Saturday, June 16, 2018

Refining Understanding

Although I have more yet to say about long-term vision, I deviate slightly from my series today to address a Bible reference.  I have always felt uneasy with the phrase in the Lord’s prayer (the Our Father) which in the English translation is rendered as ‘lead us not into temptation’ and I must remind myself that any time phrases and sentences are translated there are alternate ways to word them.  The final line of Christianity’s most central prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  It seems to suggest that it is God who controls life’s temptations, sends them to us then frees us from them . . . that would deny our freedom.  

I turn to the Letter of James 1:13 (Jerusalem translation), “Never when you have been tempted, say ‘God sent the temptation’; God cannot be tempted to do anything wrong, and he does not tempt anybody.  Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong desires.”

Why do I mention this? Because I believe it is important to realize that we humans are fallible and all that we know and understand has come through human interpretations.  That is the reality of how we progress, by continually refining the knowledge that is present to us.  It’s important to understand that faulty interpretations do not disqualify the essence—as in this prayer.  Another way to state that phrase might be: ‘guard us from temptation and protect us from evil.’  The essence of the prayer is more than a word or a phrase. 

Some people would be unset by the suggestion there is a better way to express that line from the Our Father . . . as if that is absolute and a sacrilege to suggest a change for it . . . yet we progress by refining what is known thus bringing better understanding.  Newton defined the force of gravity but Einstein’s genius changed how we understand it. –Newton wasn’t wrong; his understanding was just less complete. 

An important aspect of long-term thinking is to remain open to new understanding. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Royal Wedding

series:  Long-Term Vision  #3

If you watched the royal wedding on TV last week you heard Bishop Curry’s wonderful sermon on love. He made several references to Martin Luther King but he also quoted the contemporary theologian and mystic Teilhard de Chardin whose works are still unknown to the majority of people.  It is Teilhard’s writings that are the underpinnings of all that I write about—they are the fruit of long-term vision.  He was a paleontologist looking back at the earth’s beginning and ahead to its future trajectory of love’s realization by humanity. 

Bishop Curry ended his sermon with a paraphrase of the famous Teilhard quote: “Someday, after mastering the wind, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love and then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Look carefully at what those words are saying—for humans to have discovered how to capture and control the energy of fire provided us with the possibility of all the great inventions to follow.  Fire was not invented by man, but he discovered how to utilize it to his advantage . . . we cannot imagine our world without that discovery.

Teilhard and Bishop Curry are saying we have yet to discover the essence and energy of love.  The Bishop’s talk is titled ‘The Power of Love’ (go to Google or YouTube to find it).  We’ve romanticized and sentimentalized love, we have given its name to what isn’t love and we have failed to recognize its great power to change the world.

Love isn’t a human invention any more than fire is; love is of God and from God—but too often we treat it lightly, not recognizing its powerful potential.  At it core love is unselfish, sacrificial and redemptive. To choose to accept it and live it requires courage, selfless sacrifice, and long-term vision.

God awaits humanity collectively to live by love and that will take eons of time, as one by one we individually awakens to the true nature of it, live it and by our example pass it on.  As Teilhard said . . . if we harness for God the energy of love, for the second time we would have discovered fire . . . only with love can we change the world. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What is Long-Term Vision?

series: Long-Term Vision #2

What is long-term vision? It is seeing beyond just now.  It is looking back with appreciation for the creative inventiveness that brought all we have into being—from the utensils we eat with to the automobiles that transport us.  And it is looking ahead to what can be—a world of peaceful unity where all people are respected.  To that end, it is asking ourselves ‘what can I do today to make this day a gift of love?’ It is an attitude toward what life is about . . . being a part of the human race which is moving toward some unseen unknown destiny with hopeful anticipation . . . it is awareness of belonging to something beyond self.

We are part of God’s great experiment to bring forth a species with reflective awareness having the freedom to make of this world whatever we choose for it to be.

My book The Stations*is of the spiritual journey of an artist; on page 204 he says to the nun who is his spiritual director:  “Regardless of whether on not there is ‘a God out there’, all that is good and desirable is contained in the idea of God.  The world’s wisdom literature tells of how we can be . . . must be in order to survive.  As intelligent beings we have reflective awareness and the freedom to choose to make life anything we collectively want it to be.  We have made it a hell through selfishness—failing to see beyond our immediate wants. 
“Peter once said ‘if God didn’t exist we’d have to invent him’.   For the most part, we live life using only short-term vision geared to what we personally want at a given time.  We can learn to develop long-term vision and see that everything in life is interconnected to everything else and there is no such thing as singular acts in isolation. What each does effects others and our accumulated acts of selfishness finally create a living hell.  If we hold to the idea of God—the goodness and love and totality that a God represents—we can create a better world and save ourselves from our selfishness.  Only the idea of a God is big enough to embrace it all. So even when I can’t affirm that a God exists out there somewhere, I keep knowing that only God—or the idea of a God—can transform this hell into a better world.  Maybe acting as though we believe in God—even if we don’t accept an ‘out there’ reality—will call God into being.”

Just as we have advanced technologically, intellectually, scientifically and medically, when we look carefully we can see progress in our ability to advance toward rightness.  To accomplish that requires long-term vision.

                                                                                                    *The Stations by B. Sabonis-Chafee
                                                                                                     available on Amazon books


Monday, April 30, 2018

Seeking Rightness

series:  Long-Term Vision #1

So many people have dismissed God as irrelevant, and the violence and immorality in our world increases almost daily. We’ve become complacent about greed and graft and developed an addiction to violence in our films, TV and video games . . . no God and a diet of violence . . . how is there not an awareness of a correlation? Psychology tells us that what we are exposed to regularly becomes a lived part of our consciousness and invades our unconscious, defining who and what we are.

In my youth there were not mass shootings or angry people driving vehicles into crowds of pedestrians—now it happens on a regular basis.  Graft and corruption in government was believed to be what happened in ‘uncivilized’ countries—now it is everywhere.

It used to be that awareness of God and goodness was regularly called to mind so God was in the forefront of our thinking, but it was mixed too much with rules and regulations of specific religious imperatives that emphasized sin and death.  We have so misunderstood and mis-explained God that many people came to dismiss all consideration of God.  It was our interpretation of God, not God that was wrong. The fact is we need a concept of goodness and rightness to define for us who and what we can be.

I cannot understand who or what is that life force which we call ‘God’ but I know God IS and wish to call the life-force something; I would call it ‘Thou’ because I know it has a presence but no material form.  It is not a ‘he’; it is in no way vengeful.  It is the source of all good and is somehow present in all creation; it is sometimes named as 'Love', 'Truth', ‘Consciousness’,  . . . qualities which Thou has shared with us; we posses consciousness, seek truth and are capable of love. 

In humanity there is a seeking for rightness, which can be countered because we also have free will. Morality is inherent in humans; it may be ignored and/or denied, may be distorted and even badly twisted, but our consciousness brings with it the desire for ‘rightness’ (Love, Truth, Mercy, Justice, Compassion) and that is the nature of God.  Unless the Will is distorted by that which is evil, we long for indestructible rightness.

I quote from The New Cosmic Story by John Haught: “Rightness . . . does not come cheaply and hence cannot be taken for granted.  It cannot be owned but only anticipated.  Its full reception requires not only patient waiting but also thankful appreciation . . . to an eternally generous and resourceful ‘Thou’.”

As a species we are not yet ‘finished’.  The patient waiting he refers to is our recognizing the long evolutionary struggle that ultimately brought forth our planet, then life, and then humanity.  The next evolutionary step is our struggle to bring forth the longed for indistructable rightness. 



Saturday, April 7, 2018

Thoughts About Prayer

I want to say something about prayer.  Do we understand what prayer is? I can’t believe that God of the Universe wants or needs certain formula prayers in endless repetition—prayer is for our benefit, to keep us focused on what is right and good, reminding us that God is there for us.  When formula prayer seems to not work for us we may think we’ve lost the ability to pray—but prayer is so much more, it is entering the spirit of God: to offer to help someone in need is prayer, to wish others well even if they are unkind to you is prayer, to put effort into doing something well is prayer, to marvel at a sunset is prayer.   Prayer should be a sign of gratitude.  I believe it was Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank you’, it is enough.”

I’ve chosen a brief passage from my book The Stations * that addresses prayer. 

The artist says to his dear friend, “It worries me that I can’t pray”
Mother Abara gestures toward the studio, “Oh but you are mistaken, you are a master at prayer.”
“Yes, I carve stone into Stations of the Cross, . . . but me personally, in my quiet moments alone with myself I can’t pray.”
“What is missing is an experience of consolation, not your ability to pray. What do you think prayer is?”
He thought for several moments, “I guess I don’t actually know.  I think of the Psalms—those are magnificent prayers.”
“Yes, they are beautiful—but they represent one kind of prayer.  As children we are taught to ‘say our prayers’, so we come to think prayer is ‘saying words that please God’—and we think there are certain formulas that do the job better than others.  When our formulas stop working, or when we cease to make a connection between the formulas and our inner world, we think we’ve lost the ability to pray.  Our mistake isn’t in our praying, it is in interpreting—we have ‘failed to put an end to childish ways’.”
“ I hear what you are saying, Mother Abara, but I miss your meaning.”
“ Prayer is giving praise and worship to God, not in invoking magic formulas.  For many people, saying formulas helps them reach praise and worship, but others do it differently . . . To bask in the wonder of creation, to sing for the joy of the song, to reflect deeply and bring forth new understanding . . . those are ways of praising God. You’ve said yourself, as have the Psalmists, God is beyond our understanding so to appreciate the wonder without demanding that it fit our preconceived notions is to pray.”
. . .
“The form of prayer that is most your own is when you give form to the stone.  That helps others connect to the awe and wonder of life’s meaning.  Every moment of that work—including the struggle to know what to put into the work before a single line is drawn—is your prayer.  Stop thinking that saying words or experiencing the wonder is the only way.  That is the childish thinking you must bring to an end.  Recognize that the prayer you pray is in a different form.”
                                                                                                                              * Available at Amazon

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Modern Era

A few days ago I wrote here about the 1st Axial Age, the name given to the time in history when humanity made a major leap ahead, a change in consciousness that brought scattered humanity—each in unique ways—to lay the foundations for civilization that still serve us today.

The modern era necessitates another axial change wherein humanity comes to embrace a new consciousness of what and who we are.  We’ve seen ourselves from outer space—earth as one small interconnected interacting unit.   We must come to realize that what happens to one part effects the whole.  We can no longer choose war; we are One world threatened with self-destruction. 

We were given a planet in which to create a world according to our choice.  Little by little, with glory and strife, we came together to become a global world; we have yet to realize our oneness.  May we in our lifetime experience humanity's rise in consciousness.
                                                                          - - -
        
 I repeat an earlier poem from my blog of 10/15/13


POTENTIAL


I believe in human potential--
     Man can be more than he is
     if armed with the will to become.

I see the inherent dangers--
     Power can either create or destroy
     so knowledge of it awakens fear.

I know of quantitative quality--
     That which can be expressed positively
     can likewise be expressed negatively.


     I look to civilization’s development
          - the taming of fire
          - the mastery of communication
          - the understanding of order
          - the creation of beauty
          - the invention of systems
          - the development of industry
          - the perfection of technology
     Laced with wars, tyranny, slavery, holocaust, bigotry, treason, genocide...

     This is my heritage, my lineage, my ancestry;
     It all came before me and is mine because I am!

     This awareness engenders painful ambivalence;
     Majesty and pride joust with horror and shame.

     All this is because of human potential;
     Our being has changed the face of the earth.

     Man has traveled to the moon
     And he has created Auschwitz and Dachau.

               Are we gods or demons?

     The more we refine our being
     the more aware we become of its flaws.

     Ignorance once hid from us our vast potential;
     Yet once glimpsed, that image holds the mind in bondage.

     Reality forces us to live with the less that is
     while desperately longing for the more beyond reach.


Now, together, we are called to create a better world--      
     The negatives are painfully real
     but somewhere, somehow, progress happens.

Truth demands we acknowledge our potential's full range
     without abnegating the responsibility;
     --each person's choices help shape the future.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

A New Axial Age?

Has the modern era brought us to a new Axial Age?  Some say so, but what does it mean?  The German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term ‘Axial Age’ in 1949 when he noted that during the period between 800-200 BC there was a shift in how humanity viewed itself.  A turn as if on an axis—a change in consciousness that allowed civilization to develop.  Prior to the shift, tribalism was the dominant form of social organization.  The general characteristics were: small populations closely related, closed to outer influences, lacking individualized thinking, total submission to the group (ultra-conformity), with non-members of the tribe usually seen as ‘enemy’.

During the first Axial Age there was a revolution in human thought.  Independently in most clusters of humanity (China, India, Persia, Judaea, Greece and Rome) there was a change in consciousness that produced great advances in intellectual, philosophical and religious thinking.  Great men arose to define a ‘way of life’ (Confucius and La-Tzu, Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses and the Prophets, Socrates and Plato).  In each cluster there was some version of The Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you’.  Humanity had moved from the isolation of tribalism to recognizing the necessity of cooperation for mutual benefit.  It was a huge leap, laying the groundwork for civilization to emerge.

How is this relevant to today?  The modern era has brought tremendous technological change.  From 1900 to 2018 we’ve leapt from horse and buggy transportation to rockets to the moon and back; in communications, then the telephone was new and cumbersome and today we carry it around in our pocket not only for conversations but also to navigate highways and instantly obtain limitless information . . . it isn’t the same world!   In the early 1900s we were just awakening to the terrifying destructive power we held, erupting in a World War with heretofore-unimagined armament—which escalated to nuclear arsenals capable of destroying all life on planet earth.

This new world requires a shift or change in how we see the world; another revolution in human thought is needed.  War has been the way to settle disputes since man first walked the earth.  It is no longer a viable option—viable means: capable of working successfully.  There is no ‘success’ with nuclear weapons.  Until we ventured into outer space and looked back on this tiny planet in the vast universe, we still believed (although science told us otherwise) we lived in a limitless static world where earth was the center of it all with sun and moon and stars revolving around us, as God sat on a cloud watching our every move. 

That isn’t the reality.  We are a dynamic evolving interacting singular unit, dependent upon each other for survival.  Early in the Bible (Deut. 30:19) God says:  “I have set before you life and death . . . choose life.”  God left it up to us. Whether or not you believe in the Bible or God, that clearly is a statement to us today.

The choosing of death is to continue to war, enlarge the nuclear arsenal, and deny reality.  The way to ‘choose life‘ is to embrace our interconnectedness, change our consciousness to find the way for humanity to work together in peace and build the world. . . thus bringing on a second Axial Age.

I once again quote Teilhard de Chardin:
 
                       “The Age of Nations is past,
     The task before us now, if we would not perish
                              Is to build the earth”