Friday, May 4, 2012

The Fine Print

The Fine Print

Though a country might offer its citizens
the right to life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness,
The World does not.

In this World, be assured:
You will suffer – mildly perhaps, or horribly. 
You will know injustice and resentment --
a little perhaps, or a lot.
You will die – later perhaps, or sooner.

And if you love,
each one you love
will know pain,
injustice, resentment,

That was the fine print on the Lease on Life
we were unable to read as we
were being pushed through the door
into our new home.
This is our daily rent.

Most days it seems bargain enough!

Taking Communion

A major difference between Eastern and Western spirituality is in the way the various traditions regard the immanence or transcendence of the Divine.   The East tends toward immanence and the West toward transcendence.  The Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist can find the Divine within; the Jew, Christian or Moslem is not so comfortable with that idea.

Communion is only possible if the divine is immanent.  So how can a religion that insists on the transcendence of the Divine, as Christianity does, enter into communion?  Holy Communion, at least as it is celebrated in the Catholic Church, provides an interesting solution to this.  It brings the Divine into space/time through the “miracle” of transubstantiation; and then we actually bring the Divine into our being through the partaking of the transformed bread and wine.  We get a momentary immanence, and thus communion is possible.

But what of this momentariness?  How long does the Divine stay within after communion?   Until the bread and wine dissolve?* There are many fascinating things to think about in this.  Christianity overcomes the distance from God that it inherited from its parent religion, Judaism.   But by being a temporary immanance, it maintains the fundamental idea of a transcendent God.  Perhaps more sinister, the priest are given control of access to the Divine (you get your five minutes of the Divine and if you want more, come back tomorrow, and don’t forget to pay on your way out!). 

To the best of my knowledge, no one answers the question above about how long the Divine stays.  It would seem that if we can bring the Divine into our life for a minute, we could bring it there for an hour, a day, a lifetime.  Why should the materiality of the bread and wine matter?  Yet the carefully crafted theology of communion makes it matter.  There is definitely the assumption that the divine immanence presented by communion is ephemeral. 

The Catholic communion is tied to another sacrifice, confession.  One must make oneself worthy of the Divine.  I believe that “communion” in some sense or another is a goal or the goal of all spirituality and that it is always tied to some preparation, some making of ourselves worthy or prepared.

Many today find communion with the natural world; a long trek through the wilderness prepares us.  Many find it in erotic love; the preparation is the attention each partner pays to the other.  Some take peyote, which has its own ritual preparation.   For some of us communion is also known as Satori, Samadhi, Nirvana, Immersion in the Tao; the preparation is long years of study and meditation. 

To its credit, the Catholic sacrament of communion is wonderfully easy, available, and right for many people.  I suspect most people only want a few minutes of the Divine per day, or even per week – a few minutes of being pure and humble, before going back to the ordinary preoccupations. 

Some of us are a little greedier.

·         * (I started asking questions like this early in life, and I got slapped around by the nuns a lot because of it.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why the Invisible?

 A few people have asked me why I would use the term “the invisible” in a blog dedicated to naturalistic spirituality.   That everything is overt, thus open to empirical method, is something of a dogma of naturalism. And that is the main reason I chose a title emphasizing the invisible, because I believe it is false dogma and needs to be challenged.

There are two major aspects of our world that are not open to empiricism.  One is the information that tells us of our ultimate origination.  The other is the being that each of us lives as a subjective person.  These two mysteries, both separated and connected by the whole of Nature, are also the subject matter of spirituality.

The ultimate origin is the answer to the question Why is there something rather than nothing?  It is now pretty clear that the answer to that question cannot be found within this universe.  The laws of nature tell us a great deal about what we do find here, but they do not tell us why the laws of nature are as they are.  There are numerous cosmological theories about this, but each in the end is a metaphysical theory based on scientific information, rather than a scientific theory. 

We can presume that each of us experiences the world much like others.  Our joy is like the joy of others; our pain like the pain of others.  We see the color green as others do (if they are not color blind) and hear music as they do.  But we can’t know this for sure, and our attempts to articulate what we experience can only go so far.  We experience our life directly, not through our senses.  We cannot experience others lives directly, but only through our senses.  We cannot escape that loop.

As a Pantheist, I believe that Nature and God are one and the same.  But just as water and steam are two different aspects of H2O, Nature and God are two aspects of the Great Mystery.  To play around with words: Nature is the sensible aspect of God; God is the un-sensible (invisible) aspect of Nature. 

Naturalism is a set of assumptions about the way the world works.  It is a set of assumptions that has given us remarkable power over the natural world (for better or worse). 

Spirituality is an engagement with Being.  The depth of spirituality is the depth of that engagement.  The two poles of Being are the ultimate source – God, Goddess, Tao, Brahma, Nature, Absolute – and the depth of experience.

The honey of the invisible, harvested from the pollen of the visible, richly nourishes the life of contemplation. The joy of contemplation is the reward of a spiritual life; the spiritual life is the golden hive of the invisible.