Joseph Campbell’s lifelong study of the myths and stories of cultures all over the globe yielded some rich insights into what he believed was a universal quest for transcendence. He spoke of transcendence as the experience of the divine, or of ‘God’, within us and saw contemplation on the great heroic archetypes in our ancient stories as a powerful mode of access to the transcendent. In his seminal early work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell recognises two approaches we can take to the stories of our archetypal heroes and uses Jesus as an example. Continue reading “Do thus and be good, or know this and be God?”
I completely understand the puzzlement that comes over people when I declare myself a believer and an atheist. It’s not something that comes up all the time of course but occasionally there’s no avoiding it and you just have to come clean. Once it went like this: “I was a Christian, then I became an atheist.” It was sad for some people to hear. But at least it was neat and they knew where I stood. Now it’s: “I still don’t believe in the God the atheists don’t believe in, but I pray every day.” And that’s just messy. Explain it and it gets messier.
People aren’t good with messy. While I’m obscenely comfortable in this paradoxical pigeon-hole I’ve carved out for myself, I’ve had to resign myself to the fact that on questions like this people prefer ‘either-or’ to ‘both-and’, and so it’s felt like something of a solitary little niche. That said, you can imagine my delight when I stumbled on the totally messy title of Frank Schaeffer’s latest book, Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God. Continue reading “Embracing paradox and living to tell the tale”
Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. Continue reading “Merton on Contemplation”
The Buddhist vision of transcendence is the cessation of suffering, which is not an end to the life circumstances that may trouble us but a deep, transcendent acceptance of life as it is. This video is an exquisite blending of spoken word, chanting and images from the films Earth and Baraka.
‘May the sound of this bell penetrate deep into the cosmos. Even in the darkest spots living beings are able to hear it clearly, so that all suffering in them cease, understanding comes to their hearts, and they transcend the path of sorrow and death.’
The Great Bell Chant: Chanted by brother Phap Niem. Translation read by Thich Nhat Hahn.
Jesus smiled at me today, his radiant, beaming, toothless ‘thank you’, life’s extravagant gift. To me. Gracious unearned gift.
YESTERDAY I passed him by. Twice, that I recall. First outside Gloria Jean’s. It all happened in a blink. Continue reading “Jesus smiled at me today”
In music a ‘riff’ is a brief harmonic phrase that is repeated, often beneath a lead break. Philosophers and other teachers of wisdom from Jesus to Nietzsche did something similar with the ‘aphorism’ a brief, pithy statement, a one-liner that encapsulates a big idea.
Here is the adrenalin-energised Russell Brand dealing in some aphorisms about connecting with the transcendent.
Thank you to my friends at http://www.spiritbath.com for this one.
Our species is universally blessed with a capacity for transcendence, and cursed with the corresponding appetite. Such is the human condition. And such is the nub of that singularly human concern that we call ‘spirituality’.
This claim is admittedly problematic. There was a time when people spoke without too much reserve of such things, of ‘self-evident truths’, ‘universal principles’ and ‘the human condition’. Amid the settling dust of the post-modern turn, though, the reticence of thoughtful people to talk thus – beyond a nod to the ‘universal declaration of human rights’, perhaps – is understandable. We in democratic, secular and pluralist societies are learning, belatedly and all too often reluctantly, to cultivate an awareness of the limits of our own culturally determined perspectives and to keep in check the temptation to declare this or that to be true for the whole world. None of us, we are slowly realizing, has title to the real estate from which to pronounce on such matters.
As a relatively thoughtful person, I share this postmodern reticence and find myself increasingly aware and respectful of difference, of particularity. And yet I stand by my opening statement. For, the more I learn of the fundamental social, cultural, historical and religious particularities of various human communities, the more I see an even more fundamental commonality among us. I remain convinced that the quest for ultimate meaning, for spiritual connectedness, for transcendence is, if not in our DNA, at least as basic to our humanity as our DNA. Continue reading “Spirituality, religion and the ‘God-shaped void’”