Family Visit

I spent some time with my siblings recently whom I haven’t seen for more than a year. Our relationships have always been congenial and remain so even though our political views and religious beliefs have diverged, become nearly polar oppositional. We each harbor, I’m sure, the certainty the other of us is mistaken, has somehow acquired beliefs so unacceptable that he/she is beyond redemption.

But sensitive topics didn’t come up this visit unlike earlier times when we were younger and aggressively confrontational. Instead, we consciously avoided political warfare in favor of fond remembrances of family no longer living and shared childhood adventures.

Still, I know we will all be best served, that our bonds will stay intact, by maintaining a healthy distance in time and miles between us.

Transcending Reality

I guess the idea of transcending one’s reality has always been imagined by the contemplative mind. For many who seek such adventure religious engagement may provide the pathway to that other world imagined to be beyond painful relationships, workplace power struggles or battles involved in securing a bit of personal dignity, in realizing a certain respect from others.

In the past those truly committed to rise above mundane reality had been known to tax their physical health to the extreme, nearing death in order to weaken their natural self-serving propensities in favor, hopefully, of achieving enlightenment, sensing a divine Ground of Being where original virtue is realized, a state of existence where ego is lost, replaced by an inner serenity.

I do like the idea of rising above mundane reality on occasion, to find serenity, but the means to such an end would be more attractive if it didn’t involve masochism.

Belief in God

As things began spiraling out of control she wondered if belief in God was a viable option.

Well, maybe belief was the wrong word. It seemed to her unlikely one can suddenly ‘believe’ something, but there were remnants of belief she had taken to be credible at some earlier time in life. There were beliefs introduced to her as a child that had drifted along in her sub-conscious all these years until recent existential shock brought them (the beliefs) to the surface, beliefs which seemed, suddenly, to be just the thing these extraordinary times require.

So maybe it was more like expedient, practical to seek and find a supernatural entity to appeal to in these dire times when her resources were strained and uncertainties about her very survival constantly weighed upon her. She had settled, after all, as she had thought about it over the years, on an enlightened agnosticism, resisting the hard atheism embraced by some. God as a concept was elusive but not easily dismissed in totality and now seemed the time to, if not make re-acquaintance, at least allow the embedded idea to come a bit closer to the surface. There is something comforting about the idea of a benevolent overlord, protector, benefactor in these uncertain times.

But finding and maintaining belief, she realized, wasn’t that simple.

Beauty in Death

I’m finding the transformation of nature this time of year breathtaking. The vibrancy and variety of colors transforms the environment so dramatically my visual surroundings become something totally other, so changed, that, on a walk in the woods, I find myself someplace unrecognizable as if it were another world.

Nature though is dying, she is in the throes of death, breathing a last gasp as she fades into dormancy. In another month these woods will appear dead, reduced to subdued browns and grays. They will have been abandoned by songbirds and hibernating animals. There will be little to suggest there is any life existing here at all. The death of nature will, of course, eventually transition into a sort of rebirth or at least a regeneration of life as the seasons advance.

What makes nature’s metaphorical death so unique is the flair, the exuberant celebration of finality she displays. Such an enthusiastic embrace of physical demise doesn’t seem to follow for the animal world except, perhaps, for certain humans convinced they too will be reborn in the spring.

Freedom and Universal Truth

I was speaking with ZahZah K. the other day about her contention that the only solution to the impending end to civilization as we know it (you know, as brought on by our degrading environment, sectarian violence, etc.) is the establishment of a new social paradigm, a transformation of the fundamental structure of society, the establishment of a world-wide collectivity.

What we need to realize, she said, are those universal truths that we as sentient beings all share, that define the bases of our existence; those truths which precede the value distortions precipitated by associations of race, sect, religion or economic philosophy.  And, once we all grasp these truths true freedom will be realized.

It all sounded pretty good to me at first but then I got to thinking that if this universal revelation were to happen we all would be, in effect, marching to the same drummer.  And, it sure seems to me there would be little room for individual idiosyncrasies-flights of fancy, imaginings of alternative worlds and ideologies-solutions that, perhaps, we might realize as we continue to evolve.

I guess it’s just another example of pragmatist versus dreamer and, although I understand the importance of interrupting or at least slowing our slide into environmental disaster, I told ZahZah that I, personally, am unwilling to relinquish my freedom to dream.

She told me that was unacceptable; that if I wasn’t part of the solution I was part of the problem even though I assured her I always buy organic.


Is there truth in beauty?

I remember, earlier this past summer, admiring the flower garden outside my window.  It was early morning; the sun low in the sky created sparks of light as it reflected off of the drops of dew.  The birds were active, singing brightly as they are wont to do as the weather warms.

I called my friend to the window so she might enjoy the scene as much as I.  Look, I said, isn’t nature beautiful?  My friend took in the scene for some time, then remarked that nearly everything she saw she found unpleasant: pollen made her sneeze, the wetness of the dew was cold, the birds squawking was abrasive and the brightness hurt her eyes.

Well, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing; natural beauty seems so universally true; so many images by so many people verify it.  It’s hard for me to believe that the truth of beauty isn’t absolute.  Woody Allen famously said: ‘I love nature I just don’t want to get any of it on me.’  Maybe that’s where my friend is at; unable to separate natural beauty from nature’s physical presence.  Perhaps I could get her started watching the Nature Channel, then dinner on the patio, a walk in the park, eventually a climb up Half Dome.  I think she might come around in the end.  with Pearl3


I spent a couple of hours cleaning my Notre Dame playhouse the other day.  It was quite a mess; hadn’t been organized for some time.  I straightened the pews, relighted the votive candles, moved the priest from the sacristy to the confessional, replenished the Holy Water and separated the Brothers and Sisters (for some reason they always seem to end up together).  I did all the things necessary to put a cathedral in good order.

When I finished I considered what I’d done and thought it was quite an accomplishment-maybe not on the scale of actually building Notre Dame-but still it was something.

Wasn’t it?

Okay, so what does it mean to accomplish something?  Does accomplishment occur if no one knows about it?  And, as soon as someone finds out does judgment occur?  And, then, if the accomplishment is deemed worthy do accolades follow?  I doubt the Buddha meant, when he said to his disciples: ‘accomplishment is transient; strive unremittingly’, that they should pursue an ego boost.

The Stoics were pretty sure finding yourself in favor (which is certainly what would happen if people thought you did something good) wasn’t a good thing; once favored the only direction to go is down.

Well no one will probably know about my cathedral dollhouse cleaning anyway; it’s stuck back in a corner of the den.  People rarely come by now that little Bobby entered the seminary.

So I guess I needn’t fear recognition for my accomplishment.  But, I suppose I could take a few photos just to remember how nice it looks once it gets messy again.  But, then, someone might see the photos and nominate me for the Good Playhouse Keeping Award.  Then I’d be expected to keep it clean all the time and if I didn’t people would think I was a messy doll.

Boy, those old guys sure knew what they were talking about.

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What I know about Soren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard’s dilemma was that despite his love for Regine he believed himself to be incapable of becoming a good husband, so to spare her he breaks off the engagement, telling her he was never truly serious about their relationship in the first place.

He wrote a lot about anxiety.  He says when we become anxious we are overtaken with fear and trembling as if we were on the edge of a precipice and were afraid of falling.  Then he says we should jump; take the leap into faith, embrace God for whom all things are possible.

He also tells us that either we shelter ourselves in the illusory belief that the individuals, doctrines and institutions we rely on for self-fulfillment are sufficient (bad) or we dismiss our worldly distractions, realize our declining physical bodies and face the existential horrors of life (good).


I think he thought about things too much.  He should have just gone out and had a good time once in a while.

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Religion as Art

I was reading a while ago about the Ban-Yatra, a Hindu pilgrimage which is performed in the Braj region of northern India.  Unlike many pilgrimages the ban-Yatra isn’t focused on reaching a sacred locale or the place of Holy Relics but rather is about uncovering the sacred in the profane as the pilgrimage progresses.

Braj is believed to be the birthplace and playground of Krishna.  Many of the stories of Hindu literature mention places and land forms here as sites where Krishna performed his miracles, cavorted with his cowherd friends and engaged in love-play with the Gopi’s and his beloved Radha. The pilgrimage involves circumambulating Braj, visiting shrines and temples and partaking in various rituals.

Unlike some eastern religious philosophies the worship of Krishna isn’t about renunciation of this world-denial of desire, but quite the opposite: realizing desire in the beauty of nature and celebrating the love of Krishna as being non-different from it. In order to do this the pilgrim cultivates bhava, an emotional and imaginative energy that allows him or her to see beyond the mere commonplace and experience the presence of Krishna in the natural surroundings.

One scholar suggests that in achieving bhava the pilgrim becomes like a poet creating meaning in the landscape as he or she passes through it.

Wow!  What a great observation. The artist certainly creates alternative worlds through imaginative emotive means; a significant parallel to the creative religious practice of the Ban-Yatra pilgrim. Maybe the difference between the two lies in just how literally one believes in the existence of this other world and its inhabitants. The artist, I suspect, is less likely than the pilgrim to embrace his/her imaginings as factually existent.

It seems to me religious practice in general could profit from a bit more creative play and a bit less dogmatic belief.

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Psychoanalyzing Sigmund

Dr. Freud determined the libido controls man’s nature.  He thought the male child was engaged in a constant struggle to overcome his father in order to claim his mother and demonstrate his power in the world.  He said he figured this out because of his own attraction to his mother and jealousy of his father and if it was the case for him it must be the case for everybody.

The female child, meanwhile, was in envy of male potency as symbolized by the male genitalia. I guess he was saying we are all controlled by our physical bodies and our minds simply respond to our animal natures.

Dr. Freud must have thought about sex quite a bit; he ended up having six children.

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