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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.
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.
Do we need God because the universe is just too strange, empty and frightening without Him? Do we know enough to decide about what created the universe? Isn’t the discovery of the cause of creation a continuous process for us?
Eric Stetson, a Facebook friend, entrepreneur and visionary, wrote a stimulating post the other day. It was Eric’s reaction to this article.
Eric wrote: Thoughts upon reading this article:
1. These people need to start calling themselves Unitarian Universalists, rather than Christians.
2. That realization just reminded me of what the UU brand has become — i.e. “the church for people who don’t believe anything religious” — and why I’m somewhat uncomfortable identifying with it, just as I also have mixed feelings about identifying with the “Christian” brand as it’s defined today.
The article quotes Rev Klass Hendrikse:
“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.”
Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing.
“When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you and me, between people, that’s where it can happen. God is not a being at all… it’s a word for experience, or human experience.”
I believe some members of UU, maybe most, do not believe in God the way more traditional Christians do. UU is much less a Christian organization that it was years ago. What I find interesting is that many people feel they need to pick either belief in God or atheism. Faith or no faith. For me the question of God is unanswerable. We simply don’t have enough knowledge or insight to know. That’s why belief in God depends on Faith. Defined by Mark Twain Faith is believing in something you know ain’t true. At the very least its believing when you have doubts or not enough information. So people choose Faith or no faith. Of course lots of folks don’t care where we came from, why we are here or where we are going so they don’t raise these questions for themselves. (Do you think there are many people like that?)
Here is what I posted on Eric’s FB page:
“God is not a being at all… it’s a word for experience, or human experience.”
Some people experience something they call God. The creative force of the universe some call it. Or the echo of the big bang. Or our Father in Heaven. But whatever we call it it is a phenomenon for some people — an observable occurrence. The infinite – anti-chance – the first cause. Science and art seek to understand these terms. Abstract terms that we can’t get our minds around because we are finite (at least I think we are!). This phenomenon, whatever word we use to describe it, is a reflection of the mystery of creation and existence. Striving to grasp a small measure of understanding of this mystery is included in the work or art and science as well as religion and philosophy. In this striving we have two extremes — those who say they know God and can therefore know the unknowable (the paradox of some Western religions) — and the atheists who say they’ve got it all figured out — there is nothing beyond what our 5 senses tell us nothing transcendental nothing super-natural. Any time I read that there is no more mystery no more to discover in any field including religion I reject the notion. We are born from mystery, die in mystery, and are surrounded by mystery during our lives. If we try to cap that mystery and put it in a ‘NO’ bottle I think we shut off an important part of being human. Religion claims that periodically the mystery around us speaks. Emerson wrote “God has not spoken — He speaks” now and continuously. I don’t know God or god but I do feel surrounded by mystery and I sometimes pay attention.”
So that’s my answer — its a mystery. Sounds lame — like what a priest tells a parishioner when the priest is stumped. But it works for me. No religion speaks to me very well right now. The traditions and dogma of religion makes them confusing to me. But they all have wisdom and beauty as well as dogma so I might change my mind at some point. I am sure that in the next few hundred years people will learn much more about the mysteries. I think learning about black holes and the holographic universe may reveal much about the nature of creation and reality. Meanwhile the importance of staying in touch with Nature if you are a human being presses on us to a greater extent as we put pressure on Nature. Thoreau had it right — “In wildness is preservation of the world.” Nature is the tool of creation as well as the result of it. Nature is also where the clues to the mysteries lie. Let’s not calcify our thinking with dogma or emptiness.