Tag Archives: God

Winter Nights – a Christmas meditation

The beautiful solstice poem by Susan Cooper which I shared in my last post, and which proved a very popular read,  has got me reflecting on winter, this Christmas Eve. It is wet and windy in Glasgow tonight, neither very cold nor very seasonal. But the daffs and snowdrops’ green shoots are peeping though. They know that spring isn’t far away!

But in the meantime, we need winter. We need the dark. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time.

We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature.

On the Scottish island where I grew up, however, nature was omnipresent. One snowy winter’s dusk, I failed to return home from primary school. A snowstorm was blowing up with a fierce gale. Worried, my mother sent out a search party who found me in a state of some distress, almost white with snow, pinned against a fence. A slight child, I had been blown and held there by the wind.

Where I grew up, we didn’t need to read books to understand the fierce destructive power of nature as well as its unearthly beauty. Followers of this blog will know from its new header, how much I love the Northern Lights which I used to see each winter, magic dancers in the night sky  above the island of my birth.

From those childhood experiences on, I have walked the well trodden path underlying all faiths which seeks ways of affirming connection with that vast Power which runs nature, the Universe and everything, reconciling dark and light, going way beyond time.

Whilst reflecting on the profoundly mysterious and paradoxical relationship between light and dark, with which we humans have always wrestled in one form or another, the phrase ‘dazzling darkness’ came to mind. It persisted for days, until eventually I located the source.

It occurs in a fascinating article, which I had first read in 2002, titled “A RELUCTANT MYSTIC: God-Consciousness not Guru Worship” by John Wren-Lewis. ( from Self & Society Vol 29 Number 6 Feb-March 2002 (pp 22-24)

The author describes how, at the age of nearly sixty, retired and with a distinguished career as a scientist behind him,  he had spiritual consciousness “thrust upon me….without working for it, desiring it, or even believing in it.”

It was 1983. Wren-Lewis was in Thailand, in a hospital bed, hovering between life and death, having eaten a poisoned sweet given to him by a would-be thief. What happened next, a ‘near death experience’(NDE), he describes as follows:

“I simply entered – or rather, was – a timeless, spaceless void which in some indescribable way was total aliveness – an almost palpable blackness that was yet somehow radiant. Trying to find words for it afterwards, I recalled the mysterious line of Henry Vaughan’s poem The Night:  ‘There is in God, some say, a deep and dazzling darkness’….”

His return to life, as the medical staff gradually won their battle to save him, was not in any way accompanied by the typical NDE’s classic sense of regret or loss at having to go back to the world of the everyday. It was, in fact, “nothing like a return….more like an act of creation whereby the timeless, spaceless Dark budded out into manifestation”. Furthermore, the experience was “indescribably wonderful.”

In Wren-Lewis’ own words “I now know exactly why the Book of Genesis says that God looked upon all that He had made – not just beautiful sunsets, but dreary hospital rooms and traumatised sixty-year old bodies – and saw that it was very good.”

Moreover, this heightened awareness did not leave him. A permanent shift, without any effort at all, into what he calls “God-consciousness” caused him to do further reading and research beyond accounts of NDEs into the “once-despised world of mystical literature and spiritual movements”.

But he rejects the notion held by experts in many religious traditions that the path to God-consciousness, or Enlightenment, or Nirvana requires years or even lifetimes of intensive spiritual effort. After all, he’d been handed “the pearl of great price on a plate” without ever seeking it, and found God-consciousness to be quintessentially ordinary and obvious – a feature emphasised by many mystics.

I was so intrigued by Wren-Lewis’ startling account  that I re-read the great Victorian psychologist William James’ classic book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” for the first time in nearly thirty years. This confirmed what I had already known but forgotten: a great many people who have profound religious or mystical experiences have them in nature.

I felt grateful then for my powerful and threatening experience that winter’s night in early childhood. The awesome power of nature, had circumstances been a little different, could have taken my life from me then before it had even begun. And for those brilliant encounters with the Northern Lights, so long ago but still clearly remembered. They affirmed my need for ‘God consciousness’ – long before I could ever articulate it coherently for myself.

We need awe: it points our vision towards the sacred. So, readers, embrace the darkness if you can, this winter’s Christmas Eve – you never can tell what wonders may reveal themselves ….

River Kelvin Dec 2010

River Kelvin Dec 2010

FESTIVE GREETINGS EVERYONE! THANKS FOR YOUR CONTINUING SUPPORT VIA VISITS, COMMENTS AND EMAILS – AND MAY 2014 BE A FULFILLING YEAR.

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950 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Where is this place called ‘elsewhere’?

‘The human comedy doesn’t attract me enough. I am not entirely of this world….I am from elsewhere. And it is worth finding this elsewhere beyond the walls. But where is it?’

The pull of elsewhere has dominated my life. As a child, lying tucked up cosy and warm in bed, listening to the wind beyond our walls tearing the world apart, I used to luxuriate in the contrast between in here and out there – and wonder where the Power came from to cause the winds to rage, and the sea to beat endlessly against the coastline of my native island.

The Big 'Why?'

The Big ‘Why?

It would take me a long time beyond childhood to understand and accept that my obsession with the big “Why?”, from the moment I opened my eyes to the world,  is not the norm for most of humanity. Sensibly, they just want a quiet uncomplicated life.

Apart from my maternal grandfather, a loving and very broad-minded Christian  ‘remember, child: whatever our race, colour or creed we are all God’s children’ – nobody knew what went on in my head and heart throughout my entire childhood.

There is no such thing as one biography of a life.

 Your perspective changes with the passage of time and the way life’s inevitable challenges are dealt with. You rewrite your own history in your head all the time, mostly without realising it. For example, I never understood the full extent of elsewhere’s pull until my mid-life descent into and return from the Underworld, a period which lasted seven years – undoubtedly the most difficult and the richest time of my whole life. I feel in better relation now to that mysterious elsewhere than ever before.

To me, elsewhere is the vast wave of which everything – universe, cosmos, galaxies, planets, Earth, all life forms – is a droplet. We arise from elsewhereand that is where we return. Call it the quantum vacuum, the Zero Point Field, God, Buddha, Krishna, the Ground of our being, the Source, the One: the name we give it does not matter.

 I have also learned that elsewhere is not somewhere else. It is here, present, now, everywhere – always.

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(headline quote is from Eugene Ionesco:quoted in Philip Yancey’s “Reaching for the Invisible God” p25)

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400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Certainty versus mystery: where do you stand?

As anyone with even half a braincell tuned into current affairs will know, we are living in an era where humans seem to need the strong seasoning of certainty even more than ever.

Militant atheism seems hell bent (pardon the expression, a tad inappropriate in this context, eh what?!) on ramming down our collective throats their conviction that religion is pernicious rubbish. And militant religious fanatics have been turning to their usual tools, honed to a fine art  over many bloodsoaked centuries, of persecution and/or slaughter in the name of whatever faith they aver is ‘the one and only truth’.

When I grow angry, and weary of those pointless, destructive posturings, I turn to one of my enduringly favourite quotations for perspective and comfort, from the scientist David Eagleman  :

” But when we reach the end of the pier of everything we know, we find that it only takes us part of the way. Beyond that all we see is uncharted water. Past the end of the pier lies all the mystery about our deeply strange existence: the equivalence of mass and energy, dark matter, multiple spatial dimensions, how to build consciousness, and the big questions of meaning and existence….good scientists are comfortable holding many possibilities at once, rather than committing to a particular story over others. In light of this, I have found myself surprised by the amount of certainty out there….”

Northern Lights Treshnish Isles

Northern Lights Treshnish Isles

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/David Eagleman 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Answering a challenge: “REAL astrologers do not charge for their services”

I’ve just received this question about the practice of astrology and felt impelled to address it as fully as possible! Do drop by Astrology: Questions and Answers to read the whole post – and if you are a professional astrologer who has had to deal with this type of question, I’d be interested to have your comments….

“Horoscope” ‘s Question:

Is it true that REAL astrologers do not charge for their services as it is against the code to take profit out of a gift from God to help people? I read this and saw a medium on tele say it.  In these circles it is donations given based on good work.Is this true at all?

Dear Ms/Mr/ X (I am assuming ‘horoscope’ is not your real name)

thank you for raising this interesting question. Before getting down to discussing the issue of  payment of fees for any  professional service, whether the professional is for example a highly trained,well qualified and experienced astrologer, lawyer,  or accountant, it is important to clarify a few points for you.

Your question strongly suggests that you associate the practice of astrology in some way with the practice of mediumship. They are two separate activities. Thus a comment on how mediums operate cannot usefully be applied to the practice of astrology.

Popular Astrology

Secondly, it would perhaps help you if I made clear that there are broadly speaking two main types of astrology. The first type, popular star sign or sun sign astrology, is the kind which most people know about. …to read more, click HERE

Season of Scorpio

Season of Scorpio

250 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Desperately Seeking Annie

Where does the longing come from?

Early memories may carry clues – tucked up in bed, cosy and warm, safe and sound, listening to the winter North wind tearing the world apart. Night after night after night. Other nights, clear cold, wintry, still. Standing on the concrete of the garden path, gazing at the clear night sky above the roofs of the houses at the top of Ellison Road hill, awestruck with delight at the blaze of radiance dancing in the heavens. The Northern Lights, heavenly dancers.

(I have never seen them since childhood. It is my keen wish to see them again before I die.)

I used to ask myself : what vast Power generates the destructive energies of the wind, the visual delight of the Northern Lights? What are they for? Who performed the long, hard labour of setting upright on a Hebridean moor that great Neolithic astronomical calendar, the Callanish Stones? Why did they do it? What rites were performed there? What gods were honoured ?

Where does the longing come from?

For as long as I can recall, I have longed to know  why we are here, why the world with its staggering diversity of  teeming, turbulent life is here. I have tried to find out what our presence here may mean, whether it is random or not.

During my lifetime, the vast scale of  the Universe has been visually confirmed by the explorations of science far beyond the boundaries imagined by Darwin or Einstein. I have the Hubble images on my wall, and gaze at them every day. Their beauty, and the vastness they invoke, goes beyond the power of words to express.

We now know that our Universe is one of  many, that there may be a vast Multiverse: matrix from which arise countless Universes. We are so minute, here on planet Earth, the Solar System, The Milky Way Galaxy, home to millions of other stars. Why am I standing here, wondering why we are here and what it all means?

New Hubble Image: Carina Nebula

New Hubble Image: Carina Nebula

(http://blogs.sacbee.com/photos/2009/09/hubble-telescopes-latest-image.html)

It’s a long way from the Metaverse to the eccentric Rev. Dr. de Sousa in his green plus fours and his rusty bicycle, teetering precariously from his gloomy rectory to his sombre church during the late nineteen fifties.The small island town in which I grew up, a place of some five thousand souls, was remarkably well served for churches in those days. There was no shortage of  Christian establishments in which I could place myself in an attempt to find some answers to my big WHY.

The Episcopal church was regarded with suspicion because of its uncomfortable perceived closeness to Rome.

There was the United Free Church, where Popery would have shrivelled to a cinder had it ever crossed the threshold. Serious Christianity was practised here. No flowers, no music (apart from precenting), definitely no graven images. An old testament God hung out here. Fun and laughter were not encouraged.

Then there were the Seceeders, whose precise denominational and doctrinal position remained a mystery to me throughout my youth. I knew they had split off from some other lot, and therefore regarded themselves as “a cut above” – but above what, I never quite established.

Then there was the plain old Church of Scotland. The minister, a mild, thin, bookish looking soul who had been at school with my father, bore the distinctly uninspiring nickname of “Optic” which had stuck with him since his very short-sighted schooldays. His spectacles, I was convinced, really were made out of the bottoms of milk bottles.

I used to attend his sermons with hair rollers under my Sunday hat as a mute and invisible but satisfying form of protest. He had had a charisma bypass, and took boredom to punishing levels. However, I always liked the Benediction at the end …...In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost…” it always seemed to come from somewhere other  than him, although he was saying the words. This sense never failed to confuse me…..

We went there on our intermittent forays to Church, depending on whether inertia or guilt dominated my mother’s frame of mind on a Sunday evening. Trips to Church were usually minus my father, apart from hatches, matches and despatches.

A spiritualist medium, describing my father’s wayward character to me with remarkable and eerie accuracy not long after his death, said he was a man “who knew his God.” Wherever Dad’s God hung out, it was not in any of the establishments on offer in our mid-20th century small Scottish town.

Personally, long before my encounter with the medium, I always thought my father’s God was out there in the distant hills where he went to poach deer, or in the eye of a storm at sea.  Not that we ever talked about such matters. The only time we ever discussed my spiritual life was when, aged twelve, I realised that I could not face replacing the utter tedium of seven years of Sunday School with the probable continuing tedium of Bible Class, which is where you went on entering secondary education.

An epiphany prompted my nervous and tentative approach to my father. We had recently aquired a Readers’ Digest World Atlas, a huge book which I could barely lift. I was riveted by a double page spread of the whole world, with countries coloured in according to religion. I realised that day how many world religions there were.

Although Christianity appeared to hold its own across the world, it was visually clear  that the great majority of the world’s population – which was a mere two and a half billion in total when I was doing my big religious sums – believed in something else altogether.

I then looked for the tiny isles of the Outer Hebrides, coloured Christian pink. Next, the top island where I lived, barely discernible in the context of the whole world. A wave of inescapable logic washed me away that day. It simply did not make sense that a few thousand members of eg the Free Church of Scotland considered themselves to be right and saved, leaving almost the total remaining population of the world wrong and damned regardless of the integrity and sincerity of their differing beliefs.

My mind buzzing with this powerful realisation, I told my father that I didn’t want to go to Bible Class. I now wanted to do some of my own reading and work out religion for myself.  “Fine” he said. “Don’t go, then.”

At the age of twelve, that was it for me and Christianity, for a very long time, although I continued under pressure to attend church intermittently and always enjoyed singing the hymns at hatches, matches and despatches.

The longing, however, continued, like a barely audible ghost of a sound, echoing my heartbeat….

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1300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Should we argue with fundamentalism?

Fortunately, it was a peat bank we hit. That cushioned the impact, saving the car from much damage. Uncle Patrick had stopped singing “Abide with me”: for once, he was completely silent. Perhaps he was wondering how to get the car out of the ditch. Aunt Maria, white faced, was leaning over into the back of the car where I had been jolted onto the floor behind the driver’s seat. No one had heard of seatbelts  in the 1950s. “Are you all right, dear?” she said anxiously. “I think so,” I said. “Maybe I’ve bruised my knee, that’s all.” ….

At last Patrick spoke. “I think perhaps you shouldn’t mention this to your father,” he said. He knew my father’s opinion of his driving, gained from the local grapevine. He also found my father rather intimidating, perhaps because Dad was not the least in awe of his clerical collar. I liked Patrick, despite the increasingly intense arguments we were having about religion as I moved into the truculence and awkwardness of adolescence.

“No, of course not,” I said. I understood very well that his mind was always more on God than the mere driving of a motor vehicle. Also being the owner of a wandering mind, inclined to “higher things”, I had a secret sympathy for his predicament. Life on Earth was too mundane for our liking, my aunt included. Not that we ever discussed this, of course. My family was not strong on personal disclosure of any kind. But I was very good at knowing how people thought and felt without them saying anything.

“If she doesn’t marry a minister, she’ll make a minister out of the man she marries!” prophesied my father about my maiden aunt Maria. It was known that she was ‘disappointed in love’ – her first great love had been for a presbyterian minister. I never did discover what had happened. She seemed to be wedded to God, until Patrick appeared in her life. Ten years younger than she, he had had a colourful life as a whaler, then a docker, until, in his early thirties, he “got the curam”.

This is an occasional but distinctive syndrome particular to the Hebrides, whereby a man (usually) having lead a dissolute life – “He would have sucked whisky through a dirty doormat on the steps of the Stag Hotel!” as my father once memorably put it of a local drinker who had “got the curam” – suddenly discovers God and goes away to Aberdeen University divinity faculty to train to be a Free Church minister. He then, usually, takes up a charge in a country parish in the Highlands and Islands and rails from his pulpit about, amongst other things, the evils of his former lifestyle.

(nb I am not suggesting for a moment that this is the case with all men who train for the ministry at Aberdeen Uni divinity faculty. Just some of them !!)

And thus it was with Patrick, ably assisted by his new wife my aunt Maria, a natural academic and scholar who had never had the opportunity to go to university herself. Having left school at fourteen, barely literate, Patrick mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew with her help, and duly became a minister. Although our disagreements became more entrenched as I grew older, I admired them both hugely for this effort and eventual success.

The Big Why ?

The Big Why ?

I have always asked questions. However, I have equally had an innate dislike of anyone providing me with THE ANSWER, having always sensed – and the unfolding of life, experience and much reading has affirmed this – that there are many answers. Mere humans are in no position to determine which, if any, are correct.

This persistent orientation has probably assisted me in having a complex and colourful life; it has also had its serious downside. Life is much easier and simpler if you believe the answer is out there somewhere, and feel gratitude when someone convincing provides it.

Uncle Patrick, and with equal conviction but less rhetoric Aunt Maria, had THE ANSWER and did their best to provide me with it. However, I simply could not accept that every word in the Bible was literally true, that Darwin’s brilliant theory of evolution was the work of the Devil, or that the Pope was the Antichrist and that all who were not Saved (ie a few thousand believers in Predestination on a small, wet, windswept, obscure island) were Damned to Hell everlasting.

So I spent a lot of time in my mid-teens, as the time grew closer for me to make my longed-for escape from home to University, arguing philosophy and theology with Patrick. He had the edge over me in the theological department. for obvious reasons. But my study of ancient Greek, a few years after Patrick had completed his, drew me much more at that stage in my life to the classical splendours of Homer’s ‘Oddysey’ than to the religion taught to me during my childhood.

By the time I left for Uni, Patrick feared I was a lost cause. For the first two years, Aunt Maria wrote to me regularly – long religious homilies wrapped around large bars of Cadbury’s fruit and nut chocolate. How I hated those letters! Eventually the searing anger and resentment I had carried with me from my difficult and painful family life boiled over and scalded her: I recognise now that she was unwittingly providing me with a scapegoat on which I could dump my anger.

I wrote to her telling her that I objected to her trying to ram her beliefs down my throat, and never to communicate with me again. Our relationship thus broke down, and was not to be healed for nearly thirty years.

However, Patrick and Maria taught me one valuable lesson during our long and increasingly bitter wrangle over religion. It is a futile waste of time to bother arguing with fundamentalism. As my life went on, I discovered that this early truth applied whether the context was religion, science, politics, education, feminism or whatever. There is no way of engaging in dialogue with fundamentalism. Any attempt is doomed to failure. So I learned, at quite a young age, not to bother trying.

As a much older and I hope slightly wiser person, my approach now is to try to be tolerant and good humoured in the face of  those who have THE ANSWER. But that is hard to maintain – especially given the marked lack of tolerance usually offered in return….

So- what do you folks out there think? Should we argue with fundamentalism – religious, scientific, political?

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1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Where is ‘elsewhere’?

‘The human comedy doesn’t attract me enough. I am not entirely of this world….I am from elsewhere. And it is worth finding this elsewhere beyond the walls. But where is it?’

The pull of elsewhere has dominated my life. As a child, lying tucked up cosy and warm in bed, listening to the wind beyond our walls tearing the world apart, I used to luxuriate in the contrast between in here and out there – and wonder where the Power came from to cause the winds to rage, and the sea to beat endlessly against the coastline of my native island.

The Big 'Why?'

The Big ‘Why?

It would take me a long time beyond childhood to understand and accept that my obsession with the big “Why?”, from the moment I opened my eyes to the world,  is not the norm for most of humanity. Sensibly, they just want a quiet uncomplicated life.

Apart from my maternal grandfather, a loving and very broad-minded Christian  ‘remember, child: whatever our race, colour or creed we are all God’s children’ – nobody knew what went on in my head and heart throughout my entire childhood.

There is no such thing as one biography of a life.

 Your perspective changes with the passage of time and the way life’s inevitable challenges are dealt with. You rewrite your own history in your head all the time, mostly without realising it. For example, I never understood the full extent of elsewhere’s pull until my mid-life descent into and return from the Underworld, a period which lasted seven years – undoubtedly the most difficult and the richest time of my whole life. I feel in better relation now to that mysterious elsewhere than I have ever been !

To me, elsewhere is the vast wave of which everything – universe, cosmos, galaxies, planets, Earth, all life forms – is a droplet. We arise from elsewhereand that is where we return. Call it the quantum vacuum, the Zero Point Field, God, Buddha, Krishna, the Ground of our being, the Source, the One: the name we give it does not matter.

 I have also learned that elsewhere is not somewhere else. It is here, present, now, everywhere – always.

*******

(headline quote is from Eugene Ionesco:quoted in Philip Yancey’s “Reaching for the Invisible God” p25)

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400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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