Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Great Abyss



Shortly will another year
Pass away and disappear
Set thine house in order, man
Life is but a fleeting span


The end of another year is usually the time to look back at the momentous events of the past 12 months. It is also the time to take stock of one's mortality, especially if that one is at the post-child rearing, looking-forward-to-retirement in another decade or two age. And with thoughts of mortality comes the question of what's next after mortality.

To fully explore my current state of mind on this subject, it is helpful to go back to the beginning of my religious indoctrination. We are all subject to this, every child in every society. It is a tradition and, like our political views, our religious beliefs are inculcated by our parents and then either accepted without question and clung to forever, or rejected. Or something in between.

As a child I was raised "Roman Catholic". This was my parents' religion, and it was of course, their parents' religion. But my mother had a falling out with some priest over some issue before I was born, so we didn't attend church regularly. My mother's mantra was "I believe in God, but I don't believe in the Church". Although I was baptized and went to catechism, my religious experience was pretty much limited to praying every night to a small statue of the Virgin Mary on a bureau in my room. I prayed the Lord's prayer and often added an addendum prayer to please watch over me and my family. Sometimes I would make a special request, such as asking to let me do well in a little league baseball game the next day. Eventually, I developed a social conscience, and my faith in religion as a force of good was severely eroded by the wars and suffering it caused. Then there were the unsettling questions like how there could be so many religions if there was only one God. The realization came to me that religion was a ritualized superstition, gradually discarded as I got older and more widely-read. Prayer was left unsaid except for an emergency, basically when someone's life was in danger and science and technology in their current state were being stretched to the limit. My faith had gradually been transferred to laws of physics as I learned of them and better understood them. The supernatural was still lurking there behind the curtains of the natural world.

So it remained until my final religious epiphany came. Fittingly, it happened on a mountaintop. A mountaintop dedicated to scientific exploration; Cero Tololo in northern Chile, an observatory overlooking the Pacific Ocean. With little humidity, far from any cities, and at several thousand feet elevation, the sky is dark. So dark that the Milky Way galaxay, our island of life and light in the vast and eternal darkness of space, casts a shadow on the ground when the center of the galaxy shines directly overhead. From this perspective, you can see our galaxy as any other more distant edge on galaxy. There are one hundred billion galaxies like ours, with one hundred billion stars each. The image presented is profound and awe inspiring to the very core of your being. What are the odds we are the only ones alive and that someone, somewhere else isn't looking back from this void? I was inspired to write a poem from this experience.

From solid ground I stare
Upwards through the Great Abyss
Asking the meaning of creation
Seeking acknowledgement of struggle

But this infinite power
Whose sparse molecules shined above
Gave nothing more of an answer than
Overpowering, Silent Ambivalence

I demanded redemption from the void
To have my nearly impossible random chance
of Existence given a momentary glance but

The gaze never shifted
It looked away and past
On parallel paths
Unable to receive me

And yet I felt not rejection
But the most profound acceptance
As part of Creation
And a part of the infinite

Love in a vacuum
Redemption in space


Our molecules, in fact all elements heavier than hydrogen or helium, were forged by the pressure and heat at the center of a long dead star. That, and many other wondrous processes described by the laws of physics, is how and why we exist. We need no other purpose than that we appoint to ourselves, for better or worse. The concept of religion became something new, and something very distant on the night I got my answer on that mountain.

10 comments:

Black Diaspora said...

"We need no other purpose than that we appoint to ourselves, for better or worse. The concept of religion became something new, and something very distant on the night I got my answer on that mountain."

Beautiful statement, and a beautiful poem. I've commented on the poem previously. Are you still writing them? You have a gift, you know?

Purpose is self-appointing. It is an act of creation, rather than one of discovery.

If we wait for life to show us the way, to tell us what our purpose is, or should be, then we surrender one of our most treasured abilities--the power to create our experiences by choosing our adventures, and how we will entertain the seemingly disconnected events that impinge upon our daily existence.

Nevertheless, we are creating our purpose whether we do it consciously, or unconsciously, as well as the circumstances of our life, and the various events that spawned those circumstances.

Religion has it place. People use it as their means for connecting to God. Parents use the intermediary method that was taught to them.

Rarely do they encourage children to seek out God by going within, but, rather, using the church to inculcates those values they believe should be strengthened, and to discourage those foibles they believe should be discarded.

What you did, was remove the middleman, and go straight to the source. Many aren't ready for that abrupt of a transition, so they turn to religion to allow themselves to commune with God, but to do so within a structure that's familiar and nonthreatening.

For many, going straight to the Godhead can be a bit intimidating. It needn't be. But then people progress at their own pace, taking heaven not by storm, but gradually, one baby step at a time.

What I tell you now, I tell you not because I read it in a book, or because I was told it by one more wise, and knowledgeable, but from my own personal experience.

The wondrous physical universe upon which you peer is indeed the God of your understanding. But there's another universe, unseen, which buttresses the one you see.

God is both what you see, and what you don't see. He's the space that holds the space, and all that appears within the space.

You're not your body. Like this universe, your physical body is being buttressed by a body that's awesome to behold, perfect in every respect, with ever hair in place, and skin that shines like alabaster.

You are truly God's most beauteous, and magnificent creation. If you could see yourself as God sees you, you would smile a lot.

May this be a Happy New Year all year long.

Ernesto said...

BD...thank you for that profound insight, which is a more precious gift to me than gold, frankincense and myrrh. You know this one was for you... :)

I'm still letting your words sink into my head, kind of like the way a drought-ending rain sinks into the hard-baked soil. I will have something more substantive of a reply coming soon.

cactusrose said...

What a beautiful poem! As I read your post I was transported to the place and your feelings. You know I wonder, do you think that other animal species also look up and wonder something perhaps similar? I think so....

Black Diaspora said...

"You know this one was for you..." Ernesto

Thanks, Ernesto, for sharing.

You did something that many who become disaffected with religion don't do: You stayed open to the possibility of a God experience.

You can, you know, deepen and broaden that experience.

I was on a blog recently, one devoted to de-conversion. It's a site for skeptics, and for deconverting or former Christians.

This was my first encounter with a group set up purposely to deprogram, if you will, the once faithful.

The reason I bring them up, they have pretty much ruled out the possibility of a God experience, and, in all likelihood, won't have one.

Why?

Because they have free will. As a result, God's not going to force Himself upon those who're pretty damn sure He doesn't exists.

As an aside: The owner of the blog asked me to leave. Not because I challenged them directly, nor disagreed with their purpose, or their methods.

It was simply this: They couldn't process my personal experiences within their worldview; nor could they reconcile their beliefs with the world that I see, and experience--a world that's totally unfamiliar to them, threatening, and impossible.

Ernesto said...

"If you could see yourself as God sees you, you would smile a lot."

For me, the crux of my epiphany was that God (the Universe) is all-knowing, yet greatly ambivalent. It was like asking "why am I here?" and getting an answer of "what will be, will be". At first the answer didn't seem to address the question, but then came the realization that free will is indeed given to us from nothing, to do with for better or worse. There was also a huge sense of relief and freedom in "being told" that we are part of something so vast that whether we struggle to triumph or fail, in the overall scheme of the Universe it will mean nothing (to a first approximation, as scientists say).

Ernesto said...

"do you think that other animal species also look up and wonder something perhaps similar?"

Hello, cactusrose. Thanks for stopping by. Animals in the wild probably don't have a lot of time to wonder about these things, since the game of survival takes up much of their free time. (Hmmm... have we really evolved THAT much from that perspective?)

Domesticated animals may be a different story. They have lots of free time to ponder their surroundings, and even devise strategies to antagonize others. In fact, I am convinced that my cat is plotting something big right now. :)

Black Diaspora said...

"There was also a huge sense of relief and freedom in "being told" that we are part of something so vast that whether we struggle to triumph or fail, in the overall scheme of the Universe it will mean nothing...."

I'm afraid I'm going to take you down an intellectual rabbit hole with my next statements.

It is vast, but your part in the design is purposeful, and necessary. Nothing is irrelevant. Not you, or the universe.

Further, you can't fail, no matter what you do. The outcome is assured. You can delay it, you can seek to thwart it, but in the end you'll embrace it and call it your own.

Yes, there's an ambivalence built into the scheme, because God has no preference regarding what you do with the process called life.

He created the process, and then left it up to you and I as to how we use it--as you put it, "for better or worse."

Don't think, though, that God is merely a hands-off God, that He's in the machinery, and in the machinery only, and that He doesn't take special interest in you, and your soul's progress on this plane.

He's keenly interested, but is an observer, and not a meddler.

Although He takes a personal interest in each of us, He will not violate your freewill, not even to save you from yourself, so to speak, but stands ready to assist, and help, as He's called upon to do so.

Here's that "rabbit hole" view I promised. Freewill is ultimately an illusion. God's will is always being done. He would cease to be God (all that is) where it otherwise.

Here's another: You're always doing God's will. You can't do otherwise. Each and everyone us, despite how we may characterize our actions (as good or evil), is doing God's will.

Clearly, "what will be, will be." It's preordained. You, all of us, all that now exists, have existed, will exist, will return to the Godhead.

A larger truth: We never left it. That, too, is an illusion. What we'll experience when we return will seem like a return. But you can't return to a place you've never left.

You're on a divine mission here. You're on a mission for God. You're indispensable to that mission. We're collaborating with God for a divine purpose.

You don't need to know the purpose to fulfill it. And you cannot not fulfill it. We're all fulfilling that purpose daily, even as we set out to create purposes of our own, thinking that we're acting with total autonomy. We're are, and we're not. It's called the divine dichotomy.

Two truths existing simultaneously within the same space. You are a divine dichotomy, both human and divine.

But the larger truth: You've never been human. You're divine.

Perhaps you'll want to stop this dialog now. The rabbit hole is deeper than you know, and reality is grander than the two us (all of us) can imagine collectively.

Ernesto said...

"Nothing is irrelevant."

This is true. I used the scientific jargon "to a first approximation". This is often used to describe something that takes up only a minute percentage of the whole. Yet even this small part can make a huge difference.

"You don't need to know the purpose to fulfill it."

Indeed, that was my essential realization that night, leading to the feeling of liberation that I experienced.

"...reality is grander than the two us (all of us) can imagine collectively."

We can hardly begin to imagine. I caught a glimpse of God's face, though. The effect was a sense of incredible calmness, something akin to the enlightened state of Buddhism, a feeling of freedom from all worldly concerns. Maybe it's no coincidence that the nearest town from that mountain is named "La Serena" and from the mountain I could see the "Pacific" Ocean.

Black Diaspora said...

@Ernesto: "Maybe it's no coincidence that the nearest town from that mountain is named "La Serena" and from the mountain I could see the "Pacific" Ocean."

As you've suggested: There are no coincidences.

"Yet even this small part can make a huge difference."

True. And it does.

Globalgurl said...

wow---

what a lovely, lucid chat!

Thanks from a grateful soul!