Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Another Name for "God"

"Beauty Ever Ancient Ever New"
- a desert sunrise -

It seems somewhat odd to me that I should write a daily blog on the topic of “spirituality” and yet be so hesitant to use the word “God” in my articles.  The problem is that this word carries so much baggage with it. 

Whether you are a fervent believer or a committed atheist, the word “God" often comes across as the name of a particular person: “Mr. God,” the guy who lives at an address with a heavenly zip code, up there and out there, separated from and in control of everything that goes on in the world down below.  This idea of God as a super-being who lives at a heavenly address is precisely what atheists or agnostics reject and so when the word “God” is used, it sets off all manner of alarms and raises all sorts of “red flags.”

When I use the word “God” I never think of it as a person’s proper name (I also don’t believe that “God” is a separated and supernatural “man in the sky”.) As I see it, “God” is a Holy Presence,  the abiding energy of Love at the core of everyone and everything that “is.” Interestingly enough, in the Hebrew tradition the word “God” is never spoken nor can it be written because “God” is an unfathomable mystery that cannot be contained in letters or limited by a given name.

Throughout the Bible the “transcendent presence” known as “God” is given many names – “God” is called a King or a Father, “God” is also referred to as a Wind and Breath, or as Fire and Flame,  and "God" is also given the name “Love.”  But all these words for “God” are never the proper names of a specific person. They are words that help us “get at” some vague idea of the Great Mystery that we can never contain by giving it a name or an address.

I recently came across an article written by the poet Gregory Orr who suggested that another name for “God” is Beauty:

One of the terms we poets use in our considerable effort
to avoid religious or spiritual terminology is
‘Beauty.’
Of course, no one can define the word or everybody defines it differently
and yet we believe in it.
Beauty is an article of faith among poets.
I think we try to sidestep religion
and ‘Beauty’ is a word we use to do that.

The more I think about it, I really like the word “Beauty” as another name for “God.”

The desert where I live is an exquisitely beautiful place especially in this “autumn season.” Now as the temperatures grow cooler day by day I am able to walk out into the wilderness as I view a morning sunrise over the eastern mountains or bask in the evening light of a rising moon. In this autumn season in the desert,  seasonal flowers are beginning to spring up in my garden and along the trails,  and the air smells so fresh and so clean.   It’s such a beautiful season of the year.

But of course you don’t need to live in a desert to encounter “Beauty” every day. Regardless of where any of us may live, “Beauty” might be revealed in many ways, in the innocent look on a child’s face or maybe in the sound of autumn leaves crushing on the ground as you walk to work or school, or maybe Beauty may be met in the sparkling crystals of ice on a window pain of a winter’s day.  

Beauty is everywhere, always available to all of us who have the eyes to see. We all know Beauty when we encounter it and never have to prove that is is real.  Maybe that’s why I like this word so much as another name for God.

The poet John O’Donohue once said:

The word for beautiful comes from the Greek word ‘to call.’
When we experience beauty we feel called.
The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us
and calls us forth from aloneness.
It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.
Beauty elicits a sense of completion is us.

Today as I re-read this wonderful ode to “Beauty," whenever I came across the word “Beauty” I replaced it with the word ‘God,” and I became more and more convinced that Beauty is indeed another name for God.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Spirituality of Debate

"An Open Field"
- in the Wilderness - 

Over 100 million people are expected to watch this evening’s presidential election “debates” here in the United States;  but to be honest, I’m not at all sure that tonight’s event will be a “debate” so much as a media circus in which armed warriors from opposing sides do their best to crush and annihilate one another – all of which will then be followed by the endless babble of political punditry about which side won the battle?

We live in an age in which the citizenry seems to have retreated into something like “armed camps” – most everyone huddled together with like-minded people sure that they are right and the other side is wrong, each camp fighting to be more powerful than the other. The people on the opposing sides rarely interact with the other side except on the proverbial battlefield as they hurl barbs and insults at each other - vile Twitter feeds and incendiary Facebook posts

My guess is that this evening’s “debates” will very much reflect what is going on in our  contemporary culture nowadays as General Clinton and Commander Trump meet on the field of battle.  They are both armed and ready, for months their coaches and advisors have been training them for tonight’s brutal fight at which 100 million people will have ringside seats.  In the end somebody will emerge as the winner (of course each side will claim that they were the ultimate victor in the fight.)

Unfortunately, regardless of who is eventually elected president, the raging battle between opposing camps will not come to end and may indeed only get worse when the November election is over.

It seems to me that we need to develop a spiritualty of dialogue and a renewed understanding of healthy debate if we are ever to survive as a nation.

I vividly remember a trip we took to Greece some years ago where we visited the ancient Agora located in the center of Athens. In the fifth century BC, the Agora was a public marketplace where merchants from around the region would come to sell their wares; but the Agora was far more than a place for of buying and selling. It was also a place where people gathered to meet one another for a lively exchange of ideas.

Many different politicians, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians and religious authorities would come into the Agora to publicly engage in dialogue and debate with each other. They had many different points of view but their dialogue was always respectful. They not only spoke their minds but they also listened to one another. They didn’t always agree and sometimes they even had to agree to strongly disagree.

It was in and through this kind of respectful dialogue and healthy debate that greater truth and deeper wisdom emerged and this is what I mean when I talk about spirituality of debate: the emergence of deeper wisdom by honestly sharing opposing truths in a spirit of mutual respect.

I honestly see little if any signs that a spirituality of dialogue and debate exists in our culture and it worries me that this may be symptomatic of a society in deep distress, maybe on the verge of collapse.

I am reminded of something Wendell Berry once said:

‘Every man for himself’ is a doctrine for a feeding frenzy
or for a panic in a burning nightclub
appropriate for sharks or hogs or perhaps a cascade of lemmings.
A society wishing to endure must speak the language of care-taking,
kindness, neighborliness and peace.

As I see it, if dialogue is dead and honest debate is no longer possible then we have become little more than a bunch of barbarian gangs with each of us feuding over our own special interests, and the lesson of history teaches us that barbarian societies rarely enjoy a long life.

I came across a line from one of my favorite “Rumi” poems:

Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field,
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about ideas.
Even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense

I guess I plan on watching the so-called “debates” tonight but I’d rather instead that we all  unplug for a while and just sit next to each other in a grassy field beyond ideas of right and wrong where even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Only Way Out is Through

"Pushing Through"
- flowers and thorns in my desert garden -

The other day as I sat in the local Starbucks, I overheard a conversation going on between two people at the table next to me. A younger woman was literally in tears as she lamented the fact that, in spite of the fact that she had been to see numerous doctors, no one could figure out what was causing the chronic pain she had been experiencing for the past many months. She had gone through a battery of tests and she was on a regimen of various prescribed medications and dietary supplements but nothing seemed to be working. Every day she lived with a sometime-debilitating arthritic pain and she was only 30 years old.

This young woman was sharing her story with someone who appeared to be an older friend, maybe a mentor or a pastor, who gave her what I thought was an excellent piece of advice in response to her problem: “Sometimes you just have to push through it.”

I was immediately reminded of a time in my own life several years ago when I was also going though some chronic problems and a friend of mine gave me a little plaque with a quote from a Robert Frost poem:

The only way out is through.

I used to keep that plaque on my desk and whenever I would find myself in a particularly “rough patch” in my life, I’d look at that desk plaque and remember that sometimes there are no answers - more often than not “life is difficult” and all you can do is  “push through it” until somehow you get to the other side.

We live in a world of quick and easy answers - a world of instant gratification.  We expect that we can take a magic pill and all the pain will go away or we can or press a computer key and find all the answers we are searching for in life; but that is usually not the case. In fact, easy answers and quick solutions rarely happen. Many times the very best we can do is to get up in the morning and “push through it.

I am reminded of something I read a while back in Alex Luckerman’s book, An Undefeated Mind:

An undefeated mind isn’t one that never feels discouraged or despairing.
It’s one that continues on in spite of it.
Possessing an undefeated mind means never forgetting that
defeat comes not from failing but from giving up.

I’m not at all saying that everyone should just accept his or her fate in life, however miserable it may be, nor am I saying that we should never hope for anything more or work to make our lives happier, healthier, or more fulfilled - in fact I am saying the opposite. In my experience I have discovered that, rather than resisting whatever comes our way, when we are really able to embrace life as it comes to us in all its many varied forms, we often find a joy and purpose we never might have imagined.

I also know lots of folks who turn to religion or engage in a spiritual quest as a means of escaping the pain or fleeing from the shadows of their ordinary lives. They expect that their times of meditation or prayer will take them to the heights of spiritual ecstasy; but I’m not at all sure that a spiritual path should ever help us to escape from where we may find ourselves in life. A spiritual path should help us to be present to our lives, present to whatever comes our way.

The more we are able to embrace life as it comes to us, the more we find the fulfillment we all seek.

Buddhist teacher, Susan Murphy, offers this wisdom.

Don’t miss anything.
Everything counts.
 Everyone counts.
Find out what it all means and do what it wants of you.