Thursday, April 30, 2009

Whispers of the small, still voice

My dreams are always active, colorful and vivid. I often dream of being enroute to airports, trying to get home and encountering obstacle after obstacle. Other nights I dream about ideas I am wrestling with at the university, ideas I am trying to explain to my students or understand for myself. And I find that the ideas sometimes seem to order themselves into systematic presentations in my dreams. Indeed, some nights I awake from very intense dreams where the system is laying itself out over and over. Those nights I frequently awake with solutions to the problems which accompanied me to bed. I often leap to my computer to write them down. Some of them I develop into lesson plans and presentations.

I explain this phenomenon with an anology to the snow blocks so popular with children. All day long I am furiously shaking those blocks, wrestling with these ideas and emotions, represented by the glitter snow in the liquid inside the snow block flying all around. At night, the snow - and thus the ideas - settles back into order, into a comprehensible pattern. My mind needs the downtime for the unconscious to do its work. I have an active unconscious mind and I do tend to listen to what it is trying to tell me, perhaps a result of my largely right brain reliance.

Sometimes when I awake, a small, still voice is whispering in my ear. What I hear there I tend to consider wisdom rather than ordered, systematic understandings. Recently, I awoke to these words:

G-d is and all that is exists in G-d.

We recognize G_d when we see the image of G-d in the other and respect their human dignity.

The divine speaks to us in the universal languages – music, art – and we weep because our hearts and souls identify with that which is conveyed. Deep calls out to deep, as the psalmist said.

I am not quite sure what to make of that, but it certainly does sum up some of the wrestlings of my soul of late.

Sometimes the whispers come in broad daylight.

On a recent trip back to the rural Sumter County of my youth, enroute to visiting my father, I took one of my favorite backroads. As kids we called it Fortune Teller Road because the aunt and grandmother of one of my classmates lived there and made a small fortune as psychics telling fortunes on weekends for her largely black clientele, some of whom drove from as far away as south Florida. The fortune tellers are long gone. But the majestic, moss draped live oaks still line the two lane road bordering rolling pastures where beef cattle are still raised.

As I crested the slight rise in the middle of this stretch, the setting sun filtered through tree branches and Spanish moss. The dust in the air caught the light providing a glorious vision of bucolic country life. It took my breath away. I suddenly remembered what I had loved about living in the woods. I slowed the car to a stop and just gazed at what was clearly a gift from a generous G-d. And in that very moment, I heard the small, still voice whispering in my ears:

You are a part of all that is and all that ever will be. When you die, the very elements of your body will return to the earth from which it came and will live again in the trees, the animals and other human beings. Matter is never created or destroyed, it simply changes form. And your legacy will be the way in which you have touched other lives.

The whispering left me strangely filled with the same glow of the sunset I was witnessing as well as disquieted. Does that mean that there is no afterlife, just one's legacy, which is why it's important to focus on the people in one's life and let go of the rest of our concerns about success and attainment? Does the fact I feel so much at peace this moment mean that I have accepted that reality?

I have always wanted to believe in life after death. And I have had some experiences which have led me to believe that such actually exists and that the spirits of the deceased sometimes are experienced by those who survive them, not the least of which was my experience with the psychics in Cassadega and California. Most of all, since my mother's death, I have deeply yearned to see her again, to have the chance to talk with her and to tell her how very much I love her. I sense her presence around me all the time.

I don't know how much of that is in my head. Freud could be right, it could be little more than wish fulfillment. But I am clear that the rational, empiricist worldview he held has often proven inadequate in explaining the world in which we live and the lives of those who occupy it. An approach which has no willingness to admit to mystery is an impoverished understanding from the beginning. And I'm hoping he was wrong on this. Life after death is not terribly supportable on Freud's terms. But, being the screaming iNtuitive that I am, I have to wonder if there's simply not more to the story.

The United Church of Canada's affirmation of faith says it well: And I believe that I may hope for a life with God that is not terminated by death. I'd say that's pretty much what I believe - and hope for - these days.

Sometimes the small, still voice picks much more mundane settings to speak. The current goal of my life is to distribute into my yard the two huge piles of mulch brought to me by Kevin's Tree Service. Kevin brought me two huge piles of ground up tree measuring 10 x 10 and up to five feet high. We have been unable to get our cars into the driveway for a couple of weeks now and the physical labor of loading the mulch by shovel into wheelbarrows and then distributing it into flower beds reminds me that I am no longer a kid. Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

As I was unloading a wheelbarrow full of mulch into one of the beds where I have recently transplanted some gardenias from the yard of my childhood home in Bushnell, suddenly the small still voice blazes out the following:

If it's not the G-d of all creation, by definition it is the gods of our own construction.

Well, that stopped me cold. The mulch had to wait a couple of minutes while I sorted that one out. Of course, it does reflect my own theology of universalism and my growing concerns with the almost inevitable idolatry of socially constructed religions. But I'd never had it so succinctly summed up before. And running the risk of shameless self-affirmation, I'd add that there is a reason that I see these little bursts of insight from the unconscious as wisdom.

As I walked to one of my final exams yesterday with a student in the class, she told me that she is writing a book, much of it based upon her dreams. She keeps a journal by her bed to capture those dreams while they are fresh and only later spins them into comprehensible narrative. I told her that her unconscious was rewarding her for recognizing and honoring it, much the same way my small, still voice speaks to me. I also told her I'd like to read the book when it is finished.

I'm sure Freud would have a field day with such advice though his own colleague Jung - not to mention the writer of the accounts of Elijah's encounter with the divine - would readily understand it. But, obviously, I am not alone in these experiences. If nothing else, it tells me that this kind of craziness is more common than folks like Freud might like to believe.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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