Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PART 3, Athena, St. Therese, and faith

so here is something i just learned.  if you do 3 separate posts for one long article, it will show up as any 3 separate posts will, in reverse chronological order.  so if you're interested in reading this tome-ish piece, you should start on the 3rd post down, which is the first post.  ok? and this, you'll be glad to know, is the last one.....

------------------------

all this has been a response to a facebook discussion by my friend and former student Jennifer, who may well regret her comment by the time she gets to part 3. she was curious about the relation to bunnies and eggs to the christian holiday of easter, and whether or not there was any biblical text in which these things are mentioned.  several of us were quick to point out what jen already knew quite well--the roots of easter in older religions, for whom spring was very logically associated with fertility.  but we had taken her innocent question away from scripture and into the underlying ideas of birth and rebirth that emerged whenever  dormant plant life began waking up and emerging onto the earth, and people were once more able to move out from their caves and huts and fireplaces into a newly warm, welcoming outdoors.  which triggered my thinking again about my own beliefs in life and death and immortality. not that i'm ever very far away from thinking about it, and even more, not that my conclusions are remotely original.  but they are where i come out, at least now, with both logic and emotion working together.

i think that cultures and the people who comprise them have always known on some level that they are simultaneously mortal and immortal, and they have tried to understand how those 2 things play out.  something not us, individually or even, as we  understand the concept, collectively; something larger than our brains can encompass, got us here and takes us away from here.  i think we instinctively understand that the 'i' is and always was and always will be, in whatever form that may take, even as we experience 'i' as rooted in time.  i think also that the confusion of brain with mind, and the rejection of the mind/body differentiation as well as the mind/soul differentiation, are at best flawed.  the mind and soul are the same thing.  the brain isn't the mind; it is the physical organ through which the mind [the self] conveys understanding.  the physical organ in a physical body is essential, but also inherently limited. we have 5 senses [6, if you believe in psychic phenomena], and everything the mind channels through the brain is  confined to the limits of that organ.  the organ can do marvelous things, about which scientists are learning more every day.  growing understanding of the physical world shows the apparent illogic of even physical reality: if the earth turns around we should be falling off it every 24 hours.  things we can't see or touch or smell, like germs, control our health.  but all that we have learned and continue to learn is expansion of physical senses, as explorers and scientists see things that seem to contradict the immediate evidence of the senses.

so every culture in every era takes what it knows, and with it attempts to understand what it can never  understand through the senses, and shapes  its own story around it. the stories, all with their pieces of truth, burrow into and borrow from other stories,  and the story grows richer and sometimes crazier with each growth.

 many of us, maybe most of us, and maybe on some untapped level all of us, have moments now and again in which more of the mind inhabits the brain, and we know a sliver of the incomprehensible whole.  you stare at a snowflake, and in the very fact of its instant disappearance you see its immortality: you know that that snowflake is, that it has never not been and never will cease to be.  a snowflake is a very poetic image; let me use a more mundane one.  this is something i've tried to explain and never can, but i keep trying....

i'm 20, it's saturday night, and i'm just getting off work. i'm in the elevator going down to meet my boyfriend.  suddenly i know that this instant is forever,  even as the light shows the descending floor numbers, and i look forward to seeing my boyfriend in a few seconds. claustrophobic as i am, the idea is neither upsetting nor pleasing, but simply as real as the numbers passing by. it's only later that it seems at all odd to me, and it never feels odd;  i just know it should feel odd.  ten years pass; i am visiting friends in that building, and once more i get into that very familiar elevator.  standing next to me is the me from ten years earlier.  again i am not surprised, and it feels totally normal, not even especially interesting.  it just is.

i have never had that specific experience since, which is probably just as well;  one doesn't want to keep running into oneself in elevators.  but that utter knowledge of eternity in the midst of finity returns now and then, though usually unexpected.  maybe what we call deja vu is simply a fraction of that sort of experience, and we put it backwards in time because time is what we know.  i think this may be what blake means when he writes of 'eternity's sunrise.'

i think also that this is what happens with the 'near-death' experience.  the mind, closer to leaving the brain, experiences what the sense-world can't.  but it still experiences it through the brain.  you may appear dead by all the tools of judgement that exist, but you're not dead, or you wouldn't come back. 'near death' is a close cousin to 'partly pregnant.'  you see what your brain permits and expects you to see: jesus, your mother, a white light, an angel.    you see closer to that infinite truth than you ever have before, but it comes shaped in a way comprehensible to a mind still enclosed in a brain.  or if you experience something more, it translates into brain comprehension when your body reasserts itself and you 'come back to life.'

ever since i learned  how science was beginning to understand more about the way the brain functioned--that not only did it affect your actions but your actions affected it--i assumed that one day they would discover something different in the brains of people who had near-death experiences.  it seemed obvious that either the brain of such a person was different in a way that allowed them to see what others presumably didn't see [surely there are apparently-dead people who come back to life without reports of unusual occurrances,] or that the very process of seeing the phenomenon changed the brain in some fashion.

jennifer started me on this rant, so it is fitting to end it by moving back to her original question about what the bible really says.  once again, i am no believer in the exclusive divinity of jesus.  but one line that i have read in the king james bible has always struck me as capturing a bit of that truth.  'before abraham came to be, i am,' says jesus.  that present tense is wonderful.  i am convinced that each of us separately and all of us together 'are.'  not just people, or mammals, or animals, but every leaf and blade of grass and rock and flea.  one of my friends wonders if each cell of our bodies is individually eternal as well as contributing to our selves' eternity.  i am. we are. it is.

or so i think....... 

3 comments:

Baysage said...

Every day I read a short reflection by a Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. Have you heard of him? He's a Catholic mystic, which is a misnomer because mystics of any stripe arrive always at the same conclusions. Anyway I think you might find his views congenial.

karen lindsey said...

i'll check him out.....

Jen said...

Very thought provoking Karen, at the very least. And before I go further, I think it's really neat Baysage reads and mentioned Richard Rohr. So do I! I'm not Catholic, but a friend of mine turned me onto his daily devotional and it is really insightful.
As far as your thoughts on eternity, the mind, etc...here is where my thoughts lie (at least at this moment in time. They are always changing, growing...). For me, as you know Karen, I do believe in the Divinity and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ. I haven't always and actually grew up in the Baha'i Faith. Long story I can share later. My curiosity with the connection to Easter eggs, bunnies and the "Christian" holiday Easter began a few years ago when I heard a very unconventional preacher (by most conservative evangelical standards) bring up the fact that Easter is rooted in paganism. It sparked my curiosity and I investigated it myself. Now being a history major, I looked even deeper into it considering there is MUCH history behind most holidays, Easter being no exception. What I found astounded me. Christians of long ago decided to "adopt" the term Easter deeming a connection to what it truly represented in the fertility ritual and celebration. A far cry from Holy Scripture. I have seen this as a pattern, looking through history, in relation to religion and not just Christianity, but it definitely being at the top of the list. It has made it difficult for me to remain faithful to any "denomination" when I see so much of what is being taught and/or practiced man-made, not God-made. Not to place judgement or say it's all "bad", just that it has given me a more skeptical approach to organized religion and has also given me a hunger to know Truth. Some say Truth is relative, I say it is absolute. But that is me. As far as the mind goes, my personal interpretation of the spirit/soul is your mind, will and emotions. Not too far from how you equated mind and soul. I do agree; the mind and brain are separate. The brain is just an organ that gives us this amazing ability to think and reason. Our minds, I believe, are much more spiritual in nature, just as our souls are. They ARE eternal. No doubt. It's just a matter of someone's belief in what that eternity is, and where we look for answers. I haven't always, but the last 13 1/2years I have looked to the Bible. And even then, my curiosity of Bible history and translations/transliterations always is a factor in my study. One reason I hope to be schooled in the Greek and Hebrew someday so I can translate better on my own. For now, I use the tools I have. One other thought on the mind/soul - it is so fascinating, so capable, so beyond an accident I truly believe. No matter how hard I try, I am completely unable to understand how we (life, any life), the stars, the sun, the moon, the trees, the ocean, the mountains, how our hearts beat by the electricity produced on its own, how atoms make up all matter, our ability to procreate, our ablity to love and produce many emotions, the ability to have connections with other people and to make decisions, and on and on...could all be an accident. Even the snowflake you mentioned, which is a great example. How is it that no two are alike? And no two fingerprints or the shape of a human ear are alike? DNA? It's beyond my comprehension. I see the evidence of a Creator all around me, and in me, and in others. Which leads me to where I am spiritually, yet I respect and openly listen (with curiosity) to those who don't believe the same, or see life the same. That's why I enjoy our conversations, and listening to your ideas Karen. Thanks for posting this! :)