Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spiritual Evolution

From "Walking the Bible", page 335

. . . there is a physical world and a spiritual world, and I am saddened that our perception of the spiritual world is very primitive. It hasn't evolved at the same rate as our perception of the physical world. - David Faiman

I find that science, and our relationship with the world around us, tends to look forward. The next great discovery, the next way to adapt our environment, or to adapt to our environment; the next step in using energy better, in protecting the environment more, the next great medicine. Its always discussing the future, and things to come. I'm not sure if I would use the word primitive, but religion and spirituality seems, at least in some level of individual perception, is to look backward in time. Its attempting to find a relationship with a God that is described, through stories and doctrine, years upon years ago. Its looking for a relationship with the divine as that divine is defined by individuals writing anywhere from over a thousand years to three thousand years ago, depending on the particular religious tradition.

Again, not sure I would describe this as primitive, but I do find parts of it troubling. In particular, I have always thought that such perspective tends to (not inherently) lead people to only focus on the past. To only think that the divine talked and communicated with prophets and communities in ancient history, and not today. In so doing, when we look at other products of ancient civilization, and how misinformed or ignorant or misguided or barbaric it might have been, it allows us to distrust the spirituality that comes from the ancient world as well. At some point, it seems we have failed to evolve our understanding of spirituality in the same way that our understanding of science and nature has evolve significantly over the last few hundred years. Its curious to ask why and attempt to understand the answers.

But mostly, why have so many of us believe that the communication between the human and the divine, that takes place so frequently in all ancient civilizations spanning thousands of years; that is documented so frequently across the globe and across time in the ancient world, stopped. A cynical and quick response might be that people outgrew such superstitions, or that truth did not need to be expanded upon, or people aren't spiritual anymore. I'm sure these responses have kernels of validity that make them appealing to people. I tend to think they're a tad over-simplistic. I think there's something to our failure to evolve our understanding of the spiritual world, and our general perception of all things spiritual.

How do we explore and take an evolutionary step in our spiritual world.

Monday, May 17, 2010

moments on a journey

Again, from Bruce Feiler's Walking the Bible,

...maybe it was the appreciation at having made that discovery [not viewing Egypt as the enemy in the Bible, but just another player, or actor as it were]; maybe it was the sense that I had touched the two outer wings of the biblical narrative and was now on my way to the desert core, the place where the people finally receive their blessing; or maybe it was relief at having persevered through a trying day (and the antagonism of Ahmed and Yasser), but as I sat on the water that afternoon, listening to the gulls, smelling the salt, I felt something inside of me suddenly open up that I didn't know was closed. I felt a quiet snap of release, like a door clicking open in the middle of the night, beckoning me to a place I'd always been afraid to go.

p. 195.

Its obvious that the author, as he travels and attempts to experience the world of the Bible, and particular the early travails and journeys of the Israelites, begins to reconnect with his personal faith; the journey genuinely affects him. I would think it difficult to read this book (only halfway through or so myself), and not see the shift in writing that takes place, the subtle changes in tone, the increases references to God, and faith, as opposed to strict history or archaeology.

What interests me about the selection above is the last couple lines. A place inside opening that you didn't know exists; a open door beckoning to a place always afraid to my mind, I imagine this to be what a moment of faith feels like. That moment when something deep inside makes some Truth known to you, regardless if its provable, or even accepted as true to others. I've wondered about this in past years, personally, if I would ever have such a feeling, such a moment when it comes to matters of faith in the divine; reaching that point where, authentically and genuinely, its "belief" as opposed to "want to believe."

Maybe that's a high standard, maybe its an unrealistic barometer, I'm not sure. But I do know that this description, for me, nails it when it comes to love. Almost precisely, this is the feeling I had, and continue to have, from the beginning of my relationship with Jackie. And love, like God, is not something provable...and thus, also requires a certain element of faith, I think...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Thoughts: The Light of Evening

Yesterday I finished Edna O'Brien's The Light of Evening, the last book in our local library's book club series on Ireland. O'Brien is a bit of a trailblazer for Irish authors, and is often credited with paving the way for many of today's current Irish novelists. However, O'Brien is still writing, with The Light of Evening published in 2006, and other novels published since.

The book itself centers on relationships, and in particular, mother-daughter relationships. The pivotal character is a women named Dilly, and it is her relationships with her mother, Bridget, and her daughter, Eleanora, that provide the emotional center of the novel. Dilly leaves Ireland when she is about 20 or so for New York; eventually however, she decides to return to Ireland after finding America, and its immigrant life in the 1920s, not to be the promise she was hoping for. Later, her daugher, Eleanora, leaves home and becomes a writer in London; however, she never returns home. There is obviously much more to the novel than that, but I think that captures the underlying conflict that permeates the novel. On one level, it can be interpreted as a child who, by deciding not to follow the same decision as the parent, repudiates the parent's decision. I think it plays out similar to a child deciding that they do not want to follow in the family business, whatever that business may be.

But O'Brien's exploration of the mother-daughter relationship (and by extension, the generic parent-child relationship), is much deeper, and I think its impossible to read this book, as a grown child, and not gain some appreciation for a parent's perspective. I would be very interested in reading this book again whenever I have kids, to see how it hits then. In any event, an underlying point that O'Brien seems to be making is that at the core of every genuine parent-child relationship is a simple truth that inherently puts strain on that relationship. For the parent, that child is the most important thing in the parent's life; generally, for the child, the parent will never be the most important thing. O'Brien seems to suggest that the parent's ability to let go, and the child's ability to understand and recognize this inherent difference, is vital to moving the relationship forward.

Its a very thought-provoking book, one that will make you examine the structure of your relationship with your parents, and any children. While is took me awhile to get into the language and writing style used by O'Brien (very Joycian), it seems to grow on you, whereby halfway through the novel her prose seems to be very poetic, very musical. The novel provides an excellent description of immigrant tenement life in New York city in the 1920s, including the journey over and the coexisting joy and despair of immigrants coming through Ellis Island. It also provides great insight into small village culture in western Ireland. I find it rare that a book can combine authentic glimpses of history and struggle, as well as give insight and thought into the emotional underpinnings of relationships. O'Brien's novel accomplishes that, I think, and thus it was a highly enjoyable read.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Small Town Big City

I have lived in Middlebury for going on three years now, and at times adjusting to life in a small town has its challenges. Things close early, and I mean early. We have the ubiquitous Essenhaus sign that says, "Open Late, Shop Til 8." No restaurants open really past 10. Small things that take a little adjustment when you grow up in a city when things are open much, much later, and there is generally just more activity.

Well, some of the things I have grown used to from living in Middlebury were put in some perspective today as I traveled to Indianapolis for a seminar tomorrow on Medicaid. Once I got into town, I rolled down my windows, as I love driving when I can feel and smell the wind. First thing that struck me was how much louder and more energetic everything outside my car was compared to my drive home from work everyday on a two lane country road. The experience continued all night, from walking around downtown and feeling and sensing the energy of the hustle and bustle of people, to sitting in my hotel room and constantly hearing noise from cars and walkers by from the street outside. In our little small town, we have a genuine experience of peace and quiet.

Yet, part of the experience is the same. When I am outside with our dog late at night, and all you can hear is the soft rustle of leaves and grass as the wind blows, that moment is filled with life. And when I walk around downtown here, and the place is buzzing with human interaction and activity, that moment is also filled with life. I think both may be necessary. The trick is to obtain both, and in that all important right balance.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Working the Poll

Yesterday was Primary Election Day here in Indiana, and in a new experience for me, I decided to work at our local polling precinct as a Clerk. Real simple things, checking people in, making sure they have no issues complying with Indiana's Voter ID law, making sure they are voting in the right precinct, and giving them the appropriate ballot (Republican, Democrat, provisional, under-18, School Board, etc.).

I figured it would be something different to try, and I was curious as to how many people would actually show up to vote, and what proportion would be Republican and Democrat. I've always been curious as to what the actual split in our little town would be, and while the Primary may not give as good of insight as a full general election, it would highlight some of the folks who are more political involved than others (and being a small town, there would be a good chance I would know some of the voters personally).

It was a long day, being there an hour before and after the polls close meant for a 14 hour day; but all in all I have to say it was worth it. Similar to my experiences at the library, this provided an excellent opportunity to meet new people, introduce myself, talk about the town and learn more about the town. The small town dynamic continues to fascinate me (its amazing how many people came up and introduced themselves to me saying, "hey, I don't know you, who are you?" - as I was the only poll worker they didn't know). Its interesting to live in a town where people know you are new (and for reference, we've lived here for three years, so we are new, but not that new, at least in my mind). People know where I live, not because of the subdivision or telling them the street corner, but by the person who used to live there, but hasn't in the last 5 years. At times, the dynamic seems to present such an opportunity for fellowship within the community in which one lives; at other times, the dynamic can be a bit, not sure of the right word here - intimidating, exclusive, stand offish, snobbish, difficult. Not meaning to imply anything negative per se, but the dynamic can easily lead to an insider and outsider type dichotomy that would inherently be problematic.

I also learned some more about local political/government issues, some that have me somewhat irked (maybe a blog post later on that). In any event, it was a worthwhile experience, and one that I imagine I would be likely to do again.