Archive for the 'God' Category

Something confected, or just reality?

May 24, 2015

I confess that I have not been keeping up with reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditations, but today’s I read, and it reminded me of something I thought was an interesting shift in my own perspective.

It has to do with not seeing things as created for a purpose so much as perceiving them as just existing as they are, interlocking.

The issue comes up in the Daily Meditation with regard to “God … mak[ing] the problem itself part of the solution” (italics omitted).

I don’t see God devising such a plan, I see our recognition that the pieces fit together like that.  I think the reality of living in a dualistic world is that there is pain and there is beauty, and if there’s one, there is also the other.

We humans seem to spend most of our time trying to collect as much beauty as we can for ourselves and shift the pain part to someone else (including to other species, and by exploiting natural resources on the planet, as well).

God isn’t doing this for me in the audience, I am in my spot viewing the cosmos and thinking it is being done for me, because, let’s face it, I have an ego; once I get that ego out of the way sufficiently, what I am viewing just “is,” it just exists, and intention on the part of God is just an artifact of my processing of the situation.

Some of this difference in interpretation may be a difference in semantics or a difference in one’s taxonomy of the spiritual world, but I do see the ultimate force in the universe as impersonal.

On the other hand, I agree that “problems” should not be dismissed as not being an integral part of the whole.


March 1, 2015

I was wondering the other day whether some atheism has roots in the person’s sensitivity to feeling controlled, that their concept of a divine force gets mixed up with a perception that greater power is (necessarily) about controlling others.

I can also imagine some people having a similar problem with what we call “surrender:”  it could get confused with something humiliating or unpleasant, since when humans do it with each other that seems to be a part of what’s involved.

My point is that talking about divinity or surrender won’t make any headway with someone who perceives those things in a negative way, even if that negativity is a product of their own outlook — the point at which the speaker and the audience diverge occurred at point much prior to the discussion of divinity or surrender.

Faith, color blindness, optical illusions, and doubt

May 24, 2014

Some people have what turns out to be a temporary willingness to believe in forces in the universe greater than themselves — God, if you prefer — and then lose the sense that such forces exist.  I’ve wondered how that loss of faith occurs.

My current thinking is that in some cases it is a matter of entertaining, however briefly, another way of looking at the situation, and hence the world, another “explanation” of what is going on, an explanation that is considerably less expansive and optimistic and encouraging.  You look at the phenomenon from another angle and all of a sudden you don’t see the colored numbers among the dots on the colorblindness test picture, you don’t see both ways of looking at one of those pictures that contains two images that can’t be viewed simultaneously but can be toggled between.

Here’s an example.  I have lots of flowers in my gardens and grass I didn’t plant, columbines, bleeding hearts, purple spikey things, black eyed susans, wild rose bushes, fuzzy pinkish half-spheres — a lot.  It can feel to me as if nature is helping me with my gardening.  I confess I can’t always keep up with doing my gardening myself and I am tickled when there are beautiful plants I didn’t plant.  I feel embraced and supported by the universe.

I could see the phenomenon instead in terms of a series of steps:  the scattering of seeds through the activity of birds, the scattering of seeds by the wind, what have you.  I don’t say these mechanisms don’t occur, but that “engineering” explanation falls flat for me.  I see the flowers and I am thrilled.  The flatness of the engineering explanation and my thrill don’t correspond.

In a way I think I have an attachment to the universe and its currents, just as I work on detachment from the world of human activity and its ups and downs.  I understand that some people do the opposite, are attached to the human activity part of life and detach from the currents of the universe.  Of course, some people are able to maintain helpful relationships with both the currents and the activity.

I think lack of faith, though, can be a real difficulty with recalling how to look at the world with trust in the universe beyond what we understand through the engineering explanations.  The failure of trust may occur, I am thinking, just from seeing the infrastructure.  I think it occurs when the competing explanation shuts out a basis for hope that there is always grace, always a spiritual safety net that may come into play when it serves.  I think it occurs when there is a sense from the competing explanation that there is something wrong — some unfairness because of others’ behavior or some cause for embarrassment or shame on account of one’s own — if the explanation implies something is wrong with the world, I think the perspective of faith may be difficult to maintain.

I have this difficulty with interpersonal relationships much more than I have it with my relationship with the universe at large.  Once trust has been undermined between me and another, the whole relationship tends to deflate.  I have difficulty going back to seeing the person and the attitude behind their behavior the way I did before; I have a hard time believing in them any longer.  If they do nothing to address that head on, the relationship kind goes into an agnostic category:  yes, I believe you might be involved with me, but no, I’m not all in anymore, I am holding something back, not necessarily because I’ve decided to, but because I have a sense of “fool me once, shame’s on you, fool me twice …” that is making that impossible for me to do.

I don’t do this with God.  I tend to figure it’s me and my not looking at the thing in the most helpful way, when I have trouble accepting something in my life.  I have found that when I’ve taken this approach in human social relations, I get taken advantage of.  It has been the rare situation in my experience to have a major falling out with someone and then be able to negotiate back to a close relationship (and not for want of trying) — the falling out usually turns out to be for good reason and one that will repeat if I give it a second or third opportunity to repeat.


March 25, 2014

What does it mean to do something out of love for someone, whether that love is for God, neighbor, or stranger?  (I was reading this.)  How does it differ from doing it because one is willing to do what one is called upon by God to do?

I think the coloration of the doing probably does make a difference — doing out of love of God, doing out of willingness to serve.  Maybe they are like different diplomatic portfolios.

I have been aware of doing things out of love for God and I have been aware of doing things out of willingness.  I find the second more difficult to do — it requires more detachment, more ability not to be plugged into a feedback system of any sort and instead to navigate and travel on faith.

Of course, both of these postures for doing things are different from engaging in a loving relationship as the basis for going out into the world to accomplish something.  When that kind of love gets mirrored back, there is often no willingness from the original beneficiary to switch roles.  They may even be horrified at the thought of such utilitarianism.

If loving for the sake of anything produces a coloration of motive, then maybe willingness has its place as a simpler posture with less ego involved — I don’t know, but it’s a possibility, it seems to me.

Longing for love

January 19, 2014

There’s longing for love and then there’s longing for Love — yearning for the romantic love of one’s life to walk in and desire for spiritual union with the divine within us and outside of us, respectively.

The two can get confused, or maybe they are simply the same urge experienced at different stages of development and expressed according to the vocabulary with which the person is familiar.

But, maybe because the anniversary of my father’s death is in a week, I am thinking that romantic love with another person may be a decoy for deeper love with the divine.  He seemed to come to me after he died, confused about where he needed to go, and I redirected him — “No, not my light, but that bigger light in the distance; go with those nice folks who will help you go where it serves for you to go.”

I think I’ve gotten people who are actually searching for, yearning for, God, getting distracted by the kind of love I apparently can provide.  Again, “No, it’s not my love, but that bigger Love, for which you are really searching, and if you confuse what you really want, with having a relationship with me, it won’t end well, for either of us.”  I have these suspicions, I think, less because I am looking to flatter myself and more because I get so drained by those sorts of relationships;  I don’t have infinite love available on demand without pause the way God does, and when people expect that from me, I get exhausted.  That’s what gives me the heads-up that something is amiss.  Such a misplaced relationship also tends to play out as devastation in my personal life, as well as this emotional, spiritual, and physical depletion of me.  (Al-Anon talks about this pattern arising in relationships affected by the disease of alcoholism, too.)  I notice what’s going on more quickly when the love sought is not romantic, but eventually I even recognize it there — and I think it’s harder for me to resist, too, when the love is romantic, although I’m not sure why — romantic love can be quite seductive, I guess.  Maybe it’s got a quality found in substances that encourage a Pavlovian response or an addictive response.  As I said, there seems to me to be some connection here with patterns found in situations affected by the disease of alcoholism — maybe people so affected are looking in their own way for God, too, and get waylaid by a more immediate but destructive substitute.

My point is that, if people are looking for Love, could they please direct their attention to where they can find the supply they need?

For my own part, I need to recognize earlier what’s going on for what it is, and to find a way to redirect the person searching, preferably in a way that also results in a relationship with that person that works for both of us.

The definite article

December 23, 2013

I really do mean the word “the” in English.

I used it in a comment about the deficiencies, in my experience, of a secular approach to life and its issues.  This was in response to the Ross Douthat column “Ideas From a Manger” in Sunday’s Times.

I referred to “the horizontal relationships” because I was distinguishing them from “the vertical ones.”  But by using the definite article and not just referring to “horizontal relationships,” I may have made possible the interpretation that I was referring to my own relationships happening to be inadequate to the task of helping me deal with a situation adequately, not to the more general phenomenon of human relations being inapt for some issues, period.  (I wrote, in part, “In my experience, the secular approach has nothing to offer when the horizontal relationships are inadequate. And there really are some situations in which the horizontal relationships are inadequate to the task — again, in my experience.”)

Sometimes a little misprision can have a big impact, for better or for worse.  In my context, it probably doesn’t much matter, given how limited the reach of my comment, but I was interested in it as a opportunity to understand how misunderstandings can get started, including in religious texts.  Just a little change in emphasis in translating from the concept into language at all, or the translation of the idea and words from one human language to another, can get it started.  Some languages have demonstrative adjectives but no definite articles.  That’ll make a difference in emphasis and thinking.  And to give another example of how emphasis can get transformed, as I recall it, Latin does something very different from what English does when it expresses the report of something negative — the negative goes with the reporting verb, not the thing reported.  It looks like “I deny that X happened,” where in English we would say that “I say that X didn’t happen.”  That can make a difference in emphasis, too.

The content of the interpretation I did not intend in my Douthat comment is also not wrong in itself, I think, anyway — vertical relationships are available to people whose human ones happen to be inadequate, even if others have human (horizontal) relationships that would be adequate to the situation, I think.  But that wasn’t really what I intended to say, in part because secularists tend to take that to mean we should all only focus on our human relationships and improving them.  Telling that to child born into a family of narcissists is like telling the child to get water from a stone, although many children will eventually, when they can choose their own relationships, find substitute ones that will fill in for deficits in family relationships, at least to some extent.

So I actually think there are two dynamics:  one in which one finds oneself in a situation in which one’s needs exceed what other human beings can help with, and the other in which one happens to find oneself short of what one needs, like being short of change when buying a pack of gum, because of weaknesses in one’s own human relationships (for whatever reason or reasons).  In both cases there is, I believe, help available through vertical relationships.  I don’t think God or the universe invokes the lawyer’s concept of needing to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, I think grace is available on a much more generous basis.  I don’t think God is like a clever lawyer any more than I think God is like a cranky parent (and I don’t think God is like a cranky parent).

Betrayal and revisiting the past

October 7, 2013

I came across the piece in the NYTimes on betrayals and lying late in the game yesterday, after the comments had closed.  (It’s called “Great Betrayals” and is written by Anna Fels.)  Which maybe is a good thing, because my experience of having to consider a revisit to the past, in order to revise it in light of later information, was not really about lying.  It was about an abrupt change in a very close relationship on account of our having adopted children with African heritage — a close relative of the person in question insisted that they break with me and my family because of them.

In addition to having feelings of incredulity and hurt to process, I found myself wondering how to look at the twenty-five years of history I had had with this person (from the time I was a child, until well into my thirties).  Did I know them?  Had I ever really known them?  All those long conversations over so many years, over so many cups of tea, I think I thought I did know them and had known them.   But clearly there were other aspects to them which I hadn’t known.  Had I known about them, I don’t think we would have been so close, and certainly I would have been more prepared for the relationship to end over the adoptions, and would have tried for it not to have been so abrupt.

Intimacy premised on incomplete or inaccurate understanding — the flaw in the understanding certainly explains why the intimacy ends.  Does it somehow invalidate the intimacy as it happened?  No, I think the intimacy was real, it was just that the person was an illusion.  Kind of like the concept of “Mama’s Bank Account” (by Kathryn Forbes), you rely on something that is not really there but it benefits you to think it is.

(I know, some people think this is what God is, too, but I actually find God a whole lot more reliable than human beings — if we’re going to use reliability as a measure of existence, for me, humans wouldn’t “exist” first.)

Anyway, I do think the intimacy is real, and in the case in question, that the relationship allowed me to experience a love which I am sure helped me grow into a healthier person than I otherwise would have been.  That, in turn, allowed me to handle my life more easily, including when this relationship ended.

To me, the hard part are the transitions, the beginnings of “moving on,” when there is no obvious next such relationship.  I think I’ve actually tried to replicate this past relationship a number of times since it ended.  They all end similarly, with the person’s commitment to me being much more vulnerable to being sacrificed to other needs than either the person or I realize.

What’s the lesson I’m not learning?  Maybe, as my friend Kelley from high school used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful,”  maybe not to expect relationships to last indefinitely, and maybe to try not to give more than I can comfortably give as a gift.

As to what people might learn from reevaluating a relationship after a lie has been revealed, maybe it’s similar to what I’ve described for this other pattern of surprise and hurt.  And maybe both such kinds of experiences serve as ways of breaking the ties that bind, so that we can move on to new relationships or move on to a life oriented towards something else.


September 24, 2013

I have encountered a version of what Richard Rohr talks about in today’s Daily Meditation, this “incurable wound at the heart of everything.”

I conceptualized it, when it came to me, as a very limited child who could not get back to godhead, or be easily guided back there by others on the outside.  We had to communicate to her from within and then give her a way of understanding how to fling herself into the arms of the Lord, the universe, however that concept is translated, so she could complete the cycle of death and rebirth.  Her remaining outside of that cycle, sort of marooned on the shoulder of the road, was a sinkhole for humanity generally, however small the hole actually was.  Like a small glitch in some hardware that crashes a computer.  That’s what I “got” when I peeled away all the layers of the onion.

Somehow we communicated to her to fling herself into the arms of a father — it was an emotional concept she did get, and her soul fluttered into the embrace she was able to expect would be there to receive her in a loving way.

What did I uncover?  Father Rohr teaches me that it is a universal issue that we contemplate and then accept as is, we don’t try to fix it.  So what was this disabled child version of mine all about?  Maybe it was a projection of “me” that I didn’t recognize.

But there’s more to it than that, I think.

I don’t think I’m the first to see what I saw or to come up with the kluge to get the child to crossover by conceptualizing God as a/the father.  I think it has been done before, and what was thought to be a helpful metaphor took on an unhelpful life of its own, to wit, some of the beliefs in our religions — God as a cranky old parent, for instance.

Is the wound incurable?  Can a sinkhole be filled?  How do we relate to black holes?

Father Rohr’s teaching makes me think that we need to accept that incurable wound as the entrance to the next phase, a version of “creative destruction” we must tolerate if not embrace.  We need to accept our fall during our physical lives, in order to open our hearts, and we need to accept our death when we move on from this world, we need to recycle — whether we conceptualize it as including reincarnation or just going back to source after a single lifetime.

But maybe Rohr is getting at something else, something that is just wound and not part of a cycle of death and resurrection (resurrection that, if not on earth, then puts us into eternity through reunion with God).  I don’t know.  But I will think about it — I am certainly willing to explore whether a prior conceptualization of mine was a step towards a further understanding.

But sometimes I think we’re just feeling different parts of the elephant, and that what I’ve felt has its own role in our clarifying our collective understanding, too.

God, the imagination, and books

September 4, 2013

Some people are open and some people aren’t.  Some people even make an art of not being open.  They always hold something back, behind fear, behind, vanity, behind pride.

Being open allows us to see ourselves from multiple perspectives, not just the way we would like to think we are.  We allow ourselves to see the secondary consequences of our attitudes and behaviors on others and we adjust our attitudes and behavior  accordingly.  If we refuse to look at the negative impacts we have on others, we close ourselves off from not only them but from ourselves.

I suspect meditation helps get around that by being a way to put aside the carapace, albeit only temporarily.  Some people do, in contrast, make their entire life a living prayer — they are always open.

When we are open, we can perceive through other than our monkey minds.  What we perceive includes what some people label “God.”  It is not perceived through our imaginations, which are part of our monkey minds.

Willy was a very open person, whether or not he believed in God.  He was kind and generous.  He also had that quality I associate with men of being ready, willing, and able to defend his turf, however.  But he knew that sometimes the most helpful technique is to allow the other person’s energy to become their own undoing, that deflecting that energy can be key.  To me he demonstrated that a person can be a conduit (for the forces of the universe) without being conscious of it.

A close friend of his shared with me that he considered Willy a mystic.  I liked hearing that.  It gave me a way of understanding his sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table to eat, for example.  Or drinking directly from sink faucets.  He was so fastidious about other manners that these behaviors called out for interpretation.

We can teach intellectual ideas through others.  We can disseminate them in books.  These may provide touchstones for others as they try to gain a sense of themselves and of life, analogous to consulting with a village elder, but they also present a hazard, namely encouraging people to believe that the development of the person is, or can be, had through the intellect.  The intellect is a helpful interface between experience and communication, but the significant things a person needs to go through in order to develop into the person they have the potential to be will not be experienced through reading or through learning in a classroom.

Willy had that sense, too, I think.  He was continually frustrated by new hires who thought of life as a problem set and he had little patience for academia.  He fled college (with his degree) in three years and went into the Peace Corps.  He finished his dissertation while working full time, in large part because he much preferred working and solving real problems;  even with the added demands of working, working at a job gave him more energy for his dissertation than remaining a full-time graduate student would have.  In primary school he had experimented with focusing on the niceties necessary to gain complete approval in academia, and he reported to me that he had found the rewards hollow.

I think this blog is my compromise.  I’ve got people in my life who want me to write, and I what I really want to do is to walk.  I think writing is in some way inherently misleading, but the snippets that are blog posts perhaps come closest to those momentary understandings we become privy to through interfacing with the universe through prayer and meditation.

The world must be a certain way for there to be “God”

August 7, 2013

I was reading opinion pieces and comments on prayer on the NYTimes website the other day, and there was the usual dismissal with certainty of what many people with faith believe and do.  It occurred to me some time after that that it’s not just about rejecting the straw man or red herring of God conceptualized as a cranky parent, it’s got something, I think, to do with reacting to a notion that God’s existence should mean that the world is perfect or on balance pleasant.

But I don’t think that thinking about the “existence of God” as an all or nothing proposition is all that helpful.  Lots of believers experience God as a force who strengthens and comforts and imparts flexibility and resilience for life’s difficulties.  God doesn’t even have to be a “who,” God can be much more impersonal than that and still be the source of the kind of energy that guides us and gets us through.  It’s a matter of accessing that guidance and help, the strength, flexibility, and resiliency — it is such a matter for believers, and I don’t see why “non-believers” wouldn’t be able to seek things like strength, flexibility, and resilience through a process of their own.  I don’t think it’s necessary to “go through” “God” to access those things, in the sense of believing in a particular concept of a divinity.  I think the idea of asking God helps some people focus and open themselves up to accessing these resources (strength, flexibility —  which I mean in the sense of not being brittle and breaking —  etc.) — but I think they are accessible without traditional belief in a traditional God.

I think theism vs. atheism is one of our dualistic pieces of human nonsense.  There’s no reason for us to form up into two such teams.  Once the world is allowed to be as it is, and a more perfect world is not the objective of belief in God — the controversy stops being about whether there is a happily-ever-after — and then maybe more people can entertain that there is more to the world than what is visible and material.

This is a version of what I had written this afternoon, and I’m too tired now to do much more with it tonight, but I wanted to try to post something on it before I head south to New Jersey tomorrow and probably become even further removed from my original thoughts on the topic.

[God is part of creation, we are in a sense inside the belly of God — God is not outside of creation. — This is a note leftover from before, I’ll leave it here as an afterthought.]