Chasin’ After the Wind

What a timely find in this article written by Jeremy Beer about the Communio movement within the Catholic church and David L. Schindler, author of Being Holy in the World and Ordering Love.

How refreshing to read his perspective about the nature and meaning of life as being relational, to God, to onself and to others and the primacy of love and meaning in life. It’s not about a relationship with a book, however Holy it might be, especially if it’s used to hit someone over the head with whom you have failed to even try to relate to or with whom you disagree .

“As you might imagine, understanding reality as an order of love has profound implications. Among these are that being is a gift, and our proper response to being is in the first place one of receptivity and gratitude. If we do not respond to the cosmos in this way, it is because in some sense we have been “coached out of it”—by our culture, perhaps, or by our own choices and habits. Another implication of the idea of being-as-love is that being is intrinsically relational, not individualistic. The individual is real, to be sure, but included within individuality, and lying at its core, is relationality—to God, to whom the individual is constitutively related as a created thing is to its creator, and to others, to whom the individual is related through a common relationship to God.”

So, it’s not enough to vote for politicians who seem to share your political or religious views if the system itself functions through a mode of power. It’s the political structure itself that shapes outcomes regardless of any politicians beliefs, whether liberal or conservative.

“In this way, all of our political, economic, legal, and religious institutions are necessarily grounded in some conception of order—in a metaphysics—even if they reject or ignore the Christian claim. From the Christian view, liberal institutions foster a problematic “mode of being”—a distorting matrix for the formation of our intentions, attitudes, and ideas. Thus, the idea that just putting “good people,” or at least those with the “right ideas,” into political office will make a decisive cultural difference is insufficiently attentive to the shaping power of this matrix in a liberal regime.”

What needs to change are not our beliefs, but our sense of relationality and its importance to ourselves and to others. If we cannot anticipate the results of our choices and actions, what we believe has no meaning in our lives. It is only through our acknowledged need for love and to love that we can open ourselves to true healing and transformation. This has and continues to be true for me.

“As the younger Schindler puts it: “A man may tell his wife often that he loves her, may believe what he says, and may in fact bring her flowers without fail once a week—and yet at the same time he may exhibit a pattern of choices with regard to his career, for example, that trivialize his wife’s significance in his life.” Or a man may call himself a Christian but enjoy wearing Club Gitmo T-shirts and take great pleasure in hearing about the victims of his nation’s bombing campaigns. Especially when those campaigns are supported by the socially conservative Republican for whom he cast a ballot as his Christian duty.”

A very good analysis:

“Schindler argues that the hidden metaphysics of liberalism is instrumentalism. Put another way, its ontology is technology, the necessary result of bracketing the “logic of love proper to created being.” Despite its overt intentions, liberalism therefore fosters relations of power rather than love: mutual manipulation rather than human dignity and freedom. It marginalizes the weak and the vulnerable, as is obvious precisely in the “intrinsic evils” that understandably preoccupy today’s Catholic bishops. Such marginalization is central to its logic.”

And this:

“Properly understood, freedom is rooted in an understanding of reality as love and a concomitant commitment to this truth. Love grounds freedom because it is in its nature to let the other be, not out of indifference but out of respect for his or her integrity and dignity, even as it seeks to turn the other toward truth through patient dialogue and witness, including the witness of sacrifice and suffering.”

More of Schindler’s writings here:

Thank you Blue Highway for this lovely song and for so much beautiful music.

Less than zero

So, what exactly is it that people are doing with their lives? That is the question that carried me through the next few years following the big dream. Feeling that some semblance of sanity had returned it seemed that life was waiting for me to finally cut a path through the heart of my existence.

On fire, I could hardly contain myself with so much energy and emotional freedom. For the first time in my life I had a sense of being “one of” rather than a feeling of waiting to be born. But alas, I was to find out again and again that there are aspects of yourself, inner drives, modes of perceiving that still bind you. For me it is the drive toward knowing and understanding the meaning and purpose of existence that sustain me and are as necessary to my being as are food and water.

It would be the highest form of self betrayal were I to ignore, deny or in any way seek to be rid of this instinct for meaning.

But before I was to settle down with a fuller acceptance of what sort of life I wanted to live there were a few more wayward flings left to experience. Although I am not often given to regret my actions, I did discover during this time that there are consequences for choices made and that nothing satisfies like love, and by love I mean the conscious willing kind, whether in family, friendship, or some creative endeavor, love is the greatest work and brings the highest rewards.

None of the modern indulgences of sex, eating, drinking or the selections from the menu of alternative lifestyles were very satisfying for me once the high that comes from being secretly outrageous, right-under-the-nose of, all your “normal” friends and family wears off.

After a few years of sampling some of what the modern world has to offer, all I really wanted was to find someone to make a home and be with who is willing to travel together the long road of life, through all the day to day beauty, wonders, sorrows and losses that come our way.

I wanted to know that love really matters and makes a difference in people’s lives and that transformative experiences can happen to anyone.

I wanted to stop hurting people and not to be hurt by them. The further I go in my closest relationships the more I see that love is a choice you make moment to moment. The best we can do is to know that we are continually making choices with every breath and step we take and to try to be there when you show up.

It could be that life’s long song finally catches your ear, maybe at different times for each of us. Maybe some people do manage to avoid ever worrying about whether there is an over-arching meaning to their life, maybe some people are naturally inclined to accept and live an unreflected life as it happens, but as I have aged I have found it very disturbing to think that we humans and the little marbled ball we call Earth are IT.

Can we really claim the title of the most conscious being in the universe? Can intelligence come from non-intelligence or lesser intelligence? Is there nothing besides human consciousness that knows, in the sense that we know, that we’re alive? I find that so incredibly hard to believe. How can life come from nothing? What is the drive, the spark that brings the world into being? I am no scientist, but I have never heard a satisfactory explanation for how it is that I am here, and know I am here.

Just as disturbing, is the human awareness and experience of good and evil. Not so much the natural cycle of life and death, that life feeds on itself (disturbing as that is), but more specifically the distinctly human kind of evil that we all seem to play our part in. Try as we may, it’s as if the good is never sustainable. Everything means less than zero

This sort of thinking would lead me back to the religious question of, is there a Creator? I had become comfortable with the notion that nature is an impersonal force in which evolutionary processes compel life forms forward and if there were anymore to it, we don’t have enough information to come to any conclusions about it.

Perhaps because I had experienced a deeper and clearer sense of myself as a person, the idea of an impersonal force of nature no longer satisfied.

And so began a renewed search and reconsideration of the claims of Christianity, starting with C.S. Lewis and of course the Bible.

“I gaze into the doorway
Of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way
I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey
I come to understand
That every hair is numbered
Like every grain of sand.” Bob Dylan

Amazing Journey Part II

The last day of the last trip to Eliot, Maine, where I spent a week at the Baha’i summer camp, something happened as I was leaving. As I stood looking around the dormitory where I had stayed the past week, I became overwhelmed with a parting sadness. In a completely spontaneous burst of emotion predicated on no particular event, I started crying in way that I never had before. I knew in an instant that I would not return to the camp, ever. I knew, somehow, that my life was about to change, at least the inner life. I could sense the shift even if I could not find words to describe it. I could not stop crying to the point of utter embarrassment.

If I remember correctly, I was in between Junior and Senior year of high school. My senior year was a “do or die” situation as far as school work went. I had squandered my education for the last three years, digging myself into a hole deeper and deeper each year. The only reason I made it out of 11th grade was by the grace of the NY state Regents program and the rules of engagement. After failing every class that year I crammed for the Regents finals the entire month of May, passed all the tests which entitled me to move on to 12th grade. Shortly after I graduated, I heard they had changed the rules and no longer allowed such shenanigans, and perhaps, rightly so.

Anyway, after graduating I began to drift, feeling no sense of direction, and bogged down with self loathing, fear and misery. I felt as if I didn’t get life, as if some common assumption that others were capable of making, allowing them to get up each day and know what to do and what to want, was lost to me.

And drift I did, for several years. But one thing remained true, that I was still on some level wanting to make sense of life, wanting to know everything. Perhaps, not knowing much of anything, I just didn’t know where to start, and so stumbled in and out whatever path I happened to find myself on.

One day, I was in a bookstore and I came across a book with the most curious title “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.” Hmmm, instantly I knew I must read this book. I didn’t know I was going eastward with this read, but certainly if one travels eastward long enough, he will eventually get back to the west.

 Alan Watts, the author, was a former Anglican Priest who had become disillusioned with western culture and began to study eastern thought, from Taoism to Krishnamurti. Many of his books talk about what he calls western man’s split between mind and body. Here is a four-minute sampling of Alan lecturing:

His idea that we are not what we think, nor who we think we are, was enticing to me and spoke to my very lost and restless sense of self and being. So, as is typical of most everything I attend to, I devoured all of his books. I knew he was saying something of importance to me and his ideas helped me to sense that there is a split between one’s inner world, or mind, including all our thoughts, opinions, and intellectual knowledge and the totality of who/what we are.  One cannot ever explain how they manage to beat their own heart. Our mind is but a part of our entire being. Whatever it is that keeps us alive, you know, what a scientist my refer to as homeostasis, is not consciously in our control, thankfully, you might say.

This may seem obvious, but Watts was not convinced that we live as whole beings. He suggests that language has the ability to trick us and split us off from the totality of who/what we are. His primary example, we say we have a body, but really we are a body. So, who is the “I” that has the body? Well, there’s the split, if we mistake the language we use for reality.

Watts seemed to think that western culture, more than other cultures, lives in an unnecessarily psychologically divided way, which keeps one cut off from himself and others in a way that is unhealthy. But as I studied his writings I also studied his life. He struggled with alcoholism, and by some accounts was hell-bent on having out-of-body experiences to the point of obsession. He died at age 58 of heart failure.

Oh no, there’s more?

Amazing journeys…Part One

In the fifty or so years of my life I have tried on a lot of different cosmologies:

Methodist/Congregational – the religion of my parents, probably going back for quite a few generations on both sides of my family. Although I attended church and Sunday school throughout my childhood, not much of what the Christianity of these particular denominations profess was ever clear to me as a child. I remember memorizing a psalm and receiving a Bible, and a few bible stories, but that’s about it. I sang in the youth choir, loved it!

Atheism – there are several periods of my life where atheism was the belief of my heart. In our wstern culture the embrace of atheism often harbors a lot of anti-Christian sentiments. Hence the polarization between believers and nons. Christianity is often described as a drug for the masses, or  idealism,  a fantasy, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, corrupt or just a way to appease one’s guilt. Atheism helps one to move away from the shadows of either an unexamined or negative experience of Christianity. This is a logical conclusion when you imagine living in a world where there had never been a thought of God. There would never be atheism when there’s no God not to believe in. Theism and atheism then, cannot help but be ideas in a relationship.

One of my favorite insights of Archetypal psychologist James Hillman is that our culture has begun to embrace a rejection of Christianity without understanding the reach into our hearts, minds and souls Christianity has had in the past two millenia. Hillman’s beef with Christianity is not the usual bad press that Christianity and Christians get now days a la Dan Brown. Hillman does not rail against their hypocrisy for being less than perfect, but rather, sees the notion of perfection itself as undesirable. He also dislikes monotheism and blames it for a literalism in our thinking that consistently tricks us into climbing up the sign rather than acting on its message. His use of the idea of the imaginal will require at least a post unto itself…but you can hear excerpts from a recent Hillman lecture here:

Baha’i – Through the music of Seals and Crofts, in my teen years I became interested in the Baha’i faith. It’s probably the first time I ever set out to study and examine a set of beliefs. Primarily, the attraction to me was their belief in the oneness of all religions, humankind and a plea for world peace. After a year of study I officially declared myself a Baha’i and spent nearly three of my teen years going to their house meetings, reading and praying their materials and going to their summer camp in Eliot, Maine.

For Baha’is, God is a creator, with a transcendence that keeps us from having direct knowledge of Him. Only the major prophets Jesus Christ, Buddha, Moses, or Muhammad have received direct knowledge from God. Shucks! I guess my hunger and thirst for direct experience in all things that do manage to get my attention, left me disappointed when the implications of ever knowing an overly transcendent God set in. If there is a God powerful enough tp have created us I would expect He has the power to know us and allow in us a capacity to know Him even if our ability to have contact with Him has necessary limitations. The desire for relationship, very much connected to a missing sense of identity and personhood found me, once again, back on the trail of an ever more satisfying cosmology.

…more to come!

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

I have always been a believer in one thing or another. As a child, the idea of God was incomprehensible. What, or who, were people talking about?

I can recall mercilessly teasing a catholic friend, that it must be awful to have to follow the rules of the Pope. No doubt that taunt had its roots in my parents Protestant prejudice and most certainly not in any true attempt on my part to understand who the Pope was or what Catholicism was.

Around the time I first began to reflect about religion; who God is/was, or who I was for that matter, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps God did not exist. Incomprehensble as God was anyway, this was not a loss, but more a discarding of an entity out of reach. The existence of  God did not strike me as the most obvious conclusion that one could come to. Unseen and out of reach, God’s existence is not obvious. As author Michael Novak so aptly put it, “No One Sees God.” 

For awhile my teenage cosmology turned decidedly atheistic. Perhaps my wondering would have ended there but for the perpetually haunting question, “who am I?” continually drawing me back to other questions like “where are we,” and “why are we here?” Any thought or idea offering clues as to what the nature of life was about, whether in books, music, other people’s insights and ideas became attractive.

Clearly the road to any embrace of a belief system is personal and often without reasons obvious to others. The idea that any of us stumble their way into one position or another, I believe, risks assuming an understanding of one another, or may be a defense of one’s own position, or lack of interest altogether. As I age, I like to give myself, and others, the benefit of the doubt as to the conclusions they come to in their personal cosmology. Because my own weaving and winding adventure in and out of various points of view serves to remind me that as Ian Anderson says so simply, Life is a Long Song…

In later years my interest in world views or cosmologies and their conclusions about life continues to deepen. I have to accept that my interest in the underpinnings of our very being is not necessarily important to others. I remain in awe by the very fact of being. How can the continual awareness and mystery that we experience ever be taken for granted? That is truly beyond me…

Religion, re-organized

I hear it said by many today, that spirituality is the important thing, religion not so much. I take this to mean that some people have come to prefer not belonging to a particular church, even though spirituality remains an important part of their life. Sometimes people tell me religion is an obstacle to God. If you ask me, being human is the biggest obstacle to encountering God, as well as to encountering each other and sometimes even oneself.

I don’t know how the cultural history of the of the word “religion” led to its popular meaning today of “blind and boring ritual that has nothing to do with God”, but you often hear the profession “I am spiritual, not religious.” The root, “religere,” meaning to bind, is a fitting way to describe what happens to the heart smitten by God or anything that comes to hold power over us. If my religion binds me to God or anything else, is it the binding itself that is too hard to bear? Even with greater than ever freedom, we moderns often suffer from a decreased capacity to bind, commit to, and especially to stay the course. We move, change jobs and partners more often than any generation in the past.

Perhaps it is so that many people who have had a gripping encounter with transcendence are disappointed when the church experience fails to deliver to them any sort of connection to God, to others, or even to oneself. Having had several transcendent encounters with the invisibles, ancestral and angelic, it never occurred to me to view church and spirituality as mutually exclusive or inclusive locations to meet up with unseen entities.

I have attended church in the hopes of encountering God. More often than not, the only encounter I have is with myself, my thoughts, feelings, hopes and worries wherever they happen to be that day. But there is an encounter in church that seems to require the confines of sensual structure; the building, the people, and our increased reception to what enters into us both physically and mentally because of the particularity of place, time and otherness.

People outside church may also be similarly engaged, but the people in church; those at Mass who are there for the ritual, believe they will encounter the risen Christ. They are there to absorb the essence of God – body, blood and spirit – into themselves in the hopes of transforming their imperfections, weaknesses, and human frailty.

The church then is a container of sorts, in the same way that marriage, family or friendship is. There is something happening in us when we are contained. A relationship is constellated between the members that shapes meaning and purpose for each of us, and a shared identity between us. Parts of others that enter inside us inhabit us like furniture inspiring us with ideas and emotion. Over the course of our lives these relationships are a part of what transforms us.

There’s really no guarantee that those who still choose to go to a particular church with a ritual practice are necessarily doing so for a deeper transcendent relationship with a higher power. They may very well be in a blind stupor, endlessly repeating meaningless ritual because they are comfortable sheep in need of a shepherd.

Scan from Mystery of the Golden Flower by C. G. Jung

For those outside of traditional religious practice it may seem unnecessary, restrictive, blind and unoriginal to organize one’s practice institutionally among a flock or herd. Although I have left as many churches as I have joined, it is bittersweet to me that none of these practices have stuck. The religious urge remains, as Jung noted,

“You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.”