You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’ category.
I’m leading a discussion group about the spiritual essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Its the second time I’m doing this and it is enjoyable and enriching. We use “Emerson as a Spiritual Guide” by Barry Andrews, published by Skinner House Books, Unitarian Universalist Association publishing house. I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn more about Emerson’s spiritual writings.
In reading Emerson’s essay, The Over-Soul, I found this time that I have much more clarity. One passage struck me as particularly important: “For the soul is true to itself, and the man in whom it is shed abroad cannot wander from the present, which is infinite, to a future which would be finite.”
This is related to an idea that Joesph Campbell expressed — “Eternity has nothing to do with time.”
Why am I suddenly writing about this? First of all I need to get back blogging!! Secondly these assertions are helpful to me as I seek to be in the present and mindful of it. I thought they might be helpful to you.
Poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson written many years ago describes our situation.
After the horrible news of yesterday’s school shootings we have been mourning the losses and feel numb. Today The Chalice newsletter of the Unitarian Church of Barnstable arrived – the church we just joined last week — and Reverend Kristen Harper included the opening stanza from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson to introduce her paragraph about mourning losses during the year. Unfortunately it is very apt today.
Threnody by Ralph Waldo Emerson
THE SOUTH-WIND brings
Life, sunshine, and desire,
And on every mount and meadow
Breathes aromatic fire;
But over the dead he has no power,
The lost, the lost, he cannot restore;
And, looking over the hills, I mourn
The darling who shall not return.
I mourn all the little darlings who shall not return because their lives were cut short. I will look for them in the hills and valleys, when walking through a meadow I will remember and mourn. I will see them in the sunrise and sunset and along the beaches we walk on old Cape Cod. I will cherish my children and the children I meet in my travels all the more. I will be patient with them all and with my self. I will look for them as I look for Walt Whitman who wrote in Leaves of Grass:
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.
I hope the sweet martyred babies will wait for us until we have the wisdom to see them again.
Here is another reply to Alex, my Talisman9 correspondent who has been gracious and patient with me. Please let me know what you think — & Thanks to Sen for his comments — I will reply to him later today.
Good Morning Alex,
Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
I think with religion generally and Baha’i in particular a leap of faith as you say is required in order to buy the whole package. Unusually one must hold his nose to some degree and then take the plunge.
But this requires a set of beliefs about the universe we live in. Belief in God certainly but also belief in some very particular attributes of God. The most fundamental of these beliefs is that the nature of God includes a conscious planning process similar to but far superior to that we humans use.
You cite the cruelty of evolution and natural selection. You wrote:
“I have had to come to terms with a God who uses Evolution and Natural
selection (with all its struggle and seeming random cruelty) as part of His
cosmic scheme to produce the big wide world and creatures (us) who can know
Him and love Him. Why does He do that? Certainly the Big Picture is well hidden from us… but I can’t accept that God is “fallible” – that is all
too human an attribute. Subtle but never perverse?”
I think this is square one in the Parcheesi board of religious thinking. Is God aware of the cruelty inherent in his scheme? Or is he opposed by an evil force that can challenge him going toe to toe? (Scratch the devil of course) And does he use this inherently cruel method so he can be loved? What a cad!!
Personally I reject these ideas. The forces of life that we humans have called God for centuries is a combination of things like the collective conscious, nature, the ineffable world of spirit (invisible part of life’s spectrum) and other stuff I’m sure. Religion tries to package all of this and then tops it off sometimes claiming infallibility!! Cool but I’m not buying.
The Baha’i writings say that all the books are open, all the letters of knowledge revealed. Doesn’t this imply that the writings tell it like it is? But aren’t we still dealing with allegory here? I think the term God represents a force in nature a power that propels existence but any personification of this is allegory near as I can tell. This is my way of explaining the cruelty of life. A personified God who was allows what goes on to continue? Unthinkable. Life as a struggle for the sun light? That’s the life I know.
The writings of Emerson tackle these issues pretty effectively — but not completely or infallibly. I’m reading (wading through is more like it) Kant now and therein lies lots of wisdom regarding how we arrive at ‘judgments’ and make decisions, learn. All good grist for the mill, but Kant is so dense and difficult that there is no consensus re: what he was trying to tell us. I still read Bahaullah and Abdul Baha from time to time but find them no more infallible than Kant or Emerson.
But lets suppose for a moment that Kant was and his writings are infallible. Would it matter? Put 5 expert philosophers in a room and you will have 5 differing views re: what Kant was actually trying to tell us. So Kant’s infallibility would be of no use IMO.
The same is true of much of what Bahaullah wrote. Some of it is very clear (as you say) — the laws for example – other parts are subject to interpretation and will mean differently depending on the reader. Other parts seem haphazard and not well thought out (The Aqdas). Of course the Baha’i answer to this amounts to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” (That is – don’t judge God by human standards.)
I think at two ends of the Baha’i story there are important questions — was Bahaullah constantly in touch with the Godhead? Was he damn near God? (as Bahaullah implied and many Bahia’s believe – or even more extreme — many believe he was God). Did a God who knew exactly what she was doing put him here on earth or was he the outgrowth of a natural process? And at the other more worldly end of the spectrum is the Baha’i way of elections the best way and is the supreme governing body of the Baha’is — the Universal House of Justice — infallible here on earth?
If the answer to either or both of these questions is no then we humans are better off taking from Baha’i writings the nuggets that are helpful and leaving the rest behind. That’s my path; what about you, Alex?
Marsh Loop, Plum Island
Sorry I haven’t written a new blog entry for a while. Last time I was in a bad mood over the long winter, now I’ve been busy with Spring.
So what’s going on? Well, I formally left the Baha’i faith fifty years almost to the day I declared my belief at fifteen in 1958. I also joined a cooperative art gallery in Newburyport and sold three prints during my first weekend there. Website: http://bridgegallerynewburyport.com/
Maria, my youngest daughter is graduating from college and preparing to start graduate school this fall. We attended her thesis presentation and she was as her professor said, ‘perfect.’ Aurora and I are enjoying our membership in First Parish Church United in Westford. Lad is going to turn 15 next month, he has the wise old dog look as if he is seeing into the world of mystery and spirit.
My grown daughters are living their lives and I hope are happy. Aida is settling in to a new job while also doing well with painting and consulting. Robin and I had a great visit in March and she seemed so relaxed and happy — I hope she continues to be that way. I haven’t heard from my eldest free spirit, Dawn for a while — I hope she is well and happy. (Sent Robin and Dawn Mom’s day cards — they each have done wonderful work in raising their kids — many thanks to them and the universe for that!)
My Grandchildren are growing up — Jack has a new job, Eddy is teaching Freshman English and doing well in graduate school, Shaylyn is thinking of going to college on the East Coast — yeah!! — and Elliot is growing up and enjoying his new school (how I miss them all!) Shay paid us a visit in April and it was such a treat. She is so delightful to be with and I think she had a good time as well. Visited RISD and some art schools in Boston. I hope she picks one next year.
Meanwhile politics, local and national, marches on in its surrealistic way. Extremists abound. Mean spirits continue to rule and the rest of us rue the day. Yet our problems are not petty nor mean. They are the result of our success as a species. Its pretty clear that what is needed is for us to grow up and quickly. It is human nature itself that is challenged and needs to evolve — with great rapidity – if that’s possible.
While I feel very good — liberated — about the Baha’i decision, I think it a shame the Baha’i faith hasn’t had greater impact. Some of what the Bahia’s teach is good medicine. But its such a stew of mixed and contradictory beliefs and behaviors that in good conscience I can’t call myself a Baha’i. Greater impact would stir some of the questions that need asking now — I don’t hold hope that Baha’i has all the answers but questions? Yes it offers many.
I saw Karen Armstrong speak at a TED conference recently. She was receiving an award and gave a wonderful talk. From the TED website: (Armstrong) “talks about how the Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism, Christianity — have been diverted from the moral purpose they share to foster compassion. But Armstrong has seen a yearning to change this fact. People want to be religious, she says; we should act to help make religion a force for harmony. She asks the TED community to help her build a Charter for Compassion — to help restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.”
The thoughts from this talk that have stayed with me include the conclusion that religion is not primarily about beliefs; rather its about behavior. I suppose the beliefs are a means of encouraging certain behaviors. Another lasting thought is that the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all have the virtue of Compassion at their core — embodied in the Golden Rule. Simple. Makes me wonder why the religions have gotten so complex. (Maybe its because as Karen says, “the Golden Rule is difficult.”
Here is a link to the talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/234
For me the problem with religion is that most of ’em claim to offer the infallible word of God. If you need to know what to do and you are religious you can look it up in the holy book. Of course this breaks down at times (often) and then the believers need to come up with logic that explains away the contradictions, logical fallacies, and misinformation. I think that only if we keep things simple — the golden rule, the four noble truths, “Love one another as I have loved you” — there is hope.
Most faiths act as if they had the only or ultimate truth. Baha’i says — all religious are true but ours is truer because its the latest revelation from God. Seems simple — but its a dangerous and divisive attitude. The concept that God progressively reveals more truth over time to meet the needs of each age seems simple too. But its simplicity precludes the problem solving and truth finding that we need to do in our lives as we follow our own unique path.
This is what drew me to the church we recently joined. It is affiliated with Unitarian/Universalist and through them with the teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I get much wisdom and pleasure from his writings. His advice is to listen to one’s inner voice, to intuition. He advises us to not seek the truth in books but in our own ‘genius’ — that is the spirit within. A kind of contradiction because I am seeking wisdom in books of his. At least Emerson doesn’t claim to be the voice of God!
The UU approach implies that truth can be found in many places, sacred and secular. I think this is good advice. Also the rejection of the belief that certain historic figures were unique and were incarnations or direct voices of God is good. As Emerson taught, the same source of truth that Christ had we may have as well. Christ set an example of how to find that source and we would do well to emulate it. But to worship him as God or nearly God or God’s only son is rejected. I agree. And I also reject the infallibility of Baha’ullah and the others in Baha’i who claim it because no one born of flesh was ever infallible. Worth following? Possibly. Infallible? Not possible.
I hope to write in this blog more often. I’ll get back to being more specific and reporting events that might interest others — like apparently skunk cabbage — one of my readers (or I guess searchers/googlers) most favored subjects strangely enough.
Meanwhile enjoy the springtime and let me know your thoughts if you want.
Elbert Hubbard was a prolific writer of the early twentieth century. He was a major figure in the Arts and Crafts movement having establish a hand crafted publishing house called Roycrofters, famous for beautiful, illuminated limited edition volumes, bound in leather.
His book “Hollyhocks and Goldenglow” is a collection of essays on topics from the Titanic to Abdul Baha. (I recently made an entry on the Talisman9 discussion forum about this and what follows was drawn from that post.)He writes movingly about the Titanic recounting the bravery, loyalty and love of Mrs. Straus who refused to leave her husband for a life boat. Ironically Hubbard and his wife, Alice perished three years later aboard the Lusitania. Survivors told stories of their courage, matching the characteristics of Mrs. Straus.
There is also an essay about Abdul Baha entitled “A Modern Prophet.” The first sentence reads “A very great man has recently visited America.” It continues: “So out of Persia comes Abdul Baha, who calls himself “The Servant of God.” His followers are called Bahais. This man has diverted one-third of the population of Persia from Mohammedanism. …. This man is the modern Messiah.”
I find this essay an engrossing report by a non-Baha’i. Particularly interesting is this:
“Christian Science interests Abdul Baha greatly. It is somewhat humiliating thing for us when we think that this new American religion was never heard of by Abdul Baha until recently. Now he has practically embraced it. He says it represents one arc of the great circle of truth, and that if he had learned nothing else from his trip to America but the truths of Christian Science, he would be amply repaid.He says he comes more as a learner than a teacher. Nevertheless, he is obliged to give out the light that has been given to him. He keeps the good by giving it away.He quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson freely, delights in Walt Whitman, and loves the memory of Tolstoy, and is on terms of great tenderness toward every good and noble thing that makes for human betterment.No man of recent times has shown such a magnificent affirmative spirit as this Abdul Baha.”
Hubbard was a prolific writer who is not very well known today — not the household word one might think he would be. (The exception might be his “Message to Garcia” that I believe was read in grade or high schools years ago.)His contemporaneous account of Abdul Baha’s visit is precious I think. There may be errors in the essay but it rings true. He doesn’t say that he met Abdul Baha but I think he must have. Does anyone have knowledge of this possible meeting? I find the comments about Christian Science, Emerson and Whitman intriguing and perfectly consistent with my mental and emotional image of Abdul Baha and his approach to life.The book is available as a reprint or as an antique in its original leather bound form if you can find it.I love the idea that Abdul Baha quoted Emerson and loved Whitman but this is the only reference to that I know of. I think many Baha’is would reject the idea. If you are a Baha’i what do you think? And please let me know of other references like this that you are aware of.Many thanks,Frank
“Night Walk” Photograph copyright Frank Winters a Canon G9 image
Luke 17:20, 21:
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, the kingdom cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here, or lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
In the Baha’i writings the thirteenth Hidden Word says:
“O Son of Spirit!
I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal:
“The highest revelation is that God is in every man.”
And in his essay Nature he recounts a transcendental experience:
“Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God”
I believe that these passages refer to the same truth. That God is within each of us and that by turning within we may find God.
The quote from Baha’ullah is particularly interesting. Taken as a whole it seems to recount humankind’s evolution and self invention through Nature and the acquisition of knowledge. Nature is the clay of love. The essence of knowledge refers to the source of mankind’s mental growth and spiritual evolution as well as the process of discovery through science and intuition.
The Lord’s prayer says “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” Baha’is believe this refers to the time when Baha’ullah came to fulfill the prophecy. Many Christians believe this refers to a future time when Christ will return in the glory of the father and bring about the kingdom of God on earth.
But the kingdom of God is within you says Jesus. Baha’ullah says find Me within you. Emerson says he and all of us are the part and parcel of God.
That’s enough for me. The good news is that the kingdom can come for us in the here and now as can eternity, just as our daily bread comes. However, the kingdom is in the future for most of us because we have not achieved what Buddha called nirvana. But his views will wait for another time!
I am pleased to have reached this conclusion after thinking about these and other passages for months if not years. While I am open to finding a different meaning to them I find this understanding clear and helpful. Meditation will now be easier, I think.
A primary difficulty for me in accepting the Baha’i faith as the basis for belief is in the concept of the Covenant which says that God will send messengers every thousand years or so and humankind will accept and follow them. Baha’i believe that no direct contact with God is possible. All knowledge from God must come through a Manifestation, they believe — because that’s what Baha’ullah taught even though he also wrote the thirteenth Hidden Word.
Many Baha’is over the years have told me that they respect or are fond of Emerson yet he taught just the opposite from this fundamental (and somewhat fundamentalist) Baha’i belief. I think this is because Baha’i beliefs are inconsistent internally. Look at them or interpret them one way and they are aligned, for example, with Emerson. Take another look and they are not. But I imagine this is true of organized religion generally. (Of course I am not nearly knowledgeable enough to know if this is true.)
I’m interested in knowing what others think about this. What did Jesus mean? Are the passages above saying the same or similar things, or not? Do you feel that the Kingdom of God could possible be within you?
A street scene during an election year. We do have choices, don’t we?
The new movie about the life of Bob Dylan — “I’m not here” — has gotten raves. Dylan is played by 6 actors including a 14 year old black actor, Ricard Gere and Cate Blanchett. The movie apparently shows Dylan as a nonexistent shape shifter who changes as soon as his persona becomes intelligible.
Yep — that’s our Bob.
Would that we could learn from his life performance. Would that the rest of humanity could be like Bob, Norman Mailer (currently stirring things up in heaven) and Muhammad Ali who said something like “I don’t have to be like all you people want me to be — I can be whoever I want to be.” He said that after he became the Champ.
But we can’t be like that. We are stuck in the structure of society and economics. We must be who we are supposed to be because we got to live out our lives that way somehow (a little Dylan derivative text).
This is called structural prejudice by sociologists and other learned types. I’m going to delve into it and try to understand what that means and what if anything an individual can do about it.
Bigotry is pretty close to dead. It’s still alive but very subtle and not at all PC. The force that keeps people down is the force of the weight of the years and traditions that impel us to behave in ways that are counter to our better nature.
We are so damn smug and self centered. We are sure that we are God or no-god’s chosen bunch. Each ethnic group tends to feel this way — at least the ones I have experience with. We middle class types put real estate values above almost everything for god’s sake but do we do it because we can’t help it? Maybe, yet we must help.
Last Sunday Reverend Cindy challenged the congregation at First Parish Church to do something about racial inequity in Westford. Blacks earn 40% less than whites she said and there are only 62 whites in Westford. She asked two questions: “How can that be?” and “What are you going to do about it?”
Her suggestion was to give away 10% of our earnings. That might work — certainly if everyone did it it would help even things our.
But it got me thinking (thanks Cindy!) What is really wrong? I think it has to do with were we find ourselves today and our inability to reinvent ourselves. That’s what we need to do — reinvent ourselves – each and everyone of us.
Traditions are good unless they aren’t. We should question our traditional values all the time. Like Emerson taught. Face life each day and question our motives and what we feel we must do. Reinvent ourselves as often as possible.
I think this is what Henry Ford meant when he said “History is bunk!” Yeah, we need to learn from history but as soon as we feel it dictates our actions and thoughts we need to forget it and move on.
Just like Bob Dylan did/does.
(Photo of Gandhi statue in New York’s Union Square)
Faith is defined in many ways but Gandhi put it this way:
“Faith is putting your foot on the first rung of a ladder when you don’t know where it leads.”
I think belief requires more evidence. It requires knowledge, whereas faith results from the sum of many things — emotion, experience, gut feel, desire, hope — adding up to a decision to put your foot on that rung of that particular ladder.
Belief is somewhere between knowledge and faith. Yet Abdul Baha (son of Baha’ullah, founder of the Baha’i faith) said that
“Faith is conscious knowledge.”
Knowledge to belief to Faith? Does it work that way? Or must faith be a leap?
I think we require all three to live a happy, useful life. Some people focus on one or another. Intellectuals want knowledge so they can formulate beliefs. Religious people tend to have faith — sometimes for reasons they can’t articulate. Many of us have weakly defined beliefs that may inform decisions such as who to vote for but often beliefs, by themselves don’t result in action.
If you believe in God do you act as if you had faith in God? Do you really trust in God? You know God — the creator of heaven and earth who we can’t see, never meet and who seems indifferent to human suffering. Or do you define God differently? Do you have knowledge of God if you believe in God? If so how have you achieved this?
(To help answer this question, I recommend Tolstoy’s book “The Kingdom of God is Within You.” It will test your understanding of belief and faith in God.)
The longer I live the more I have faith in people. Emerson wrote that God was an Over-Soul — near as I can tell this is a collective made up of the souls of all people. To me this is another way of saying that man created God, but not as a fiction.
I am starting to believe this but don’t yet have faith in it because I don’t have enough knowledge.
Know what I mean?
In his famous essay “Nature” Emerson says that
“Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.”
I love the essay but tend to reduce it or over think it at times.
The essay continues in the same paragraph saying:
“Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. An enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love. Visible distance behind and before us, is respectively our image of memory and hope.”
So I wonder what the meaning of mushrooms is.
Maybe they represent people of all shapes and sizes in the world. Some are delightful, others poison. They grow every where or so it seems and are very adaptable.
What do you think mushrooms ‘mean?’ Is Emerson to be taken literally? Or are mushrooms too insignificant to have any meaning?
Here are some to look at while you think:
The photo below has two bonuses from the animal kingdom. They might have a clue re: mushroom and their meaning…..