Sunday, May 20, 2007

Inspired Wisdom

"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship." - Louisa May Alcott

I love this stuff.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Mystery of Suffering?

Perhaps the most difficult part of digesting an agonizing moment in one's life is the uncertainty, chaos, and hopelessness it evokes. It is in this excruciating emotional state that most cries for the Divine Interceder seem to evanesce into some dark abyss, followed by an inexorable silence. No matter how wise, knowledgeable, and profound the spirituality of the mystic might be, NO ONE has ever given a satisfactory answer to the question why God lets bad things happen to good people. I don't care who or what brought on the sufferings of an innocent child, the injustice the powerless and the weak are subjected to, no theologian can provide a response to the "mystery of suffering" with adequacy that is proportional to the suffering itself.

By the sufferings of a child, and the injustice to the weak, I'm attempting to address the response some believers rebuttal with when presented with God's uncompromising truancy. Their argument is that human beings have free will (a gift from the Almighty) and are therefore free to treat each other as they see fit. This is true. We (human beings) are by far the single biggest contributors to our own misery and demise (by the way, don't forget natural disasters, decease, etc. that have nothing directly to do with human comportment). But what does that have to do with God's scantiness? What I do as a sadist or failed humanitarian does not relieve him of his responsibilities as a Father, all-loving, omnipotent, Creator. I know that if I had the ability to assist those who truly needed from me I would do so without a second to spare. If even I feel this way, why doesn't God? How much divinity would it take away from him if he intervened when we needed him most?

This post is not meant as an inveigh against God in any way. But it does bring the cliched question "Why God lets bad things happen to good people" to its lowest common denominator. And although the question has been around since human beings had any concept of who and what God is, in all my explorations and introversion I've yet to find an answer - or anyone with an answer - to this perennial observation.

Take care,Tom

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Bout of Introversion

I wonder how histories greatest mystics wrestled with their doubts, and what type of doubts those were. Some, by most accounts, had their faith as the single most valued element in their lives that also remained constant and undiminished. Was Chardin ever in any distress over what the science of his time told him about the Maker he served? No. Did Merton, with his gradual entry into monastic life, ever wonder if he was deceiving himself by not asking more questions? No. On the other hand, some of these spiritual masters did wrestle with doubts and uncertainties that in the end only made them stronger and more devout.

Is this what some of us are going through?


Sunday, May 13, 2007

CPU (I feel like such a geek)

First and foremost:

Happy Mother's Day!

Especially to my own mother and grandmother who at 88 years old is feisty and insists on going out once a week to play her poker machines!

Well, today I made the first purchase towards adding the innards to my new (full) tower. I've settled on the Intel Core 2 Duo 6700 processor as the brain-function of this apparatus, with MANY more purchases to follow. The next bulk purchase will be the motherboard, power supply, interior and exterior drives, video cards, and yet acquire more goodies after that.

However, I am giving serious consideration to purchasing a midtower and assemble it first, and reserve the full tower for the next generation of Core 2 Dou's with higher GHz or AMD's Quad Core cpu's out sometime this year. However, a computer's performance isn't measured in just Ghz, and there are some great bargains out there with Pentium 4's and AMD Athlon 64's that can do an excellent job of running a full tower. Yikes! I think I need to hit Megabucks (for those of you who have not been to Vegas, Megabucks is a progressive slot machine that awards a minimum of 7 or 10 mil., but keeps going up as people play. An elderly man hit it this year for a second time.)

With all this building, working, and writing, is there time for a social life?

I hope so.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thomas Merton

Although I've mentioned Thomas Merton in previous posts, I've never elaborated on his life, his profound spirituality, or who he was. For a searcher like myself Merton is a beacon in the night, a pair of eyes that have witnessed something extraordinary, and report it back to those of us whose truncated vision cannot pierce the walls of the hidden God.

Briefly: Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in Prades, France but immigrated to the United States that same year due to difficulties brought on by WWI. Baptized in the Anglican Church with parents who were mostly irreligious, Merton, during his youth, felt a strange attraction to the emptied monasteries that stood close to his humble homestead. At the age of eighteen, while on visitation to Rome, he began exploring the local churches, but never attended mass. Instead, he appreciated their interior, and was especially drawn to a mosaic of Christ located on the apse of one particular church. In 1938 Merton began his graduate studies at Columbia University, and in that same year was introduced to a Hindu monk by a close associate. Expecting this monk to impart the wisdom of his Hindu tradition, he instead suggested to Merton that he read The Confessions of St. Augustine as well as the Imitation of Christ. Surprised the monk had recommended Catholic literature, Merton read both books and began to pray regularly. In 1939 he applied but was quickly turned down for a novitiate with the Franciscans; and although he felt dispirited by the rejection, Merton continued to follow his attraction to a priestly vocation. In 1941 he arrived at the Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky and spent three days in the guest house of the abbey awaiting acceptance to the order, and on December 14 was welcomed as a postulant into the Trappist community. Later, in March of 1942 he was accepted as a novice monk, and in 1949 was ordained a priest on Ascension Thursday.

His untimely death came in Bangkok on December 10, 1968 when he touched a poorly grounded electric fan as he stepped out of his bath. Ironically, towards the end of his autobiography,The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton writes a mysterious speech spoken by God, "I will give you what you desire. I will lead you into solitude.... Everything that touches you shall burn you, and you will draw your hand away in pain, until you have withdrawn yourself from all things. Then you will be all alone....That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men."

Thomas Merton was a man who saw God in everything and everyone and was absolutely befuddled by the racist temperament of the America of his time. He began a dialogue between Buddhist monks and Catholic monks, when he befriended a very young Dalai Lama, that continues to this very day.

"There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."
- Thomas Merton

"The very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God's mercy to me.”
- Thomas Merton

The words of a true mystic.

Take care,

Friday, May 11, 2007

Arthur Peacocke (This is a long one but worth it)

One of the most brilliant men involved in expanding the dialogue between religion and science, and reconciling their seemingly opposite dispositions was the Reverend Canon Arthur Peacocke. A respected scientist and theologian in the Anglican tradition, Dr. Peacocke was an advocate of the proposition known as theistic evolution. Without going too much into technicalities and unintelligible jargon, this proposition states - in a nutshell - that modern science and traditional teachings of God are not incompatible. In order to embrace this proposal, however, one must be free of unmindful scientific and religious fundamentalisms, which can truncate the fullness of God and blind the direction of our science (to paraphrase Einstein). Unfortunately, we lost Dr. Peacocke on October 21, 2006 to cancer. But before he left us, and in complete awareness of his immanent death, he wrote a final essay addressing the afterlife and what awaited him there. Titled Nunc Dimittis (Lord, now let your servant go), Arthur Peacocke wrote unemotionally, with maturation, but with eloquence and great beauty. Here you will not find the sanctimonious and sappy storytelling that plague so many emails bearing a religious theme. I have included the Nunc Dimittis in this posting for you to read. It is, as I'm sure you will agree, quite beautiful.

Keep in mind that this is a serious scientist telling us God is real.

Nunc Dimittis
Arthur Peacocke 2006
Up until July 2004 I was blessed with a long, healthy and fruitful life. In July 2004, in my eightieth year I was diagnosed not only with prostate cancer, but having it in an advanced form. This was an enormous shock to myself and my wife who was with me in all the medical consultations.
The hormone therapy which I was prescribed was of the simplest form and limited my public activities very little. However when I visited St. Petersburg in the spring of 2005 to attend a conference I was finding walking very difficult, even for very short distances. Consequently I had to cancel two holidays, many conferences and lectures which would have taken me abroad. It was only during this time that the enormity of what I had to face up to gradually dawned on me and this catalysed me to finishing off "An essay in interpretation" concerned with a more naturalistic understanding of the Christian faith which I hoped would be congenial to more orthodox believers as well as those who are seriously challenged by the scientific world view as the norm for their thinking.
I was also happy to see the fruition of my co-operation with Ann Pedersonin "The Music of Creation" which was published in November 2005 with an accompanying CD to give musical illustrations of the text .
Meanwhile I was much less mobile but not so much that I could not spend Christmas with my daughter in 2005. By this time I was taking an enormous range of pills, bouts of nausea were becoming frequent, and it was becoming less and less possible to envisage a normal life of any kind.
I was trying to be stoic and trying not to inveigh against God for what was clearly going to be my fate - a fate I had not really envisaged or imagined.
However I did manage, with the help of my wife and daughter, shuffling me between cars, hotels and view points to visit for a few days my beloved Cairngorms and Strathspey, but clearly life was rapidly changing. And not only in this regard.
It became clear - during a short stay in hospital where I was treated(unsuccessfully) for excessive swelling in my legs- that the house we had lived in for a long time would be impossible to manage with one person an invalid. Hence the house was sold and we bought a small flat that would be suitable for the two of us. The move, especially clearing out the accumulation of over twenty years would have been impossible without the energetic and willing help of my grandson David who gave up his summer vacation to do this.
I had only a week living in the flat before the cancer struck again,totally immobilising me to the extent that I was taken to Sir Michael Sobell House. This is a wonderfully caring hospice that brought me through near fatal kidney failure. I was cared for there for five weeks and then moved to a nursing home from which I am at present writing and where one day is very like another. I experience discomfort as I am washed and hoisted by carers, for I am paralysed from the waist downwards. This alternates with relatively pain-free periods when I can read, listen to music and enjoy the company of friends and family who faithfully and regularly visit me.
I have long been one of those who have been unsure about the role and efficacy of intercessory prayer. My view of it was that the intercessor by placing him or herself in the presence of God, with the person prayed for very much in mind, enabled that person to experience the enfolding presence of God. I felt that the person prayed for was being taken up in the loving arms of God enhancing the divine presence. I can honestly say that this is what I have experienced. Many many people from the science-religion community, a wide circle of friends and of course my family have assured me that they are praying for me. It seems that my suffering has evoked a response from friends and colleagues which has revealed to me (surprisingly) how my words and actions have been a positive influence in their lives. This kind of prayerful support I had not expected; it was, and is a great help.
Uniquely through all of this the mutual love of my wife and myself has been enriched and deepened in her daily visits and the knowledge that we share the same prayers and the conviction that death will not part us.
Over the years I have given much thought and spilt much ink on the nature of God and God's interaction with people. Not surprisingly the subtler nuances of my deliberations have fallen away before the absolute conviction that God is love and eternally so. This remains the foundation of my prayers and thoughts for "underneath are the everlasting arms." This is not always easily experienced and it needs much concentrated meditation- the "black dog" of depression is sometimes difficult to expel.
Another of my concerns over the years has been the recurrence of what theologians call "natural evil" I have often attempted to illustrate the ambivalence of this concept, for example showing that what we call natural evil is a consequence of a divinely created law-like structure implementing the divine purpose to bring into existence intelligent persons. The irony is that one of the examples I took was the role of mutations in DNA which are the basic source of evolution, and so of the emergence of human beings, - and also of cancer. This is a new challenge to the integrity of my past thinking. I am only enabled to meet this challenge by my root conviction that God is Love as revealed supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
However the fact remains that death for me is imminent and of this I have no fear because that belief. This conviction was not available to the non-Christian audience who, according to Bede, were addressed concerning the mystery of life.
"Such", he said, "O King, seems to me the present life of men on earth, in comparison with that time which to us is uncertain, as if when on a winter's night you sit feasting with your ealdormen and theigns,- a single sparrow should fly swiftly into the hall, and coming in at one door, instantly fly out through another. In that time in which it is indoors it is indeed not touched by the fury of winter, but yet, this smallest space of calmness being passed almost in a flash, from winter going into winter again, it is lost to your eyes. Somewhat like this appears the life of man; but of what follows or what went before, we are utterly ignorant."
Thanks to the revelation of God through Jesus the Christ we do not share this ignorance. I know that God is waiting for me to be enfolded in love.
Death comes to every one and this is my time.

Nunc Dimittis

Arthur Peacocke 2006