Archive for the ‘Paranormal’ 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.



Missing the Presence

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶A [person] should shine with the divine Presence without having to work at it. He should get the essence out of things and let the things themselves alone. That requires at first attentiveness and exact impressions, as with the student and his art. One must be permeated with divine Presence, informed with the form of beloved God who is within him, so that he may radiate that Presence without working at it….
¶The effect or expression of love often appears like a bright light, as spirituality, devotion, or jubilation and yet, as such, it is by no means best! These things are not always due to love. Sometimes they come of having tasted nature’s sweets. They also can be due to heavenly inspiration or to the senses, and people at their best are not the ones who experience them most. For if such things are really due to God, He gives them to such people to bait and allure them on and also to keep them away from [worse] company. But when such people increase in love, such [ecstatic] experiences will come less facilely, and the love that is in them will be proved by the constancy of their fidelity to God, without such enticements.
—Meister Eckhart, The Talks of Instruction, §§7, 10
¶The Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are the [children] of God. This testimony which grace affords to our conscience is the true joy of the soul….And when the soul is in this state of peace, it is also refined in thought….
¶This manna is heavenly food and the bread of angels, as Holy Scripture says. For angels are fed and filled by the clear sight and burning love of God; and that is manna. For we may ask what it is, but we cannot fully understand. One who loves God is not filled with manna here, but while he remains in the body he receives a small taste of it.”
— Walter Hilton (b. 1340-45, d. 1396), The Ladder of Perfection, Bk. II, Chap. 40

¶Anyone who has regularly read my posts since I began it in January 2013 can probably recall that a few of the writings concerned spiritual events and reflections as I experienced them. Off and on in my youth I pondered the option of becoming a Methodist minister and briefly — when I was virtually inebriated with mysticism — even a monk. The late Clark Calvert, who was my pastor and mentor for a few years when I had announced that I was going into the ministry, told me that “once God calls you He never lets you go”. I think Clark meant for that remark to reassure me, but actually it scared me a little. I had my doubts: I wasn’t totally accepting of the Apostle’s Creed and I didn’t relish the prospect of people changing their tone and addressing me as “Reverend” when I approached them.
¶Eventually I became disillusioned with organized religion and quit going to church. I had become weary of church members forming cliques and quarreling with each other; of ministers criticizing other ministers and even off-handedly noting the aging and decline not only of our congregation but of mainstream Protestantism itself. The only religious groups that seemed to be growing were the tiresomely antique Catholic Church; the “gospel of wealth” mega-churches; and the “hard shell” denominations such as the Baptists and the Disciples of Christ, who appeared to believe that the surest metric of one’s salvation was the number of Bible verses one has memorized.
¶Nonetheless, I retained the memories of the better elements of my church-going days: the summer evenings when the windows of White Rock Methodist would be raised and we would be seated in our pews, fanning ourselves with those illustrated hand fans and singing zestfully songs like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “Amazing Grace”. And I still ponder positively some of the remarks of Jesus: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”…” “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak….” etc.
¶Then, in midlife, I had my truly major spiritual awakening. I am not speaking here of the assurance of “being saved” about which the more orthodox evangelicals speak, nor of being “called”, although some people might describe it as such. No, while I was out on my morning walk around White Rock Lake one day, I felt a sudden sense of knowing, of a notice within my mind or heart or soul that I was “blessed”. Yes, it was a pleasant insight, it certainly did not harm me, but it did surprise and puzzle me because I did not understand what being spiritually blessed really means.* Of course, I knew that I had been blessed with some artistic gifts (which I had not nurtured to the degree that I should have) but that was history — an established known quantity — and this seemed to relate to a more immediate and singular condition. I did not know for sure what it meant then; nor do I know now; however, I have chosen intellectually to interpret it to mean that the Holy Spirit had extended His grace to me, opened my eyes, and presented itself as my guide to whatever extent I was capable and willing to be guided. If so, then that was indeed a major blessing. But what exactly did it entail?
¶I read many mystical works during that time, a period which has become muddled chronologically after two decades so that I cannot relate the events as coherently as I would like. But that is not necessary anyway. The salient elements are still available: (1) I read all those mystics to find the essence of a few terms: “yearning” [John Ruysbroeck], “the lure” [Meister Eckhart], and “dark night of the soul” [John  of the Cross]; (2) I was practically bombarded, it seemed, by strange experiences, some of which were interpretable as spiritual consolations (mystical encouragements to continue the search) as well as others which were simply weird with no apparent connection to the spiritual life; and (3) I learned that a day would come when the consolations would end, the Presence would leave me in the “dark night of the soul”. And that’s where I have been for a little over two decades.
¶I have posted on this site (March 30, 2015) a much longer account of my spiritual journey. There is not much point in pursuing the discussion any further here. Rather, I want to reveal my plea to the Holy Spirit about the hunger I feel for a return — even if only a brief one — of the Presence. I don’t know for sure why I feel this urgency now; I am aware that my request goes beyond the bounds of the usual spiritual progression and that I should not expect any more special attention. Perhaps my hunger comes out of my getting old, perceiving that the twilight of my life is nigh and hoping that I won’t go to the ashes jar while still in the dark night. Or perhaps it derives from my perception of modern life as a devolution into absurdity and insanity, and my hope that the Holy Spirit will help me make sense of all the craziness. Or perhaps both.

*For more commentary on the “blessed” question see my blog post of Oct. 26, 2014.


Modes of Knowing

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

By way of backstory here, I am going to have to beg your indulgence while I engage in meandering through a little bit of that old solipsistic sand again. Believe me, this brief digression is necessary toward an understanding of at least the motivation for the essay that follows.

Back in my teen years I realized that my family life was not ordinary and especially did not come anywhere near the ideal as portrayed on that old TV show “Father Knows Best”. My two older brothers were mostly absent, although occasionally showing up at the house which I shared with my mother. My father often enough appeared on one of the weekend days; but, since his visits were usually marred by temper tantrums, I was satisfied with the infrequency. This situation I contrasted with the family scenes at some of my friends’ homes, and the contrast was depressing.

I went to church by myself. There, too, the atmosphere was more reflective of a well-adjusted family, although a disparate one. Since I could not ask to be adopted into one of my friends’ families, I believe I subconsciously claimed the institutional church family as my own. In fact, for decades afterwards—church, air force stint, a lengthy university period—I relied on institutions to provide sustenance, organization, and meaning in my life. However, during all those years I saw evidences that the institutional homes had some problems, too. Everything devised by humans could never be perfectly whole; there were bound to be leaking cracks in the structure.

In those early years I found it excruciatingly painful searching for my “niche”—particularly my career niche—in the world’s wobbly organization. While sitting in the pew at church services, I observed the preacher and his honorable position in life. I liked the man so much I practically made a father-figure out of him, although I never told him so. After maybe a year, I met with him in his study and informed him that I wanted to dedicate my life to the ministry. He was obviously very glad to hear my declaration and made a point from that moment frequently to encourage me toward a pastoral career. On one memorable day, as we were in his car heading toward a regional church conference, he said, “Once God calls you, he will never let you go.”

I never followed through as far as pastoral training is concerned, although I eventually came to view my work as a newspaper editor a valid type of ministry in the sense of seeking to serve the people for their benefit. However, even while doing some good in my career as a journalist, I sometimes recalled that preacher’s promise…or warning…: ‟He will never let you go.” Sometimes, while bending over the composing table to paste up pages, I perceived an extraneous thought, “You are the man for the job.” Every time I felt that remark, I asked nobody in particular, under my breath, “What job?”

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a philosopher—a professional philosopher even though not a remunerated, academic one. However, I soon discovered that I suffered from one major handicap: lack of mathematical aptitude. Much, if not most, of modern philosophy is conducted through logical theorems and proofs, not in Socratic-style dialogues or Nietzschean aphorisms or in Humean essays. And alphabet letters combined with their attendant peculiar symbols and equations were always too opaque for me: I am not an abstract thinker.

My only recourse, I finally resolved, was to proceed as an outdated literary philosopher. Perhaps a truer denotation would be “an old-timey, cracker-barrel philosopher”. After all, is not every other profession being overturned by some new method of dealing with its material, even that of the symbolic logicians: they will probably find themselves to be fossils someday soon.

Now, besides the various methods of philosophy, there are also the several areas of philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics being the major fields. I have already published a few posts specifically concerning aesthetics and epistemology. I have also presented less definite offerings related, at least tangentially, to ethics and metaphysics. Today, I would like to present for your consideration a fuller meditation (as I like to call my philosophical essays) on the question of how we know, or come to know, some things: epistemology. While reading the following, keep in mind my anecdote of the composing table incident mentioned above.

When I began to seriously cogitate on the state of knowingness I was amusedly surprised to realize that there are several means of becoming aware of something. In fact, although I intend to discuss here the several that I pondered, I cannot honestly declare that there are not more.

Let me at first name and briefly define, in my own terms, the types of knowing that I have thought of:

(1) Basic:  Immediately at hand, e.g., our own names, although in some conditions, such as amnesia, the knowledge may not be presently available.
(2) Learned, often by Rote:  Memorized ad nauseam, each part except the first and last calls up another part via juxtaposition.
(3) “Tip-of-the-tongue”: We know the word or name, but it hides from us temporarily.
(4) Experiential: We know it’s difficult to fill a black or brown cup with coffee because we’ve done it.
(5) Déjà vu: Nearly everybody recognizes this term, and most acknowledge experiencing it: it is the French phrase for “already seen” and involves those odd moments when we seem to remember elements in a present situation that are very similar to elements of a previous experience, but we cannot remember the exact former situation.
6) Surmise: Given enough ancillary information, we deduce the only probable answer or outcome.
7) Mystical (Prescience): Internal, non-verbal, unsought, fleeting, ineffable knowledge.

Such is the list I have come up with. As I acknowledged above, more types of knowing might exist; I am not trying here to be all-inclusive. I just meant to emphasize that several types exist. Most of the modes above are certainly recognizable by everyone, so I will not dwell on numbers 1, 2, 4 and 6.

I will, however, briefly comment on numbers 3 and 5, both of which I find engrossingly fun to ponder.

Tip-of-the-tongue:   Imagine a very deep cellar with piles and piles of junk scattered on the floor. At the main floor (where you are) there are several stairways leading down to the cellar. You try them all but can’t reach the cellar (where whatever you want to retrieve is located), so you give up and decide to go to lunch down yet another stairway, at the other end of the long hallway; and, lo and behold, you bump into whatever it is you were looking for; it is coming up the stairs, looking for you.

Déjà vu: I don’t know if there are any scientific theories explaining it, but I have long had my own theory; viz., there is a whole aggregation of sensations and experiences jumbled together in our subconscious; sometimes we experience something which contains elements almost exactly reflective (or duplicative) of a previous experience, and thus we feel very fleetingly that we must have experienced the whole event before.

But the mode of knowing I want to concentrate on here (although it is very difficult to concentrate on) is number 7, the mystical or prescient.

Back in 1976, the late Julian Jaynes, at that time a psychology professor at Princeton University, published a book with a title almost as long as the book itself: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In it, he posited that until around 3,000 years ago people could not reason as we do today; when confronted with novel or stressful situations, they were dependent upon audio hallucinations within the right side of the brain to tell them what to do. This manner of coping persisted until, eventually, people were forced by catastrophe or cataclysm into the necessity of thinking consciously. Jaynes claimed that Homer’s first epic, The Iliad, was composed by a person who was one of the pre-conscious group; while The Odyssey was composed by someone who was more “modern”. Prophecy, poetry and schizophrenia all owe their origins to the “bicameral mind”, according to Jaynes. So, we still have some people today who are of that sort. One of my former psychiatrists intimated, by suggesting that I read Jaynes’ book, that I am one of the pre-conscious folks. After reading a testimony I had written about my mystical experiences, he diagnosed me as schizo-affective.

Observations during recent years have led me to believe that he was probably right. On two occasions in the past decade, I have asked two young waitresses why they said to me, days prior, odd remarks. One had said, as I recalled, “You act like you own this place (the restaurant)”, and the other had said, “I’ve heard bad things about you”. Both later denied they had said any such things. On yet another occasion, while standing in line to pay for my breakfast at a café, I was informed by the man ahead of me, whom I knew but not well, “You think too much”. No conversation had passed between us before that comment; it just came “out of the blue”. Perhaps what I thought I had heard those persons say was what I actually heard them think.

In the recent past, I have happened upon more intriguing incidents of unconscious “knowing”. Unfortunately, I guess, both were episodes in fictional works: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Joss Whedon’s TV series “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer”.

In Chapter 27 of Dracula, while Abraham Van Helsing and Mina Harker are proceeding through the wintry harshness of the Borgo Pass on their way to Dracula’s castle, where they intend to “kill” Dracula and his “brides”, Mina (who has already been bitten once by Dracula), points to a side road and says to Van Helsing, ‘This is the way.’

‘How know you it?’ asks Van Helsing.

‘Of course I know it,’ Mina answers, and then, pausing until she comes up with a plausible reason, utters, ‘Have not my Jonathan travelled it and wrote of his travel?’

Some other similar incidents, these involving Van Helsing as well as Mina, occur here and there in the novel. In Van Helsing’s case, we can suppose his knowledge derives from his broad and deep reading in books on the supernatural. However, the way he emphasizes it makes me believe his knowingness has a more sub-cranial basis. In Mina’s case, we sense that her knowledge comes from the developing infection caused by Dracula’s bite: She is being transformed slowly into a vampire.

In “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer”, the mystical knowledge comes to Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers, in Season 5, Episode 9, when a brain-cancer, or the operation to remove it, affects her knowing capability. It causes her to realize that Dawn, whom she has mysteriously accepted as her daughter, is not in fact her daughter. She can’t explain how she knows it; she just does.

And in a manner similar to Van Helsing’s fount of supernatural knowledge, Buffy, in Season 5, Episode 21, realizes that “Glory the hell-god” will win in the contest between them. Says she to one of her friends: ‘I didn’t just know it; I felt it.’

I apologize for resorting to fictional works for my “evidence” here, but, except for my own personal experiences, that is pretty much all I can go by. However, does not the use of such elements by creative writers cause us to suspect that there is at least an ounce of truth in such phenomena? Is it related, perhaps, to Extra-Sensory Perception? Or even—to go the whole way—due to paranormal ability? Are not we all, on at least a few occasions, almost shocked by our own prescience?


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