5 Thoughts: The Whole God Catalogue

2010.11.14
By

1. DESPITE THAT THIS BLOG’S SUBTITLE is “A Journalistic Exploration of Experiential Holiness and Snack Bar,” there seems to me to be little direct dealing with the “experiential holiness” end of things: why any 2010 Renaissance Man would fall in love with a 3,000-year-old tradition, say, and non-ironically to boot.

2. Partly, that lack is due to a recent focus on my writing. But mostly it’s that, in order to discuss “religion” (which term I prefer to “spirituality,” as implying a more disciplined approach), it’s necessary — and only possible — to discuss my experience of it. And my experience is both weird and conventional — and I suspect it’s that way for everybody.

3. On the weird side are experiences which I would call “ecstatic visions” due to their immediacy and primarily visual character. I have had several of these, which always leave me feeling both humble (as in small) and “included” (as if I’m in on some cosmic joke). Those who know, know (including how difficult it is to relate something like, oh, praying really hard and feeling your body dissolve into happy twinkling lights); those who don’t, should know that while I have no firm idea or dogma about what these events “really are” I am reporting them as accurately as I can. (Although I favor the thought that it’s “simply” my brain chatting with its collective unconscious.) Stay tuned for updates.

4. On the conventional side are the love of a familiar liturgy and narrative, even of narrative structure and theme. (I’ve written of this elsewhere too, largely within a Jewish context but also to understand the four ways of encountering God.) This includes the unspeakable joy of praying by myself in a room full of people; the taste of bread and wine (or grape juice) afterward; the glow of familiar faces; leading services for people I love; being led in services by same; the look of the letters; the smell of a room full of prayers and old books. CS Lewis is said to have replied, when asked why he was a devout Christian, “Had I been born in India, I would be a devout Hindu.” (To which I say, “Me too.”)

5. Another way to put it: “It ain’t the finger — it’s where it POINTS!” What gets left out of the Great Culture Clash Debate is that many people aren’t clashing at all — they’re integrating, using their religious or spiritual practice to help themselves become more compassionate, more loving, and (especially Talmudists and Sufis) more wise. We cannot afford to let those louder and nastier define what it means to live religiously.

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