The Splendor of the Stars

 

Eight years ago in a orange Australian desert I had the blessed opportunity of seeing the night sky with no light pollution for hundreds of miles in every direction. In chorus with all those who have shared this experience, there is nothing quite like it. The sheer immensity and glory which flutters down from countless spots of light. The little dots are so thick in some spaces so as to seem like a dazzling blanket covering an enormous space, sometimes thicker, sometimes thinner, containing an incredible variety of colours. Words will never do justice…

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It is so often described how this experience makes a person feel small. I shall endeavour to take exactly the opposite route.

 

Consider this quote: “For what will it profit someone, if they gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

 

What is implied by this quotation?

 

The word life here implies what is eternal, for, sorry to say it, no one gets out of this life alive. A synonymous word, in that case, would be soul, our life that is eternal. Thus, the meaning implicitly is that one human soul is more valuable than all known existence.

 

It means that all the stars, the heavens, the galaxies that surround us are lesser in value than the soul of one person.

 

What then should a person feel when they gaze up at the unfathomable sky?

 

They should feel big! not small.

 

For all that exists, in its glory and its beauty, is still less than that of the soul. Thus, by gazing at those brilliant stars, I should realise that within me, what is me, is even more vast, grand, and profound.

 

Just like the stars, this grandeur demands a response simply by its very magnitude. When I gaze into the sky on a dark night, I cannot help but be blown away, to stand back and admire. This is exactly the same response that should be natural when we gaze upon our friends, our brothers and sisters, our parents, even the strangers who pass by uneventfully on the bus or the train.

 

The fact is, however, that is not our natural reaction. For we do not see the soul first, but the wounds, the needs, the depressions, and anxieties.

 

If the eyes are to see clearly they need the right filter, the right prescription.

 

It is in the silence, in the chasms of my own soul where shines the gems the most brilliant because they are not adorned by myself. It is what is greater than us, from which comes our universe in all its beauty, that furnishes such beauty.

 

It is there, but it is only found in silence.

 

Just as the distraction of telephone, work, internet, and the all the rest can prevent us from ever venturing out into the dark places where the stars can actually be seen, so too the adventure inwards can only be achieved through silence.

 

Every time I make the time to leave the city, to shut off my phone, and to embrace the adventure of unplugging, I am always grateful that I did it. So it is with prayer, with meditation with the journey inward that is worth so much more than a night under the stars.
Why not start today, and search out the bright lights within?
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Individualism: The End of Meaningful Spirituality

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I would like to take some time to explore the idea of a “personal spirituality.”
 

In order to achieve this end I feel it necessary to first cover the principals of the spiritual world at large. I believe this discussion is worthwhile because I believe it impossible for someone with a “personal” spirituality to have a meaningful spirituality.
 

The nature of the spiritual world can be mysterious.
 

We often forget, however, that many of the properties of the physical world still apply to the spiritual. As science is keen to inform us, just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not constant! Oxygen and the other gaseous particles that make up our atmosphere are the invisible, but testable materials that sustain every moment of our living.
 

The spiritual is neither irrelevant nor of secondary importance as it might seem. It is true that I cannot be hit by a spiritual bus or clobbered by a spiritual gang, and so the immediacy of the spiritual can be lost, but none the less it is very real, and very important.
 

Some theologians and philosophers have discussed in great detail the idea that the spiritual gives rise to all matter: in effect, everything contained in the universe. They explain that the spiritual gives birth, it is procreative, and not the other way around. In this sense, air is only responsible for sustaining the life we have, but without the spiritual we would not even exist!
 

The debate over proving the spiritual life with science is a foolish errand because it will never bear fruit. It can only be said that those who believe in the spiritual often have an incredible amount of certainty, despite having little to no shareable evidence outside of personal stories and experiences.
 

Where could such overwhelming certainty come from if not from personal experience?
 

If we are to come to terms with the existence of the spiritual then we must consider the nature of it, as a scientist considers the nature of the universe.
 

One of man’s most visceral connections with the spiritual is his morality, or sense of right and wrong.
 

I have chosen this point specifically because even the person who rejects both God and the spiritual world knows the longing of the conscience for justice, for example.
 

Because of the spiritual, we have supernatural good and evil: the cosmic struggle between these two forces is a stark reality.
 

The second very important aspect of morality is that it refers to our relationships: between ourselves, and most importantly with God.
 

Here in lies the efficacy and beauty of spirituality: it always involves sharing, community, and connectedness. Never is spirituality simply a personal experience (in the finite sense), but always one of mutual experience, a deepening of relationship.
 

We must choose the side to which we belong: good or evil. To ignore the clash altogether is, arguably, to choose the side of evil. With that said, I believe it is safe to say that the majority of people defend goodness whether consciously or not.
 

It is now that we enter the realm of Spiritual Warfare.
 

These are the raging battles of the soul, the perilous journey of a person’s will, their ability to choose.
 

There is a burgeoning spiritual movement of people who say things like, “I don’t follow any religion or teaching, I just have a personal spirituality.” In essence, this is the equivalent of a single person going out as a “personal army” against the entire military strength of Russia in the height of the cold war. Any given soldier is a sitting duck without the structure and discipline of an army. As individuals we are useless against an organized enemy.
 

Wise military leaders sow seeds of disunity amongst their opponents army; they attempt to set them against one another. An army that is divided is an ineffective army. In exactly the same way, a hundred thousand Spiritual Individualists will do less good in the world than a hundred united souls.
 

There simply is no such thing as a meaningful “personal spirituality” precisely because it is just one person on their own. They remove the most essential element of spirituality: relationship.
 

If we seek to create spirituality in our own image we will inevitably discover a distorted image of ourselves through this search. It is to go in a giant and endless loop always leaving and ending at the same place.
 

To find the spirituality which brings peace, beauty, joy, we must work together. We must discuss, talk, argue, embrace, and love.
 
Religious dogma is not oppressive so long as it is founded in truth. In fact, it is the exact opposite. In the same way that a manual for a band-saw both protects the user and ensures the best possible result from the work, so religious doctrine seeks to ensure the safety of the believer as well as guide them into the highest possible union, the highest possible joy.
 

People today want to simply choose the parts of the manual that seem the best to follow, and to omit the parts that are uncomfortable or unworthy in their eyes. They say, to heck with safety goggles, those are uncomfortable and sweaty. Not realising that having a wood splinter in your eye is far worse than any discomfort caused by the safety gear.
 

And so it is with our individualist spiritualists.
 

They pick and choose what sounds good, or feels comfortable, instead of seeking the truth of why these rules or doctrines exist. In the end, they undermine themselves, and the community as a whole.
 

Now, it can be argued, quite rightly, that in the realm of the spiritual there are several manuals for the same machine and that these manuals are conflicting.
 

All the more reason to read them and to discern what they say!
 

This discernment must never come from a place of taste or preference though, but from an in depth search into whether or not they contain truth.
 

We do have an ace up our sleeves, however.
 

God is here to help, to listen, and to answer.
 

Don’t believe?
 

In that case, what harm could it possibly do to speak internally to no one?
 

If there is anything I can say with certainty, it is that if you ask, and you listen to the response, He will answer.
 

Often times His answer comes in an unexpected way, but it always comes.

Belief (Part 2 of 3): Belief and Happiness

The questions begs asking: Why can’t people just believe whatever makes them happy?
 

We live in a time where the notion of truth is treated like a fancy. Some like it, others do not, who really cares?
 

There is something wholly silly about not believing what is true simply because I fancy to believe in something different. Perhaps this view can be forgiven, for knowing what is true is not always simple and straightforward.
 

The question remains, if you knew what was true, beyond a doubt, would you not be inclined to believe it no matter how contrary to your own current beliefs it was?
 

If your answer to that question is no, I would find that profoundly curious. If your answer is yes, this bodes well, for this discussion may continue.
 

We are all forced to believe in the existence of a table we’ve just walked into.
 

The person who claims that the table does not exist will only walk into it again, causing no small discomfort.
 

Each person may believe that the table exists or not: why couldn’t they hold this belief so long as they are happy? I cannot help but suggest: who cares what people want to believe, we can all recognize that the table does exist.
 

It is plain that fact is not a matter of opinion. It never has been and it never will be.
 

No amount of forceful mental exertion will ever alter a fact.
 

I will also go one full step further and say that knowing truth is fundamentally a profound and joyful experience, and likewise knowing lies is tragic.
 

The reason people cannot just believe what they want so long as it makes them happy is that the truth sets us free, and lies do not.
 

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In order to believe that all people firm in their beliefs are happy requires that we never dig any deeper than the surface level of things.
 

For the person who dares to venture deeper into the hearts, the wounds, the psyche of the everyday person, they will find great sorrow and confusion mixed alongside joys and love. After a little further experience they will discover that some have far more pain than joy, and others far more love than confusion.
 

If you go into an intense discussion with someone like a neo-Nazi who still believes that the non-Aryans are to be exterminated, you will find great hatred being the source of this lie. This person will no doubt claim they have the truth and that this truth has set them free. It is simple to recognize that they have been sold a lie and that this lie has poisoned their reason.
 

As a direct result his joy will be diminished, his love decrepit, and everything that could hold meaning will be lost to him.
 

That is an extreme example but one important reality cannot be ignored:
In as much as our beliefs are based on lies we will discover pain and confusion.
In as much as our beliefs are based on truths, we will discover, inevitably, peace and joy.
 

So you can see, it is always in our best interest to embrace truth and not lies.
 

Why then has our culture, or society, abandoned truth and chosen personal whim instead?
 

Here is a complicated question that is not easy to answer.
 

I argue that we all still truly want truth, we’ve just become jaded to the multiplicity of claims in the world.
 

Which one of us has not been deceived at one time or another?
 

This is a painful experience which makes us more hesitant to trust again. It seems a universal mistrust in anything not proven in a laboratory has overcome our ability for clear thinking.
 

Some may argue that this is just fine, but I argue that those who ignore all truth not discovered within the scientific method will inevitably miss the most profound, joyful, enlightening, and meaningful moments life has to offer.
 

They are free to encourage their own willful ignorance of all else there is to know, but I strongly recommend a different course of action.

Belief (Part 1 of 3): Something More

Someone once said to me, “There has to be more out of life…”

 

What is this more?

 

I have walked to the brink of despair, and said these very words: “there has to be more out of life…”

 

Is it more video games? More ice cream? More sex? More late nights watching movies? More work? More entertainment? More time spent with friends?

 

What is this more!?

 

This question burns in the hearts of so many searching souls.

 

For some this question turns into a lifelong pursuit, for others it means only a temporary interlude until they return to the same rat race as before which lead to the despair in the first place.

 

One thing is clear: there is a more!

 

It’s not more stuff, more notoriety, more friends, or more money. It’s not more recognition, more power, more wealth, or more sexual freedom.

 

This more is something beyond the senses, beyond the happenstance of our lives.

 

Lately there is a rising notion that the more we search for is in the literal sense of the word: extra, surplus, addition, enlarged.

 

The height of this illusion is expressed most fully by a billboard I saw advertising for a beauty clinic, “A woman should only ever be two things, who and what she wants.”

 

Unless technology has surpassed my awareness, since when did we get the ability to change who we are like a character in a video game? It is simply not possible. Further, coming from a place which alters surface appearances to make a woman more “beautiful”, that’s a desperately shallow statement. They might as well say, “Change your exterior, that’s all you really are anyways!”

 

Here is the more they are ignoring: A woman’s beauty is intrinsically tied with her actions, her thoughts, her love, her compassion, her womanhood, her motherhood, her strength, her choices, her beliefs, and her resolution. It is a shameful lie to suggest that exterior appearance changes who a woman is, or a man for that matter.

 

Yet this is the more that we are being offered everyday. “Be who you want to be!” “Choose and customize everything you like!” “Choose your expression, your identity, and your existence!”

 

Except all these customizations are just surface level clutter. Your cell phone cover does not identify you anymore than having knockoff corn flakes in your pantry does. Having a maple tree in your yard does not increase your worth as a human being anymore than having a Ferrari.

 

The more we are being offered involves zero personal change and expects everyone around us to bend to our will. “If they don’t love you at your worst, then they don’t deserve you at your best.” This is the motto of the stubborn, the loveless, the selfish.

 

There is a more but it requires change, and not superficial change. We must be honest, great good only ever comes from real change! You can’t change the cell phone covers of every rotten politician and expect the world to be a better place. Likewise, giving an extreme makeover to every hate filled extremist will do nothing for the good of human beings.

 

Minds and hearts need to be formed by something that is greater!

 

This formation takes the external appearance of conformity, which is treated like death by North Americans. Conformity happens in thousands of different ways. For example, feminists expect people to conform to the idea of equal wages for both sexes. This is a good thing, a form of conformity which is directed towards the good. Thus, not all conformity is bad.

 

Conforming because I’m too lazy or apathetic to search for answers myself is definitely a bad thing, but lets stick with the good for now.

 

The greatest possible thing that could ever happen in the universe today is that every human person should allow themselves to be formed by universal and perfect love. Goes without saying. It is easy to agree about this.

 

Problem is, this formation requires self sacrifice! This conformity requires us to acknowledge that some forms of what we call “individual freedom” are actually acts of hatred towards others, towards life itself.

 

This is a great problem indeed, because now its no longer the world of me.

 

What a blessing is the fact that the world is not centered on me, or you, or any one of us.

 

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The expression of self gift is exceptionally more satisfying than any number of hours spent playing video games. The
expression of my love is a million times more fulfilling, even if its painful, than a lifetime of relaxation and indulgence. Yet if the world is centered on me, then playing video games and relaxing is the only priority I will have.

 

It is time to start living for others.

 

There is more; there is more that we can give and receive. Until this becomes a reality the burning questions surrounding the statement “there must be more in life…” will plague us until the sun ceases to burn.

The Love of Man, Pets, and The Earth

A dear friend opened my eyes to an interesting perspective on environmentalism.

Essentially, she asked me whether I do things for the benefit of the environment or the benefit of people. Her example, would you take the stairs to your second floor room so that the elevator uses less energy, or do you take the stairs so that the elevator is open for people who really need it at the higher floors? Obviously there are many other motivations, but for the time being lets just pretend there’s only these two.

Such a dichotomy never really occurred to me until that moment, at least not in regards to environmentalism. I recognized this separation in another realm, namely our relationship with animals.

It is getting more common to see people who treat the animals better than the humans in their lives. Many people will treat animals no different than children. Research the “Ikea Monkey” to see how unnerving this can become. There are several explanations for this behaviour, whether it be lonliness, pain, the lack of children in one’s life or an inability to reach out to other human beings.  

The reason that seems most important to me is that animals, being incapable of loving, cannot really reject us. They may run away, or bite us or do any other hostile act, but at the end of the day we blame it on the fact that it’s just an animal. To see my point just read the article “Five Reasons Why I Love Animals More Than People” cited at the end of this article. Though the article is probably half joking, for many people it rings true. For a person to say they favour the company of animals over that of humans, is to prefer a mouthful of chalk over piece of turtle cheesecake.

Animals bring comfort, entertainment, awe, wonder and many other emotions. They help us with our work, with healing and many other functions. All of these benefits of animals, however, do not imply that they have free will, conscious thinking or the capacity to love or to reject. Animals live from their instincts, behave in ways which encourage survival and greater chances for reproduction. Human person’s on the other hand have a will, conscious thought, the ability to understand abstract and meaningful concepts, and most importantly the capacity to love through action and choice.

The trend in our culture is growing. We can see more and more people who would rather indulge in an illusory relationship with an animal, in which acceptance is pretended, than risk the messiness of the real thing with living and breathing human beings. Bestiality is the extreme form of unnatural relationship with an animal. It is hard to discover, yet present in all cultures. On the other extreme we have people who will kill an animal not for the purpose of obtaining food or clothing, but to merely place its head and antlers of their wall. Both extremes are disordered.

Animals are capable of being a great benefit to humanity, but at the end of the day one cannot have authentic intimacy with their cat, dog, tarantula or any other creature other than a person. If we give the love that is due to human persons alone to our pets, our actions become disordered; to spend large amounts of time and money on pets that could otherwise be used to relieve human suffering is an immoral act. Animals should be treated with kindness and respect, people should be treated with love.

Just look up pet apparel online. Some items cost up to $250 and much more (2). According to the website of the Hope Mission, a local charity which supplies meals to the homeless, you can supply a human being a meal for a mere $2.70 (3). Instead of a person buying a new Gucci dog backpack, they could feed 88 people a hot meal. 

You may be wondering at this point how this all relates to environmentalism. First, we must ask a foundational question.

For whom are we going to preserve the earth, its resources, and the life it contains?

Unless one subscribes to particular new age belief systems, we may acknowledge that the earth is not a conscious being. So, doing good deeds for a massive ball of rock hardly seems like a sensible equation. We might extend our equation to include all animal life on earth, excluding mankind for the present moment. Well yes, sustaining life is important, but I don’t think that deer have the capacity to care whether they are on the brink of extinction or not. Have you ever heard of a wolf not eating a rabbit because it feared the extinction of rabbits? Animals are incapable of understanding complex realities such as justice or the implications of actions.

Of course, all life has the innate desire to reproduce and to remain alive, but we are talking about something greater here. Thousands of species have come and gone during our earth’s long history. Extinction and the creation of new species is just another day in the millions of years of geological time passed by. To my knowledge, no one has ever cried over the extinction of the triceratops or the tyrannosaurus.

We might argue that life is beautiful, precious, fleeting, and whatever other adjective could be added, so for those reasons it must be preserved. Even then, it is only within human reasoning and understanding that things like beauty and the risk of extinction become important.

To sum everything up, if we don’t preserve the earth for the earth’s sake, for the sake of animals, or for the sake of beauty or other concepts, then why do we preserve it?

For the sake of our brothers and sisters, present and future. To care for the environment, but not to strive to love human beings, is akin to a parent keeping their children’s rooms clean while making their kids play and sleep in the shed.

I am guilty of this logical and moral error, the error of valuing the environment over human beings.

I see it often, and recognize it in my own actions. This thing us humans do where we bash people over the head with our environmentalist agendas while we ignore the needs of real human beings beside us, in the present moment. It is a temptation, a forgiveable one, because it is easier to show affection to the environment then it is to human beings. As I pointed out earlier with animals, the earth cannot reject us. It cannot decide to stop, or even start, loving us. It’s tempting to place the earth on a pedestal above human beings, because unlike the earth, humans have hurt us, have caused us pain, have said “no” when we wanted a “yes”.

To authentically love someone requires a level of gift that opens one’s heart to the other.

We become open to their love, confusion, pain, joy, life and sometimes their rejection of us. If we have been hurt badly, it becomes hard to face this challenge of opening up, making it tempting to show our love to other unsuited objects. However, to love an object, like a pet, is a pseudo-relationship; it does not contain real communion. We were made for authentic intimacy and to miss out on it is a grave loss.

In order to love my brothers and sisters, I choose to make sustainable actions. If I support my green crusade at the expense of the people around me, I’ve already failed in my pursuit. Am I guilty of this? Of course. I am no different than the rest of humanity; we are all guilty of confusing our priorities.

So lets put down our “green” bats and become saints.

It is only through sainthood that men and women will finally allow themselves to love humanity with their whole heart and being, which will enable them to have complete freedom in making good decisions for living green, and to know when compromise is necessary.

 Even non believers refer to St. Francis of Assisi and his extraordinary tenderness towards animals and creation; however, we must not forget that his principle devotion was to the care of human persons, especially the poor. This is why we don’t remember St. Francis the Environmentalist, but St. Francis the Saint. As we continue down the always interesting and difficult path of human existence on this earth, lets not forget who we are really striving for.

 

Website Citations

(1) http://www.xojane.com/relationships/five-reasons-i-love-animals-more-than-people

(2) http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-hottest-designer-dog-clothing

(3) https://18509.thankyou4caring.org/christmas