Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Corporeality of Spirit

I spent Thursday and Friday working on the new business, and made satisfying progress. It's going to be fun to bring it to life and learn how to make it successful.

Friday I saw the Hawks get beat by the Thunder, with Durant getting 29 points to go just above his average. What do you expect from the leading scorer? It was a close game right until the last minute though. Saturday I went to see a performance of the play Inherit the Wind in Roswell with ATL Science Tavern members. It was a very good performance. Afterward, I watched and read some more historical background on the Scopes Monkey Trial, which is pretty fascinating. The fictionalized trial and characters of the play, while they seek to portray a general attitude, are not precise representations of the real trial, so I recommend reading the historical record. Earlier, my mom sent a link about possible fossilized microbial life in meteors, so that will be gigantic news if it turns out true.

And tonight I saw Stomp at the (Fabulous) Fox Theatre with Erica. It was very good, and loud. I saw it in New York City a few years ago too.

I also watched the film Creation, about Charles Darwin and his eldest daughter Anne. It's very sad, because Anne died when she was 10 years old. This event, ultimately, gave Darwin the conviction to finish his now famous On the Origin of the Species book, which has so dramatically changed the world during the past 152 years since its publication. The film also, naturally, portrays the struggle between Darwin and his wife Emma because of Emma's religious convictions and societal sensibilities. Darwin slowly and painfully lost his own religious faith, and during one scene leaves the pews of a sermon in which it is stated that not even a sparrow will fall to the ground without God willing it. He later remarks, mockingly, about God's beneficence toward butterflies being so high that he designed wasps to lay eggs inside the butterflies' caterpillar larvae.

Besides all that, I did a lot of reading or listening this weekend. I wish that time could be suspended so that I could read, listen, and watch everything I want to learn. On the one hand, I've been listening to lectures in The American Mind about the early to mid 19th century, as theological seminaries began to take root in the U.S.A. The discussions have been around the development the Moral Philosophers, the America Romanticists, and the early influence of Princeton Theological Seminary. Even though the different sects have some very differing ideas as to liturgy and even salvation, it strikes me as very much contrasting with what I started watching tonight, "The Buddha", a documentary on NetFlix.

Without the aid of a specific creation story, at least not one that would cause such consternation as has happened in Christian-dominated society, Buddha's teachings are not about external controllers like God , but about the individual response to the suffering or "general dissatisfaction" that we all experience in the world, ultimately arriving upon the 8-fold-path which I have not yet gotten to in the film, but am familiar with from prior study.

I confess to not knowing much about the varieties of Buddhist thought, and whatever metaphysical or supernatural beliefs may be involved, but the parable of Siddharta does strike me in many ways as similar to that of Jesus. Yes, there are great differences, but as far as stories go, they both have archetypal aspects to them and are great stories that serve to educate in ways that mere facts or data never have. Only feelings, felt in ourselves, lead us to compassion. Words on a page rarely do that, but stories can remind us of our own feelings, and can aid in our ability to imagine the feelings of others.

One part of the story I had never heard was that when Buddha was seated under the bohdi tree and tempted by Mara, he placed his hand on the ground as if to say that the ground, or the Earth, would be Buddha's witness to his ability to withstand the temptations of mara. The commentators remarked that this was Buddha's way of communicating his one-ness with the Earth, with nature.

This discussion recalled a very powerful memory from my childhood which must have been a pivotal moment inside of my growing brain and consciousness, because it's still so vivid, yet feels so buried inside of me, that it feels as if it happened centuries ago. I don't believe it's my earliest memory, but I also don't really know when it took place.

But as I remember it:

I was playing outside the house in Wappingers Falls, and was sitting on the grass, probably sifting through the grass and dirt and pebbles. I observed that far from being completely green, like it appears from the street, when you got up close to the ground, the grass settled into the the soil, but small pebbles and other types of plants lived there too, like onion grass and clovers. Beneath the soil and pebbles I could find "potato bugs", and maybe even worms. Sitting there amidst what other people were doing, like mowing their lawns, or planting flowers, and hearing birds chirp and feeling the breeze blow the leaves in the trees above me, kicking off "helicopter seeds" to flutter toward the ground, I put my fingers against the grass and soil. 

I felt then, for a few moments that have remained with me, no separation between myself and the Earth beneath me. I think I had a flash thought of children on the other side of the world digging their own hands into the soil, and wondered what they were thinking. Some people, with the language and technology to prepare them for it, might have said they "felt God's presence" in that moment. But for me, I had not grown up with that. It was simply an awareness of the life around and beneath me, as being not just separate from me, but also contiguous with my own life. It was very reassuring and calming.

This was probably between 25 and 30 years ago, in the early 80's, so I'm not going to revise history and say I was becoming aware of the ecology or environmentalism. If anything, it was a premonition to myself that life is not a fully independent event. It depends entirely upon a chain of being and interconnections.

I will be the first to admit I've felt alienated from that reassurance and comfort so long ago. Perhaps by being so soon after that day immersed into the world scholastic education, into entertainment, and later still high technology as a career, I became disconnected from the primal lessons and bonds of nature. To this day, it is only when I walk through natural spaces and take time to gaze upon the mysterious sinews of a strong tree that I see a glimpse of that ground beneath my feat from seeming centuries ago.

As I reflect upon the mental castles built by the theologians of early US history, even as they inherited much of their architecture from Europe, with their elaborate explanations, I'm struck by how anthropocentric these views actually are. Darwin, so conflicted in his culture by its dogmas and traditions, used most powerfully his own hands and eyes to reach down to the Earth, to pull up its secrets by their roots. And, not only did he realize that he, and all of us, are one with that Earth, but he explained how we came to be so, how he himself came into being.

And with his ideas, far from separating humankind from nature's god, he brought corporeality to spirit, the animating or vital principle in a living being.

Existence is a mystery, and its ultimate nature always will be whether we refer to it as God, Nature, or by no name. But learning and understanding more and more about our own relationship to all that exists strengthens our security while ever expanding our wonder and awe.

This spring I'll be volunteering in the community garden here in my neighborhood. I look forward to getting my fingers into the ground and hope to experience again the corporeality of spirit that I felt so long ago as a child.

1 comment:

Joshua Gough said...

I planted some vegetables today in the garden plot I've leased. Carrots, radishes, arugula, onions, and a habenero peppers.

I do feel a strong sense of contentment after working in the soil, and contemplating that in weeks I should see new life sprouting from it. It's very gratifying work.