (I might have the colours reversed.)  And the event was always successful in its purpose,  as it brought the attention of myself and my five sisters to how wonderful our mother was.

And, she still is today; for, she does live in our hearts even now and always will as her presence is etched deeply in our memories, even pre-conscious memories when she was the source of everything good.  And, even everything bad—I remember vividly crying obsessively, “Momma why’d ya do it, momma why’d ya do it, momma why’d ya do it” when I pulled a boiling cup of tea off the table and inflicted third degree burns on my four-year old chest and arm.  Of course, momma did not “do this” but at that age “cause and effect” are being burned into our hearts as this time-and-space continuum that we live in demands.  For, in a developing mind, if momma is responsible for everything good then it stands to the developing linear reason that she is responsible for everything bad!

But that occasion was one particular moment when momma employed such skill and good judgment, drawing on her memories of life on the farm in central Missouri and then covering my wrinkling skin with lard before she went out to tackle starting, and then driving, an old pick-up truck when she had not yet learned to drive.  But she figured out how use the hand-crank on that old jalopy, fire it up, and drive me and my younger sister and I to a neighbor’s house who would then drive us to a physician.  During the whole trip my refrain of “momma why’d ya do it” continued but she did not allow her own personal anguish to interfere with the task at hand and, with the help of a neighbor, got me to the doctor.

This is but one demonstration of what I call momma’s faith.  I don’t know what went on in her heart at the time, but I know that she often called upon the Lord to address difficulties in life and I’m sure she did on this occasion, even as she simultaneously called upon her inner resources. And she faced many, many crises when raising her six “needful things” and at times found it overwhelming.  But, even when seriously ill, she would rise up from the bed and “gird up her loins” and get the job done…and this is faith!  Now, she does not have my style of faith which includes the wisdom of various spiritual traditions and quotations of the likes of Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden.  And even today, sitting up there in the comfort of heaven, she will often smile and chuckle when I’m knee-deep in my ethereal faith and whisper to me, quoting Hamlet’s mother, “Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”  But it has never even crossed my mind to dismiss her faith…or that of anyone else…knowing that faith is expressed in different ways through different people.  But I remember so clearly the courage she demonstrated in difficult situations and the affirmations of her faith and see so clearly the value and validity of a faith unlike that of “literarylew.”  She showed me so clearly that one dimension of faith is doing what needs to be done in one’s day to day life, an employment of the “Will of the Species” which is very much related to what my spiritual tradition calls “the Spirit of God.”

 

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Anti-intellectualism and “Mindfulness”

I find the current anti-intellectualism craze in my country fascinating though my fascination is mitigated by fascinated by the worry about its consequences.  As indicated earlier this stems largely from my past life in an hyper-conservative Arkansas community when conspiracy theory was one of my favorite “comfort foods.”

But epistemology is relevant.  These anti-intellectuals are not without intelligence; in fact, some of them are very well educated and have powerful posts in our government.  But intelligence is not a static phenomena, or shouldn’t be.  For intelligence to be meaningful it must be accompanied with the capacity to view things critically, even belief systems that are near and dear to their own heart.  Without that critical capacity, one will find himself in a closed mind which does include the “comfort” of not knowing one has a closed mind.  And one who lives in this prison…self-imposed in some manner…will automatically dismiss anything that threatens his view of the world.  This is the “epistemic closure” or “confirmation bias” that I address here so often.

 Intelligence is not objective.  With the anti-intellectual crowd, they have intelligence but they have used that intelligence to formulate a comfortable world view and then said to themselves unconsciously, “Ok, that’s enough.  I don’t need to know any more” and will spend the rest of their life viewing the world and themselves through that narrow little prism.  Instead of “thinking” they will be spend their life “thought” by a body of ideology comprised of preconceptions which have never been questioned.  Their thought life will be a daily regurgitation of these preconceptions.  And having that narrow view of the world pierced would be extremely painful so most who are within its “safe” confines just will not allow it to be pierced.  For this “penetration” by reality would evoke a deep sense of being existentially “wrong” which is related to why so many of them often avow a deep conviction of being “right.”  And this “wrong” that they fear is not a conscious “wrong” of having done something amiss but of “being” wrong which would evoke what I have posited earlier is the experience of “the judgment of God.”  The experience of “being” wrong is at an extreme unmitigated terror and that is why we have been given a persona without which we could not function.

But if we live our whole life knowing ourselves only as the ideology-based persona that we trot out every day, we will not have understood the question posed by Jesus, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”  Our persona can survive, and even thrive on self-scrutiny but our ego will always tell us that it can’t.  And therefore, when threatened, we cling even tighter to our persona rather than experience some version of the aforementioned terror.  And for most of us the “terror” will only be some degree of discomfort,  i.e. “cognitive dissonance.”  But usually we “cling in panic to our tall beliefs” when “Truth holds our her hands” and proceed to “shrink away like an ill-treated child.”  (Auden) We prefer the comfort of our ideas rather than addressing the “Reality” that lies beneath and beyond these ideas.  We cannot bring ourselves to declare like W. H. Auden, “Oh blessed be bleak exposure on his sword we are pricked into coming alive.”

It is no accident that the fundamentalist Christians who are the driving force of this anti-intellectualism vehemently oppose meditation and yoga, often denigrating it as “Of the Devil” or “Straight from the pits of hell.”  And, they are right…in their way of looking at the world!  For the “mindfulness” that is in the vogue in our culture with many of us “damn liberals” emphasizes awareness of one’s subjective experience that precedes our “fall” into the realm of cognition.  The “awareness” that mindfulness disciplines offers is frightening to one who is an ideologue and trapped in his ideological “comfort food.”  This “awareness” frees us from the bondage to our thinking.

 —-AFTERTHOUGHTS—-

“Words,” wrote John Maynard Keynes, “ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.”

 

A very thoughtful assessment of this current anti-intellectual craze is found in the magazine Psychology Today:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-america

 

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The “Unity of All Things” in a Poem

I love the way poets can bring things that are totally disconnected together to make sense. Of course, that is because we, and everything about our lovely world, is very connected in the first place. But lost in our illusion of separateness, it takes poetic courage to “Dive into the Wreck” and put the unity of all things into words so that pedestrian traffic like “moi” can appreciate it:

Trinity
Small things have a different logic to them.
Drop an ant from fifty times its height.
It survives. But a man, a mammoth, a bomb …
well, quantum particles tell us, size is fate.
So when Robert Oppenheimer gathered
those great minds, each with his specialty,
they chose a boy’s schoolhouse in the heart
of an enormous nation, its sons at sea.
Those days were never simple: the squeak of chalk
against the darkness, the dread of failure,
of success, inside each uneasy thought
the dull knowledge that, hell, if not here,
then some other hell, and so they worked
against the clock, the hammer of its hours.
Trinity. That was their goal, their test site
that drew its name from a line by Donne,
who invited God to batter his heart,
God who was three-person’d, and so one
conscience split into ravishing light.
The way men long to be that usurpt towne,
no doubt it frightens them: the blank slate
that reason fills for all the wrong reasons.
What Oppenheimer saw there, God knows.
Perhaps it was the words knocke, breathe, shine, 
and seek to mende. Perhaps the overthrow
of one god for another, for one who blinds
the doubt, so we might lie against our shadows
and fall, too deep to fathom, too small to find.

BRUCE BOND
For the Lost Cathedral
Louisiana State University Press

http://poem.com/today.php

“Quintessence of Dust” We Are!!!

Emily Dickinson is one of my soul mates. She was a spinster, living in her father’s attic, making observations about life with her brilliant poetry which would not be appreciated here on earth until she got to heaven. One of her pithy little quips that I really like is, “Life is over there, on a shelf.” Cloistered there in Puritanical New England, she dared to explore her own soul and at the same time pay attention to what was going on out there “on the shelf.”

I can relate so well. For, I too am an “observer” and in some way I too have spent my life cloistered in some spiritual attic. I think Shakespeare also lived in one of these little self-imposed prisons and from that vantage point could offer such brilliant wisdom about the human condition. He referred to humankind as the “quintessence of dust” and that pretty well sums us up, though considering our “dustiness” is very difficult for our ego. It is for mine. I am DNA’d to take myself way too seriously which is what we little dust bunnies tend to do.

One of my Facebook friends is apparently also one of these observers though he is blessed with brilliant poetic skill. He lives only five hours away (in Denver) and one of these days I’m gonna meet this kindred spirit. I want to share with you here one of his poems which so astutely captures the essence of being a human. His name is Randy Welch and you can find him on Facebook.

HUMANS
(BEING HUMAN)

Being Human
Is As Far From Being A Spider
As It Is From Being God
It Is To Live In The Past
While Fretting About The Future
Barely Aware What’s Going On Right Now
Being Human Is Feeling Alone
Amidst A Crowd
Yet Crowded By The Presence
Of Just One Other Human Being
Being Human Is Wanting
To Save The Children
To Save The World
But Being Too Busy
Getting The Car Tuned Up
Or Spreading The Latest Gossip
About Other Human Beings
To Actually Do Something About It
Being Human Is Being
The Most Glorified Presence
On The Planet
Yet Constantly Wishing
We Were Anything But Human
It Is Having The Gifts Of
Conceptualization And Visualization
Of Logic And Reason
And Refusing To Use Them
In The Face Of Raw Emotion
Being Human Is Knowing
The Beauty Of The Ocean
And The Fear Of Drowning In It
It Is The Tragedy Of Living
In Complete Ambivalence
Most Of The Time
Being Human Is Something
That May Not Continue
For Very Much Longer
On Account Of
Humans Being Human…
-randini- (aka Randy Welch)

A Perspective on “Enlightenment”

 

WordPress and Facebook introduce me to so many interesting people from different walks of life who I would have never met otherwise. I would like to introduce you today to a young Korean woman, Wanyoung Kim, who can be found on Facebook and is stunningly intelligent and erudite.

Recently she declared on Facebook, “You can be mentally Enlightened, but it is really the power of Christ that heals a person.” I was puzzled as this declaration reflected a dimension of Christian faith that I had not noted before with her postings. So I responded, “I agree. But, I’m curious how you would define ‘Christ’? This is not a cynical question. I just know that you are a very thoughtful person.”

Ms. Kim responded with:

A friend of mine (name omitted here)once described Him as the Internet of all hearts and minds- I cannot say it more succinctly than this. To believe is to know that his suffering accounted for all grievances of every heart and mind that walked upon this Earth in world history. ‪Christ is a man of sorrows himself like me, one can say. The heart of Christ is to see Him in every human being including myself- to empathize with the pain I see of a stranger in the street and this empathy is a healing act where a collective feeling of sharedness which in itself is a unity to the Other reassuring them we all are part of this suffering of Christ. I become Christ my self.

Ms. Kim does not see Christ through the narrow prism that I was taught as a child in conservative Arkansas as a Baptist in the fifties and sixties. And as I read her insightful observations some ancient part of my soul…which I often refer to as “literallew”…wants to denigrate her thoughts immediately. But “literallew” is increasingly buried under the Light of what I now see as Spirit of God which wants us to interpret the scripture and not merely regurgitate it as we have been taught. And this is not merely an intellectual enterprise but a gut-level enterprise that cannot be taught with “book learnin’”. It requires a willingness to have a heart that is “petal open” as Toni Morrison once put it; or, in the words of Shakespeare, a heart that is full of “penetrable stuff.” And this is scary for it subjects one to the flow of life and deprives him/her from the cold, sterile “certainty” that I was told was available and strived for so desperately and never was able to obtain.

Christ is not a “thing” that can be reduced to our “ideas” and thus captured by our ideology, as noble as that ideology might appear to be. He was, and is, an expression of the “Wholly Other” and can be known only when we are willing to experience our own finitude which can only occur when we come face to face with the Otherness that faces us daily with each one we meet and even with this beautiful world itself.  Eckhart Tolle reports He is the “Presence” which is the only thing that “is” if we can separate ourselves from our compulsive thinking.

But seeing Christ in non-linear terms requires an ability to see ourselves in non-linear terms which for most of us requires a radical transformation in self-definition and view of the world. It requires a transformative shift of perspective which brings to my mind the notion from the Apostle Paul, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” It is much easier to just tenaciously hang onto the  way that we have always seen and experienced our world. As W. H. Auden put it, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand. And he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

But I’m aware that what I’m writing now is “nuts” to nearly anyone from my youth that might happen to read this. This does not make any “sense” to a linear mind that is confined to the time-space continuum. But I have learned that it is very possible to escape confinement in that prison and still respect it and those that live in therein. And I, too, can still live within its confines which is known as “reality” even as I revel in the freedom which Christ represented and offers today.

 

Neurology Challenges & Deepens Faith

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article on a new device which electrically stimulate parts of the brain and alleviate depression and even addiction.(http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/06/electrified) It reminds me of neurological research of a couple of years ago that said that his religious fervor of mine can be traced to a neurological “god spot” which did not shake my faith in the least due to the intransigence of my very unique and special “god spot”!!! (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2012/04/god-spot-in-the-brain-more-like-god-spots/)

And, seriously, my faith and the rest of my reality is not shaken by scientific exploration as I feel very strongly that my grasp of reality is a mystery beyond my comprehension and that “reality” itself is far beyond my comprehension. And since I’ve come to realize this, I’m much more accepting of myself and of others though I am often very, very angry that the rest of the world refuses to see things just as I do!!! (Just kidding!)

Consciousness is a scary thing. Hamlet said that it “doeth make cowards of us all” as Shakespeare realized that it was easier to live in the comfort of unexamined dogma, knowing that the “earth was flat” or whatever the prevailing myth of the moment is.

The Moon is Made Out of Cheese!

This is just a whimsical notion I’ve tossed around for years to illustrate lunacy. And our imagination is a myriad of whimsical notions some of which are occasionally more outrageous than that one. This dimension of the human heart is the birthplace of everything that makes up the world, everything from the wheel to bread-ties. Without the capacity to imagine we never would have even made it to the Stone Age.  And, yes one is free to imagine that the moon is out of cheese but hopefully the notion would not find lodging in too many minds!

My mind/heart is now teeming with these whimsical notions as I have taken giant strides towards escaping the linear logic of the “literallew” of my youth. And, I feel that these whimsies are fine as they are just that—“whimsies.” But, some of them aren’t so nice…to put it mildly…and fortunately I have the “faculty of judgment” available which empowers me to not pay any attention to them. And if our imagination is in play, there will be a myriad of fancies that flutter past our mind’s eye and we cannot be dismayed by the unpleasant ones.

History is the tale of visionaries who have dared to imagine the impossible. One simple example is that unknown soul who dared to imagine that the earth was not flat back in the 16th century. Whoever he or she was must have been hesitant to share this “crazy notion” and when it was first shared the outcome was certainly not pleasant. The “tyranny of the way things are” holds us captive and it takes bold individuals to dare and question that “psychopathology of everyday life.”

I think religion should have a role in challenging this “tyranny” and does on occasion though usually the insight of the challengers is quickly co-opted and turned into dogma. Scientists are often earth-shakers as they are willing to think outside of the box and bring new dimensions to our consciousness. And art provides my favorite “earth-shakers,” people who are not only able to think outside of the box but at times outside of the box that the box is in!!!

The imagination is very much related to the body. One whose imagination finds the freedom to flow will be in touch with his/her physicality and will be comfortable with it. The unconscious, the gut-level dimension of the heart, will be allowed to speak its truths some of which are occasionally very dark at first glance. As Ranier Rilke put it, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.”