Embracing the Spirit
Chapter Four of BirthQuake
"The real crisis of midlife, then, seems to be a crisis of identity and meaning, and creativity resolves this crises." - Joannne F. Vickers and Barbara L. Thomas
Early adulthood is typically a frenetically busy time when much of our energy is geared towards exploring intimate relationships, acquiring essentials, obtaining degrees and training, establishing ourselves in careers, and for many of us - caring for growing children. There's relatively little time or energy for most of us to engage in the deep introspection of our adolescence. It's often not until middle adulthood that we find ourselves returning to such questions as, "What's the meaning of my life?" "What do I really want?" These questions can trigger a variety of responses and feelings, from disappointment and anxiety, to excitement and anticipation. For some, this period of uncertainty can lead to a sad and disconcerting twilight time. For others - the questions can herald in a period of possibility and exploration, particularly in spiritual matters.
I was sitting in the dentist's office last winter, fumbling through magazines and anxiously anticipating the drill, when I came across an article that addressed the seemingly growing wave of fascination the general public is exhibiting for matters of the Spirit. The magazine cited the emergence of popular television shows, best selling books, and music with a spiritual focus. I thought about my husband's recent habit of reading the Bible at night before going to sleep (this is a man who has no interest in going to church and little more in reading), of our couples groups' heated and energetic discussion of the best seller, "The Celistine Prophesy", of my client's comment that morning about her favorite television program, "Touched by an Angel"; and my entry into my waiting room that afternoon to glimpse some woman on television sitting with Oprah Winphry discussing her bestseller, "Embraced by the Light." My client sat leaning forward, eyes focused intently on the little black and white screen, reluctant to pull herself away and enter my office. It seemed as though such otherworldly matters were being addressed all around me!
IN SEARCH OF THE SACRED
"Any journalist worth his or her salt knows the real story today is to define what it means to be spiritual. This is the biggest story - not only of the decade but of the century." This quote by Bill Moyers begins Sam Keen's informative ant thought provoking book, "Hymns to an Unknown God." Keen, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, shares his lifelong journey and struggle to create for himself a sustainable sense of spirituality and personal meaning. On his pilgrimage he covers a tremendous amount of ground from secular religion to the sacredness available during the simplest of moments in every day life. Keen's observations and experiences resonated with me, calling forth a number of memories and increasing the volume of my own generally silenced longings.
I grew up in the shadow of two very powerful men. One, my great- grandfather on my mother's side, a strict Baptist; and the other, my paternal grandfather, a devout Jehovah Witness. I feared for my soul from a very young age, torn between two dramatically different theologies. If I followed the path of one and the other turned out to be correct, I could find myself burning in the fires of hell. If, on the other hand, I chose the other faith and missed the mark, I could die a terrible death in Armageddon. In search first for the true religion, and then later having given up and turning my energies in the direction of career and family, along the way I lost or never found my own spirituality.
For years I functioned well without attending to matters of the spirit. The emptiness within was seldom apparent. It generally troubled me only when, as a therapist, I was confronted with a client's existential crisis or a terrible tragedy. One such tragedy was the death of a woman's beloved son, a crisis which called for answers to questions that I had long ago stopped asking, let alone formulate answers to. I reassured myself by assuming the position that matters of the spirit had no particular place in the realm of the psychotherapist. And yet, in retrospect, it was within this realm that these issues were brought home to me. I began to witness miracles from time to time. At first I was shaken, although the child in me rejoiced that I could once again believe in magic. The adult, however, soon turned her attention elsewhere, dismissing the particular event, as my thoughts were once again directed towards more practical matters. Still, from time to time, the growing number of experiences would whisper their significance to me.
"What is now proved was once only imagined" - William Blake
WHO WAS THAT MAN?
One of the first such experiences involves an extraordinary woman who I will call Sue. Sue was referred to me after her beautiful daughter was killed in a fire. Sue had spent most of her adult life as a single parent, devoting her time and energy to caring for her two daughters. When her youngest child died, she was thrust understandably into the all-consuming vortex of grief. I met with her on Mondays. Each Monday for weeks, and then months, I would witness the depths of her pain and despair. I had no words that could truly offer comfort or explanations to assist her in creating some sort of meaning for her misery, in hopes of providing sustenance. Instead, I offered her caring, concern, consistency, and Prozac.
I began to develop headaches on Mondays. I eventually recognized that my headaches were related to my dread and feelings of inadequacy in dealing with Sue's pain. One day while driving in the car, I heard a song about the death of a young lover who was reaching out from the grave to offer comfort to the girl he left behind. I began to weep as I recognized that I, too, had begun to grieve for this golden-haired girl whom I had never met. In Sue's rage and agony, I began catching glimpses of my own.
S-l-o-w-l-y over time Sue began to heal. I recognized the small yet significant signs with gratitude and relief for both of us. I grew increasingly more certain that once again Sue would experience at least some small pleasures in life. Finally, the gifts of living would reconnect her to the delicate guide ropes that hold us all in some way. Then one morning on a Saturday, a call came. It was Sue, although I hardly recognized her. She had taken an overdose of Prozac and, to her disappointment, had survived the night. First of all, the fact that she had made an attempt on her life stunned and terrified me. Sue had remained determined that she would never, ever attempt suicide. While she had wished for death, she was clear that she would not risk the possibility that if she took her own life, the consequences might be that she may never have an opportunity to be with her daughter again. She had also vowed that she would not be the cause of further devastation to her remaining son and family. What could possibly have happened to push her to this desperate act after all she had suffered? Her explanation triggered the greatest sense of inadequacy I had yet felt in working with her.
She had recently moved out of the home she had shared with her children in an attempt to begin a new life. In the process of unpacking, she discovered that a family member had thrown out the pictures of her deceased daughter during the move. They had been placed in a box that had evidently been mistaken for trash and taken to the dump. Her remaining physical link to her child had been taken without warning, just as her child had been. She was sobbing as she spoke again and again of two items in particular; a picture that had been taken of her daughter when she was two years old; and some dried flowers that had been significant (I cannot remember why now). This final loss had been too great for her to bear. I was supposed to have already left to pick up my daughter in Bangor. There was no way to contact my parents, who had already begun the three- hour drive to deliver her to our designated meeting place, to warn them of my delay. I felt trapped and helpless. We discussed the possibility of Sue going to the dump in order to attempt to recover them. She informed me that this was useless, as she was certain they had already been buried in the land fill since they had been thrown there days ago. Her pain and fury were overwhelming to her and to me. She was furious with the family member, herself, the world, and God. I couldn't blame her. When we ended our conversation, it was understood that she would not make another attempt to harm herself, and that she would call me over the weekend if she needed to talk to me before our appointment on Monday. We both hung up feeling miserable. I thought about her throughout the weekend and wondered how she was managing. Once again I was struck by my powerlessness to do little more than stand by her (for slightly over 50 minutes a week). The irony was not lost on me.
I braced myself for our next meeting. She greeted me in the waiting room with a sense of calm that I had never before witnessed in her. She smiled at me. I asked her what had happened over the weekend, as she was clearly in a different place than she had been when I last spoke with her. She informed me that later on Saturday an aunt had stopped by and convinced her to go to the dump to inquire about the pictures. She went and spoke with the dump manager explaining her situation and asking for assistance. The manager was polite but appeared relatively disinterested. He frankly informed her that it was highly unlikely that the pictures would be recovered. She requested that he please keep an eye out for them, and he agreed to do so. Sue left the dump once again feeling heavy-hearted.
The next day she was lying on her couch when she heard the motor of a car. Ordinarily, she would have ignored this as there were cars often pulling into the convenience store parking lot next door. Instead, she got up and walked to her door. Standing before her was a man dressed in white whom she'd never seen before. He handed her a box and told her that he understood that she had been searching for its contents. She opened the box, and directly on top two items immediately caught her eye. One was the picture of her daughter when she was two years old, and the other was the dried flowers. Both were perfectly preserved, as were all of the other mementos in the box. Sue was stunned! When she was finally able to speak, she offered to reward him. He informed her that her happiness was reward enough and he left. Sue contacted the dump later and was told that the manager had no idea as to the identity of this man and had not spoken to him or seen him. No one else whom she asked in her small town knew who he was either. His identity and how he came in possession of Barbara's keepsakes, as well as how he knew how to find her, remains a mystery. No reward had been publicly offered. Few people, with the exception of a limited number of family members and friends, the overseer at the dump, and me, were even aware of her loss. What is not a mystery is the impact of this strange encounter. Sue, an extremely practical and level headed woman, was convinced that this had been some kind of divine intervention and has experienced immense comfort from this knowledge since then.
A MESSAGE FROM THE "OTHER SIDE"?
On another occasion, my partner, Kathy Amsden, was working with a young girl whose father had died. The young girl was extremely depressed and had remained unreachable for some time. Kathy was greatly concerned about her. She was also frustrated that her attempts to assist this wounded child were beginning to feel increasingly more futile. We considered possible alternative interventions, and Kathy decided to have her young client write a letter to her father.
Several days following our consultation regarding Kathy's young client, I was in my office working with Andy. Andy had been referred to me by the Department of Human Services for abusing his six -year- old daughter. Andy was extremely indignant, adamant that he had not been abusive, and resentful for being forced to come see me. On many occasions our encounters led to me firmly confronting him, with Andy defending himself more and more furiously. Even my gentlest of suggestions were often rejected by him or in the very least, met with distrust. Needless to say, our visits were very unpleasant for both of us. On this particular day, after a heated discussion, we somehow shifted gears and started to simply converse. He began sharing his frustrations and dreams with me.
At one point during our conversation, to my amazement and then horror, he began singing an old hymn to me. I have never heard a voice more beautiful, more powerful or more compelling. He sang so loudly it was as if he were singing to some unknown audience, transforming his voice into an instrument that would travel the farthest of distances. I sat frozen and dumbstruck. No one had ever sung in my office before! I was particularly concerned about the obvious disruption this must be causing my partner Kathy, as at the time our offices were directly adjoining. I knew I should stop him, and yet how could I reject the one and only gift he had ever sent my way without destroying our already precarious relationship? I opted with great anxiety to allow him to finish his song, knowing full well that Kathy would be unable to continue her session until he stopped singing. When the song was over, I breathed a sigh of relief and then genuinely expressed my admiration of his powerful voice. I then inquired as to what had moved him to begin singing. He offered me no explanation. He, himself, did not know why.
When I bumped into Kathy later, I immediately apologized for disrupting her session. She gave me a meaningful smile and replied, "believe me, it was meant to be." I wondered what she could have meant by that, and whole-heartedly agreed with her when I discovered the significance of her response.
While I was meeting with Andy, Kathy was working with the bereaved child. Kathy asked her to read the letter that she had requested the young girl write to her father. The child had agreed to do so, after informing Kathy that she did not see what good it would do because her father could not answer her. Prompted by Kathy, she began reading the letter aloud in a voice that held no emotion. It was as if she were simply performing yet another meaningless task. From the other side of the wall, an unseen voice abruptly entered the room. It was so loud that she was forced to quit reading and she and Kathy decided to simply wait the interruption out. The words were very clear in the silence of the office, and left with nothing else to do, they listened. To Kathy's astonishment, the voice sang on about keeping faith and about going forward in spite of difficulty and pain. Kathy recognized it as a hymn that she had always loved, and as it continued to communicate in as powerful a way as she had ever heard it delivered, she looked at the young girl who gazed back at her in wonder, and said softly, "I think you have your answer." The song ended with the following refrain filling the room, "You'll never walk alone." The girl nodded her head in agreement. She fully accepted this song as a message from the father she couldn't see, hear, or feel, delivered by an unseen and untouchable voice which reached out to her from the other side (of the wall).
The final two experiences that I wish to share involve the invisible connections that link many of us to important people in our lives. My own experiences with this remarkable communication system are many, and while I do not understand exactly how it comes to be, I am as certain of its existence as I am of the pond that I see when I look out my living room window.
A few years before leaving Maine, my husband and I went to South Carolina on vacation. We had a wonderful time, and I was able to relax and not worry for the most part about my clients. The one thing that was somewhat strange, however, was a song that kept running through my head over and over. It was a song I had not heard, I suspected, since I was 13 or 14 years old. The tune was by Bobby Sherman entitled, simply, "July 17." It left me slightly uneasy, although I could not imagine why.
Upon returning from vacation, I met with a young woman to whom I had grown very close. She had struggled for years with depression and anxiety and was often fighting thoughts of suicide. She shared with me that she hadn't planned to see me again after our last visit. She'd determined a date upon which she'd finally surrender to her suicidal impulses. I found myself experiencing hot flashes, and waves of dizziness swept over me as she spoke. The date she had decided to end her life was July 17th.
The date had passed, and I breathed a sigh of relief as she explained that she had made a major decision as the date approached. She decided that she would not surrender her life because of the abuse she had suffered as a child. She would be a survivor. She also resolved that she would never again consider suicide an option. "I've decided to be a survivor and to live no matter what" she promised. While her pain at times is still excruciating, she has remained exactly that, a survivor.
When I was in graduate school, I was going through a very difficult time in my life. One night I was unable to sleep. I had a particularly stressful day before me, and I became increasingly anxious as the early hours of the morning approached. My anxiety eventually gave way to desperation and a feeling akin to terror. I decided to take a shower, sobbing uncontrollably by then. As the water washed over me, I felt my control slipping further away. I began to fear that perhaps I was sliding into some terrible place I would never be able to come out of. Once I was out of the shower, I began to write a letter to my family and husband (who was away on a business trip). While I have no memory of considering taking my life, I recall that what I was writing was a good-bye letter. Once the letter was completed, I began to shake violently. Just then the phone rang. I glanced at the clock. It was 5:30 a.m. Now I was absolutely terrified. I answered it with an overpowering sense of dread. It was my mother calling from over 200 miles away. "Tam?" she said. "Ma, why are you calling? It's 5:30 in the morning," I blurted. Her response was simply, "Tam, I heard you cry."
I began weeping, only this time it was in recognition of some tremendous magic. It was as if I had fallen only to be caught by some mysterious grace, my mother's grace... My mother explained that she'd been sound asleep when she was awakened to hear me sobbing. She knew something was terribly wrong and got up and immediately dialed my number. She soothed me and spoke gently as if I was a small child. I began to feel calmer and safe once again. My mother had never before nor since called me at an unusual hour in response to an intuition that I was in trouble. Also, at no other time in my life have I experienced anything similar to what I experienced that long and lonely winter night. While I'm not sure what led me to such a frightening and desperate state, I do know that my mother heard my cry from over 200 miles away, and that we are eternally joined in some profound way. It is as if I had uttered a plea to the heavens, and my mother answered my prayer.
There are many more stories I have considered relating. However, I trust that I have made my point. It feels tremendously risky to share these experiences, and I'm not certain I would find them entirely believable had I not been a direct participant. I can rest assured at the very least however that those who have shared them with me are as convinced as I of their validity, though we might differ as to how we interpret them.
"Faith is to believe what we do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what we believe." Saint Augustine
Our lives are filled with strange and amazing stories of coincidence. They're recounted by people whom we know and often trust, discussed on television shows, and written about by entertainers and scholars alike.
M. Scott Peck, in "The Road Less Traveled," recalls a dream he had one night that consisted of a series of seven images. He later learned that a friend who had been sleeping at his house two nights previously, had also had a dream in which the same seven images appeared following the same sequence as in Peck's dream. Neither Peck nor his friend could figure out why they had experienced such strikingly similar dreams. Peck attributes this and other such experiences to the principle of synchronicity. Synchronicity refers to "those highly improbable events which occur in our lives to which no cause can be determined within the framework of established natural law." The principle of synchronicity states that unlikely conjunctions of events in time occur more often than would be caused by mere chance. While it doesn't explain miracles Peck points out, it does make clear that miracles appear to be a matter of timing and circumstances and are remarkably common. Each of us has experienced the miraculous. We may however, fail all too often to recognize it.
Further, Peck notes that Webster's Dictionary defines Serendipity as, "the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for." According to Peck, this definition defines serendipity as a gift, and thus implies that some people receive it while others don't. Peck maintains that this gift (which he refers to as grace) is available to everyone. The difference is only that some take advantage of it, while others fail to. A primary reason for one's failure to take full advantage of this gift, says Peck, is that he or she is not fully aware of its presence.
There's an often-told story that I believe effectively illustrates both serendipity and synchronicity. The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung had been working with a woman whose highly rational and pragmatic style was increasingly difficult for him to relate to. One dayshe was recounting a dream she had in which a scarab (golden beetle) had appeared. Jung was aware that these beetles were symbols of rebirth according to the ancient Egyptians. As the woman continued to describe her dream, Jung noticed a tapping at the window behind him. He opened the window and in flew a beetle. Jung presented the woman with her "scarab." From this point on, the work of Jung and his client reached a far greater depth as the result of their wondrous experience.
According to David Peat, author of "Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind," synchronistic occurrences are often more common for people who are going through periods of transition such as deaths, births, a change of profession, marriage, divorce, etc. My husband and I certainly experienced this. In retrospect, a synchronistic event served to usher in our own period of transformation, and many other synchronistic events continued to occur during our period of transition. For example, during the time we were both unemployed, we were often tempted to compromise our joint vision in order to regain a sense of financial security. One day while driving in the car, we began to reminisce about a job opportunity we had turned down several months before. All of the sudden the job seemed very attractive to us. While it did not meet our ultimate needs, it would have offered us an opportunity to contribute to the welfare of others, while at the same time providing us with a paycheck and medical benefits. Oh, well, the opportunity was long past we wistfully acknowledged. The following day, we came home to discover a message on our answering machine. It was from a representative of this particular organization asking us if we were interested in taking another look at the job we had previously turned down, as the position had unexpectedly just reopened!
An enormous amount of evidence exists which supports the phenomenon of synchronicity. Peat points to facts that mirror earlier fiction as one form of evidence, such as Morgan Robertson's 1898 novel about an ocean liner named the Titan. The Titan was the largest liner ever built, considered unsinkable, and sailed the Atlantic with rich and famous passengers on board. Like the real life Titanic, the Titan also sailed under the British flag, began it's maiden voyage in April, had a top speed of 24 knots, and hit an iceberg on the starboard side. And because it too was equipped with an insufficient number of lifeboats, many lives were lost. Thus a work of fiction told a story amazingly close to what would occur in real life fourteen years later.
Peat also directs our attention to the simultaneous discoveries of such scientists as Darwin and Lyell, Newton and Leibnitz, etc. who were not in contact with one another and yet whose work produced remarkably similar results.
Peat associated Jung's belief in the collective unconscious (the notion that we are each unconsciously linked with all of humanity) with synchronicity, pointing to the uncanny occurrence of such images as the hero, the twin brothers, the underground journey, etc. which are found in cultures all over the world.
THE SUPER MIND
"When I observe the marvelous human intellect, I know it was designed for something much greater than mere survival." Abraham Twerski
Dennis Willard, computer genius, described his creative process to D. Scott Rogo in "New Techniques of Healing: Conversations with Contemporary Masters of Alternative Healing," as one in which he reaches out to the "Super Mind" via meditation. Willard suggests that we think of our brains as receivers for a giant computer and that the neuron chains in our brains and spine are part of the giant computer's tuning system. This giant computer system possesses infinite wisdom and intelligence. Willard suggests that in tapping into this Super Mind, we are able to tap into a vast intelligence source.
How did Willard arrive at this belief? One day while discussing the workings of the brain with a neurosurgeon, Willard wondered about the process behind thought itself. He and the neurosurgeon then began calculating the number of neurons in the brain. Neurons are cells that comprise the basic unit of the nervous system. They typically collect signals from various sources, integrate the information, transform and encode it into output signals, and then distribute the signals to other cells. Once Willard and his companion had arrived at a total number of neurons, they then subtracted the number of neurons required to regulate the body. They were not surprised to find that the brain did not possess enough neurons to encode and explain memory; however, they were shocked to discover that there were not even enough neurons in the brain left over to allow for the fundamental process of thinking! This experience, in addition to other lessons, led Willard to eventually conclude that the mind is different from the brain, and that there exists a guiding intelligence that we are able to communicate with unconsciously. He cites the occurrence of two people independently inventing the same product from different locations as an example of how the Super Mind operates.
"The most difficult thing in the world is to appreciate what we have - until we loose it." Anonymous
How many blessings in our lives go unnoticed? It seems somehow to be the natural order of things to accentuate the bad and take the good for granted. Several years ago my friend Amy and I went off for an overnight in New Hampshire, leaving our daughters' care in our husbands' capable hands. That night Amy called home to check up on her twosome. Her husband Neil, one of the most loving and committed fathers that I have ever known, reported that they had had a "Celia" day. They played games, read stories and went for a walk, then off to the Ground Round for lunch; next, to Toy's R Us where Celia picked out a toy. They settled in back at home to watch a popular and newly released Disney video. When Celia came to the phone, and Amy asked her how her day had been, her reply was, "Mommy, Daddy didn't get me any black licorice." And so it begins...
I've learned the value of being mindful of the good things that come my way and often utilize my journal in this practice. An example of its use in this practice can be demonstrated in an entry made in March of 1994, which reads:
"I sit at my makeshift window-seat staring up at the snowfall swirling down, allowing myself to be mesmerized and growing dizzy from focusing on the tiny, soft points of snow. My head turns upward, stretches toward the treetops. My arm reaches up every now and then to tip my tea cup and I absent - mindedly sip warm and tangy lemon tea. I feel contentment, gratitude, and a sense of optimism that for so long was an extraordinarily rare thing.
"I watch Jacob, still a puppy, dash after a squirrel, admire his sleek and magnificent young body as it plows through the dense white field. The squirrel, though, is quicker, and as if performing a perfectly choreographed dance, swings from tree branch to tree branch high above our heads. I resist the temptation to give into a silent wish for this time to halt exactly here and now and instead resume my meditation.
"Eventually, my focus shifts to the plowman who has entered the yard. I quickly rise, pull on my heavy winter jacket and boots, search out my purse and then trudge outside with a crumpled $10.00 bill. He seems shy as he peers out his window at me and hesitantly accepts his fee. I have heard that he recently lost his job, and I study for a moment the lines now permanently engraved on his dark face. I note that he seems more relaxed these days, his eyes look more hopeful and I smile at him. I then turn and trudge toward my own truck to move it out of the way. I watch him clear a wide path and wave when he finishes. Such small details capture this last hour. It is filled with uneventful moments, never boring, simply wonderfully undemanding in a life that has often become complicated in its ongoing quest. I am thankful for the snow, the tea, the plowman, for Jacob, the warmth of my wood fire, the scent of apples wafting from my potpourri pot, and for so much more today."
I often request at the end of a session that my client share with me what they are grateful for this day. I ask for small details, I suggest that they think back and remember the little things. I also encourage them to utilize their journals a couple times a week practicing appreciation of all gifts (both great and small) that come their way.
AWAKENING THE SACRED
"Don't think: LOOK!" Wittgenstein
How many days in your life have you been cooped up inside only to hear from someone else what a beautiful day it has been? How many children have you observed shrieking in glee while you can not even remember the last time you were moved to scream out your joy? When, if ever, have you experienced throughout your entire body a deep connection to all living beings in the universe? When was the last time you closed your eyes in tremendous love and gratitude to give thanks? It is with regret that Sam Keen observes that for so many Americans, our spirits are alienated from bodies that are deadened from deprivation and neglect. He urges us to engage in acts that might bring forth their resurrection. Such activities as spending time in nature, making contact with our fellow creatures, experiencing our sensuality, connecting with our bodies, engaging in meaningful work and participating in rituals for living provide us with opportunities to experience the sacred in everyday life. Anyone who yearns to experience such sacredness needs only to open his/her heart and pay attention.
One of my favorite authors, Rachel Naomi Remen, wrote about attending a workshop where Joseph Campbell was showing participants images of the sacred. One symbol was a bronze statue of the God Shiva dancing within a circle of flames. Shiva had one foot in the air, and the other was resting on the back of a little man. The man was squatting in the dust and carefully examining something he was holding in his hands. Ramen asked Campbell what the little man was doing down there. Campbell responded, "That's a little man who's so caught up in the material world that he doesn't realize that the living God is dancing on his back."
CALLING FORTH THE SOUL
"In the last decade of the twentieth century, perhaps in response to the magnitude of our global crisis, spirituality has been coming down to Earth..." (Ronald Miller)
Thomas Moore, best-selling author, philosopher, and psychotherapist, laments that the great malady of the twentieth century has been the loss of soul. Yet his book, "Care Of The Soul: A Guide To Cultivating Depth And Sacredness In Everyday Life," quickly rose to the bestseller list, indicating that while he might be right about the loss of soul, many twentieth century inhabitants are eagerly endeavoring to relocate it.
Moore maintains that when the soul is neglected, rather than simply fading away, it demonstrates its woundedness symptomatically in addictions, obsessions, the loss of meaning, and violence. Most therapists attempt to isolate or eradicate these symptoms, failing to understand that their roots lie in our lost wisdom about the soul.
Moore's understanding of psychotherapy, evolving over more than 15 years of practice and study, has come to involve bringing imagination (which he perceives to be the instrument of the soul) to areas that are devoid of it. It is Moore's belief that it is the expression of this void that is manifested by our symptoms.
Further, he notes that in our modern world, we have separated religion and psychology, spiritual practice and therapy. In his view, spirituality and psychology need to be seen as one. This shift would be manifested in a number of ways, one of them being a commitment to the process of ongoing care of the soul rather than engaging in efforts to cure it.
According to Moore, caring for the soul begins with an observance of how the soul manifests itself and operates, and then respecting what the soul presents. This involves not moving to root out that which the soul expresses and is seen as symptomatic, but to, instead, demonstrate its necessity and value. Moore invites us to regard the soul with an open mind in order to discover the messages that can be found in pain and the necessary changes that are requested by such symptoms as depression and anxiety.
One effective technique Moore shares in caring for the soul is to look with particular attention and receptivity at what the individual is rejecting, and then to speak favorably about that rejected element. For instance, one might point out to a client that in her frantic activity day in and day out, her headaches are the only thing that seems to allow her to pause and rest.
Moore also cautions against splitting experiences into good and bad, maintaining that much soul can be lost in such splitting, and that the soul can be aided in its recovery by reclaiming much of what has been split off. In elaborating on this, Moore turns to a version of the work of Jung's theory of shadows. Jung believed that there were two kinds of shadows: one consisting of the possibilities in life that are rejected because of certain choices that we have made (for example, the person we chose not to be), which is the compensatory shadow, and the other, darker, absolute shadow. The absolute shadow represents the evil existing in the world and within the human heart. Jung believed, and Moore concurs, that the soul can benefit from coming to terms with both kinds of shadow and learning to appreciate even the quirks and perversities of the soul. He adds that sometimes deviation from the usual offers its own special revelation of truth.
"When normality explodes into or breaks out into craziness or shadow, we might look closely, before running for cover and before attempting to restore familiar order, at the potential meaningfulness of the event"
Moore distinguishes between cure and care by pointing out that cure implies the end of trouble, while care offers a sense of ongoing attention. He believes that our work in psychology would dramatically change if we thought about it as ongoing care rather than a quest for cure, reminding us that problems and obstacles offer an opportunity for reflection that might otherwise be overlooked.
Moore is far from a solitary voice in the wilderness (so to speak) in regards to the value he places on honoring all aspects of the self, including our painful regions. David K. Reynolds, in his book, "A Thousand Waves: A Sensible Life Style for Sensitive People," lends his own voice to the reverberations of so many others. He proposes that traditional Western psychotherapy fails to adequately acknowledge the importance of our need to be unified with all natural aspects of ourselves. Reynolds advocates a more Eastern approach, which aims at helping us to honor our natural selves more fully, more specifically - to help us to become more natural again. He points to the nature of water and suggests we become more like this precious liquid stating that when the weather is warm, water becomes warm, and when it is cold outside, the water too turns cold. Reynolds observes that water doesn't wish that it was a different temperature, nor does it pretend to be other than it is. It merely accepts its present state and continues to flow. Unlike water, laments Reynolds, people deny reality. They also struggle with their feelings and hamper themselves by focusing on the way things should be or might have been. Water doesn't fight obstacles, says Reynolds; it simply flows around them, thus not getting distracted as people so often do by their feelings. Water is flexible and adapts to the particular circumstances it is in. Water flows at a natural pace, notes Reynolds. People on the other hand appear to be dashing around attempting to manipulate their lives or feelings into fitting into their particular notion of how things ought to be or how they wish them to be. Reynolds reminds us that feelings are neither good nor bad, they simply are. The best way to deal with painful feelings according to Reynolds is to simply recognize them, accept them, and then carry on. Because feelings keep changing, he recommends that an appropriate goal for both therapy and every day life is to, "...notice and accept these changes in feelings while keeping steadily on about doing the things that will get us where we want to go. Like water does."
Nietzshe made a decision at some point in his life to love his fate. From that point on, he responded to whatever happened to him by saying to himself, "this is what I need." While I fully believe in the tremendous value of Nietzshe's courageous approach, I'm a long ways from being able to adopt it. I question too much, and still carry too much fear. What I have been able to embrace is James Hillman's recommendation that what ever your experience, "You ask yourself: How does this event bear on soul making."
"If the only prayer you say in your whole life is 'thank you,' that would suffice." Meister Eckhart
I stopped praying when I was still a child. I felt betrayed, and sadly became convinced that my prayers vanished into the indifferent air of my little room, unheard and discarded. For over 20 years I refused to pray, and when I occasionally experimented with prayer, I did so tentatively and with more than a little embarrassment.
I recall listening to a book-tape about a very brave and wonderful man who was struggling with cancer. He was an agnostic and refused to allow his fear to manipulate him into turning to a God in whom he no longer believed. One night while experiencing a significant amount of pain, he began to (pray?) saying with great feeling something to the effect that, "don't think that just because I'm scared and hurting that I'm going to come running to you for protection or count on you to rescue me!" Then it occurred to him that, "Who did I think I was talking to anyway?" The very being whose existence he adamantly denied he was now speaking to in earnest. I smiled in recognition. In many of us who at some point deny the existence of God, there exists a small seed of hope that perhaps we are wrong after all.
I am reminded here too, of my own old daughter's crisis of faith. She had learned at school to her devastation that there was no Santa Claus. She cried for days. Just before Christmas I took her to church, and about halfway through the service she turned to me and said, "I want to get out of here. God and Angels are just like the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. They aren't real!" She was angry and refused to discuss the matter further. Instead she withdrew into herself and wept bitter tears. On Christmas Eve, just before going to bed, she came to me and said, "Mom, I know there isn't a Santa Claus, but can we leave some carrots out for the reindeer, just in case?"
Whether or not one has abandoned his or her belief in God, I have found that prayer can be a great comfort and suggest it to my clients often. Joan Borysenko, in her book, "Fire In the Soul: A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism," points out that there is a significant amount of research demonstrating the power of prayer. I highly recommend the information she provides be explored, particularly the findings of "Spindrift", an organization devoted to the study of the efficacy of prayer.
Janiger and Goldberg, in "A Different Kind Of Healing," a book that focuses on why more and more physicians are embracing alternative forms of healing, includes the story of a Pennsylvania physician who prays for and sometimes with his patients. This physician shared with the authors that he was not a particularly religious person when he began his training to be a doctor. However, after witnessing many seemingly miraculous instances of recovery, he began to re-evaluate his personal beliefs. As his spiritual beliefs shifted, so did the way he viewed his role as a physician sharing that he now knows that healing involves more then medical treatment and consequently, he tries to minimize medication and utilizes education and changes in lifestyle instead.
Janiger and Goldberg cite several incidents reported by physicians around the country regarding extraordinary healings that appeared to have occurred as the result of spiritual interventions rather than medical maneuvers. Many of the physicians who came forward stressed the role of their patients' spiritual convictions in healing, suggesting that those who possessed such convictions fared significantly better than those who lacked spiritual faith. The authors conclude their eighth chapter by stating that while both actual facts as well as common sense must moderate beliefs, at the same time, we must not ignore the spiritual factors which clearly play a critical role in both the etiology and cure of disease. They also observe that almost everyone involved in medicine can affirm that there is significant power in strongly held beliefs adding that:
"Prayer and faith have long been known to relieve pain and suffering, and even, in certain remarkable instances, to bring about full recovery..."
In graduate school I commuted the first year with three fellow students, one of whom was a social worker for a hospice in the area. During one of our long rides to Bangor, she told me that she used to completely ignore spiritual matters, classifying them within the realm of myth and fairy tales, until she witnessed over and over the profoundly spiritual experiences of more than one dying patient. Today, she is a true believer who feels her life has been dramatically transformed as the result of the many lessons she learned from the dying.
Over 20 years after I abandoned prayer, I returned to it. I pray now in a way that I've come to believe is the most healing and effective means for me. I don't pray for a desired outcome. Instead, I have come to rely on what Dr. Larry Dossey, who published many of the results of Spindrift's findings in his book, "Recovering the Soul," describes as the "thy will be done" approach. In doing so, I do not ask for a particular outcome. "Thy will be done" means exactly what it says. "May your will (with your infinite wisdom), not my own, be done. In approaching prayer with this attitude, I've found a greater sense of peace. I've also come to know that my prayers do, indeed, make a difference as they invariably offer me comfort and hope.
"Kinship is healing; we are physicians to each other." Unknown
We all need to feel connected to others, and in forging these links, we attain tremendous benefits. I've witnessed the power of groups again and again in my professional life, as well as experienced their gifts in my personal life. While living in Maine, my husband and I joined forces with two other couples on a monthly basis to discuss issues related to relationships. We six were very different in many respects, with varying life styles, beliefs, personalities, etc. and yet we created a loving and intimate community providing support, understanding, shared wisdom, and so much more. I grew to genuinely love each of the participants, and whole- heartedly acknowledge that my experiences with them became one of the most valued aspects of my life.
During one Maine Winter, I found myself stranded at a Burger King in a snowstorm from nine at night until the early hours of the following morning. I arrived at Burger King anxious and angry. My daughter was at home with a young baby-sitter without electricity, and my husband was out of town on business. I sat at a table by myself, head down, nose buried in a book, feeling exhausted, and worried about my daughter. There were others who were stranded all around me. I ignored them. From time to time someone would attempt to engage me in a conversation. My responses were polite but short. As the hours passed, I began to really listen to the conversations of others and found myself eventually participating. Soon we all moved in closer together forming a tight and increasingly more intimate group. As the night wandered into dawn, I found myself engaged in one of the most satisfying conversations I have ever had with any group, let alone complete strangers who had little more in common (so I thought) then our present captivity. We began to share our frustrations, our triumphs, our fears, and our dreams. One man, a trucker, spoke of the many out- of- body adventures that had been occurring to him since childhood. Another, a psychologist from Pennsylvania traveling to Eastern Maine to check out a potential college for his son, shared his own out- of- body experience that had occurred after a car accident. Each person shared (or confessed) their own amazing story. I, who could not wait to leave, found myself reluctantly getting up to attempt once again to return home around dawn. Two of my new friends were standing by their vehicle preparing to spend the little that remained of the night bedded down in their wagon. I slowed my truck down, and yelled out my open window, "I'll miss you." The young man looked up with a smile and replied, "We love you." Feeling very warm and extraordinarily happy in the cold stormy darkness, I glanced at the Burger King while driving to the exit. There in the window stood the rest of my special companions gathered to wave good-bye. I blew them a kiss and headed toward home.
Ken Wilbur once defined depression as, "Having no where to put your love." It's not just that most of us simply want to be connected - we need to be connected. I remember reading somewhere about a town that had an extraordinarily low heart attack rate. When researchers investigated, they found that what made the town exceptional was that families had remained living there generation after generation. Later, when the economy made it necessary for people to leave home in order to locate jobs, the heart attack rate rose. Why? Because the support system was no longer as intact with people leaving.
There's been a substantial amount of research indicating the ill effects of loneliness and isolation on health and well being. A study conducted by sociologist James House found that the adverse effects of social isolation on health are equal to the health effects of smoking, high-blood pressure, and obesity. Psychologist Janice Keicolt-Glasser, found that those of us who suffer from loneliness are also more likely to have problems with immune system functioning than those who possess a sufficient support system. Numerous physical complaints and societal ills (including criminal behavior) have been connected to social isolation according to the American Psychological Association's publication, the APA Monitor.
The late Mother Theresa sadly observed that the United States suffered poverty far greater than that of India and that our poverty is called loneliness. According to Cecile Andrews, author of The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life, there are a number of reasons that it's so difficult to establish healthy communities here in the United States including:
- We're a competitive society
- We're a highly status conscious society
- We're preoccupied with work
- We're not a particularly trusting society
- We're consumer oriented
- We're a mobile society
- The design of our living spaces discourages community (air conditioners keep people inside, suburbs have few places to gather with the exception of shopping malls, we have fewer front porches, and poor public transportation.)
- We're an affluent society often isolated by television, computers, automobiles, and a lack of interdependence.
Andrews lives in a neighborhood in Seattle that has made enormous strides in terms of building a sense of community. Residents enjoy frequent potluck dinners, watch videos together, combine their resources to jointly purchase useful equipment and appliances that are then shared among neighbors and they garden together. There's also an active neighborhood center near by that offers classes, a "well-home" program where people can borrow tools, a child-care center, book discussion groups, and programs designed to foster increased connections among residents and provide mutual support and assistance. Andrews also converted her large house into apartments, thus allowing her still greater access to community while at the same time reducing the family's cost of living. In addition to her involvement locally, she's also joined a local bartering association, become active in her church, and facilitates Simplicity Circles. A Simplicity Circle is a small group of individuals that come together on a regular basis in order to support one another's efforts to live lives offering high levels of satisfaction and low levels of environmental impact. The popularity of these study circles has grown to the point where they are now occurring in both large cities and small towns around the country. One of the questions explored by individuals participating in Simplicity Circles is, When in your life have you experienced community? What is the core of that experience?"
I've received numerous blessings as a result of my participation in community. When my husband was in the navy and we were far from home, it was the small group of fellow sailors and their families that offered us friendship and support. As a student in graduate school, I commuted with a group of students from central Maine to the University of Connecticut's Northern New England branch located in Concord, New Hampshire. We traveled in a van that we affectionately called, "The magic Bus." While we were graced with a number of fine instructors, it was the five hours on the bus to and from campus that I received my greatest education. We talked non-stop. We talked about our clients, about our successes and our failures, about what we were being taught from our instructors and what we were learning from our clients. We argued; we shared insights, wisdom's, and confessions; we complained; we celebrated, and we supported one another. One of my most cherished possessions remains a picture of us grouped together taken shortly before we graduated, once strangers, now family. Herman Hesse once wrote, "Each man's life represents a road toward himself." The road I traveled with my companions on a bus that indeed came to contain magic brought me closer to myself than I could have possibly imagined.
My parents recently moved to a small retirement community in Florida. The first thing I saw upon arriving was a group of older men working diligently as they attempted to prevent an area of their modular home park from flooding. What struck me as I watched them was that in spite of how hot the sun was and how dirty and tired they looked, it was also very clear that they were having a splendid time together. My sister and I had been terribly concerned about my parents being away for the first time in their lives from family and friends. We were amazed and delighted the first day of our visit by how quickly they had become part of a small and close knit community. They had been offered the use of their neighbors tools as they were moving in, brought hot coffee and home made goodies, and received invitations to go bike riding, swimming, golfing, and to participate in a number of other activities. Our parents were thriving here, surrounded by a small group who watched out for one another, played together, and for the most part, shared the joys and sorrows of one another's lives.
When I was a young girl I attended an AA meeting with my uncle. The level of honesty and support that existed within the room touched me. People shared stories filled with shame, loss, and redemption. Over the years, I watched a sullen and withdrawn man open like a morning glory as he was accepted and embraced by this powerful community.
The word community was derived from the Latin words, "munus" (gift) and "cum" (together). Thus the literal meaning of the term community can be interpreted as the sharing of gifts together. Participating in a community of individuals whom we can count on and share our joys and concerns with offers a multitude of gifts, precious gifts.
"I am part and parcel of the whole, and I cannot find God apart from the rest of humanity." Mahatma Gandhi
Joan Borysenko, in her very special book, A Woman's Book of Life, demonstrates the interconnection of all of life, by explaining the implications of Bell's Theorem.
"Once 2 atoms have been part of a molecule and then separated, no matter how far distant they are from one another, each atom acts as if it is still in communication with the other. Since the atoms that make up molecules are forever trading places, it is quite possible that right now you may have atoms in your body that once belonged to mother Theresa, Adolph Hitler. . . Furthermore, these atoms remain interconnected with all other atoms that they have been related to. These kinds of phenomena led Albert Einstein to observe that the perception that we are separate from one another is an optical delusion of consciousness, about as clear of a statement of interdependence as can be made."
"We are shifting from part-centered consciousness to whole- centered consciousness." Catherine Burton
Michael Ventura in, We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy, described an experiment conducted in the early 1960's by Charles Tart in the following excerpt:
" Person A is put into a sensory deprivation room and wired for brain waves, skin resistance, heart rate, muscular activity, and respiratory changes. Person B is put into another such room, also wired, and is electrically shocked at random intervals. Person A is then told to guess exactly when Person B is being shocked.
The results were as follows: Person A's conscious guesses 'showed no relation to the actual events.' But person A's 'polygraph reading indicated significant physiological changes at those instances when Person B was randomly shocked.' The conclusion: 'We may say the event did not register on the subject's conscious mind. But obviously he was
conscious of the event - on a fundamental biological level. The subject's body apparently knew of these happenings that his roof-brain did not know of.'"
Tart's experiment is only one of many that indicates the profound level at which we're all connected. While me might not consciously understand or experience this connection, some piece of us is all too aware of this union, and does not escape the fear, the exploitation, and the suffering of all of which we are a part. It calls out to us in our dreams and nightmares, in the inexplicable sadness that we each feel from time to time, and in our own pain.
While connection can sometimes hurt, it can also heal. I urge everyone to participate on a regular basis in the tremendous healing and growth available to each of us when we honor our connection on a regular basis. We honor it when we reach out to help, when we share meals with friends, family, and neighbors, when we attend support groups, citizen activist meetings, PTA's, and other gatherings both formal and informal.
"The man among you who is the most educated who can carry the joys and sorrows of life" Rousseau
Leslie died on a February morning, leaving Doug feeling colder inside than the frigid arctic air outside their bedroom window. For months after her death, he functioned mechanically in a world that seemed meaningless and empty.
They had been married for twenty-seven years. She had been beautiful when he first met her with big, dark, dancing eyes and curly auburn hair. She reminded him of a young thoroughbred. She had been energetic and playful and yet graceful and unconsciously elegant at the same time. He, at twenty- six, felt like a man of the world in the company of this vibrant girl-woman. They married within a year after meeting and moved to a New England city where the rewards of his promising career as an engineer began to materialize as planned. They purchased a stately Victorian complete with a victory garden and had a son within their first two years together. Their life proceeded in a normal and satisfactory fashion. She was involved in community projects, as well as in the lives of her family and friends. He was engaged in the earnest pursuit of financial security and social respectability and was reasonably content.
Doug can't describe his inner life before Leslie's death without sounding vague and hazy. "Leslie was the one with the inner life. She had so many interests and felt great passion about people and ideas. I just sort of moved through my life calmly and methodically. My life had an order and (in retrospect) a sterility to it. She was by far much more interesting. She was the messy one. Everyone loved her."
Doug came to eventually recognize after Leslie's death how insulated his life had been. He had acquaintances with whom he worked, socialized, and played golf, and yet not a single person other than Leslie had ever truly known him. He had been somewhat numb for the first few months after the funeral, but then was confronted with a loneliness that threatened to overwhelm him. "Leslie was my best friend --the only person in the world I had ever allowed myself to need, and she was gone. I truly felt that I had nothing to live for. I'd heard that it's common for someone to die within a year after his or her spouse; well, I was ready, and yet, damn, I was too young. We were supposed to grow old together, and I hadn't even reached retirement age. I felt so heavy from my grief; I could barely move my body. I was walking around like an old man."
Doug suffered profoundly and in silence. One day Marty, a co-worker who had for years been trying to talk Doug into attending a men's group with him, finally succeeded. "I was really uncomfortable at first, but as I listened to these men talk, I began to see myself. This one guy was expressing his frustration with his wife's failure to be organized. My eyes filled with tears. The words he had confronted his wife with were the very same words with which I had admonished Leslie. Marty noticed I was having a hard time, and he reached over and started to rub my shoulder. I hadn't been touched in a really long time, and I couldn't remember ever being physically comforted by a man. It felt awkward and yet good." Doug returned to the men's group and soon found he looked forward to the meetings. He became increasingly aware of how difficult it is in our culture for men to connect with one another. He began to look at how he had distanced himself from his son, in particular, and resolved to attempt to repair his relationship with his offspring. He began reading about men's issues and even attending workshops conducted by experts in the field. At the age of 56 he found himself attending graduate school part-time taking courses in psychology. At 59 he was co-facilitating men's groups and writing poetry. At 61 he was living in a house with eight other non-related adults committed to community living. Doug recently shared with me that:
"A major transformation occurred for me after attending a weekend retreat which focused on spiritual living. I went at the request of my son. I had no personal interest but felt as though it might afford me the opportunity to do some father/son bonding. It did that but more importantly, I was able to bond with an inner source that had been available to me all along. I was just never aware of it before. I am more than just satisfied with my life now. I find it exciting! I have intimate relationships, adventures to look forward to, and a deeply rewarding spiritual life finally."
THE SEARCH FOR MEANING:
"You should live so that when you die, God is in your debt." Bernard Shaw
Carl Jung proposed that the origin of neurosis was the suffering of an individual who had not yet discovered the meaning of his or her life. He went on to say that in all of his patients who were 35 or older, none were truly healed who didn't in the end possess a spiritual or religious outlook. Thus, developing a spiritual foundation is not only desirable according to Jung, but also necessary for mental health. Such an orientation offers comfort and meaning in an uncertain world. Jung reflected,
"I therefore consider the religious teaching of a life hereafter consonant with the standpoint of psychic hygiene. When I live in a house which I know will fall about my head within the next two weeks, all my vital functions will be impaired by this thought; but if on the contrary I feel myself to be safe, I can dwell there in a normal and comfortable way. From the standpoint of psychotherapy it would therefore be desirable to think of death as only a transition --one part of a life-process whose extent and duration escape our knowledge.
Keith Harary, Ph.D., research director of the institute for Advanced Psychology in San Francisco, reports that he is uncomfortable with words such as religious and spiritual, because of the various issues and interpretations such words tend to bring up for many people. Instead of labeling certain significant experiences as spiritual, Harary often describes them as experiences that imply "that there is more to life than meets the 'I'." The more I learn of those aspects of life that far surpass my tiny little 'I', the more meaningful my own life becomes. I see myself as a small and yet significant link in an immense web that encompasses the universe and beyond. I am part of something that I can't quite fathom, and yet I know that it is magnificent.
What is my soul? What is the name of the being that initially created it? I can't answer those questions with certainty. What I do know is that I'm responsible for how my soul turns out. Will I nourish it with acts of kindness, with love, and a devotion to growth and learning? Or will I starve it by focusing on material gain and the accumulation of money, power, etc. Trees are provided to humankind however they don't automatically become houses or canoes simply because we desire them to be. Our souls are also provided to us at birth, and require attention and care in order for them to develop into all that they can become. I've decided that at this time in my life I wish to finally direct a significant amount of my energy into nourishing and maintaining my soul.
In "The Search For Meaning," Williman, Williman, and Naylor point out that it's not only within our means to bestow meaning to our lives, but our responsibility. They add that our soul is the sum of all that we do, feel, think and experience and that: "Throughout our entire life, our soul is continuously in the process of becoming..."
For yearsI pondered the meaning of my life. Was it to give to others? To learn as much as I possibly could? To have adventures? To find God? I could think of some pretty good reasons to live and could imagine more then one purpose to which I could consider devoting my life. But the true meaning of my life ultimately remained a mystery. Then one day it occurred to me that perhaps I had got it backwards. Rather then continue to direct my energies towards a search for the meaning of my life - instead, perhaps I should focus on making my life more meaningful. I now explore ways that I can make my life more meaningful. This exploration has led me to shape my day- to-day life in a manner that reflects my personal values and more closely honors my own individual needs and interests. Sarte maintains that we're each responsible for our actions and that life must have meaning. But, he adds, it's we ourselves who must create this meaning in our lives, "To exist is to create your own life."
I'll always be a seeker to a certain extent. Some things just never change. Still, I'm repeatedly amazed when I stumble onto a truth that I've searched high and low for, when it was there in front of me all the time. How I've longed for wisdom, working into the wee hours of the morning in order to get a little closer still to my coveted prize. And then one day while lying in my hammock, caressed by the sun and the gentle breeze, I read, "This is wisdom, to love life." I look up through the canopy of trees, up towards the wide blue sky and sigh. . . Then I close my eyes, allowing myself to be rocked like a small child. I listen to the birds and feel myself growing drowsy. "To love life," a quiet part of myself repeats. The greatest and sweetest challenge, to love life, and just maybe the simplest and yet most complete answer. . .
IN SEARCH OF THE ONE TRUE GOD
"If you want me to believe in God, you must make me touch him." Denis Diderot
I could not love the God of my childhood. I could only fear 'him'. I was aware that 'he' was the creatorbut more importantly, I knew that 'he' was the destroyer. 'He' destroyed what was bad- and to an eight-year-old girl, that included naughty children. I was charmed by stories of God's love but struck by the knowledge of what it meant to displease 'him.' While God was good, what 'he' most represented to me were rules to be followed and punishment to be suffered for failure to obey. Being religious became being righteous and being righteous meant being safe from the wrath of God. But then came my next major crisis in dealing with God - Which God? The God of the Baptists wanted me to celebrate Christmas and Easter, the God of the Jehovah Witnesses scorned these celebrations as pagan. Being religious became a test of wits as well as of character. Pick the right religion and follow the rules and you win (you get to go to heaven or paradise). Choose the wrong religion and you loose (you go to hell or die in Armageddon.)
I had a pretty good idea of where God was; 'he' was in some far away mystical place. But which God? The God of the Catholics? The Baptists? The Jehovah Witnesses? The Mormons? How about the Hindus? The Islam's? Then, little by little, I stopped yearning for the one true God. I had searched high and low to no avail. One day after many years of pain, of soul searching, of reading, of reflecting - I reached up and brought God down from 'his' heaven and I took "him" home with me. And In bringing God down to earth, I needed to search no further. God was in the eyes of my loved ones, in the flowers, the birds, the darkness and the light. My God surrounded, permeated and enveloped me. And as my vision of God began to change, I too began to be transformed. As I traveled further away from the God of my childhood, I began to move beyond my shame and fear and towards appreciation and wonder.
I'd confused religious and spiritual for years and consequently had avoided matters pertaining to either. As a child I interpreted Religion to be about the Power of God and the need for me to surrender to 'his' will. Today I look towards spirituality as a means of assisting me to experience my own power as well as the wonder and the grace of a God that exists in all living things.
The search for the one true God has divided many of us, and yet, while we vary significantly in our religious and spiritual styles, there also exist a number of themes that unite us. Wade Clark Roof, in his book, "A Generation of Seekers," identified the following trends that exist today in our culture:
- The religious preference of an individual is respected today. In fact, many boomers can be found attending the services of more then one denomination.
- Many boomers interpret faith, or the pursuit of faith, as a process that has been significantly impacted by an individual's emotional and psychological development.
- There is an emphasis on the importance of the spiritual versus the religious experience.
- Attending to spiritual matters does not exclude addressing psychological issues, as well as dealing with such feelings as shame, guilt, depression, anger, anxiety, etc.
- Life in its entirety is now increasingly endowed with religious and spiritual meaning as our quest for wholeness continues to expand.
- Individuals are increasingly called upon to take active responsibility for their own spiritual development.
- There are widespread apocalyptic visions of the future in which our world is in the last stages of disintegration before a new error dawns.
- There is increasing reliance on small groups, versus the larger organizations, for meeting spiritual needs.
Torn as a child by opposing religious theologies, I eventually became disheartened. Confronted with the numerous, varied, and conflicting 'truths' of those religions, I froze. Today, I'm far less concerned with what separates spiritual seekers, as I am with what we share. It's when standing on this common ground that I feel most secure, for it's that which unites us that provides the strongest foundation on which we can all build.
I remember reading a Hasidic tale once and while I've forgotten many of the details, I recall that a wise man asked a group of scholars who were dining with him, "Where does God live?" The scholars laughed and responded that the world was full of God's presence. The wise man replied, "God lives, where he is let in."
METAPHORS FOR OUR TIME
"This earth is precious to God, and to harm the Earth is to heap contempt on its Creator." Chief Seattle
In a paper delivered to the Harvard Seminar on Environmental Values in 1996, Catholic environmentalist, Thomas Berry, spoke about the mighty Titanic. The Titanic was thought to be unsinkable, a technological wonder and triumph. What happened to this magnificent and unsinkable ship, according to Berry, serves as a Parable for our time. While there were several warnings issued regarding the potential danger of icebergs, the Titanic continued speeding along in the frigid waters. The captain trusted his ship, and the passengers entrusted their captain with their lives. When the ship sunk, it was the poor who suffered the greatest fatalities, although a great number of the wealthy perished along with the "underclass."
Today we sail along on our giant spaceship, the planet earth. It too has been thought to be metaphorically speaking, "unsinkable." And while we've received countless warnings regarding the perils she confronts, we continue to entrust our governments with the power and responsibility to successfully navigate around them. The technology that made the Titanic possible and yet could not prevent her destruction, is the very same that we collectively count on to save us now. And like the poor, who were confined within the bottom decks of the Titanic, our own poor receive the least of our ship's bounty, and suffer the greatest. Any yet in the end, no degree of wealth or status guaranteed salvation for the passengers of the Titanic, nor will it ultimately prevail on our own magnificent and yet vulnerable ship.
Just as the passengers of the Titanic remained for the most part oblivious to the dangers confronting their vessel, our own civilization fails to recognize that the destruction we wreak upon "spaceship earth," not only places our outer world in peril, but also ravages our inner life. As Berry points out:
"The devastation of the forests, the extinction of species, the poisoning of the waters, the pollution of the air, the blocking out of our vision of the stars; we could not understand that this was something more than damage to our physical being; it was also a soul-damage, a ruin within, a degrading of our imagination, our emotional life, even diminishing our intellectual life for all these phases of our inner life needed to be activated by our experiences of the outer world."
The Titanic broke records in design and engineering, and in an attempt to break yet another record, she perished. Collectively, we've repeatedly broken records, many of which foster significant pride. We've demonstrated our brilliance in countless ways and with the best of intentions - to improve the quality of life for our children and ourselves. And yet what of the ominous record broken by little more than a single generation? One which according to Timothy C. Wieskel, director of the Harvard Seminar of environmental values at Harvard Divinity School, has led to the fact that:
"...life as we know it is undergoing massive extinction. More precisely, geologists, evolutionary biologists, and paleontologists are now reporting evidence in their professional journals that we are currently in the midst of a global "extinction event" which exceeds in scale those catastrophic episodes in the geological record that marked the extinction of the dinosaurs and numerous other species."
There's hardly an American alive who hasn't heard of the great and terrible flood which covered the earth, and of faithful Noah who managed to save two of each species by bringing them on board his ark. Noah, who followed the directives of his God, is the hero of this story. And it's the wrath of the creator, manifested by the fury of the flood, which wreaked unimaginable destruction. Good Christians believe themselves to be created in God's image, and how interesting it is that we ourselves have been likened to the great and terrible flood by author and speaker, Andrew Bard Schmookler, who observed:
"We, the creatures with the freedom to invent, may yet prove a boon to the struggle of life against death. But for now, we are not filling the ark. It is we who are the flood. Spilling out of our channels, sweeping tropical forests away, extinguishing the precious flame of countless species, washing off the topsoil of the abundant American prairies. And if we choose to play the flood, who is there to play Noah?"
What aspect of God are we currently manifesting? Sadly, I believe that we've come to represent the wrath of God far more than reflecting the wonder and beauty inherent in a loving creator.
In The Sacred Whole: An Ecumenical Protestant Approach, Jay McDaniel, associate professor of Religion at Hendrix College in Arkansas, asserts that the dominant religion today on our planet is the religion of "'economism" observing, "its God is endless economic growth, its priests are economists, its missionaries are advertisers, and its church is the mall. In this religion, virtue is called 'competition' and sin is called "inefficiency.' Salvation comes through shopping alone."
McDaniel goes on to claim that our addiction to growth is related to the current trends of overconsumption and overpopulation, placing the entire planet in peril. He urges us to become the kinds of people who possess attitudes and values that honor our ecology, and make community-based economies possible. In order to develop this level of character on a collective basis, the support of religious institutions is required. Our religious communities profoundly shape our culture's character.
"...Through their creeds, codes and cults, they provide images of the Good Life and offer people ways of finding that life. If conversion from the god of growth to the spirit of life is to occur, it must occur with their help and in the context of people who take them seriously."
If we are to create sustainable and life affirming communities, then according to McDaniel, we also require a new image of the good life. While the vision of the good life fostered by the religion of "economism" calls for constantly increasing consumption, the message of the world religions is one of commitment to such values as love, justice, peace, the sanctity of life, and spiritual growth.
Albert J. Fritsh, Jesuit priest and environmental ethicist, provides us with a Catholic perspective of the Good Life which includes:
- An awareness that our resources are limited and are not currently equally shared;
- A commitment to use resources moderately and to control our appetites;
- An awareness that when we use our talents appropriately or share our resources, we not only contribute to the health and well being of others, but also increase our own.
- A willingness to celebrate with all of creation
- A commitment to deepening spirituality and honoring the spirituality of others, including honoring our diversity.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
"The church can say to its people, in a way that no one else can, with a sense of authority that no one else in the world has, that this moment and this day in our lives are not all that matters in our lives. That we as Christians have responsibility far beyond the next paycheck, the next meal. We have a responsibility to our children, and to this earth that God has given us." James M. Cubie
When looking over his own life, Thomas Berry sadly admits that he's unable to explain those acts committed during his life-time that have led to massive devastation of the earth's systems. His best guess is that his generation has been autistic, so preoccupied with itself that it lost its' connection with the natural world. Berry laments, "My generation could not get outside itself and the outer world could not get in. There was a total barrier between the human and non-human." This barrier between humanity and nature which is based on the absurd premise that we're separate from, rather than a part of nature, I've come to think of as the Great Divide. For how long will a belief system which has left us alienated from the rest of the earth's communities, and led to such mass destruction, continue to be allowed to contaminate our home?
What has amazed Berry (as well as several other environmentalists) is the inability of our educational and religious institutions confronted with biocide (the killing of the earth systems,) and geocide (the destruction of the earth itself) to offer sufficient ethical guidance and judgement.
In The Lost Gospel of the Earth, Senator Tom Hayden eloquently writes:
"Long ago, the sacred was believed to reside in the earth. Then came an era when God and the Sacred were projected from the earth to a glorious cloud, stranding humanity in a waiting line below. Next, according to Christianity, the divine was reincarnated briefly on earth to redeem the human. Many await a second coming to lift up the faithful from the earth. . . But I believe the earth has suffered from the perception that the sacred is no longer resident in its depths. . . We need a sacred presence that is more than an absentee landlord before the whole earth becomes a polluted slum. Only when we believe the sacred is present in the living earth will we revere our world again."
But how do we recapture our lost sense of the sacred that resides within the living earth? How best can we serve her? Hayden advises:
"Finally what I believe is needed is the kind of passionate engagement in the environmental cause that the clergy of America gave to the civil rights in the 1960's, . . . Unfortunately what we are seeing today instead is the religious Right vigorously condemning environmentalists as pagans while defending the property rights of polluters as somehow protected by the mandates of Genesis. Meanwhile the mainstream religious institutions have been largely silent and little engaged in the environmental debate of the past twenty-five years. The religious community has not defined the actions of corporate and government polluters as a mortal sin against God's creation, nor have the clerics defended the earth as sacred in the they have vigorously defended the poor and victims of discrimination as God's children. Religious institutions are the source of guidance and teaching on questions of morality and justice, and their relative silence on the fate of the earth robs the environmental movement of the moral legitimacy it needs to change our behavior."
In For The Common Good, economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb maintained that in order for us to muster a sustained willingness to change our destructive patterns, we must recapture:
" . . . ¦a love of the earth that human beings once felt strongly, but then has been thinned and demeaned as the land was commodified. . . there is a religious depth in myriads of people that can find expression in lives lived appropriately to reality. That depth must be touched and tapped . . . If that is done, there is hope . . . Our point is that the changes that are now needed in society are at a level that stirs religious passions. The debate will be a religious one whether that is made explicit or not."
It's been reported in Mother Jones that 96 percent of Americans believe in a universal power, and that 67 percent of Americans belong to a church or synagogue. Furthermore, two out of five US citizens report that their religious beliefs heavily influence how they vote. Clearly our spiritual communities not only contribute to the saving of souls, but can also contribute enormously to efforts to save the earth.
Dr. Donald Conroy, president and founder of the North American Coalition on Religion and Ecology, points out that if it is true that we only have a decade to change the lifestyles of the Industrial World, then we desperately need a paradigm shift which might unites theologians, ethicists, and philosophers in cooperation with environmentalist and economists. But how can we accomplish this? Conroy asserts that first we must overcome such biases as patriarchy, (a system which gives males a disproportionately large share of power), and what Conroy calls, "exceptionalism," (the presumption made by individuals and groups that they are or will be the exception.)
Perhaps slowly but surely the paradigm shift that Conroy calls for is beginning to evolve as more and more religious leaders begin to speak out.
A MORE PERFECT UNION
"The environment is not just another issue but an inescapable challenge to what it means to be religious" Dean James P. Morton
While it's true that the religious community hasn't been as active in the past as it could have been, there's hope that it's lack of consistent involvement in the environmental protection movement is changing. Recently we've been given assurances of commitment to the preservation of the earth from a number of national as well as international religious organizations including, the U.S. Catholic Conference, The World Council of Churches, the Interfaith Council of the United Nations, and the United Church of Christ.
In November of 1989, the Earthcare Interfaith network submitted, Foundations for a Sustainable Common Future: On Participating in the Design of a Sustainable World As if People, the Earth and the Spirit Really Mattered, to the Global Tomorrow Coalition. The proposal called for a holistic approach to the global crisis and maintained that people of various spiritual traditions needed to join their efforts with others on a local, regional, national, and global basis. It also stressed the importance of the establishment of a United Nations Earth Stewardship council. The rationale for their proposal follows:
"The nature of the recommendations presented here are broad, and the opportunities for their implementation are many. While there is value in developing an approach that coordinates the implementation of the recommendations, in many respects it is at least as important that they are implemented in many different contexts and forms by individuals within their own faith communities. Further, the synergy that can emerge from networking is most evident when it is based on bringing together many independent sources of energy and activity.
There are growing indications of an awakening within the faith communities of a concern with our relationship with nature. For example, in 1986, the Declarations of Assisi, from Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Sikhs emerged from a conference convened by the World Wildlife Fund. The Environmental Sabbath has been established through the United Nations Environment Programme as a time for faith communities to observe a day of rest for the earth. And there are many individuals who have long harbored within themselves a deep sense of the importance of the spiritual dimension of our relationship with the earth.
The emergence of a "movement" based on a recognition of that importance is providing -- for many of these individuals -- empowering opportunities to express that inner sense beyond a few close friends, and to discover many other who share their perspective on the natural world.
This renewed sense of legitimacy for the spiritual dimension of our relationship with the earth is being juxtaposed with the sharply increasing focus on the need to address environment and development issues. This juxtaposition means that a sensitivity that had generally been considered otherworldly is being seen by more and more people as containing within it vital keys to coming to terms with the very concrete question of how we can develop the basis for sustainable life of earth."
In January of 1991, the late Carl Sagan organized 32 Nobel Laureate in addition to other respected scientists in order to write, An Open Letter to the Religious Community. The following message was presented at the Moscow meeting ofthe Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders:
"The Earth is the birthplace of our species and, as far as we know, our only home. When our numbers were small and our technology feeble, we were powerless to influence the environment of our world. But today, suddenly, almost without anyone's noticing, our numbers have become immense and our technology has achieved vast, even awesome, powers. Intentionally or inadvertently, we are now able to make devastating changes in the global environment an environment to which we and all other beings with which we share the Earth are meticulously and exquisitely adapted.
We are now threatened by self-inflicted, swiftly moving environmental alterations about whose long-term biological and ecological consequences we are still painfully ignorant: depletion of the protective ozone layer; a global warming unprecedented in the last 150 millennia; the obliteration of an acre of forest every second; the rapid-fire extinction of species; and the prospect of a global nuclear war which would put at risk most of the population of the Earth. There may well be other such dangers of which we are still unaware. Individually and cumulatively, they represent a trap being set for the human species, a trap we are setting for ourselves. However principled and lofty (or naive and shortsighted) the justifications may have been for the activities that brought forth these dangers, separately and taken together they now imperil our species and many others. We are close to committing many would argue we are already committing what in religious language is sometimes called Crimes against Creation.
By their very nature these assaults on the environment were not caused by any one political group or any one generation. Intrinsically, they are transnational, transgenerational and transideological. So are all conceivable solutions. To escape these traps requires a perspective that embraces the peoples of the planet and all the generations yet to come.
Problems of such magnitude, and solutions demanding so broad a perspective, must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension. Mindful of our common responsibility, we scientists many of us long engaged in combating the environmental crisis urgently appeal to the world religious community to commit, in word and deed, and as boldly as is required, to preserve the environment of the Earth.
Some of the short-term mitigations of these dangers such as greater energy efficiency, rapid banning of chlorofluorocarbons or modest reductions in nuclear arsenals are comparatively easy and at some level are already underway. But other, more far-reaching, long-term, and effective approaches will encounter widespread inertia, denial and resistance. In this category are conversion from fossil fuels to a nonpolluting energy economy, a continuing swift reversal of the nuclear arms race, and a voluntary halt to world population growth without which many other approaches to preserve the environment will be nullified.
As with issues of peace, human rights and social justice, religious institutions can be a strong force here, too, in encouraging national and international initiatives in both the private and public sectors, and in the diverse worlds of commerce, education, culture and mass communications.
The environmental crisis requires radical changes not only in public policy, but also in individual behavior. The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example and leadership are able to influence personal conduct and commitment powerfully.
As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. At the same time, a much wider and deeper understanding of science and technology is needed. If we do not understand the problem, it is unlikely we will be able to fix it. Thus, there is a vital role for both religion and science.
We know that the well-being of our planetary environment is already a source of profound concern in your councils and congregations. We hope this appeal will encourage a spirit of common cause and joint action to help preserve the Earth."
In response to the scientists plea, several religious leaders met during 1991 and 1992. After significant collaboration, they offered the following reply:
"We members of the religious community have received from a distinguished group of scientists the document 'Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Religion and Science.'
We are moved by the Appeal's spirit and challenged by its substance. We share its sense of urgency. This invitation to collaboration marks a unique moment and opportunity in the relationship of science and religion.
Many in the religious community have followed, with growing alarm, reports of threats to the well-being of our planet's environment such as those set forth in the Appeal. The scientific community has done humankind a great service by bringing forth evidence of these perils. We encourage continued scrupulous investigation and must take account of its results in all our deliberations and declarations regarding the human condition.
We believe the environmental crisis is intrinsically religious. All faith traditions and teachings firmly instruct us to revere and care for the natural world. Yet sacred Creation is being violated and is in ultimate jeopardy as a result of long-standing human behavior. A religious response is essential to reverse such long-standing patterns of neglect and exploitation.
For these reasons, we welcome the scientists' Appeal and are eager to explore as soon as possible concrete, specific forms of collaboration and action."
271 spiritual leaders including; 93 from the Soviet Union, 116 from North America, 35 from Africa, 27 from Europe, and 35 from Latin America, India, Africa, and the Far East added their signatures to the document. The groups of signatories were comprised of lamas, chief rabbis, mullahs, cardinals, professors of theology, and archbishops.
On May 12, 1992, religious leaders and scientists united in order to present a JOINT APPEAL BY RELIGION AND SCIENCE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT in Washington D.C. The declaration stated:
"We are people of faith and of science who, for centuries, often have traveled different roads. In a time of environmental crisis, we find these roads converging. As this meeting symbolizes, our two ancient, sometimes antagonistic, traditions now reach out to one another in a common endeavor to preserve the home we share.
We humans are endowed with self-awareness, intelligence and compassion. At our best, we cherish and seek to protect all life and the treasures of the natural world. But we are now tampering with the climate. We are thinning the ozone layer and creating holes in it. We are poisoning the air, the land and the water. We are destroying the forests, grasslands and other ecosystems. We are causing the extinction of species at a pace not seen since the end of the age of the dinosaurs. As a result, many scientific projections suggest a legacy for our children and grandchildren of compromised immune systems, increased infectious disease and cancer rates, destroyed plants and consequent disruption of the food chain, agriculture damaged from drought and ultraviolet light, accelerated destruction of forests and species, and vastly increased numbers of environmental refugees. Many perils may be still undiscovered. The burdens, as usual, will fall most cruelly upon the shoulders of the poorest among us, especially upon children. But no one will be unaffected. At the same time, the human community grows by a quarter of a million people every day, mostly in the poorest nations and communities. That this crisis was brought about in part through inadvertence does not excuse us. Many nations are responsible. The magnitude of this crisis means that it cannot be resolved unless many nations work together. We must now join forces to that end.
Our own country is the leading polluter on Earth, generating more greenhouse gases, especially CO2, than any other country. Not by word alone but by binding action, our nation has an inescapable moral duty to lead the way to genuinely effective solutions. We signers of this declaration --- leaders in religion and science --- call upon our government to change national policy so that the United States will begin to ease, not continue to increase, the burdens on our biosphere and their effect upon the planet's people.
We believe that science and religion, working together, have an essential contribution to make toward any significant mitigation and resolution of the world environmental crisis. What good are the most fervent moral imperatives if we do not understand the dangers and how to avoid them? What good is all the data in the world without a steadfast moral compass? Many of the consequences of our present assault on the environment, even if halted today, will take decades and centuries to play themselves out. How will our children and grandchildren judge our stewardship of the Earth? What will they think of us? Do we not have a solemn obligation to leave them a better world and to insure the integrity of nature itself? Insofar as our peril arises from a neglect of moral values, human pride, arrogance, inattention, greed, improvidence, and a penchant for the short-term over the long, religion has an essential role to play. Insofar as our peril arises from our ignorance of the intricate interconnectedness of nature, science has an essential role to play.
Differences of perspective remain among us. We do not have to agree on how the natural world was made to be willing to work together to preserve it. On that paramount objective we affirm a deep sense of common cause.
Commitment to environmental integrity and justice, across a broad spectrum and at the highest level of leadership, continues to grow in the United States religious community as an issue of utmost priority --- significantly as a result of fruitful conversations with the scientific community. We believe that the dimensions of this crisis are still not sufficiently taken to heart by our leaders, institutions and industries. We accept our responsibility to help make known to the millions we serve and teach the nature and consequences of the environmental crisis, and what is required to overcome it. We believe that our current economic behavior and policies emphasize short-term individual material goals at the expense of the common good and of future generations. When we consider the long-term as well as the short-term costs, it seems clear that addressing this problem now rather than later makes economic as well as moral sense. We impoverish our own children and grandchildren by insisting that they deal with dangers that we could have averted at far less cost in resources and human suffering.
We reaffirm here, in the strongest possible terms, the indivisibility of social justice and the preservation of the environment. We also affirm and support the indigenous peoples in the protection and integrity of their cultures and lands. We believe the wealthy nations of the North, which have historically exploited the natural and human resources of the Southern nations, have a moral obligation to make available additional financial resources and appropriate technology to strengthen their capacity for their own development. We believe the poor and vulnerable workers in our own land should not be asked to bear disproportionate burdens. And we must end the dumping of toxic waste materials disproportionately in communities of low income and of people of color. We recognize that there is a vital connection between peacemaking and protecting our environment. Collectively, the nations of the world spend one trillion dollars a year on military programs. If even a modest portion of this money were spent on environmental programs and sustainable economic development we could take a major step toward environmental security.
We commit ourselves to work together for a United States that will lead the world in the efficient use of fossil fuels, in devising and utilizing renewable sources of energy, in phasing out all significant ozone-depleting chemicals, in halting deforestation and slowing the decline in species diversity, in planting forests and restoring other habitats, and in realizing worldwide social justice. We believe there is a need for concerted efforts to stabilize world population by humane, responsible and voluntary means consistent with our differing values. For these, and other reasons, we believe that special attention must be paid to education and to enhancing the roles and the status of women.
Despite the seriousness of this crisis, we are hopeful. We humans, in spite of our faults, can be intelligent, resourceful, compassionate, prudent and imaginative. We have access to great reservoirs of moral and spiritual courage. Deep within us stirs a commitment to the health, safety and future of our children. Understanding that the world does not belong to any one nation or generation, and sharing a spirit of utmost urgency, we dedicate ourselves to undertake bold action to cherish and protect the environment of our planetary home."
Thus a mighty force was born. In 1993, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a broad-based interdenominational alliance was established.
"If you want faith, you have to work for it." Flannery O'Connor
Leanord Byram, my grandfather, died at home at the age of 93, on April 30th, 1995. He was surrounded by family members who maintained a 24- hour-vigil over him for weeks. His life will never be chronicled in a history book. His was an ordinary life, lived by an extraordinary man. He resided in the same small town for over 60 years. He worked as a logger and woodsman on the rivers and streams of New Brunswick and Maine. Later, he became an auto mechanic, then a carpenter, and eventually purchased property and farmed his land. He lived in a small, modest three-bedroom ranch during the years that I knew him. Still nestled into the corner of the living room sits the desk that he spent hours at every day.
In retrospect, he was perhaps my greatest role model. He was deeply involved in the pursuit of "the truth", with devotion few have ever surpassed. For more years than I have been alive, he studied the Bible and other religious works with vigor, and frequently corresponded with others on spiritual matters. His life, while not easy, was rich and abundant - filled with family, fellow seekers, and above all - faith. Each day carried for him the promise of an opportunity to grow closer to his God. And though I know he experienced confusion and frustration regarding earthly matters, once he found his faith, there was not a day in his life that he walked without it.
While my grandfather placed absolute trust in a God who resided outside of him, I am still learning to trust the inherent wisdom that exists within me. He sought the heavenly spirit, while my search became earth-bound. He found what he was seeking; I'm still looking. Still, while I seek, I too have found. I've learned to trust my body's instinctual way of knowing what it needs to most effectively house my spirit. I'm also learning to trust that I'm connected in some inextricable way to the vast wisdom of the universe. The more my awareness grows of this connection, the more in touch I become with the meaning and purpose of my own life.
I'm learning to trust that while life is unpredictable and can hurt very deeply; I am no more alone in the darkness of my despair than I am in the light of my joy. While I've suffered and will continue to suffer, I have healed and will heal again.
It was easy to believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy as a child; mine was a simple faith evolving from a trusting heart. I never saw the North Pole, but I believed. As I grow older and have lost much of my ability to believe in what I cannot see, my life experiences have served to renew my faith. I can not conceive that the absolute beauty I have enjoyed in the natural world is little more than an act of random. I can't grasp that the intricate and enormously complex web of life is ultimately coincidental. I'm able to speak from my heart when I tell a companion who is despairing to hold on; that the pain will surely fade. I know this through my own experiences. I have seen, and thus I believe. The agony that has tampered with my faith has ultimately led me to trust in deliverance. I hurt and I heal. I'm a natural being participating in an ongoing and natural cycle. Day follows night; the warmth of summer returns each year once the winter has claimed its season, and I will surely always find my way to a new beginning. Endings and beginnings are always intermingled.
While dealing with the after-shocks of my quake, I have come finally to understand the meaning of faith. It does not require faith to acknowledge that which we can see and touch and measure. Faith is born of mystery, of promise, of hope. The guarantee for which it stands is not written or legally binding. It exists only within the human heart and is seldom easily acquired beyond childhood. And like so much which follows this precious age, it requires care. At this time in my life, I'm in the process of planting and weeding, as I strive towards the cultivation of faith.
Chapter One - The Quake
Chapter Two - The Haunted
Chapter Three - Myth and Meaning
Chapter Four - Embracing the Spirit
Chapter Eight - The Journey
Staff, H. (2008, December 7). Embracing the Spirit, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/embracing-the-spirit