Walking With Tolkien: A Journey From Desolation to Life, Part 1 of 3

A quick foreword. Due to it’s length I’ve split this post into three segments. The first two will detail portions of my recovery from a severe injury; while the third, using reference to my story, will draw parallels with and comment upon Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. Without further delay…
 

 
My life was in dire risk and to find my way to safety required a journey of epic proportions.
 

 
Tolkien’s novels were a sympathetic view to my own impossibly difficult adventure that was forced upon me, not totally unlike our dear Bilbo. My great adventure nearly drained me to complete emptiness, it breathed fire and death down my throat and gave no mercy. It took no survivors and annihilation was the price for failure. To even remember this great trial is burdensome, but I must.
 

 
There is something of every great tale, no matter how tragic, that cries, begs, to be told. It is essential that our tales be told because stories told by humans are human, are coloured, are subjective, and thus, alive. My story began over three years ago. I decided, against the warnings of many, to walk across Canada. I carried no food, no tent, no money. I had no support, only a tarp, basic clothing and belief in something greater than myself.
 

 
My trek was short sighted. Lack of physical preparation left my body ravaged by the unending toil. Yet my will prevailed, unintentionally spiting my body in the process. I walked to what I believe was the outer edge of my human capacity. Severe cramps nearly stopped my pilgrimage on more than one occasion; I couldn’t sleep without my legs jolting in spasms in the darkness. I won out over my difficulties, but at a great cost.
 

 
I was plagued by constant pain.
 

 
Even after resting and doing light labour for six weeks the pain only got worse. I returned home and began the real pilgrimage: a journey through unimaginable hopelessness, suffering, and solitude. Once home, I was confronted with complete separation from my friends, from any activity, from any source of life, other than the divine. Not only was my body in disrepair, but also my spirit and emotions took a heavy toll from the pain and isolation. Only God, and His angels, could see me through this time of agony.
 

 
My mother and father had a close perception of my struggle, but they could only help with my daily needs. Headaches I struggled with from before the walk became worse. My leg pain increased. Slowly, I lost the ability to do anything. I lay prostrate on my couch, motionless, hoping and waiting for healing. As my headaches overcame all forms of entertainment I had left, I inevitably covered my eyes and lay in darkness. No TV, no music, no audio, no visual stimuli. Even looking at the ceiling caused me pain, glancing through the window induced greater pain. I was trapped and could see no way out.
 

 
Something akin to death touches you in a situation like this.
 

 
A dark, dark night overcomes everything you once understood. A vast gap was created between myself and all forms of relaxation, of escape. I remained hopeful of a miracle. I reasoned, “This is so horrendous that God must be planning a miracle cure, so I’ll wait.” I was not idle, however. I saw doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, a rheumatologist, and many other professionals; yet, I found no relief. Only pain. Unending pain.
 

 
My salvation came at first through Megan, my physiotherapist.
 

 
By indicating that I was incapable of lifting my foot a short distance onto a stepping stool, she crushed all the remaining hope I had left in believing that things weren’t that bad yet. Sure, I was only bed ridden twenty three hours a day for nine months, using my arms to go up stairs (which caused many shoulder problems), unable to sit for more then fifteen minutes to eat, and only capable of living headache free in utter darkness and silence. It wasn’t that bad.
 

 
I nearly cried, but couldn’t in front of this relative stranger. So I stomached the pain of my realisation: I was horribly lost and only getting worse. She made a “gentle” suggestion: either start working at increasing your boundaries or you will continue to spiral downwards and live the rest of your life in constant pain. This wasn’t the first time “expanding my boundaries” had been suggested to me. I tried many times, but every effort resulted in my condition worsening. So, I didn’t take her words to well. More of the same I thought.
 

 
I started at a good pace. At that time I had twenty three hours per day couch time, and even that one hour was a bit of an exaggeration of time spent walking from the couch to the fridge or bathroom and back. Megan began my therapy by getting me to get off the couch for short timed intervals. Every 20 minutes I would get up and walk for 1 minute. So I did, and I hated every second of it. I despised this time like a fish hates the desert. Turned out, I could only do that for five hours a day, but I now had 15 minutes of walking in one day! Have you ever celebrated 15 minutes of walking as though it were 100km’s? Unfortunately, I have. That was the quickest my recovery ever went.
 

 
Next step: Get up every 20 minutes during 7 hours of the day, then 9 hours/day, 12 hours/day, etc.
 

 
Finally, after three weeks, I had just over a half hour of walking a day in intervals no longer than one minute. Unforeseen obstacles arose everywhere. The floor hurt my feet, I had severe pain from bending to get up and down from the couch (my flexibility had become nil due to complete inactivity), the extra exposure to light increased my headaches, weirdly I was incapable of standing still, and on and on. Not to mention, a general sense of hopelessness, increased overall pain, and complete despondency would overcome me at most times during this process.
 

 
Urged on by my victories, it was time to push the boundaries further.
 

 
Every time I rose from the couch I remained walking for an extra five seconds longer than normal. The increase was unbearable, too much, too far from my comfort zone. Megan’s only job at this point was to convince me that I wasn’t going to crumble into oblivion and be sucked into an abyss. I had never really known fear and anxiety until then.
 

 
The second vital source of my path to recovery was a friend named Joe.
 

 
Joe gave unimaginable support. He was a friend who was dear and close, who could carry seemingly any burden for any length of time. Imagine a crazed and nearly depressed youth with more pain than youthful insensibility calling you for seven hours a week, on a good week. He was always there, always ready to affirm and set me back on my good path.
 

 
The impossible was being accomplished; I was getting better, but believe me it did not feel like it. It was like trying to encourage one’s hair to grow and checking the mirror every half hour to see if any progress had been made. The more I looked, the more I convinced myself that nothing was happening.
 

 
Thus ends Part One, please stay tuned for Part Two!

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Atheism and Science: Oil and Water

The scientist that tries to refute religious phenomena based on their studies is the same as a religious person who tries to refute science based on their faith, they are both foolish.” – Rabbi Skorka

 

I’ve decided to begin a series of articles critiquing the arguments of atheism.

I do not intend to prove or disprove God’s existence or even to assert my own beliefs, but through argument show the logical inconsistencies of modern atheistic reasoning. Using the definitions of science, atheism, and the truth I will come to my point: Atheists cannot use science as an authority in their argument against the existence of God, and if they do, they will mar the name of good science.

What is science and what are it’s boundaries?

Science is a method and means to acquiring information about the universe. We use this tool to deepen our understanding of the known world and to assist humanity in it’s journey. According to Scott Lilienfeld et al. theories and information can be classified under three possible categories: authentic science, pseudo-science (erroneous but seemingly scientific information), or metaphysical claims. The authors continue that “it’s essential to distinguish scientific claims from metaphysical claims: assertions about the world that we cannot test” (Lilienfeld 11). They give us examples of metaphysical claims: “assertions about the existence of God, the soul, and the afterlife” (Lilienfeld 11). It repeats shortly after that “testable claims fall within the province of science; untestable claims don’t” (pg. 11). We get a clear picture of what science is, and what science is not.

Everything that cannot be tested, or cannot be falsified, is unconsidered by scientific thought. Areas that are unconsidered by science include love, art, beauty, God, literature, humour, creativity, morality, and a multitude more. A full list would be enormous. For example, you can study how a human brain reacts to something beautiful, but not what beauty is. Science can tell us that animals suffer, but it can’t tell us if using animals in experiments to find a cure for cancer is right or wrong.

What is atheism and what do atheists believe?

Oxford dictionary defines atheism as “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” Pretty straight forward, atheists do not believe in God. A list taken from wikipedia of atheists arguments against theism include “a lack of empirical evidence,the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, rejection of concepts which cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief”. None of these arguments contain evidence to show God’s non-existence, but are all philisophical arguments pointing to the unlikelihood of God’s existence. There is no experiment an atheist can point to, and never will be, that has shown that God doesn’t exist or cannot exist.

Atheism and Science are separate entities.

To mix theses two separate systems is a logical error. Science, as I stated above, cannot comment on metaphysical claims, for example, the existence of God. Atheism makes statements on the existence of God. Therefore, atheism and science are related to incompatible material. If you wouldn’t trust a mathematician, with no other training, to operate on your brain, then don’t trust atheism to tell you scientific fact. If you agree with the arguments of atheism, then that is your choice, but don’t confuse those arguments for what they are not. Science is the study of observable or testable phenomenon, atheism is a belief system which argues that God does not exist.

The truth, no matter how unlikely, is still the truth. Science knows this best.

Atheists have seen their blunder and the language they use has changed. All recent comments I’ve heard from atheists using science as their backing all use the same argument type: God’s existence is highly unlikely. Imagine trying to teach someone in the 13th century string theory or the modern understanding of quantum physics. That person would say you had lost your mind and they would put you in an institution. Quantum mechanics is the most strange and bizarre reality you could find at the base of our existence. Would the man from the 13th century find your explanation likely? Of course he wouldn’t, it’s so completely outlandish. Yet, it is commonly accepted by modern scientists. To have rejected the notion of quantum mechanics due to it’s unlikelihood would have been a scientific blunder.

My point is this, we cannot reject something completely because we deem that it is unlikely. Such thinking is not scientific and it is not proper skepticism either. To be truly skeptical is to question all theories, but to remain open to all unproven claims as well. Atheism’s jump to the non-existence of God is a leap of faith. In order to make such a conclusion requires the believer to cross past the boundaries of fact and to make an educated guess, at best.

To conclude my argument I wish to affirm that if atheism continues to use the name of science to propagate its owns beliefs, the name of science will be tarnished in the process. Science is a beautiful and necessary authority in our society and global community. I support it whole heartedly, but I also recognize it for what it is, and what it is not. I also promote free thought, choice and critical thinking, but if these skills are to reach their full potential, we must use them in conjunction with logical reasoning. Stretching the authority of science to comment on God’s existence is beyond it’s actual capacity. It is a disordered use of an otherwise magnificent tool.

 

In the words of Rabbi Skorka,

When science reaches it’s limits, man turns to the spiritual, to the existential experiences of centuries past. Science and religion are fields that work in parallel and should be talking to eachother.

  • Rabbi Skorka from “On Heaven and Earth.”

Our Passion is Gone! And Why We Need it Back

To be passionate is human.

Somewhere at the foundations of the human person lies an incredible fount, capable of propelling a person almost entirely by willpower against incredible odds. Yet many of us do not use this fount. I can’t help but notice a lack of passion in our society at large. Truthfully, I was once an apathetic teen concerned only for my own kicks and jollies, but I was lead by curiosity on a magnificent and unpredictable journey.

Life never needs to be boring.

Life is a battlefield. It’s an adventure filled with brilliant potential and amazing opportunities. There are many chances to grow and to search, to indulge our inner child with mystery and simple joys. Even while waiting in a line at the grocery store there is opportunity to give thanks for our blessings, to appreciate beauty, to ask questions and meditate on the answers, or to acknowledge the presence of the people who wait near by, living through the same toils of life that we are.

Passion and curiosity go hand in hand.

Why did Bilbo leave on the greatest journey of his life? Aside from some gentle peer pressure, he was curious. Bilbo decided to entertain his curiosity, and it brought about a necessary step in the salvation of Middle Earth. Could you imagine how dull science would be without curiosity? Passion and curiosity are highly integrated creatures. They often coincide together, strengthening one another. Often, just when things get tough, it’s our peckish desire to know what’s just around the corner, that pushes us to take a few more steps. Curiosity and passion can be taken too far, but they have to be used before they can be overused. I have seen in my own life how curiosity lead to my passion for knowledge and understanding.

On a whim I decided to travel for one year spending time in several different countries. It was during this trip that my hunger for knowledge was born. I became insatiable, reading as much as I could. Eventually, my actions became altered by my pursuit of knowledge. I improved my eating habits, behaved differently towards people, tried to have conversations that challenged myself and those I conversed with. My growth occurred in stages. First, a hunger; second, a change in behaviour; finally, my beliefs changed, which affected everything I did and experienced from within. My journey, like Bilbo’s, began by entertaining my curiosity.

Curiosity and passion are essential to human life.

A life lived without passion and a deep curiosity becomes dried out and brittle as time passes. There are vast amounts of questions that beg to be asked. They could be of the immeasurable and magnificent, like the origins of our universe or of its size and complexity; we might inquire into the tiny and beautiful, like the beauty of a flower or the life that surrounds us everywhere. We can also ask questions pertaining to human life, like, why do we love or what is the meaning of consciousness?

I wince every time I see someone, the second there’s a lull in their conversation, pull out their phone. Could you imagine if a husband was making love to his wife and there was a less entertaining moment so he decided to check his text messages? She’d slap him halfway to India, and she’d be right to do it. The stark reality is that this is the direction we are heading in. It takes a lot of work and focus to appreciate the beauty within another human being. Many seek only to be entertained, not to participate in a communal journey filled with peril and adventure.

We are made for joy, for laughter, for communion.

We are made to find fulfillment in life, to seek after the unknown, to find ourselves delightfully lost on an adventure. A virtual adventure does not count, it must be lived first hand. We must feed our hunger for good things, and actively remove the things from our life which are opposed to this action.

I offer an alternative.

Instead of meeting with friends and turning on the TV, take a risk. Embrace a journey with a friend, get to know each other better. Take the time and energy to engage in real conversation. It is possible to bond while the TV is on, but it’s a little like trying to learn calculus while operating a band saw. Human attention is notoriously bad when focused on two separate stimuli. The human being should be the priority. It’s scary, but it’s worth it.

Love is the greatest passion.

Finding its source in the love of God, passion is a gift and a fire which can be kindled. This kindling is the most fulfilling process a person can undergo. It gives strength where there was fear, and patience in times of suffering. To love another, fully with one’s whole heart, consumes a person to their brink, leaving them fatigued, but drawing in deep breaths of cool air, murmuring again and again, thank you, I love you.

My own hunger for truth, which began in earnest during my overseas trip, lead to some pretty incredible choices. I sacrificed my possessions, comfort, and safety in order to pursue a hunch that there was something hidden and secretive, yet beautiful and inviting deep within life itself. Always, I am grateful I was given such courage. I do not suggest that everyone must follow my path, but that each person has their own journey awaiting them.

Fear is the ultimate poison of passion.

A close friend opened my eyes to one central emotion which is the arch nemesis of passion. Fear. It gnaws away at us slowly from the inside; it leads us to make safe or easy choices solely to avoid risk. Almost all great tales involve a protagonist willing to risk everything for something they are passionate about. Few stories get retold so often (Romeo and Juliet for example) as a tale of a lover overcoming their fear and risking everything for their beloved.

Can you remember your first childhood crush? Do you remember how your blood pulsed through your veins and how it felt like every atom in your body was alive? In that moment we experience two things most prominently, a desire to be with our “crush” and an agonizing fear that we might blow it if we try. It’s this same fear that prevents every day people from becoming the next Michelangelo, Beethoven, or Mark Twain. The devastation of pouring our heart and soul into something and still failing can be too much. Being judged for our efforts can weigh heavily on our choices. It is on this battlefield, however, that true greatness is born. It is here that saints, poets, artists, writers, musicians, and athletes alike find something quintessential to human existence. Life! Breathing, intoxicating, magnificent life.

Much the same as love, pain and passion are inseparable.

To love someone is the greatest outpouring of a heart, consequently, to live with passion is the greatest conquest of a life. To live in fear of pain will only lead to pusillanimity. A life lived for the sake of ease is mundane; a life lived in the pursuit of comfort is threadbare, but a life lived in pursuit of the heart’s deepest desires, is nothing short of fulfilling.