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.

Underlying it All

 

One common thread amongst modern liberal thinkers is the one which labels any institution or person with rigid moral beliefs as being close minded and outdated. The label of close mindedness can often be a hypocritical one. Many of the people I have met who hold all the modernly appropriate liberal beliefs, are also some of the most close minded people I have ever met.

 

Why?

 

Because they refuse to discuss, to explore, to engage in meaningful dialogue. They may be wholly accepting of alternative lifestyles, but are unwilling to even try to understand how someone may not write a blank cheque to all of humanity to do whatever it pleases.

 

Liberalism tends to stand for one type of freedom: complete freedom to act as one chooses.

 

Freedom can be the capacity to choose what we aught to, and not just the ability to choose anything. Let us not forget that a drunk is free to take another drink, but that doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for him. In addition, is he really free not to take another drink? In theory yes, but in practice?

 

Most modern liberal thinkers see religious moral formation as something outdated, and even laughable. Many liberals would accuse those with rigid moral beliefs as deceived, unloving, and unbending. To tell you the truth, sometimes they are right. Our confused brothers and sisters in the south holding signs which read, “God Hates Gays,” are ten examples in one.

 

But does that mean that all morals which find their foundation in religion are somehow second class and liable to error?

 

Well it might suffice to say that the truth favours those who are right. The words of Abraham Lincoln sum up perfectly the situation when any two people propose opposing claims: “Both may be, and one must be, wrong.”

 

Liberalism is usually founded within an understanding of the world devoid of any notion of either God or the soul—though usually there is some clause about ‘believe what you want, but keep it to yourself’. They treat the possibility of God like a person choosing between types of fruit at the grocery store: irrelevant or inconsequential. ‘Some like this, some like that, to each their own’. The question of the existence of God or the soul, however, has enormous implications.

 

For example: It is easy to answer questions about abortion and euthanasia if people are just lumps of matter that happen to be awake. If human life is something precious and profound, these questions become real actions with dire consequences. Murder is taken seriously and considered a grave error by even the most extreme liberals. If the human soul is a reality, then abortion is murder. Which, as I’m sure you can see, means that the belief that abortion is just, is a false one.

 

If the creation of human life is happenstance, and as a result no more meaningful than an ultra-rare chemical reaction, it is no different to chop a tree down as it is to end a human life.

 

The fact that very few people in existence would agree with that statement, shows that most people have some awareness of the preciousness of human life.

 

Trees do not have rights, and neither should they. Some people may argue that trees should have rights, but no one argues that all human beings should not have rights. In history some have argued that some human races should not have rights, but they are obviously confused and depraved of wisdom. So if even the most stark liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-euthanasia, pro-everything, has some awareness of the rights of man, then where does this awareness come from?

 

As I mentioned before, if we are nothing more than complicated dirt, then why do we have particular rights unique to humans, but tigers, crickets, and whales do not? Are they not living creatures made of the same essential substances?

 

So if there is no distinction between our life force and the life force within a cow, from what standpoint can the claim be made that to kill a human is a crime, but to kill a cow is just part of life?

 

Only if human life is somehow unique or different, is our current understanding of the world meaningful. If human life is unique and different from other living things, how else could this be the case if not for the intervention of some outside force? A force that could neither be human nor earthly. A tree cannot render itself into a baseball bat anymore than a human could produce her own soul. So what force has granted humanity its unique nature?

 

Furthermore, if we are solely the products of amoebas getting struck by lightning, or some other entirely natural process, we are no different than the animal kingdom or any other life form on earth; which leaves us with an uncomfortable state of affairs: either all living things need equal rights, or everything should have an absence of rights. Equality is good, right?

 

Which would you prefer?

 

If the former is true then we’ll all end up in prison for killing and eating other animals. The vegans might get off, but most likely they’ll be guilty of manslaughter at best. If it’s the latter, well who wants to live in that kind of world? That is a world were only the most violent, powerful, and brutal get their way.

 

The fact remains that the vast majority of human beings both existing today, and that have ever existed, believe that to some degree humanity is unique and deserving of special rights. This notion is embedded so deeply within us, it is rarely even mentioned or discussed. Some, like those who adhere to Jainism, have. However, they offer a religious and moral outlook which suggests that death by starvation is the highest possible religious achievement: all to avoid harming any living thing. To consider all life equal means either suicide or a forever guilty conscience.

 

It may be argued that mankind has adopted this mentality out of necessity due to the relationship between us and the rest of the universe, a kind of evolutionary byproduct of our existence. This explanation fails to explain the intrinsic and powerful awareness within every human being of their natural value, the visceral and burning fire which prods human beings to fight back against injustice.

 

file0001871625573Our notion of uniqueness is a rich and indivisible part of the human tapestry.

 

It is not a construct of the human mind, but a facet of truth from which our very understanding of right and wrong is born. It is what is commonly called the soul. This distinctive mark, written indelibly within the human heart, is the foundation of our self-knowledge. Through this self-knowledge comes a deep and powerful understanding of our nature as humans on earth, as humans within the vast and awe inspiring universe.

 

More importantly, it is the first clue upon an ever deepening and profound trail which leads to Truth.

 

Without Truth there is no wisdom, and without wisdom we are doomed to hurl ourselves into the fires of our own design. Such a torment is one I hope to avoid, both for myself and for all those I love. If freedom is what we crave, then it is imperative that we understand fully for what we have been created. The journey of self discovery is a powerful one filled with joy and trials. If freedom is the true desire of our hearts, and not just guiltless self-indulgence, then there is no other path that can be taken but to plunge into the mysteries and complexities of the human heart and soul.