Wonder Unites Science and Religion

    Thursday, January 29, 2009, 9:00 PM [General]



    The silver light, which, hallowing tree and tower,
    Sheds beauty and deep softness o'er the whole,
    Breathes also to the heart, and o'er it throws
    A loving languor which is not repose. Lord Byron


    It’s that time of year again. Darwin’s day is just around the corner, and evolution’s sibling rivalry (science and religion) is back on the agenda. Science generally deals in what we know to be true and the truth needs to be tested. Religion generally deals in what we need to be true and the truth needs to be trusted. Science looks for what can be seen. Religion looks beneath the surface for things that can’t always be seen.

    The psychiatrist's secretary walks into her office and says, "Mr. Matthews is in the waiting room asking to see you again. This time he claims he's invisible."
    Without hesitation, the psychiatrist replies, "Tell him I can't see him."

    Science and religion don’t necessarily have to clash. Religion can embrace the advances of science without fear. Science can embrace the experiences and poetry of some forms of religion without defense. It does require religion to take a decisive and deeply humbling step; recognize that religion is a human creation and therefore it is open to critique and revision.

    This isn’t new. Religion has slipped back into dogma, after Immanuel Kant, and Frederick Schleiermacher had solved the problem back in the 18th century. The scientific advances of the Enlightenment made a mockery of superstitious religion. Kant and Schleiermacher said that while you can’t say for sure that the invisible guy in the waiting room exists, you can describe your experience of the invisible man. You know what you experience. You know what you like. You know what moves you.

    They don’t seem to have this problem in India. Maybe that’s because Hinduism has intuited so much scientific truth in its ancient wisdom. A 4,000 year old verse from the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text says “O Moon! We should be able to know you through our intellect, You enlighten us through the right path.”

    It’s a curious irony to westerners that the first Indian moon landing took place in 2008. A week before the launching, millions of Hindu women fasted until the first sighting of the moon’s reflection in a bowl of oil. They do this to safeguard the welfare of the family. The magical qualities of the moon don’t seem to be compromised by getting up close and personal with the giant ball of silly putty in the sky.

    In the west, much scientific advance chips away at religious doctrine, like thinning slices of a fading moon. Christianity struggles to hold the magic of heaven within, once the certainty of heaven up there is questioned. Once the curtain of religious wizardry drops to reveal that religion is actually a human construction, devised, revised and organized in the human brain, many feel the lure of flatland secularism.

    Consider taking a cue from India. Affirm both the curiosity of science and the imagination of religion. The moon is its own metaphor for the relationship between science and religion, with its yin yang shades of light and dark, receiving and reflecting the sun’s rays. Her front porch is lit with guiding light, while the inner parts of the house are in deep darkness.

    When the child sees in the moon a giant rabbit standing over a kitchen table, maybe the child is intuiting something about the parent like power of the moon to affect human mood and behavior.

    Shine on you crazy diamond. Fill us with the light of your lunar wisdom. Teach us to bask in the beauty of it all, scientific curiosity and religious wonder alike.

    At C3 over the next 3 weeks, we are paying homage to wonder. With no need to fear science, we will discover that all of life has a unity. Each moment is filled with enough beauty and mystery to keep our attention locked in wonder’s gaze forever.

    Wonder is a uniquely human trait. It allows you to suspend habitual thinking, and consider new possibilities. Wonder has the ability to dethrone your well laid plans in preference for some well laid mindfulness.

    Wonder allows you to see (experience) the world in a new way; with fresh, unprejudiced attention. It’s a sight that is akin to the Hindu notion of “darshan”. It is the ability to see divinity in all things, if divinity is the highest and widest of human ideals.

    Wonder is seeing divinity within; the universe of consciousness that resides within you.
    Wonder is seeing divinity between; the joy of crossing galaxies to touch the moon is matched by the joy of crossing the street to bring muffins to neighbors, touched by love.
    Wonder is seeing divinity beyond; the discovery of a connection between yourself and all else.

    The prized gift of wonder is the ability to see yourself as a participant in a greater whole. You are a player on life’s stage with a love so large it can travel to the moon and back, shedding beauty and softness on the whole, and never lose its luster.

    Both science and religion can embrace wonder. However wonder should not be confused with knowledge. The scientist must be able to acknowledge that the world may be more wonderful than current theories can account for, and religion must be able to acknowledge that its truth is poetic and not absolute.

    Wonder unites the science of curiosity and the religion of imagination. In the words of the classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, wonder “throws a lasso around the moon and pull it down, then you can swallow it…and then moonbeams shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair.”

    “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.” Dag Hammarskjold

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    Viva la Dream

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009, 1:10 PM [General]

    Somebody pinch me. I can’t be awake? Come to think of it, if the last 24 hours was a dream, please don’t wake me up, because I have died and gone to a better place. In this crazy dream, an African American just became President of the United States. An openly gay Bishop gave a prayer, a woman gave the Inaugural Sermon, Rick Warren invoked the name of a Muslim prophet, and non-believers were listed alongside Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus, as worthy and valued citizens.

    Crazy as it sounds, while all this happened, millions of people cheered and wept for joy. I searched high and low in the dream for a naysayer, and came up blank. The closest I found to a criticism is that someone should have given the Obamas a dance lesson or two, and that someone might have trimmed Reverend Lowery’s eyebrows. But you know dreams. Everything is exaggerated.

    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, where all things are hopeful and new, where wolves lay peacefully with lambs and people work together for the good of the whole. I saw children from different races and backgrounds playing together, surrounded by adults who seek neither harm nor destruction but peace and unity.

    Muslims were mentioned for the first time in an Inaugural Speech, and the word terrorism was not heard. It was a massive reversal. In this new earth, value was measured by what is built rather than what is destroyed. The silencing of dissent was listed as a deadly sin alongside corruption and deceit, and the punishment for sins was a matter of natural cause and effect rather than retribution.

    In this new earth, entrenched and outmoded ideological divisions were left behind. Government was not measured by its size, but its effectiveness. The market was not a force to be supported or condemned, but used wisely and with oversight. Americans were called to recognize their relationship with all the earth, called to be worthy world leaders.

    In this new earth, science was restored to its rightful place, without defense or anxiety. Technology that can save and improve life was no longer feared, but supported. The American dream within my dream was revived, a dream begun with the founding fathers for a free and open American melting pot. Diversity was considered a strength, rather than a weakness. It was fantastic. I could feel a broad smile creasing the pillow of my subconscious mind. Could this really be happening?

    Well, I just pinched myself, and this is no dream. The last 24 hours will be forever remembered as a mighty symbol of unity and new hope the way the Bible uses apocalyptic imagery to describe a better time that is only a quantum leap in perspective away.

    It was real, and the challenges are also real. Racism has not yet been overcome. Reverend Lowery’s thick brows no doubt serve to shade his eyes from the many atrocities he has seen and experienced in his long and courageous life. Homophobia and fear of difference is still a reality. Bishop Robinson carries the scars of hatred like a spear shaped mitre.

    Much work has still to be done to bring the dream into reality. We will each find our place in that effort. When we are discouraged, or feel that we have slipped or lost ground, the symbol that was the Inauguration of President Obama will feed our collective imagination and drive us on. Our work is in the words of Reverend Lowery to seek “that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.”

    In the words of the French Mayor I saw on CNN this morning, “Viva La Barack Obama.”
    Viva la dream. Viva la hope. Viva la unity.

    All those who do justice and love mercy say “Amen.” 371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99c
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    Faith in a Rabbit Hole

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 5:20 PM [General]

    Thoughts about Faith in a Rabbit Hole

    Im very grateful to Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Campbell and Alice in Wonderland for helping to clarify some thoughts about faith. Alice taught me that asking questions that don't need answers creates a new perspective. She took Joseph Campbell's advice and jumped, only to discover that her own curiosity provided a parachute like cushion. Sharon Salzberg put flesh on an idea that makes all the sense in the world. Faith comes in several different varieties; bright faith, verified faith and abiding (or unshakeable) faith.

    Bright faith beams at the possibilities of life. It is pure optimism. Many children have bright faith. It is beyond their comprehension that life will not bend to their will. We get jaded and lose it at some point. Bright faith is appropriate for children. For adults, bright faith can come close to blind faith. Mature faith is never blind. The problem with blind faith is that even though faith can move mountains, you need to see which mountain needs to be moved.

    Verified faith includes a memory of past survival and achievement. It is learned wisdom. Verified faith works closely with doubt. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. They are two sides of one coin. Doubt sharpens faith, and faith affirms doubt.

    The Buddha told a story that showed the movement from bright faith to verified faith. He compared faith to a blind giant who meets up with a very sharp-eyed cripple, called wisdom. The blind giant, called faith, says to the sharp-eyed cripple, "I am very strong, but I can't see; you are very weak, but you have sharp eyes. Come and ride on my shoulders. Together we will go far."

    Abiding faith is unwavering in the face of change. Abiding faith doesn’t expect life to remain stagnant. It is in tune with a purpose that doesn’t depend on circumstances. It is one with the flow of life. It manifests in whatever way is effective in the changing circumstance.

    Read the whole sermon, and let me know your own story of unshakeable faith.


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