Thursday, July 12, 2018

Embrace Mystery

Series:  Long-Term Vision  #6  (this series began April 30—Seeking Rightness)

In this series I argue against our society’s loss of long-term vision and for the importance of remaining open to new understanding, a key element for long-term vision.  New understanding does not deny what came before; it expands upon it as greater awareness develops.

The scientific knowledge of our world has moved ahead by leaps and bounds over the last 100 years and that clearly is a good thing.  In keeping with that, our education system has become geared to specific absolute answers (multiple choice and true/false testing) and thus we’ve been conditioned to want immediate concrete yes or no answers to all questions.  In addition, computers have totally altered the availability and flow of information (we don’t need to search and wait).  That has increased our expectation of and desire for immediacy.  We’ve become the NOW generation, but without yesterday and tomorrow our vision has been narrowed.  It satisfies the ‘without’ but the ‘within’ is starving.  The ‘within’ is what contains the qualities of love, truth, justice, compassion, mercy, hope . . . the non-material elements that make life worth living.  That’s where God is found.

God is beyond our knowing; we cannot answer the question ‘Is God?’ with an absolute yes or no answer. Neither can we know or understand who or what God is—but since the human first appeared on earth that has been a burning question among all peoples.  Reflective awareness seeks to know and our knowledge is constantly refining our understanding.  There have been a myriad of answers for who and what God is—all with anthropomorphic leanings and all fail to satisfy.  We design our gods to fit what we know . . . but to accept that God is beyond our knowing is to ask us to embrace Mystery and not to abandon the search.

That is what Teilhard do Chardin and many contemporary theologians are asking us to do, to return to Mystery God.  It is not new with them, it goes all the way back to John’s Gospel that begins: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . “, and later Paul in 1Corinthians 15:28 “ . . . that God be all in all.” . . . but that is mystery and human weakness has been unable to grasp it.  Even earlier, to Moses in Exodus 3:14 God self-identified with the words: I AM who I Am” then God added “tell the Israelites ‘I AM sent me to you’”.  

I am is first person singular for the verb to be.  Break that down; ‘I AM’ is ‘to be’ . . . God is Being itself—and that is beyond our understanding.  To accept that, is to embrace Mystery.

As I look back with long-term vision I see evidence of the law of complexity-consciousness.  Life, beginning with simple single cells, continually grows more complex over millions of years to finally bring forth the beautifully complex human form; and I see simple consciousness (a worm bumps into a rock and turns itself to go around it) expands, to eventually develop thought and understanding in the human mind.  In this, a pattern can be seen.  It is more than mere random chance. 

I see the primitive caveman giving meaning to sounds that become words and making marks on cave walls to tell the story of the hunt . . . and I see eons of time with the human consciousness expanding and shaping his environment and culture, bringing forth both beauty and horror.  Then, in our time, breaking free of earth’s gravity to see earth’s place in the vast universe as one whole interacting balanced unit supporting fragile life.  That is the new understanding we are called upon to realize, our global world maintains itself thru balancing all the elements . . . and the human species is one of those elements, the only ‘element’ with the power to alter and control that balance.  

As I turn my long-term vision forward to the future I see two possibilities: either we learn to live by love—or we self-destruct.  That is beyond finding the answer to the mystery ‘is God?’ that is the reality of what love (God?) is about . . . all humanity together building a sustainable future.  Only with love can we change the world. 

- - -
I repeat my two favorite Teilhard quotes:

The day of Nations is past.  The task before us now, if we would not
perish, is to build the earth.

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.






Thursday, June 28, 2018

Belonging to the Flow of Life

Series:  Long-Term Vision  #5

This series is titled long-term vision, but below the vision is thinking.  I want to consider long-term and short-term thinking. Short-term thinking serves the immediate, but only in long-term thinking is there room for vision and hope for the future. 

Let us take a closer look at thinking.  It is usually not something that is conscious (unless we choose to make it so) it is an operative principle below the surface guiding thought and action.  Long-term thinking (ltt) and short-term thinking (stt) are on the opposite ends of the spectrum of how we face life.  We need both and alternate between them—If we have an appointment on a given day we employ stt to fit the activities of the day around it. If we are buying a house it’s important to employ ltt to evaluate size in relation to family needs, consider location and proximity to what we find important, do an analysis of cost as it compares to income . . . and not react impulsively ‘because this one is cute’.  It is an individual choice to rely more on one side than the other but it seems like our fast paced society encourages stt more than ltt, the latter takes too long! 

How to explain stt and ltt? They are pretty much self-explanatory but to elaborate for better understanding let’s say: short-term thinking seeks quick, efficient solutions to immediate problems/demands/situations whereas long-term thinking looks ahead and back to take into account possible effects of our choice and remains open to possibilities not yet considered—which opens the door to vision. 

The ancient civilizations were imbued with long-term vision; their lives were shorter than people of today yet they were aware of a sense of belonging to history.  They built structures to last: Roman roads, aqueducts and the Colosseum are still there for us to see; Egyptians gave evidence to it with the pyramids; China’s great wall and the Terracotta soldiers were meant to last forever, they defy our understanding.

That awareness of belonging to the flow of life gives meaning to existence.  It has been lost in the modern era.  We became the NOW generation, members of a throw away society, ‘If it feels good do it’.  With too much short-term thinking and too little long-term thinking we’ve embraced meaninglessness.  Without a meaning or purpose it’s easy to choose violence or suicide.  

Step out of now for a minute and look back with long-term vision.  The human came into existence as an unfinished species with the inherent need to self-complete (its called evolution).     Going all the way back, Teilhard de Chardin defined the law of complexity-consciousness.  Briefly, it recognizes the path of evolution as a systematic progression.  The ‘without’ of life forms began with simple one-cell forms and over eons, constantly complexifying, till homosapien (human) appeared. Additionally, in the ‘within’, there was a steady progression of consciousness until thought was born in the human.  Eons are needed for the light of consciousness to fully realize our destiny and recognize our interdependence. If we go back far enough, we can see progress in mankind’s evolving consciousness; part of which is the search for ‘rightness’, exemplified by relinquishing what was once seen as the ‘norm’ but with new eyes seen as unacceptable—slavery being the most obvious example.

Early humans gathered in clusters that came to be known as tribes.  Then, in some unknown long ago, some brave individuals began to move beyond their tribe to walk the Silk Road in order to trade for exotic things found or created by other tribes . . . centuries passed, then ships sailed out defying the ‘known’ truth of a flat world wherein if they sailed too far, they’d drop off the edge.  They didn’t drop off, they discovered unknown places and the world got larger.  As exploring expanded a new generation followed rivers into the unknown, surveying and mapping; slashing through jungles and recording what was found and seen to bring new versions of the world we occupy. Over time technology grew to bring new ways to travel, the invention of cars to move us over land and planes to fly us thru the air—till finally, rockets broke free of earth’s gravity and floated out in space, allowing the astronauts to actually see planet earth for the first time, there it was!  A tiny speck in the vast universe enveloped in a layer of clouds embracing the life within. 

This world is one whole interacting unit supporting the rarity of life.  Once again our world had been rediscovered.  It is a global world.  And we, the reflective species that is programmed to see and appreciate the wonder, must rejoin the flow of life to find the way to assure its continuation  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Refining Understanding

Series:  Long-Term Vision  #4

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