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Some of us fear the woods

Some of us fear the woods


Heather Von St. James knows fear. She is a mesothelioma survivor who had her left lung removed in order to save her life. That was back in 2005. The operation and treatment were successful and Heather is a “seven year cancer survivor.” I put that in quotes because that term must, at times, still frighten Heather. We all are survivors of whatever life has thrown at us, but most of us have not had the terror that a diagnosis of cancer creates.

So to ward off any residual or persistent fear, Heather has created a special holiday in tribute to the surgery that saved her life — Lungleavin Day. Here’s what she says about it:

“With Lungleavin Day coming up, the opportunity is here to write our fears on a plate and smash them into the fire, I’m going to once again take control of my emotions and overcome. I know I have the power to do it; sometimes it is just making the choice to do so.”

The date is February 2 and its a online event as well as one at Heather’s home with her friends, loved ones and supporters.
Here’s a link to Heather’s blog in case you’d like to know more about her story.

Fear might be the most corrosive of all passions, eating away our ability to be happy. Fear is one of our most troublesome pitfalls — no doubt about it. If you are dealing with a terrible illness or know someone who is Heather’s story might just be what you need to help you deal with fear and the uncertainty that creates it.

Thanks to Heather for helping us to understand that fear can be confronted and vanquished. We fear lots of things, after all we live in the liminal space allotted to us by our nature. What is linminal space? From the blog Liminal Space:

“The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning literally, “threshold.”

A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is…

…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
– Richard Rohr”

A cloud of unknowing is created by every diagnosis of life threatening disease. Its also created when we get lost in a strange city or the woods. Job change, divorce, auto accident, fire, flood, etc — all these things put us in Liminal space. How we deal with this condition will determine how happy we can be from that point on.

Years ago Muhammad Ali explained what he did when he was knocked into liminal space — in other words almost knocked out. He said that in that state the boxer hallucinates, he might see a theatrical dressing room, with a magician’s top hat and cane, clown’s costume and makeup, a zebra and dancing girl. He said if you let this place freak you out you will be knocked out. But if you look around, put on the top hat, pick up the cane and say hi to the dancing girl you should be able to clear your head and leave liminal space getting back to the fight (hopefully the bell will end the round by then!).

I believe we exist in liminal space. Constantly. To survive on earth we need a very narrow set of conditions, temperature, humidity, availability of nutrients, biological balance so that our bodies are able to ward off bacteria. We are always between a rock and a hard place. I find it helpful to explore the space afforded to me but don’t feel a need to stretch beyond my comfort zone simply to test myself. Others want to explore the entire globe and ski where no one should be skiing, etc. Whatever it takes to help us deal with being in a place of transition. Learning what we can about our liminal space is a great help.

We came from a place unknown and are headed to another one. No matter how religious or spiritual a person might be no one knows where human consciousness is headed. We live in a cloud of unknowing; in liminal space. So we need to figure out how to deal with it. I’m with Ali — let’s look around and see what we find interesting, attractive — see what and where we can contribute what we do best. After all, our time in this frightening space is short no matter who we are — best to make the most of it and enjoy the journey to the other side. Smash plates, dance the tango, ski, pray, meditate, (I take photographs!) Enjoy your liminal space!

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What is the Will of God and why does it get blamed for bad things that happen to people?

Is there a God who will’s women to be raped so that a child can be conceived? Is there a God who sends storms and earthquakes to punish people who sin? Do storms appear in answer to the bad behavior of people?

Some people believe that God will do anything to create life – “Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, an Indiana Republican, turned a few heads and dropped a few jaws on Tuesday night when he said that pregnancies resulting from rape were “something that God intended to happen.”

Others pray to a God who gets angry and fly’s off the handle, indiscriminately destroying life and property because He doesn’t like the behavior of some people.

The Huffington Post reported this:

“Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps, has spewed a series of tweets about Hurricane Sandy since the storm first brewed in the Caribbean last week. “God sent the whirlwind. #ThankGodForRighteousJudgment,” Phelps-Roper tweeted after deaths were announced in Cuba.”

Phelps-Roper also cited President Obama and the gay and lesbian communities as the source of God’s wrath.

This God is like us. He gets angry and smites us when we displease him. In fact he is like our air force raining drone bombers on a village, going after bad actors and killing innocent civilians in the process. Some God. But of course that’s the God of the Old Testament. Just a little more evolved than the gods of Ancient Greece.

But a God who is so capricious? What if God, the creative force in the universe, simply is? Like the sun. Constant, implacable, disinterested in our affairs. A source of great power, creative energy and light. But not ever angry or glad, just there for us to turn to, to draw on and in existence since before people evolved on the planet, before there was a planet.

That’s the only God I can imagine or believe in. When the earth was a cruel place inhabited by monsters and slime – there was the creative force. When Hitler or Genghis Khan decided to kill his way to utopia – there was the creative force, being abused and misused beyond recognition. And also there for anyone who wanted to stand up to Hitler or Khan by fighting him or at least keeping up her spirit in the face of him.

This is the only creative force-god I can believe in. A God that is awesome but doesn’t anger, isn’t cruel (or kind) but just is. The angry vengeful God is the one that died because it never existed in the first place and people got tired of believing. People who blame storms and rapes on God are barking up a non-existent tree in my opinion.

The human qualities that are attributed to God are there because people project them. Some of us want a universe that has a ruler with personality and character. Its more friendly that way. Also less mysterious and much smaller.

All of this is conjecture of course. All of it – the Greek gods, the Old Testament God, the creative force. All attempts to make sense out of a vast universe that we barely understand, barely feel comfortable in.

So — I will not use the creative force against you if you don’t blame disasters and violent, cruel acts on your God. OK?


Dune Trail


The unity provided by religion, that is.

Here is a post I just made to Talisman9, a Bahai oriented discussion group:

It was written, “I doubt that religion — the most divisive force we have ever had — will unite us.” Yes this has been written many times and recently by me. Your comment that this is like saying unity is divisive points to a paradox and sets up a question.

If religion unites groups large and small why can’t it be used to unite the world?

The answer and more questions lie within the quote from Abdul Baha that you provided — as is often the case with his writing. He often provides answers that also contain challenges.

“After the moral aspect of humanity becomes readjusted, then the greatest unity will be realized; but without this moral readjustment it is impossible to establish harmony and concord, for it is a fact that war, conflict, friction and strife are but the visible results of deterioration of morality and corruption of character. But when the morality of humanity is beautified with praiseworthy virtues there will be an end to war.”

Here AB doesn’t say that religion will change the moral aspect of humanity (not in this quote) — he says that once the readjustment has taken place — then unity will occur.

I agree with this completely.

Abdul Baha was an enthusiastic supporter of many religions. He said to Elbert Hubbard that his trip to the US would have been worthwhile if it had accomplished nothing more than introducing him to Christian Science. He told many Baha’is who where troubled by the thought of a father or daughter who held onto their birth religion that they should be left alone because their faith was serving them well. I don’t believe that he really thought that everyone would become a Baha’i or that this was necessary for the establishment of a new world order and world peace.

The readjustment that Abdul Baha wrote about will occur one person at a time. There will always be many religions in the world, some making more sense and being more useful than Baha’i. But Baha’i and many other religious movements will continue to help improve the moral aspect of humanity. This does not depend on a particular belief set or particular mythology. Many belief sets and mythologies work well to move people toward Abdul Baha’s vision of moral readjustment.

The paradox of unity is divisive will be undone when people are willing to share and work together with folks who believe differently from them. Many Baha’i’s do this today, some with no intention of converting their colleagues in other religions

What is needed is not one over arching religion designed to unite the world, what is needed is a readjustment of the moral aspect of humanity. This will be done one person at a time through education, communication, study, prayer, philosophy, poetry, religion, literature, painting, photography, altruism, good causes and all of the other positive forces in the world.

The world shrinks more everyday. We know of the suffering of people on the other side of the world in minutes. People are mobilized to help. They join forces even though they probably have differing views of the heavens and earth, of the existence or non-existence of god or gods; of life after death or oblivion. As the Buddhists believe — these things are irrelevant to the readjustment to the moral aspect of humanity. It is the readjustment that is important.

In the end it is love that will unite us, or nothing will


What does the sign say?


James Carroll quoted Wilfred Owen’s poem in his column in today’s Boston Globe.

Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen

A week after writing this, Owen was dead on the battlefield of World War I.

Carroll’s column in the Globe today tells of Robert Gates’ (Secretary of Defense) speech in which he takes responsibility for the lives of the young in his charge: “I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons and daughters.” Carroll says that the speech is extraordinary “for its frank acknowledgement that America’s elders have consistently failed the nation’s sons and daughters in sending them off to war.” Gates says that our war efforts since Vietnam have been perfectly wrong. (Many would include Vietnam in America’s record of getting it wrong.)

By all means read Carroll’s column and read Gate’s speech. They are direction signs for our military in this century. But I wonder if Carroll understood Gates’ speech or was he using it to make a separate point, one not found in the speech. I think what Gates decries is not the strategy of sending our young to war but the tactics used once we do. He “takes responsibility” for the young solders he was speaking to at the very tail end of the speech. I wonder if he deeply feels the responsibility he expressed. Or was he saying what he felt he must say on such an occasion in such a speech. I hope he reads James Carroll’s column today and reflects on what the story of Abraham and Isaac implies. Maybe he’ll read Wilfred Owen’s poem too — I doubt it but one can hope.

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