Archive for the ‘Cosmology’ Category

Spiritual Journey Resumed

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 I want to make it clear from the outset that the ideas expressed in what follows are my own. Sure, some of them might resonate of past writers, for I cannot claim that any of my ideas are original; to do so would be patently absurd. After all, I am seventy-seven years old, I have read much during the past decades, and I have no photographic memory which might enable me to cite sources for every sentence. I have read theological and mystical works from the Hebrew, Greek and Chinese traditions, much of which has certainly affected my thought. Nonetheless, I feel impelled to indite here what I now consider my own perceptions and insights, regardless of how hand-me-down they might seem.
¶Incidentally, I will be committing a modern sin by reverting to the old practice of using masculine pronouns even when I am referring to all persons, regardless of gender. When I began writing this essay I used the forms “(s)he” and “him/her”, but it looked so sloppy and distracting that I changed them. My apologies if the changes offend any readers.

I. Religion and Spirituality
¶I doubt that many educated readers will fail to recognize the differences between religion and spirituality without my having to underline them. Still, for the sake of clarity I will here note the most salient contrasts.
¶Essentially, religion involves an established system of beliefs accompanied by a corpus of sacred writings dictating theological and moral dogma. It, naturally then, requires a community of adherents — people who consider it worthwhile, at least for the sake of companionship or fellow-feeling — to accept the dogma and rituals which have accrued around their religion.
¶Spirituality is more individualistic, although the spiritual seeker will not necessarily reject communion with another after “enlightenment”. Still, he most likely will be conscious of the differing tangential and ephemeral qualities of such contacts; for, like fingerprints and snowflakes, each person’s spiritual journey is unique and cannot be matched, either favorably or unfavorably, with another’s. Also, while the seeker might use the spiritual writings (particularly, biographies) of esteemed theologians, both ancient and modern, as guides, succorers, and encouragers of his own sojourn, he must still face a long, dim and paradoxical path with no assurance of a positive and final conclusion. For him there is no dogma or ritual, although he probably will cling to some of the moral teachings learned in earlier years under the tutelage of some religious teachers, notably the very general “Golden Rule”.
¶I am not going any further with profiling religionists, or in any great depth with the spiritual seekers. However, the bulk of this essay will be about the seekers’ paths in general. Essentially, it will be based upon my own search for teleological meaning.

II. The Idea of God
¶If we hold onto the concepts of “meaning” and “purpose” in life, we usually start our search with the idea of a personal god: I did. Despite multiple mystical experiences, however, I found it difficult to reconcile what I learned from those events and reading with a personal god as generally conceived (a sort of abstract Santa Claus). What was truly odd about my searching, though, was that I felt more inclined to give up the noun than the verb: my charisms led me to accept the personal relating while eschewing the personhood of my deity. Most Christians are theologically educated enough to be aware that their god is depicted as having three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Over the lengthy period of my spiritual growth I came to the realization that the “Father” was too abstract for me to recognize; the “Son” (Jesus) was too human in his ambivalence and longing for definition from others; but the Holy Spirit, although invisible and silent, was frequently present to me.
¶Some might insist that the Holy Spirit is always present; I cannot dispute that, nor do I even want to, but I can claim only that what I call the Holy Spirit has made its presence known to me at certain times through charismatic events. Something was tugging at me, nudging me forward, and rewarding me from time to time with provocative insights or charisms. Every time I tried to attach such experiences onto a “higher power” of any shape or form the whole effort fell from my mind and shattered; there were too many unfathomable paradoxes with which to contend. I decided to let the personal god go, let Him do his own thing and I would do mine. If our enterprises met and joined occasionally, then so be it; I wasn’t going to fight against such junctures, but neither was I going to push for them; for there are times when the Holy Spirit, when he is concerned about my situation, seems to have a different goal in mind than I do, and there are times when I doubt that he is even interested.
¶I do not deny that I am exceedingly curious about what I perceive as an inchoate aether with weight to it of some sort and seemingly some secretive intelligence within it. Such had to be there for any sort of “nudging” to occur. Now some exertion is required to keep myself from trying to impose a humanlike form onto the aether. Yes, there is something “out there” or “within me” that yearns for and pushes for meaning. No point in denying it.

III. Answering the Atheists
¶Several prominent cosmologists and other scientists have postulated that, since everything about us and about Nature can be explained without the god premise, there is no need for a First Cause: god. The Idea of God is irrelevant, they claim. I am perfectly willing to accept their postulate — for them — but I do not see why it should affect me any more than the declarations of the preachers in their descriptions of God should affect me. If they do not experience the supra-natural, then that is a “truth” for the scientists.
¶Actually, there still remain some important aspects of Nature which baffle the scientists, the most significant being “Dark Matter”, an invisible substance that occupies all the space between the objects we can see. British logician Bertrand Russell took umbrage at his favorite student, the German logician Ludwig Wittgenstein, when the latter claimed that his studies had led him to conclude that there is a point at which symbolic logic cannot answer our questions, a mystical point.
¶For their part, the preachers never tackle the subject of Jesus’s injunction to put out your eye if it sins, or his advocating love of enemies on one occasion and enjoining his disciples to carry swords on another day. Nor do they satisfactorily answer the question of why the “Trinity” does not constitute polytheism and why statues of Jesus and Mary are not idols. The story of Jesus was written by several different people and then complicated by a multitude of annotators during the following centuries. It’s a muddy amalgam from which many of us have chosen to “cherry-pick” what we will believe. Whether we use those sources or not, we still have to evolve or design our own religion or our own spirituality.
¶Really, I prefer to leave God out of any discussion of scientific research or how we treat each other. Yet I try to understand the relationship between me and the Presence (a term I prefer to “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”). I think I have researched the Presence too much, intellectualized Him nearly into oblivion. The Presence, I believe, prefers feeling over thinking. He seems removed from me now, and I yearn for his return; I don’t need to understand Him; I need to feel Him. If only I can restrain myself from trying to understand our relationship and how He performed the little miracles I have experienced . That’s hard.

Finis

Meaningfulness

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Peter: Jesus, you are my Ground of Being!
Paul: Lord, you are my Ultimate Concern!
Jesus: Whaaattt?

This past Friday, my friend Chris and I met in my humble lodging for our regular bi-weekly, two-hour conversation and coffee-sipping. Over the past two months, we have been viewing DVD lectures by the late philosophy professor Robert Solomon, a specialist on Friedrich Nietzsche (N.). Solomon’s wife, Professor Kathleen Higgins, also a Nietzsche scholar, participates in the series. The lectures are about N. — his life, personality, and philosophy — of course; but interspersed among all of them are some comments on previous philosophers who had positively influenced Nietzsche, such as Arthur Schopenhauer (S.), and those who had negatively affected him, such as Socrates. This essay is partly my own take on S.’s and N.’s views concerning the meaning of life. The later part is my own view of purpose and meaningfulness — what the philosophers call teleology.

I have read very little of S. the pessimist, for I don’t need to read anything that will make me more depressed than I already am. Besides, everyone who is literate in Western philosophy, even in the most minor degree, has read or heard that S. considered life as essentially “suffering and death”, and that, given the choice of whether to live or die, the better option would be to die, but that an even better option would be not to have been born.

What I did not know, however, and one of the bits of interesting notions in Schopenhauer’s weltanschauung, is that S. eschewed Immanuel Kant’s view that one could justify life and find meaning through rationalism, and progress through rationalism to the Christian faith, according to Prof. Solomon. A more visceral response, particularly through an aesthetic appreciation of music, was more effective, S. believed. The benefit of music S. attributed to its abstractness as contrasted with the representational character of pre-20th century visual arts. Listening to, and contemplating, music, he held, would lift the suffering human out of his or her pointless individuality into a consciousness of a larger Reality, or “life as a whole”. But, as I mentioned in one of my early poems, that lift can last only as long as the music lasts.

I have read a few of Friedrich Nietzsche’s works but, unfortunately, not the one which is most pertinent on this topic, The Birth of Tragedy. So, I will have to rely again on Prof. Solomon’s — and Prof. Higgins’ — interpretations. They say that, while N. agreed with most of what S. had to say about life being almost totally a matter of suffering and death, he differed with S. on finding it pointless. Where S. postulated that humans proceed from desire or hunger to satisfaction and back to desire/hunger, always longing for complete satisfaction or contentment (picture a “couch potato”) and never finding it, N. believed that absolute and permanent contentment is not really any human’s desire at all. Rather, N. theorized, meaning is to be found in the passions, i.e. dedication to a person, to a project, or to an art can give meaning to life. Here, again, arises the question of how long that passion can last.

One of the best though tardiest lessons I ever learned was that regular settings and reviews of goals are very important. I recall reading, while a senior at the university, an article that related how frequently college seniors commit suicide. Of course, several reasons can cause young people to kill themselves; the later teens and early twenties are emotionally tumultuous years; but what struck me about this article was that it was specifically about college seniors who were soon to graduate. Either the article stated or I inferred (can’t recall which) that the most likely cause for many of those deaths was that the students had not set any goals beyond college; campus life was all that had mattered to them, and they could not see anything meaningful beyond it.

It is indeed an interesting contrast between S. and N. that while the first sought respite, the latter sought strife (not strife against other people but a continual struggle within the self to make one’s self better). N.’s view is very much in keeping with that of the ancient Athenians. Consider the following passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, in which a Corinthian ambassador, while urging the Spartans to aid them in their conflict with Athens, criticizes them for their lackadaisical attitude:

“The Athenians are revolutionary, and their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution; you have a genius for keeping what you have got, accompanied by a total want of invention, and when forced to act you never go far enough. They are adventurous beyond their power, and daring beyond their judgment, and in danger they are sanguine; your way is to attempt less than your power justifies, to mistrust even what your judgment sanctions, and to think that there will be no end to your dangers….So they toil on in trouble and danger all the days of their life, with little opportunity for enjoying, ever engaged in getting: their only idea of a holiday is to do what the occasion demands, and to them laborious occupation is less of a misfortune than inaction and rest. In a word, one might truly say that they were born into the world to take no rest themselves and to give none to others.”[1]

As for myself, I believe that the most contented people are also the most active people. To that extent I certainly agree with N. But I also believe that there is a Reality — a spiritual Reality that surrounds us and yet is much too much beyond our capacity to understand. Each of us must search and discover it on his/her own without over-reaching.

A recent NOVA episode on PBS hosted by astrophysicist Brian Greene reveals how the latest frontier of cosmology has forced scientists into theories they are sometime embarrassed to present. One of them is that our universe is actually two dimensional with an edge to it that is comparable to a holograph. Also, they say that space is nowhere empty, not outer space nor molecular space, but that in every part of it “things” are constantly moving, from particles to planets; and that space is not like a vapor but more like a piece of pliable material that can bend and be stretched. Even more nonintuitive: There is no past, present or future; there is only NOW.

I do not mean to imply that all of this new scientific theory-developing is an argument for a higher being: most of the scientists, I think, would deny that absolutely. All I am saying is that, as S. and N. should have, we should refrain from placing absolute designs on “the real world/universe” until a good deal more evidence is in, probably beyond my own remaining lifespan.

In the meantime, we can each discover our own Higher Power (I read that there must be 7.4 billion of them about now), purposes and life-meanings. Let’s just don’t try to impose them on others.

Bob Litton, March 1967, reading An American Tragedy in Wesley-PCF office

Bob Litton at Southern Methodist University in 1967.

[1] Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, trans. Richard Crawley, ed. Sir Richard Livingstone, (Oxford University Press:1943), Book I, ¶70.

Finis

NOTE TO READERS: For some reason I don’t know, WordPress.com (WP) does not allow non-WP bloggers to register “Likes” on my or other WP bloggers’ posts. However, anyone can enter a comment in the “Comment” box and it will be published, after I have “moderated” it. I am inviting non-WP bloggers to comment, even if it just to say “Like” or “Don’t Like”. And, although I prefer positive comments, disagreeing or critical remarks are fine, too, especially if they might help me improve my writing; but no snarking, please: that’s rude!
— BL

The Crazy Quest for Extended Lifespans

NOTE TO READERS: At ease, folks. This is not another of my ancient newspaper pieces. It is, instead, a letter I mailed recently to Tom Ashbrook, host of WBUR.org’s radio program “On Point”. I listen regularly to “On Point” because Mr. Ashbrook does, I believe, an excellent job of moderating discussions of issues I consider significant, so please do not get the impression from my initial remarks that I negatively view his program. Some of you might think it peculiar that I would employ a letter as a blog post. Well, all I can say to that is that I feel very strongly about this subject, and I see what I wrote to Mr. Ashbrook as sufficiently appropriate and well enough composed to fit this space.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

Hi, Mr. Ashbrook:

I called this morning shortly after your discussion of the quest for extended lifespan began; held on for more than thirty minutes before being told by a lady that you wouldn’t have time for me today. More than the lost time on my phone minutes allowance at Consumer Cellular, I regret missing the opportunity to express my disgust with the whole notion of extending life beyond the rounded-off figure of “three score and ten”. So, I opted for this alternative method, even though I realize it won’t go any further than your and your staff’s eyes.

First, let me render the requisite “disclosure”: I turned 75 last December 29th. How I managed to pass into year 75, I have no idea, for I exercise little and have led in my youth a slightly dissolute life. Also, I have been in several accidents of various sorts and have been threatened a few times because of my opinions. And I suffer from a low-level but nearly constant type of depression known as dysthymia. But enough of that; let’s get to the issue before us.

I have no problem with people wanting to make their lives more healthy, active, and joyful. Nor am I against trying to ameliorate the pains of those dying of cancer and other gross diseases, although I suspect that a plausible philosophical case might be made for viewing that as a negative goal; it is something I have not considered much and is not really pertinent here.

My main issue with extending lifespans is that I believe the intelligent and prosperous among us have a duty to birth and a duty to die. I have to plead guilty to violating the first part of that principle, since I never married, never had a child. However, I see myself as partly excusable in that my father was a lousy male role model, and I doubt that I would have been any better father than he.

Now I fear that I might violate, unintentionally, the second part of my principle as well. Although I walk with a cane’s help and have a deteriorating memory, I don’t feel incapacitated in any other way. Is Alzheimer’s around the corner?

In 1984, Richard Lamm — then-governor of Colorado — sparked a controversy when he said, “We’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.” He earned the nickname “Governor Gloom” over that remark, but I agreed with him then and I agree with the substance of his comment now. Our young people are having a hard enough time of it finding jobs, so the debate is developing over whether a college education is really worth the money and time spent in classes.

Moreover, recently I saw a TV news report (don’t recall what network or the exact date) which showed a graph of the increasing gap between lengthened lifespans and the decline in birthrates. Odd that a few decades ago we were concerned over the “population explosion”; but that explosion, apparently, is due to extended longevity, not entirely to increases in births. At the rate we are going, retirement residences, medical facilities, and Social Security will certainly become exhausted.

And then there is the situation with our declining resources. The ocean is becoming a death trap for most of the sea life, the Amazon forest is being cut down for gold, silver and oil, our top soil is blowing away, prime agricultural land is being developed so people can escape the smog in our cities. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking reportedly said recently that we must find a home on another celestial body within the next 1,000 years or humanity will become extinct. People with the money are lining up to buy one-way tickets to Mars.

I think it is selfish as well as foolish to hanker after the moonshine called “extended lifespan”. Well, there, at least I got it off my chest, even though I couldn’t get it onto the airwaves. By the way, lest I leave you with the false impression that I am antagonistic to you or to your program, be assured that I gain much from listening almost every day. You are very competent at following through with the mode suggested by the name of the program, keeping interviewees focused “on point”.

Best regards,
Bob Litton

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

Diamond Anniversary

Hayward Barnett Litton and his two sons Stanley Vernon Litton and little brother Robert Carl Litton

January 1940 :  Pappy Haywood “Bill” Barnett Litton, the one with a cigarette in his mouth, secures his new-born son, Robert “Bobby” Carl Litton, in the arms of his eldest son, Stanley Vernon Litton, age 11.  (Automobiles were often used as background for photos during the early 20th century, I suppose because they helped establish the dates when the pictures were taken. Of course, my family, living on the edge of poverty, never had the latest model  vehicle, so the vintage determination here would be within the decade at best.)

 © 2014 By Bob Litton

Today I turn over the ol’ annual glass again after watching the last, few grains of sand dribble through: I am 75. Hope the married folks don’t mind my commandeering their celebratory gem nomenclature, but I’m doing it anyway, calling this the “diamond anniversary” of my birth.

Did you know?…I didn’t know it myself until about twenty years ago, when a former beer-drinking crony informed me…that we have only one birthday: the day we are born. All the rest are actually just anniversaries of our birth.

Unfortunately, besides the  birth year photo above, I possess photographs related to only my 50th (“silver”) and 75th (“diamond”) anniversaries: they appear at the end of the dialogue below. Not thinking ahead, as usual, I neglected to have any photos made around the time of my 25th anniversary. ∗ 

But before we go any further into that, I want to mention a bit of musical reminiscence here. On observing the several mental and physical problems afflicting me, I concluded that it is not possible or sensible to try to repair them. Such meditating brought to mind that hit song “This Ole House”, composed by Stuart Hamblen in 1954 and made popular the same year by Rosemary Clooney.

Here’s one verse of that commendable poem of a song:

Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles
Ain’t got time to fix the floor
Ain’t got time to oil the hinges
Nor to mend the windowpane
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
He’s a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.

That pretty well describes the way I see myself right now, and I sure wish people would quit asking me, “How are you today, Bob, you ol’ curmudgeon you?”

But I have more to offer you than an accounting of my body’s condition. I wrote the following dialogue last month. I emailed it to a friend in Dallas for her comments. She replied that she and her husband, a retired English literature professor, both liked it. She told me he suggested I read Robert Frost’s poetic colloquy “The Masque of Reason”. I did read it as well as its companion playlet “The Masque of Mercy” and was surprised by the degree of acquaintance with mysticism Frost apparently possessed. In “…Mercy” he refers to Francis Thompson’s great mystical poem “The Hound of Heaven”; and Frost’s main character in his playlet is the biblical prophet Jonah. Both of those mystical works— “Jonah” and “Hound of Heaven” — were crucial elements in my own spiritual journey.

Well, that should be enough of a prologue. Let’s get on with the dialogue:

* * * * * *

A Dialogue In A Cloud

I just woke up a few minutes ago. Not sure how or when I fell asleep. And now here I am (I think) sitting bolt upright on this white fluffy stuff that reminds me of some huge cotton ball. Why the hell don’t I sink? Why doesn’t it sink?

“That’s because it’s not a cotton ball and because you’re not as heavy as you believe yourself to be.” Those words came from a calm, nondescript voice, neither masculine nor feminine, behind and above me. “Look at your hands,” the voice continued.

I held up my hands for a look-see. “Yikes! There’s nothing there. I’ve been amputated!”

“Oh, more than that. Look at your belly button, Carl.”

I looked downward. Nothing there but that fluffy white stuff. I couldn’t gauge whether I was dreaming, in a state of shock after some horrible accident, or dead.

“Sort of dead,” the voice answered my thoughts. “At any rate, that’s the way you people see it.”

Still confounded, by way of trembling response I fell back on a question, “Why did you call me ‘Carl’?” My name is ‘Bob’…or ‘Robert’ when I have to involve myself in formalities. Yeah, okay, my middle name is ‘Carl’, but I never use it except when I have to in a legal document. My father used to call me ‘Robert Carl’ — the way other fathers used to call their sons ‘Billy Jack’ or ‘Donald Ray’; but that was long, long ago.

“And who are you, now that we are in the name-game level of this conversation?” I shivered just as I asked that question, because I already feared the possible answer.

“I AM,” replied the voice. “And I have always thought of you as ‘Carl’. I rather like that name. Anyway, I prefer it to ‘Robert’ or ‘Bob’ or even ‘Bobby’…cute as that last one may be.”

Oops! My game was up; I shivered again. It then occurred to me that some phenomena, although beautiful at a distance, can be too close for comfort: marriage, lightning and God.

“Aaallll right. But how did I get here? I don’t remember any accident or murder or severe fright.”

“Heart attack,” said the voice. “I gathered you to me in your sleep when you had a heart attack.”

“Way to go! I frequently enough asked for that mode of escape from my ‘mortal coil’; but, honestly, I didn’t put much faith in it happening that way; I always tried to steel myself in preparation for cancer or Alzheimer’s. So, thanks, gracias, merci, danke, grazi, xie xie or whatever language you prefer.”

“Oh, you should know me better than that, Carl. I didn’t cause it. It was the natural course of your sedentary lifestyle. I was just there to lift your soul away.”

“Speaking of ‘there’, where am I now?”

“Well, I think a lot of your kind still think of it as a ‘place’ — as Heaven, to be exact. However, surely you are smart enough to comprehend it as another ‘state of being’ somewhat similar to the transition from a pupa to a caterpillar to a butterfly. To be truly basic about your situation, you are within me.”

“Then this is a cloud I am sitting on,” said I. And, looking out over the expansiveness of the white, fluffy stuff, unable to discern an edge, I exclaimed, “Wow! And one helluva big cloud it is, too!”

“No, it’s not a cloud as such, Carl,” said the invisible being with the voice. “It’s what you might call a horizontal curtain that keeps you from gazing at what you have left behind. If you could see all that is happening on Earth as I see it, you would be perplexed and confused by feelings of rage and pity. It is time for you to let all that go. Simply abide in me.”

“Then I am not supposed to see anything, heh? Not even you…oops! Didn’t mean to put it that way. I just mean your voice is all I perceive around me right now, and there is no face to go with it.”

“Oh, come on, Carl! You’ve read the Tao Te Ching thoroughly enough to be aware that faces have lines, angles, borders, while I am unlimited.”

“To be honest with you again, I AM — or should I address you as ‘YOU ARE’? — I don’t think I ever was attracted to the description of Heaven as a place where angels sit around on clouds all day and night eternally and play harps and sing your praises. I don’t believe it even appealed to me in my childhood.

“Nor was I willing to go to that third and final step that Jan of Ruysbroeck called the ‘contemplative’ state whereby, through constant prayer, the communicant moves beyond the ‘yearning’ stage and becomes ‘one-with-God’ while still a mortal. First of all, I never imagined I would be worthy of that state. Secondly, it was a bit too spooky for me. And finally, I wanted to retain my relationship with the world, at least partly.

“I said a long time ago, that if you want to make me ‘at one’ with you, I am sure you can do it, and I won’t try to stop you even if I could. Have at it! However, I am not going down that road on my own initiative….

“Hey, wait a minute! I just said ‘while still a mortal’! Could I be experiencing a transcendent state — an ecstasy? Am I really still alive?”

“No, Carl,” said the voice. “Not in the natural sense. They are scheduling the cremation of your remains now. You are alive, however, in the Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that has been within you all your life. The same Holy Spirit that prayed for you all those times when you slipped into the mire. The same Holy Spirit that applauded you when you recognized what you had done and crawled out of the pit.

“And, by the way, being ‘at-one’ with me is not as spooky or as boring as you appear to believe. You have been there much of your adult life. Can’t you recall all those ‘consolations’ I favored you with?”

“Yes sir,” I replied, “but I took those simply as messages — as signs that I was on the right track…or off it. I never considered they might be ecstasies. And even when I thought it was all over…when I thought I was entering the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’…you kept pelting me with them…like pea-size hail, the most ambiguous kind so that I couldn’t really tell how to interpret them or even be sure that they were ‘consolations’. Maybe they were tricks played by gremlins.”

“Oh, ecstasy in the sense that Teresa of Avila wrote about has been over-played,” said the voice. “There’s a slight bit of hysteria mixed in there because mystics like her didn’t know how to describe the real thing in any other terms that others would be able to understand. And as for the ‘pea-size favors’, they were in fact part of the Dark Night, your spiritual taste buds expressing their hunger for more.”

“Okay…I guess…but I have one other question, if you don’t mind answering it. How is it that you can afford to have spent so much time with me during these precious moments? Aren’t there a lot of other people who could use your attention?”

“Oh yes, oh yes!” said the voice, “and I am with them right now. You are still thinking in natural terms…in the concepts of physics and its limitations on time and space. You forget — temporarily — that I am immanent as well as transcendent. However, I can affect them only if they want to be affected.”

“Really, YOU ARE, I fantasized about the possibility that ‘Heaven’ — for me, anyway — would be oblivion with only a quarter hour or so to savor the absence of anxiety and fear, of unpleasant memories and thoughts, of regrets and illusory hopes…of thinking itself. Yet I recognized that such a dream was most likely an impossibility. So, am I to sit around here for eternity, still thinking?”

“No, Carl. Your intellectual work is over. You will have your oblivion, and this is your moment to savor release. From now on you will feel peace, not think about it.

“But be still now, rest, and abide in me.”

* * * * * *

And now for three more photos, one of the celebration of my 50th anniversary and two on this, my not quite so celebratory 75th anniversary:

Bob Litton's 50th Brithday Anniversary Party 1989

December 1989: The Golden Anniversary with university friends (Left to Right) : Former SMU associate chaplain Robert Cooper, Margaret Shields (age 13), former SMU English Lit professor Ken Shields, my date (whose name I have forgotten), and me, trying to squeeze my belly in. The photographer was Ken’s wife, Joanna, an English teacher at one of Dallas’ high schools. Joanna also prepared the cake. The scene was the Shields’ home in University Park, a ritzy enclave of Dallas.

image (3)

December 2014 :  Celebrating my “Diamond Anniversary” in a West Texas tavern. Of the three old varmints here I am the center one–the guy who is checking to see if he has all the aces he needs or if he should pull out another one. The other desperadoes are Chris King (left) and Carl Lewis.

December 2014: Starting a new year with an eye toward heaven...somewhere.

December 2014: Looking toward a better future, hopefully.

∗ Pardon me, for I flubbed! A few days ago but after I had already published this post, I was looking through my pile of old photos and came upon the picture below of me in December 1965 — when I turned 25!!! So I do, after all, have a photo representative of each of my birth and birth anniversaries through all this past three quarters of a century. I don’t like this photo as much as the others; it was obviously taken in a “candid camera” type situation and is neither well-focused nor posed. The setting is the Wesley-Presbyterian Christian Fellowship offices at Southern Methodist University where most of my friends hung out. Poor as the photo is, however, I feel duty-bound to publish it here, for it balances out the other photos above.

Bob, 1965, age 25

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

“Bless”, “Blessing”, “Blessed”, “Bles-sed”

©2014 By Bob Litton

“It was the capital letter A. By an accurate measurement, each limb proved to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length. It had been intended, there could be no doubt, as an ornamental article of dress; but how it was to be worn, or what rank, honour, and dignity, in by-past times, were signified by it, was a riddle which (so evanescent are the fashions of the world in these particulars) I saw little hope of solving. And yet it strangely interested me. My eyes fastened themselves upon the old scarlet letter, and would not be turned aside. Certainly there was some deep meaning in it most worthy of interpretation, and which, as it were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol, subtly communicating itself to my sensibilities, but evading the analysis of my mind. (My emphasis.)

“When thus perplexed—and cogitating, among other hypotheses, whether the letter might not have been one of those decorations which the white men used to contrive in order to take the eyes of Indians—I happened to place it on my breast. It seemed to me—the reader may smile, but must not doubt my word—it seemed to me, then, that I experienced a sensation not altogether physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat, and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. I shuddered, and involuntarily let it fall upon the floor.”
–from the “Introductory” chapter to The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

One of these days, I am going to write an essay about knowing and the various ways we become aware of, and maybe even knowledgeable about, anything: the philosophers call the study of that capability, epistemology. But not today. Today I am approaching only one — albeit the most fascinating one — of the modes of knowing: the supersensible, intuitive, gut, or mystical way of knowing. And I am addressing it only through an example, not as the subject itself.

One morning back in 1991, I was enjoying my morning exercise stroll along an arc of White Rock Lake on my way to the neighborhood coffee shop, a distance of half a mile. On the way to my destination, as I watched the sun’s rays dapple the cottonwood trees’ leaves, I suddenly became aware of a new bit of sureness within myself. I could not help uttering, “I feel that I have been blessed!”

Now, Bible Belt Christians might interpret that feeling and the statement that followed it as a sign that I had been saved, something like Charles Wesley’s “warming” of the heart; but I did not view it in that sense, for I had not a heavy enough sense of personal sin to feel the requirement of salvation of that sort. Also, I had been attending church quite regularly as well as AA meetings every day; so, when I considered the moment as a possible “conversion” experience, I challenged that as a bit over-the-top.  However, beyond such a simplistic explanation, I was faced with a conundrum: Why? In what way? By whom? Why now? For that matter, what does it mean to be blessed?

For the rest of that day and for weeks afterwards, I indulged in my most frequent vice: intellectualizing what I probably should not desecrate with analytical thought. But it was so much fun…even though ultimately frustrating, since no clear-cut determination was possible.

The main problem was that there are several meanings and uses of the word “bless” and its various verbal, nominative and adjectival forms. There is perhaps the most common one: one person blessing another (say, after a sneeze: gesundheit) or blessing a meal (saying a prayer over the food, supposedly to make it more nourishing or simply digestible). Then we have the dousing of someone’s head with water and providing them with a “Christian name” or to signify the person’s acceptance into a communion of like-minded souls. And we might as well include the light-weight expletive “Bless it!” (a gentler cousin to “Damn it!”). In its other forms, blessing can mean “unexpected gift” (as in “a blessing in disguise”), and bles-sed can serve as a spiritual synonym for “fortunate” (an alternative which Jesus reportedly used frequently in his “Sermon on the Mount”).

I had been aware for decades that I had been “blessed” in the sense that I was “gifted” with a few talents: but I already knew that; I did not need this sudden internal springing of a “new knowledge” that I was able to write and draw better than many others. So, perhaps you have some idea now of the quandary I was in; for, without knowing who or what had blessed me and toward what end, I could not imagine how to interpret my new knowledge or what to do about it…if, in fact, it was necessary to do anything.

Up to that date, I had had several mystical experiences and had read the writings and biographies of many Western mystics. Fortunately, among those writings — especially by St. John of the Cross; Meister Eckhart; Jan of Ruysbroeck; the anonymous author of Cloud of Unknowing; and Thomas Keating — I read of experiences that were reflective of my own experiences, and special terms that denoted them (“consolations”, “the ineffable”, etc.). I had been particularly impressed by St. John of the Cross’s vivid metaphors (although overall I consider him a turgid prose writer) and of his listing of the spiritual sins (pride, gluttony, envy): sins which are comparable to their mundane counterparts yet specifically related to religious practices. Therefore, I tried to view my mystical moments against a rational background, not to deny or ignore them but to avoid interpreting “every bird that flies over as an omen”. Still, I could not refrain from wondering what some of my experiences meant, particularly when they seemed to me to be unnecessary, as was (to me) this strange feeling of being blessed.

In due course, I became less concerned about how I should interpret my experience or to respond to it, since that clearly was indeterminable, and more concerned with the term “bless” itself and its ambiguities. As a writer and a wannabe logician, I frequently employ my imaginary surgeon’s scalpel to examine the denotations and connotations of words. Also, when I come across or recall a word that seems extraordinarily exact or just plain pretty, I coddle it by way of frequent use. But in this instance no satisfactory interpretation occurred to me.

I left the whole matter in abeyance for these many years, only occasionally allowing it to float to the surface of my consciousness…unattended to…until the day before yesterday. I thought then that it might make a good topic for a blog post; also, it might be easier to investigate, since now I have access to all the tools in my computer and on the Internet, most of which were lacking fifteen years ago. So, here I have been writing my odd experience up for much of the morning. And while I was looking through a few online dictionaries for the various definitions of “bless”, “blessing”, “blessed” and “bles-sed”, I was slightly startled to see the following: “having a sacred nature: connected with God” (Merriam-Webster).

My readers might shake their heads and mutter, “Nothing new or obscure about that definition…been around a long, long time!”

I agree. However, I believe that this time I was moved to interpret it personally. After gazing a few moments at the definition, I said to myself, “I’ll go with that…and appreciate it.”

Finis

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