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.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Passion of the Christ Arrives Early

The news is grim this weekend before Holy Week. No time for palm frond processions. An orgy of gunfire has engulfed our nation producing the following:

WEEK OF SHOOTINGS (as compiled and observed only by BBC)

  • Sat 4 April: Gunman kills three policemen in Pittsburgh before being wounded and captured
  • Fri 3 April: Gunman kills 13 people at an immigration centre in Binghamton, New York state, then apparently shoots himself

  • Sun 29 March: Gunman kills seven elderly residents and a nurse at a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina, then is shot and wounded himself

  • Sun 29 March: Man kills five relatives and himself in Santa Clara, California

The details are filled with sadness, loss and mindless violence:

  • Binghamton shooting victims came from 8 nations BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (AP) — People from eight countries have been identified as the victims of a deadly rampage at an immigrant community center in Binghamton, N.Y. Police said Sunday that four of the victims were from China and two were from the United States. Two more were from Vietnam, including the gunman. Two were from Haiti. The remaining four were from Pakistan, the Philippines, Iraq and Brazil.
    Police say 41-year-old Jiverly Wong burst into the American Civic Association on Friday morning and opened fire with two handguns. He then took his own life. Four people remain hospitalized and are expected to recover.

  • Three officers die in US shooting Three police officers have been killed by a gunman in Pittsburgh - the second mass shooting in the US in 24 hours.
    The officers were responding to an emergency call from the house of the gunman, named as Richard Poplawski, 23. Police said he was waiting, armed with rifles and a bulletproof vest. He shot two officers as they entered the house, and a third who tried to help them.
    He then traded gunfire with police for four hours before being injured and giving himself up.
    His friends said he had recently lost his job, and was worried that US President Barack Obama was about to ban guns. The shooting comes a day after a gunman killed 13 people in New York state.
    Another man who said he was a friend of Mr Poplawski, Aaron Vire, told the newspaper: "He said he'll be ready if there's ever an invasion of the United States and that he had stockpiled foods and guns for that eventuality."

The carnage continues today.....

  • Police: Washington father killed 5 children, self because wife said she was leaving him 4:21 PM EDT, April 5, 2009
    GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) — Investigators believe a man fatally shot his five children in their home and killed himself after he found out his wife was leaving him for another man, a sheriff's spokesman said Sunday.

  • Teen shot to death following talent show in Lauderdale Lakes
    Robbery and shooting happened in front of Boyd Anderson High 9:26 PM EDT, April 4, 2009 LAUDERDALE LAKES - Gregory Smith, 16, had just finished rapping at a Friday night talent show and was waiting for a ride home with friends outside Boyd Anderson High School.A hard-top Ford Mustang, dark green or dark blue, pulled up in front of Smith and his three friends at 1 a.m. Saturday, according to the Broward Sheriff's Office.The men demanded money from the group standing on the sidewalk on the 4100 block of Northwest 29th Avenue. Smith and his friends cooperated, officials said.Then Smith was shot and killed.
    It was the first official day of spring break.
The Passion of the Christ has come early this year. Jesus is crucified in our cities, in our homes and on our streets. On this day when his entry into Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna!" will soon be followed by angry cries of "Crucify him!" Jesus is gunned down in family homes, in public fora, on city streets. Jesus, our brother, our Lord, feels his life energies draining away, collecting in pools of blood.

Like the fearful Judean populace, languishing under Roman imperial rule, America is held hostage by its own fears. Arming itself to the teeth, more than one of every two Americans brandishes weapons, trying to convince themselves that their weapons will save them. But they don't. And now who saves us from these armed fearful people?

Must we continue crucifying Jesus in our brothers and sisters (when you do it unto the least of them, you do it unto me)? Will there be no repentance, no turning around? Will the crucifying never end? Will there be no resurrection?

Jesus said:

I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some you will slaughter and crucify, some you will scourge in your synagogues and hunt from town to town;
35 and so you will draw down on yourselves the blood of every upright person that has been shed on earth, from the blood of Abel the holy to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
36 In truth I tell you, it will all recoil on this generation.

37 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused!
38 Look! Your house will be deserted...

A thought this Holy Week for we oh-so-very-holy Americans - 74% of whom call ourselves Christians - who live in this self-proclaimed Christian nation with the temerity to demand "God Bless America!" - Have we killed enough people yet to admit we have a problem?

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.