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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The purity paradox

The taste of water, of pure water, I recall years ago when in a remote area of Asia some do good folks found the perfect village to bless with a new water system, and after drilling a well and installing an electric pump, a great ceremony was set for the official handing over to the villagers of the modern pump and of course, pure water. As the folks gathered around and were handed overflowing glasses filled with sparkling water, they sipped cautiously while other drank, but an elder of the village sniffed at his water-filled glass, then finally took a gulp and gulped again and again, and each time seemingly more puzzled than before, then finally he set the empty glass down, spoke a few words, shook his head, then walked away. The do good folks asked what did the old man say, and the translator said, "No taste! No taste! No taste!"

Friday, July 27, 2007

First Things First

Things have been slow at the monastery, slow as in trying to conserve energy when the blazing sun tries its hardest to steal any and all water above, below, outside, and inside our body and soul. Bro. Sedwick has banned all plastic water bottles, so I use my old Western canteen, its striped blanket covering now faded, and the water now always with an aluminum tang to it. All progress on the labyrinth has halted, for most of us have traded day for night, now I awake at midnight to begin my day, reading by lantern light until bugs and moths drive me away. So far none of the swamp coolers have broken down. Bro. Juniper returned from Barstow with a store of vegetables, and in the bed of the pickup was a mound of black lava rocks. He said he collected the volcanic rocks near the Amboy Crater and plans to use them to line the outer circle of the labyrinth. After some quick calculations in the sand, Bro. Clarence estimates we will need eleven more loads to complete the circumference. With the price of gasoline, Bro. Sedwick advised Bro. Juniper to rethink his plan.
Right now by lantern light I'm pondering the first and greatest commandment.

Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."

Deuteronomy 10:12 "And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?"

Matthew22:35-40: "Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Mark 12:28-31: "And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these."

Luke 10:25-28 "And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."

So how does one "love" God? The New Testament Greek word for "love" in Matthew22:35-40, Mark 12:28-31, and Luke 10:25-28 is a translation of the Greek verb "agapao." Now agapao is an action in that the subject has genuine affection towards an object. So now it all comes down to, what is it that we have genuine affection toward, first and foremost? That something that we put first in our lives, that we agapao? In English "love" can be anything from "I love my cat" "I love mocha almond fudge ice cream" "I love Bugs Bunny cartoons" to "I love God." Without modifiers, love is certainly nebulous. So sticking with the demanding Greek agapao, can we answer what is first and foremost in our lives? Is it ourselves? Others? Material things? Pleasure? Power? Or a thousand other things? And all these somethings can be important in different ways, in fact a bit of all of them is what makes us human. I find mocha almond fudge ice cream isn't bad at all! But that isn't the question. The question is what comes first. What is it that we direct our genuine feelings and emotions and fondness towards? First and foremost? And Jesus adds, what should come second.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On second thought ...

I find contentment in science, yet have reservations when it comes to the scientist. I suppose some have the opposite feelings, or sort of, warm or luke warm feelings toward a theologian, yet coldness toward their theology.

My reservations are with the myth that science is purely objective, and therefore when a scientist speaks, the assumption (or myth) too is communicated to the unscientific audience. And as William James wrote, "I have to forge every sentence in the teeth of irreducible and stubborn facts." Too often stubborn facts are all that separates science from the scientist. In the end we are all human, exchanging our facts and our myths with one another in an attempt to tease out truths. But without facts together with myths, then I fear that life would lose much of it's spice.

“Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by words.”
-- Italo Calvino

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thanking the scientist

If "science is the concerted human effort to understand, or to understand better, the history of the natural world and how the natural world works, with observable physical evidence as the basis of that understanding" (as E.O. Wilson says), then what does that make the scientist? A seeker of truth(s)? And of course that is right, or at least it should be. And when truths are discovered by the scientist, then one would think that the scientist would feel compelled to broadcast the "rightness" of the discovery, or to spread the good news of another discovered truth, another truth to be added to the text of truths, the book of science. For truth and the revealing of truth should be in the interest of all intelligent beings. Perhaps the only difference between the scientist that believes not in a Creator and myself is that I see a Creator behind all that scientist can verify as truths, whereas they see nothing behind, or are unwilling to commit themselves until verifiable evidence is found of a Creator. They continue to search and I continue to watch, so I thank the scientist whenever they discover another truth of nature, another truth that for me makes life such a wonderous gift from God. But I wonder, who do they give thanks to?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Shema

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Addendum:

The Shema is recited in the morning and evening, on rising to the new day one recites, or pledges, standing, vertically, and in the evening, upon placing oneself on the horizontal, at the end of day, before departing the wakeful world, one’s last words are again “… LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might …”

The vertical and the horizontal, the cross of life, and I suddenly find it is I?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

with all your mind

After fitting a few mores stones atop the desert floor last evening, I found myself alone, for the others had already retreated to the dining room, so I found what I believe will be the exact center of what will be the completed labyrinth and laid down and gazed up as the night sky quickly chased the final bits of twilight away, then the stars came out. Then I pulled out a tiny Sony Memory Stick Voice Recorder, Bro. Clarence used it on his recent trip to New Mexico and assured me that it will hold 3 hours of dictation. So here I am, blinking as the Milky Way slowly makes its appearance, and I holding this device and attempting to disregard it and just talk to the stars, talk to the night, and talk to God with the hope that my tongue will be stilled if my thoughts are unworthy.

Darkness fills in the spaces between the stars.

And darkness is the rule, and not the exception in the universe that we find ourselves, more so when we can only come up with the word "dark matter" and "dark energy" to describe the over 90% of the unknown in the universe (some physicist estimate that dark energy makes up 75 percent of the universe and dark matter accounts for another 23 percent, leaving ordinary matter and energy with 2 percent) ... so the unknown is what I gaze at in this night sky, I see the unknown, because it nicely fills in the spaces around the twinkling stars, I see the unknown by inference, or in other words, inside the darkness of my skull, inside the darkness of the tissues of my brain, I know darkness not by sensing, but by thought. This same brain creates light or the appearance of light within its dark clustering of brain tissue, and it is this reconstructed appearance that shapes the outer world with the help of my eyes. Of course the eyes only provide data for the brain to use in reconstructing this outer world.

I just saw a shooting star.

Mind, soul, religion, are all concepts that our brains have constructed, and with well over 90% of everything still in the category of unknown, I live within these concepts, and as a child and youth lived within the concepts as defined by others, but as I collect more time in my being, I slowly exchange the definitions of others for what my own brain now seems to be figuring out.

What about the heart?

In Deuteronomy 6:5 is the commandment "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Yet Jesus adds "with all your mind." In ancient Hebrew thought the heart was not merely a pump, but a center of mind and will. But Jesus added the Greek context in which the mind inside your brain, rather than inside your heart, defines personal being. Yet heart is not dropped from the commandment, perhaps the mind knows full well that without the heart, it doesn't exist.

What about the unknown?

Are the electrochemical processes within my skull the totality of my thinking (along with "hard" input from the senses), or does some of that 90-plus percentage of unknown, that something outside matter, does it figure in the mix? What about quantum entanglement or the scores of other ideas that physicists ponder over. Nobody knows in a scientific sense if some of the unknowns interact with my brain. As I look to the stars I can imagine the Creator's hands in this unknown mix. Could the unknowns be part of a kind of blueprint, a blueprint that guides all matter to exploit its potential, a potential built into every particle? Such thoughts are just that, thoughts. So for now I have to make do with what I have and that means that I must live life without the grand blueprint, and neither the theologian nor the scientist can claim to have it, yet everyone things they do. And those scientists who study evolution yet believe not in a Creator, they work to construct a blueprint that never was, for evolution by happenstance could not have a blueprint, so they attempt to reconstruct the past events and thereby construct a history, and this history provides for them evidence that everything can simply be simply by happenstance. But what about the unknown? For me total happenstance just doesn't make sense. All of everything that I've been a part of, the entire universe, makes my mind point like the needle in a compass toward a Creator, a Creator I can imagine outside the universe, outside in respect to not being governed by the laws of the universe, a Creator outside time, outside space and matter, a Creator that created this that we find ourselves within, and created by ways and means beyond our thinking. And that is how I read Genesis, humankind created in the image of God, the image being my being able to think such thoughts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The messiness of Original Sin

Messiness won the evening, for the labyrinth stays as is, atop the desert floor. Last evening we continued to place stones atop the ground, that is after Bro. Juniper heard my plea, and even Bro. Clarence thought the drifting sands would add to the visual appeal, and then pointed out the fatal flaw in the test course of stones that are even with the surface -- drifting sand would soon cover and obliterate the entire labyrinth. Bro. Juniper smacked himself on the forehead, something so obvious had escaped his (and our) thinking. With that resolved, we went to work placing the stones, and in the twilight I found myself considering the Garden of Eden story again. Of course everyone seems to latch onto the idea of Original Sin and won't let go, the believers spin and weave in attempts to make sense of the idea, while nonbelievers point to the unreasonable idea that a god would take the misdeed of an innocent and make the innocent guilty, and further, punish the guilty, and atop that, punish all humankind forever more. I think both sides fail to grasp the symbolism of this story. First of all, without humans, not only does the concept of good and evil not make sense, but in all of nature it is absent. In all of nature (apart from humans) only "good" and "nothingness" exists. Bad doesn't exist, for everything in nature seeks to exploit it's own potential to live and replicate. That either happens or doesn't happen. You might think of all nature as one big organism that exists, and exists only because each part that makes up the "all nature" live and die to provide another part of "all nature" with food to do the same. Nothing is "bad" because in "all nature" adaptation to prevent extinction is the only goal, and total extinction would be the only "bad" possible. Yet again, even extinction couldn't be "bad" in a humanless and Godless "all nature," for in such a universe, everything just is. Or just isn't. No matter. For to matter requires intelligence to create the idea of mattering and not mattering. Now back to the Garden of Eden, this metaphor explains the need for intelligence, for awareness, for self awareness, before the ideas (and concepts) of good and bad/evil to exist. Adam before gaining knowledge of self awareness (or if you prefer, evolution before the brain/mind developed self awareness) was as innocent as a Tiger pouncing upon a lamb and ripping it to shreds for a meal. Without self-awareness "pre-humans" did whatever was required in order to live another day and replicate. After self-awareness (Original Sin) humans became aware of their every action and the consequences of these actions and further became aware that life and replication at whatever cost was no longer possible, for the new brain/mind was not only aware of each action, the consequences of the action, but also if the action was good or bad. And for the first time "bad" had a meaning other than failure to survive, the human brain/mind continued to develop this concept of "bad" until it became a powerful force that identifies all that which would or could harm the individual, the family, the group, the environment around the group, and today the entire earth. These are things that no other life/creature can think, humans not only think, but can act upon these abstract thoughts. And so Adam and Eve with full self awareness watched as their sons fought and one became a murderer and the other a victim of murder. Good and evil sprang to life as if it were an entity, a concept so powerful that not one human can return to that Garden of Eden, that blissful and ignorant state of innocence. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was Bro. Simon, "Are you practicing mindlessness again?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Neat vs Messy

The labyrinth project has slowed much since the thermometer has caught our full attention the past week, but today with some thunderstorms, the mercury has peaked at 99F, so Bro. Juniper has called for volunteers for this evening, so far only Bro. Simon, myself, and Bro. Clarence (but he conditioned his service if Bro. Sedwick will also pitch in). We shall see. I would say the labyrinth is perhaps 60% complete, but I'm not holding my breath, for Bro. Juniper has been doing some experiments, instead of placing the stones atop the desert floor, I saw him digging a shallow test trench and placing stones so that they are flush with the desert floor. As the stones are placed now, he thinks the blowing sand will build up on one side or the other, but with the stones set into the ground, this would not be a problem. I must admit, I never considered it a problem, for I think that the drifting sand only adds interest to the labyrinth, and further, that the constantly shifting winds will keep the labyrinth a perpetual work in progress, just as sand dunes are constantly in motion and never appear the same. Well, maybe this evening I can present my feelings on this matter, for I think Bro. Simon will agree with me, but I fear Bro. Sedwick will side with "neatness" as I fear Bro. Clarence will too. Perhaps I could talk Bro. Charles into joining us, normally he keeps to the library, but neatness isn't one of his strong suits, so a sandy and "messy" labyrinth may be to his liking, and also one more vote against the neat camp.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

You may have a point

Bro. Clarence was relating one of the discussion he had with a fellow who gave him a ride across parts of Arizona, the discussion centered around the fellow leaving the church as a teenager when he came to the conclusion that many of the Biblical stories were simply unbelievable. He said it was almost laughable to think of the garden of Eden with a tree of knowledge and the forbidden apple of good and evil and that by eating it Adam brought evil into the world and all of humanity has suffered since. After a bit of discussion, Bro. Clarence thinks that he caused the fellow to rethink some of his early teenage thoughts after he explained the Genesis story something like this.

For a moment consider the Garden of Eden story as metaphor for the great consequences of knowledge, for with knowledge one's innocence is lost, forever. We all delight in watching the innocence of toddlers, and protecting that innocence, for that is the want of most parents. Of course we don't want to protect children from the real world forever, for we know the consequences of trying to do that, so we measure our protection and little by little the child is exposed to the world outside the protection of home. So perhaps you can read the Eden story as mythology, a myth with great value, for it tells us much about ourselves, and helps us to make sense of the world around us, a world that can be a world without innocence. Bro. Clarence said the fellow's first reaction was, "Myth?!" And related how his childhood Sunday school teacher said everything in the Bible was fact, so Adam was a real person, Eve too, the garden, and all the rest. To which Bro. Clarence replied that in the synoptic gospels Jesus nearly always spoke in parables, so is it so hard to believe that God spoke to Moses with metaphors, making a simple plot with a cast of characters into a story that could be immediately understood by everyone? And the beauty of symbolism is that children read a simply story that they can remember, teenagers read a story that fills their head with questions, adults read the story and suddenly find deeper meaning, and wise old men read the story and find answers to the previous unanswerable? To this the fellow replied, "You may have a point."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Then and Now

Then: "Love the Creator, not the creation"
Now: "Love the earth."

Bro. Clarence was fit as a fiddle at the break fast table, and after several weeks in the secular world, he had one overriding observation, the news seems to have turned the words of Thomas a Kempis (Love the Creator, not the creation) into "love the earth." He went on to explain how few in the modern world actually experience "the earth" when they are insulated by all the trappings of modern life. And then he went on to say that maybe if we were living in the 15th century world of Thomas a Kempis we would have very different ideas and experiences about the "creation." Since that time, those living the modern life in the modern world have since birth been protected from that "creation." This evolution of modernity has produced humans that are insulated from the reality of the natural world, and that insulation allows us to view the "creation" in a totally different way than dear old Thomas did. Most modern folks are so insulated from the natural world that they come to think their flower garden as nature. Bro. Clarence went on after telling of a popular television series called "Man vs. Wild" where a super survivalist is "dropped" into the wilds and the viewer watches as he struggles to survive. I think Thomas was closer to the nature of "Man vs. Wild" than we moderns are, and Thomas experienced the harshness of nature, a harshness that in the television show sends the survivalist breathlessly scampering for his life. In the modern community we have reached a stage where one can be born into this insulation (and apartness from real nature) and live an entire life, and perhaps only experience real nature on one's deathbed. It is this insulation and apartness that allows us to be fascinated with the "creation" and to marvel and probe and dissect it in the comfort of the lab, or even the comfort of bringing our artificial environment with us when we trek in the wilderness. Modern outdoorwear, portable and ultralight this and that, freeze-dried food, and an SUV full of stuff. And we read in horror when someone makes a wrong turn on a desolate mountain road, and the car breaks down, and a young family suddenly finds themselves in raw creation -- somewhat like the 15th century of Thomas. I'm sure if Thomas were wrapped in the insulation of the modern world he too would look differently at the "creation", for in the comfort of modernity, he could be like God (or the scientist) and admire the creation, a creation that is viewed, and not experienced.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

105 in the shade

Bro. Clarence has just arrived, sunburnt as though he had walked from New Mexico to the Mojave, but he assured me that he is fine and that he hitchhiked the entire way, that is until the last 5 miles, and later will share his many stories once he recuperates, and I might add that I watched him "wolf down" 7 tuna sandwiches while gulping down 10 bottles of water. Yes, the desert will do that to a mere human, it will drain you of your last ounce of strength before you know it, and if you have no plan or escape, water from every cell in your body will desert you and leave your brain in a rather deadly state of panic, overwhelmed by messages and signals from every part of your body, each demanding immediate attention, and the poor mind turns to mush, thinking now a very expensive luxury, thinking, that consumer of far too much energy, energy that isn't to be had, so the thinking mind shuts down while the primitive brain frantically attempts to sort out the mess, a mess that quickly degenerates into a cascade of system failures that terminate far after the thinking mind has taken leave. Well, Bro. Clarence is too smart to find himself in such a state, yet his want to be home as soon as possible caused him to foolhardedly hike the last five miles to the monastery. And it was 105-F in the shade! And Bro. Simon watched in dismay, repeating over and over, "... not wise ... not wise ..."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Wise scientists and wise guys

Yesterday morning a rather road weary jeep appeared near the monastery, and soon two fellows came to investigate the rather strange sight of two grown men, in robes and sandals and woven yucca fiber hats, on hands and knees arranging rocks on the desert floor. After our greetings, we discovered that they were anthropologist on their way to what they think may be a fire pit, which they further think may be quite old and perhaps, or so they hope, an ancient Mojave Indian campsite. After a bit it became apparent that neither of these fellows had any religious beliefs, in fact after inviting them to our noon meal, and at the dining table, we chatted for several hours, and as Bro. Sedwich called them "the doubting Thomas brothers" to which they thought was an accurate description, and we all were amused when I became "Friar See" (because in conversation I was saying, 'I see ...' whenever they would present their side of an argument) and Bro. Sedwick was called, "Father Gull" (as in gullible, and making us the 'seegull' brothers). We did have a good time, and they promised to drop by again sometime next week and report on the fire pit. Well, at the end of the day I think we here at the monastery are still the faithful, and our two anthropologist friends are, one a proud and feisty atheist, the other a somewhat wavering agnostic. Below are some thoughts that I penned last evening, which is a sort of cleaned up version of my side of the conversation.

Science cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God (if 'existence' is the proper word). But to heed Friar William of Ockham's dictum, perhaps science should leave open the argument for the 'existence' of God by simple logic and reason. If I stumble across a twig woven nest, I assume it had a maker. If I contemplate the beauty of a dew laden web, I assume a maker, an orb spider. Hornet's nests, honeycombs, crayfish burrows, eggshells. I reason they all had makers. But I more than reason, I have witnessed the makers of these creations, so forever more I know that these creations were built by a lifeform. So something merely looking as though it were built doesn't necessarily make believers of us, but witnessing like things being built can make us believers. Believers that all like twig structures were built by birds. But how about the complex structure of a cell? Have we witnessed the building of a single cell? Yes. Have we witnessed the builder of that cell? Well, yes and no. What we witness is a seemingly magical progression of events, magical in that the microscopic-aided eye watches the results of hidden events taking place. But with a chalkboard we can symbolize all the various things taking place behind the scenes, the chemistry of it all. The biologist and chemist could say that forces and actions and reactions along with a DNA blueprint all make this seem magical, when in fact it is all a logical progression of events in the building of the cell. So if no one has witnessed God creating 'anything' then one could not use this same logic and say that God created the Universe, let alone, God created the sparrow, or even a single cell or atom. But how about if we peek behind the scenes and instead of focusing on the 'things' build, we consider potentiality. In all the Universe, or as much as we have discovered, potentiality seems to be in all forces and laws and bits and pieces, from the largest to the smallest. Potential seems to be built into all of Creation, from the fundamental forces/laws/matter that the physicists ponder over, to evolution with the realization of that potential in actuality. Potentiality (and implied change) is fundamental to and is the force driving life to actuality. Then the question becomes, can potentiality in ALL exist without God? I think not. A godless universe would simply be accident and happenstance leading to actuality. That is not the universe that I am a witness to. For each morning I awake to the potential of the coming day, and I an active participant in changing potential into actuality.