Archive for the 'religion' Category

“Spiritual beings having a human experience”

January 20, 2016

I heard that this morning and I really liked it:  “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

The person I heard saying it was quoting it from someone else, and they thought it was a fairly old summation, not original to their source, either.

The person I heard it from had had a very negative experience of religion growing up, and found the distinction between spirituality and religion a welcome surprise when they discovered it later in life.  I think what’s reflected in this quotation was part of the spiritual outlook they came to as an adult.

It makes plenty of sense to me, and I think its formulation helps put the biological underpinnings of our material life experiences in a better perspective.

Hearing these words this morning I started wondering why I don’t spend more time with people who see things this way and less time trying to explain such a perspective to those who are dismissive of it — which often feels to me like trying to get someone to see the other picture in one of those specially-drawn sketches that include two entirely different depictions visible as alternatives.

With my younger son’s color blindness, he’s aware he’s missing something and has work-arounds to distinguish many purples from blues or reds from browns or greens from grays, depending on other clues and cues.  People who dismiss the spiritual tend to not discern any of what they are missing, in my experience, although I have known some atheist rationalists of a scientific bent who will admit to having intimations of something when they stare up at a starry night sky, to take one example.


Don’t know what to say

September 16, 2015

My copy of last week’s New Yorker magazine did not arrive in the mail until Saturday.  And I didn’t get to page 61 until last night.  Which I would usually not bother to write a blog post to report, except that page 61 includes a quotation from Pope Francis about Communion being “‘not a reward for the perfect but a medicine for the sick.'”  Which I probably also would not have written a blog post about, except that I wrote in a news comment (to a Ross Douthat column) on Saturday, “Maybe receiving communion has nothing to do with those things, but I am hoping it is a means towards spiritual growth and not in the nature of a some kind of prize for already having accomplished that growth.”

When I got to the quote in the New Yorker article (called “Holy Orders,” by Alexander Stille) last night, my mind went, “Bingo!” in a sense of recognition, and dismay, that that’s where I got the idea — but I hadn’t read it yet at the time I wrote the comment, so I didn’t — couldn’t — cite the article.  (And no, I hadn’t read the article online earlier in the week.)  I had the strong sense when I read the quotation that the idea had not been an idea original to me.  Which I can’t say was a huge surprise to me —  when I wrote what I wrote in my comment, I thought it was an interesting idea and a good point, but I was a little surprised that I had come to it and wondered what a Catholic person might think of it (I worry about inadvertently offending).

So I just thought I would put these facts out there.  People can interpret them as they will.  For me it’s less about how to interpret them and more about what I do going forward as a consequence of experiencing this kind of thing.

Religious faith

March 22, 2015

I knew a person, over a period of many years, who pretty clearly thought himself a faithful and devoted son of his Church, the Roman Catholic Church.  And he pretty clearly hoped I would convert and join, which did not happen.  One of the last times I saw him, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, he talked briefly about his faith while we were having lunch.  By then, I had spent a good deal of time and energy on things spiritual myself, and so maybe that was why that time around I noticed things about his faith that had never struck me in the decades I had known him before.

When he talked about his belief in God, it was flat, it was a thought about Jesus Christ being a friend, and it was like a memorized response about ritualistically calling upon Jesus and/or God.  I remember thinking, “Well, everyone is entitled to their own version of faith, but it is so different from my own experience of engaging with God and flow.  I thought his faith would come across as more substantial — after all, it is he who thinks I am the one in need of ‘saving.'”

I said something during the conversation that revealed to him the depth of my belief and faith, and I remember he seemed startled that I knew whatever it was I disclosed and that I could express it in my own words and metaphors and from my own experience.  But I was not there to play “¿Quién es más religioso?”

I bring it up because while I had previously realized that faith is always a very personal thing, I learned that I cannot know what another person means when they say they are religious.  It could mean any number of things to them, and chances are, it doesn’t mean the same thing to me.  My point is that we would be better off talking in specifics rather than making a general claim about “being religious.”  For example, for me, being religious involves being intimately connected to my own soul, being able to submerge the elephant rider of the ego into the elephant of the greater self, being able to throw myself onto the waters and float, being able to pull my thinking and emotions out of the way and hear guidance bubble up, being able to distinguish what I want from what serves, being able to find compassion for someone who is damaging me (and not expecting, instead, for them to have compassion for me).

I am glad if people are religious, even if their way of being religious is very different from my own.  But that doesn’t mean the implications of our respective ways of being religious will be the same.  Maybe it takes a lunch conversation to find out.



May 29, 2014

My carpenter was on the phone with me last night about all the repairs he’s going to get to on my house today, most notably concerning the downstairs bathroom, now that he’s rebuilt what rotted underneath its outside corner.

This morning he texted me that he will be late, he’s going to mass this morning, because the cardinal will be there, at St. Agnes’s.

I hope the mass is great, is what I told him.

We had a brief discussion the other day about my Kwan Yin statue in the backyard near where he’s been working, whom he referred to as Mrs. Buddha.  I said I think Kwan Yin hears the cries of people, maybe like Mary does?  I’ve got Mary elsewhere in the backyard, next to a small seated Buddha near the door to the shed — where Joe’s been keeping his tools, so he’s probably seen her, too.

The statue of Kwan Yin I bought because it depicts her less elegantly than most statues do, and I like my spiritual helpers earthy.

So somehow there’s this strand of religion winding through my home repairs.

Maybe I should note that my garden statuary is not all religious, although there is also a young monk under a rose bush.  I’ve got a few rabbits and a turtle and a pig (who is now on its side and covered by leaves, not to mention that it had sprouted moss, last time I checked, so I think it may no longer be visible).  And then there’s this bird statue of Willy’s, I think it’s a turkey but it could be a peacock.  He came home with it once and I did not understand its attraction for him (he explained that it was on sale because it was damaged), but now I’ve kind of grown fond of it and I have it where I can see it from the dining room window, among the vinca.

Log jams

October 21, 2013

All the discussion in the media about the technological problems with the federal website for buying health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act got me thinking about other situations in which a system was overwhelmed by more users than it can handle.

In the spiritual context, this can involve trying to achieve enlightenment, or even just basic connection to God, in order to take in fresh spiritual oxygen, through someone else, or it can involve trying discharge our spiritual detritus through someone else, looking for a place to discharge our carbon dioxide or worse, as it were.

Systems are overwhelmed, conduits become clogged.

These things can be fixed.

But to do that in the spiritual realm, religions need to become more flexible than many of them are and make corrections as needed, in my opinion.  And I am leery of systems that rely on using conduits — spiritual development requires everyone to get up off the couch and learn how to do it for themselves if they possibly can.  Accommodations are available for the truly disabled, but most people are not truly spiritually disabled, they are more like I was when I had a speech impediment and was using the wrong part of my vocal apparatus to make sounds.  It’s about finding that part of the self that comes to the fore when we pull aside the part of ourselves we identify with most of the time.  That’s kind of like the getting pregnant part of the process — it’s not the entire shooting match, but it’s a huge and necessary part of developing a spiritual life, that is, finding the part of the self through which this can actually be done.  And it’s where philosophy and other secular systems seem to me to fall down, whether or not that is a necessary result of their axioms, and where even many religions do not, in my opinion, place enough emphasis.  And don’t get me started on books in the popular press that overlook this issue.

Ad algorithms

September 27, 2013

Well, I’ve noticed that I seem to get ads for Christian singles dating services when I listen to Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas concerts on YouTube.  I get part of why that happens, but are they guessing I’m single on the basis of some other piece of information they have captured, or is that just a statistical guess?

This morning Jordan gave me a couple of pocket-sized New Testaments cum Psalms and Proverbs, which he had been given during the course of his commute to college in downtown Boston.

I’m probably more in need of a dating guide than the religious texts.


Addendum:  In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a story on the front page related to Christian dating, unfortunately a heartbreaker:  “A love story, in life and death,” by Bryan Marquard.

Escapism, believers, and skeptics

April 8, 2013

Someone asked me to write a post on the column which appeared recently in the NYTimes by T. M. Luhrmann called “How Skeptics and Believers Can Connect.”

My overall reaction to it was that it got at a couple of important points that I agree with (the common ground between believers and skeptics and the dynamics of escalating arguments — only with regard to the latter, in my experience, some of the energy dissipated in an argument can be there from previous interactions).  While belief, or not, in the (spiritual) things we cannot see is certainly a criterion by which to sort people into groups, another issue is what we do with a belief in such things.  That, too, could be seen as a great divide.

We put up with contemplatives within the framework of organized institutional religions, but we have the sense, I think, that even they are indulging in some kind of escapism, maybe a benign sort, but that they are not of this world like the rest of us [should be].

Suppose, maybe, that having our heads stuck in the clouds is the way human beings are designed to operate.  Suppose it isn’t escapism but a necessary part of integration or coordination of multiple realms in which we exist and live.

That’s what I would write about if I were writing a post in response to the column.  As I indicated, I agree with its basic points.

Subduing the earth and the Republican war against women

March 31, 2013

They seem to me to come out of the same place, the urge to “subdue” the earth and to interfere with a woman’s self-determination.  When they gets enshrined in religion, or couched in terms of claims to divine support, well, then to me, it just looks like the reduction of religion to an expression of conflicted feelings towards parents.

Some people apparently have difficulty with the fact that they were once dependent on their mothers.  While I don’t think mothers experience this as a power relationship, maybe some adolescents don’t realize that, if they themselves are going through a stage of experiencing their relationship with their parents as a power struggle.  The mothers of some people die in childbirth, and I imagine that would complicate feelings towards one’s mother.  Attitudes such as these I think have crept into accounts of our world and our place in it in religious texts and political platforms.

What I speculate from my layperson’s armchair is that some of this “subdue the earth, restrict women” attitude comes from trying to destroy the thing itself the reaction to which is making the reactor uncomfortable.  “Kill the messenger” is a similar strategy.

A way to avoid doing this is to be more aware of the emotional roots of one’s behavior.

I had a friend who became a widow about three years before I did, and she, an intelligent, savvy, and wealthy businesswoman, used to tell me how she avoided opening envelopes that came in the mail, or even giving them to her financial adviser or accountant.  She was able to gently laugh at herself, and eventually. I think, when she was ready to deal with the tangled issues, she and her team did.  Some of the issues weren’t easy, and she had that widow experience during some of the untangling of feeling, for all the pieces of help one is given, she was still alone in a way she wasn’t before.

With looking into our more abstract envelopes, we may find tangled issues, too, but they are likewise amenable to being untangled.  I think the difficult emotional experience that people may be trying to avoid there is seeing the world as it is.  For all our human desire to have changed things so that we control what we want to control, we don’t and we won’t.  But that’s a good thing, I think, because, really, I think we have no idea what we’re doing because we perceive so little of the big picture.

One particular guide I would offer is to distinguish a painful experience from one that “shouldn’t happen” — the former is an all-too-large category, the latter I’m not sure even exists.  Like water encountering obstacles as it runs down to the sea, the issue is how we respond to things.  I think we’re here to learn, not to enjoy life as if it were some carnival ride, or to try to change the “ride.”  But that’s just my own sense of things.

Putting the teacher up on a pedestal and falling in love with them

March 25, 2013

That’s my reaction to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.  I think I’ll leave it at that.  It’s a time-honored problem and found in many religions’ histories.

Mikveh and conversion

February 18, 2013

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs or history of the mikveh in Judaism, nor to know the history of rituals attendant on conversion to Judaism, but the idea that John the Baptist was doing something so new and radical — well, I would like to know more about his context before I accept that as true.  I’m open to the idea of cross-pollination, even from Christianity back to Judaism, but I thought ritual immersions went back pretty far in religious history.

Maybe I should add that we had Jonas’ ritual immersion for his conversion in a pond — rabbi, cantor, and all.  The folks who control the local mikveh wouldn’t allow us to use it for him.  My younger son’s first mother is Jewish, so Judaism required nothing there.  (Where we skipped out on our synagogue affiliation was when they treated the children differently.  For example, they wouldn’t let Jonas up on the bimah for a ceremony they wanted to have for Jordan, I think it was for him to receive his Hebrew name, and there had been no such ceremony before the congregation for Jonas for receiving his.  The children ended up in the Brandeis Jewish Education Program instead.)