Archive for the 'biblical stories' Category

“If I Had My Way”

July 18, 2015

I have found myself listening to live recordings on YouTube of Peter, Paul, and Mary singing their version of the Rev. Gary Davis* song about Samson and Delilah.  They call it “If I Had My Way.”  It’s a pretty rousing song, so the live performances have a lot of kick.  I think I am caught on the idea that Samson is saying that if he had his way, he would tear this building down — leaving open the possibility that he won’t.

*I see that Wikipedia says that the original writer of the song was Blind Willie Johnson.


Expelling the garden

September 1, 2014

There’s the story of being expelled from the Garden, and then there’s this other pattern, which keeps attracting my attention, so I thought I’d write about it to see if maybe writing about it will help me see why it catches my attention.

It’s when the garden gets expelled.

A neighbor I had been friendly with sold her house and moved almost a year ago, and the new owners of the house uprooted her robust and eye-catching front yard garden.  A similar use of front yard space was similarly removed from another house nearby, when it too changed hands.  In both cases, sod was put down, in one case a few rose bushes were planted as well.

Our house came with a large garden, which had been used to grow vegetables.  We knew we weren’t up to the task, so we had some friends help us out and plant perennial flowers in the garden bed instead, which we then added to as needed over the years.  Some time after Willy died, I reduced the size of what needed to be tended by planting some flowering ornamental shrubs in the back half of the garden, plants such as a butterfly bush and summer sweet.

Today I was on my way to walk in some woods on conservation land on the Lexington border with my town, and I passed a house which has had notable front yard gardening in the past.  In fact, the gardeners there I think competed with my erstwhile neighbor of the uprooted front yard garden, for gardening prizes in communal gardening space out in Lincoln, MA.  I’m not sure they got along with each other, but they all could garden up a storm.  Serious gardeners, serious gardening.

What had been lushly gardened was now just mulch.  No flowers, no cairns — and nothing in the entryway either, where there used to be artifacts from nature displayed in the windows.  Looked like the second floor of the house was vacant, too.  I guess they moved.  Whether they took their garden with them, I don’t know.  Perhaps the house is a two-family rental and the owner is responsible and cleaned out the gardened areas, perhaps the couple sold a condo, I have no idea.  But the garden is gone, lock, stock, and barrel.

I am also aware of the reverse pattern.  The backyard of my parents’ house was sunny and grassy, with a few trees, but pretty plain, and by now it has become shaded, mossy, and woodsy.  My yard used to be plainer and grassier, too, and now it has more plantings, flowers, and shrubs, some intentional, some courtesy of nature.  Those transformations happened over time, decades of years, in fact.

So I think it’s abruptness that gets my attention, and going from lush to plain, and also a transformation that seems to cover over something that came before  —  I think those are the elements that catch my attention.  Maybe they catch my attention because they seem to me, or to my imagination, to “hide” something, and something important.  That’s my best guess for now.



February 1, 2014

I wrote somewhere in a comment to what I think was probably a piece in the “Opinionator” section of the NYTimes, that I can see the story of Abraham’s hearing a call to sacrifice his son Isaac as a story about surrender, about having a willingness to serve without reservation, no strings attached, not even a caveat of “Just don’t hurt my children.”  I don’t see it as a story about child sacrifice.

But even more than this, I can see the story as a misunderstanding, as a misperception by Abraham.

I think he was being asked to grow up himself, to “sacrifice” his inner twelve-year old in order to grow into the mature adult he could become if he could emerge from the orientation toward the self that children harbor.

I certainly am aware of multiple aspects of myself.  Sometimes I’m in a situation, and I can discern that part of me is annoyed but another part of me really doesn’t take it personally and can just let the situation slide off of me.  In other people I can notice great wells of wisdom and perspective while the person is acting in a limited way nonetheless is other regards.  It’s kind of like different flowers in our garden and we don’t always tend every species all the time.  We really like to grow those sunflowers but we don’t always bother watering and weeding those bee balm plants, or we let those black-eyed Susans run rampant and spread throughout the garden.

Some traditions tell us that we all have the wisdom inside us anyway, we just need to improve our access to it.  I think, as well, that some people have already done that in previous lifetimes in some regards (or in most regards) but have lost the knack for accessing parts of themselves since then and are working on that in their current lives.

The idea of sacrificing Isaac might be a story to flag one of those situations, where there is a need to grow out of a childish stage in some way.

Teaching people to listen

October 22, 2013

I was reading Richard Rohr this morning, as in, his Daily Meditation, and I even clicked through to read Mark 16.

What I hear is an attempt to get people to listen.

I don’t disagree with trying to get people to listen.  You just got to make sure they listen to what needs listening to and not get hung up on the teacher or the conduit.  Some people who hear, hear a lot of different things from a lot of different sources.  Psychism is not spirituality, but neither is all spirituality psychism or a solipsistic product of the imagination.  So what or whom we are listening to is an important consideration, as is the consideration of how what we hear is affected by our own flaws.

Solar panels

December 4, 2011

I was thinking about what might link depression with overeating, and I wondered whether increasing energy physically through caloric intake could be a sort of a misguided attempt to increase psychic energy.  And then I thought about why a depressed person might be having trouble maintaining adequate psychic energy and how some depressed people seem to implode.  And that reminded me of trying to open the heart and receive energy from the universe.  So, I thought, maybe that’s like what we’re trying to do with solar panels, collect energy from the universe.  But instead of seeking energy that warms us from within, we have constructed elaborate technology to keep us warm from without — houses, central heating, and the like — and try warm ourselves externally.

That, I think, is actually what the “fall” depicted in the story of Adam and Eve is all about.  Somehow, knowledge and knowing got shifted from spiritual understanding that supports a person internally from within through the travails of life (and also give understanding of how to react to life’s positive experiences) to intellectual thought about how to try to master the physical world in order to try to avoid or minimize the travails.

But the good news, as I see it, is that we can relearn the internal process from this translation into an externalized physical manifestation of the same process:  our hearts should unfurl so that like solar panels they can absorb energy from the universe.  Solar panels, and other things in the material world, can function as learning aids to help us recollect what we used to know.

That much understanding I think most of us still have, that is, what our “hearts” are and how to open them.  For some people it is through music, others through raising children, for others through contact with nature, maybe through physical exertion in labor or sports — I don’t know all the ways people experience that opening of enhanced perception.

We also clearly remember that we need to clean ourselves up emotionally in order to appreciate this energy without distortion — confession, 12 steps, prayer and fasting, making amends and resolutions to do better in the future, psychotherapy, the self-help industry, I think are examples of our systems for trying to do this.  I suspect for most people the heart doesn’t open enough to receive the strongest energy until the emotions have been quieted, but when it does happen, I think the result is what we call psychopathology.  The emotions and lack of self-awareness and insufficient ability to pull aside the ego and its fears and desires make us see things that aren’t there — projections of our internal stuff onto the world outside of us, like a moth caught against the lightbulb in a movie projector showing up on the screen, or something.

But I think the usual process is something like cleaning oneself up a little and opening one’s heart a little more, and then cleaning oneself up some more and opening the heart still further — like inserting a series of progressively larger shims or wedges into the small opening in the heart most all of us have access to.

My solar panel analogy is not only helpful for me in particular as I try to articulate what has gone wrong, but I’m thinking it might also be helpful to people oriented towards science and technology who are looking for spiritual ideas they can relate to:  we have something like a Mars Rover inside of us — our hearts — and we just need to deploy it and unfurl its solar panels to receive the kind of energy that allows us to be ourselves most fully and navigate life in a way that serves us and the world most helpfully.  That kind of energy is what we need and what, I think, at least some part of the population of depressed people are aware enough to be seeking but are having trouble actually doing.

Just my thoughts, but they also lead me to wonder whether if we’ve become less violent, as Steven Pinker maintains, we have also become more generally angry, bitter, and closed off from the universe.  That kind of estrangement I think is an even bigger problem for (the survival of) human society on this planet in the long run.



November 25, 2011

I woke up this morning wanting to write about a parable in which somebody borrows a neighbor’s lawnmower and returns it broken and suggests a web link to a site that explains how to repair it.  Maybe I’ll get back to that — my first interpretation was to identify with a reaction of feeling riled at someone not cleaning up the damage that they cause, but maybe it’s more a lesson in accepting the challenge to learn to deal with damage in one’s life regardless of apparent source.

But then I got another thought, probably not original, about shame, and it seemed to make more sense to write about that first, directly after the post about shame.

What I thought is that the story of Adam and Eve is conventionally told as one in which they lose their innocence and experience shame.  If shame is a by-product of being cut off from that greater part of the self, from the inner office, from the vacuum motor (see previous post, please), if it occurs when the mahout falls off the elephant, so to speak, when the ego loses communication with the soul, to put it another way, then returning to the garden is the reconnection of our “I” identity with our more eternal part, with our souls.  It’s about that journey from a child’s connectedness with the universe through development of a sense of individual self, and then to a reunion with the universe but still maintaining the ability to see the self as distinct now.

If the key is to reconnect with the soul, I would say that we discover that connection through the love we finally hear when we call out from the heart, that cry that I think the Jewish Shema prayer embodies (it’s on my mind because I have this plan to attend this evening Friday night services at a shul for the first time in years — the invitation, which I am taking as a general and not personal one, from someone who has very good hosting skills, came through a guy — I have to ask myself why I am listening to him when I have never attended services where Gita attends, despite her having invited me years ago, and my answer is to laugh gently at my ego).  That calling of our soul to us can be difficult to hear amid all the noise of our lives, and sometimes I think we unfortunately hear it best in the relative quiet of loneliness and despair.  It’s one of those gifts of desperation people talk about.  But it really is one that keeps on giving, and in a good way.