Traditions, Religious Cultures, Belief Systems make up the behavior of like minded peoples. From small groups to groups numbering in the millions, even billions, these like minded people agree on a few fundamentals that permit them to find their place on this world and their relationship to their creator. Some differences between the religious communities are cultural, some are faith based, and while all believe in a Creator not all agree on what to call hm or her or on what each individuals relationship to him or her should be.
Almost uniformly someone or some group has anointed themselves to be the bearers of the faith, communicators to their God, and interpreters of the sacred documents. These roles in turn provide guidance and instruction on how to behave, how to do homage to the Creator, and how to perform the cultural acts that over time become the sacred rituals of that religions identity.
There have been significant changes in how all of the religions come to terms with each others belief systems, cultural and organizational differences and the rules for the faithful to both honor and submit to the leadership interpretation of the sacred documents. Principle among all of the changes was the effort to enter into a dialogue between all Religions to begin the process of understanding and acceptance. However profound this attempt at dialogue and understanding was at the time, strong resistance surfaced. But as with all rigid systems, significant changes began at the lowest levels and continues to this day. A new church is emerging. The dream of acceptance among all of the faithful is slowly becoming a reality in small gatherings. As these groups meet, old rules and dogmas are being tested and found wanting. New behavior are surfacing and in some hierarchical organizations the separation between leaders and followers is increasing.
While the foundational faith has not really changed many are challenging the authority and rules of the leadership. As with all peaceful and evolving revolutions those last to understand their loss of power are those in power.
The New Emerging Church
While the rigid fundamentalists, the extremists, and the senior leadership fight over what and who is right, what the rules are, who is boss, and what the proper interpretation of the sacred documents should be, members of each religion are redefining for themselves what is good, what is appropriate for today, and what their relationship to the leadership should be. Dialogue among themselves and with other religions is increasing and with that, greater understanding and acceptance is emerging. This evolution cannot be stopped no matter how many attempts are made to stop the river of change.
I have been a witness to this river of change. It is both satisfying and enlightening and at the same time a little discouraging as I observe the strong resistance to change the leaders exhibit.
The Carrots of our Imaginations
Death is not something each of us wants to reflect on. First of all we do not know when our time is up. Second we cannot really do anything to avoid it. Even though our lives are extended through luck or healing, sooner or later we face the end of our lives. Most would agree that focusing on the end takes away from our participation in the moment. It is always a future thing, until it is here.
So why even talk about it. Thoughts or discussions are distracting, nothing can change the final outcome, and if not considered in context, the idea or fact of death is emotionally depressing. One good reason to consider dealing with this finality is that this reality affects us throughout our lives. Religions address it, Political, Social and Economic systems incorporate it into their cultures. We are surrounded by it, specially in times of war, disasters or plagues, and misguided leadership.
Religions tell us that we do not cease to exist forever, there is an afterlife. Nations tell us that to die for our country is the ultimate sacrifice. Cosmologists know that every tiny atom of our being exists because a star died and as it died many if not all of the elements that make up our being came from the fire and fusion of hydrogen and helium. The stars manufactured all of the elements beyond hydrogen and helium. Our planet and indeed life itself is the gift of a dying star.
We see the circle of life and death all around us. As the leaves float down in the fall to replenish the nutrients in the soil over the winter the seeds and plants in the spring begin the life struggle all over again. Animals, insects and people die each year but it is only we who believe our existence and awareness has a purpose refuse to accept that our individual souls or spirits die with our physical bodies.
Some would argue that this is a delusion brought on by the very existence of our awareness of ourselves. Others accept the spiritual path of reincarnation or the existence of an afterlife where our soul resides forever. Heaven, described with any word you choose, is where we go when our mortal bodies die.
Life and Awe
Whatever your affiliations to Religion, however you see your relationship to our Creator, there is an important ingredient that all of us have to deal with. It is the "dark side" of the soul brought on by disillusionment, our mortality expressed in injury, illness or death. When we are young we choose to not even think about it. But as we age our life experiences begin to weigh on us and we search for answers. Most find these answers in a religion. And yet even in religious groups the answers provided are not always satisfactory. Lets face it, even with a promise of eternal life, it takes a special understanding of our existence here on this earth to grapple with our mortality.
As science closes the gaps in our understanding of our Universe, we non scientists slowly incorporate these new pieces of information into our world view. This affects our belief systems and results in different behaviors. In theory it should be obvious to every educated person on this planet that we are connected in a most profound way. We are beginning to expand our awareness of all that exists and our relationship to it all. From a religious point of view faith does not give way to dispair but is actually strengthened. But education does not guarantee this understanding of our connectedness. Many who do not or did not have access to advanced education feel this connection as deeply as any other.
Since nothing we do, say or yet invent will alter the fact of our mortality, does the faith of religions or the sense of Universal connectedness change anything. The answer is yes, for all those who have transformed their relationship to creation carry with them a greater sense of awe at creation and our place within it. This results in a more peaceful and reflective human being who's behavior is peaceful and reflective. The greater harm originates from our isolation and separateness. The greater good orginates from our connectedness. Since everything, sooner or later, dies, is it not better to live with awareness, awe and appreciation rather than fear, anger and isolation.
Today I would like to pay my respects to all those killed, injured and impacted by the 9/11 attacks. I sincerely hope that the pain of the loss of friends and loved ones has lessened. I do not know the numbers of people, women, children, soldiers and civilians killed and injured since that attack, but I am sure it is a very large number. All of those families are also grieving. This needs to be considered carefully as we move forward. No fundamentalist belief, of any country or religion, should sponsor death and destruction. It is up to all of us to guide our actions toward peace and resolve our differences peacefully. Bullys, dictators and some very bad people still exist. We are not yet free of those who would achieve their ends through brutal and terrible means. These people must be dealt with. However, innocent women, children, civilians and soldiers need not be sacrificed, need not give their lives to pay for the evil deeds of a few.
I am often asked, how do I experience this connectedness you talk about? We are all busy, we all have stuff to do. Some of this stuff is pretty serious. So what is it I am trying to connect to?
I forget every once in a while. I forget where I fit it to the bigger picture, and I am talking about the really, really big picture. I get lost in my own world of victories and defeats, Love and Losses, and my sometime Ego Trip. I want to win just like everyone else, I want to be the hero in my own story. When we are not the hero many times the dark side comes calling, the hidden part of us that is long buried or ignored. It is called our unconscious because we are not conscious of that part of us until the shadow falls, obscuring our sight and sending us into the abyss.
Since at one time or another we all experience this, what is this sense of Awe and how does it help?
Awe demands that we see what is out there. Awe requires us to be a part of everything, not separate. Awe gives us a feeling of amazement over the most ordinary experiences. Awe integrates everything that is out there with everything that is inside of you. It Begins with Creation, flows from the death of magnificent stars, and emerges within our minds as we begin to comprehend the awesome creativity that is life and how it got here. Every atom of your body is billions of years old. The essence of your life began in the center of a star, many stars, and created the chain of events in their death that built this blue globe of wonder, life, and consciousness. Our Generation, in greater numbers than any before, sees how we are apart of it all, and the beginning of a new path of evolution. Humans that are not separate from the Universe but a part it at our deepest core.
To see this, to feel this, we need to slow down. As we have mentioned before this planet does not need saving, we do. Slowing down allows us to be conscious, aware, of what is going on, what we are feeling, what we are doing, and how we are experiencing and responding, to each and every moment.
Awe gives us the opportunity to be aware of the miracle of photosynthesis, the enormous outpouring of light from our sun, the merging of two dna chains to create a totally new life, and the cycle of creation, death and creation that extends far into the past and will continue far into the future. If I could point to one thing that helped us alter our world view of how we fit into the bigger picture it would be the Hubble telescope, followed by all those who began to understand and interpret what it gave to us. The Universe.
For all those who grew up in a religion, for all those who found a place of faith later in life, for all those who cannot seem to cross over to a religious group, we all have one thing in common. It goes beyond the sacred documents, religious culture and rituals and beyond the leadership. It goes to the core of our existence. We do not know. We desperately want to know. We continue to search and discover to gain an even deeper understanding of how we got here, why we are here, and where we are going.
Along the way most of us follow a faith, a faith that everything is as it should be, and that our God has it all under control. Whatever you believe, no matter how strongly, our common connection is not through religious groups but through our awareness and connection to the creative forces in the Universe. No one can comprehend the enormity of our Universe, its vastness, the sheer numbers of Galaxies and Stars, nor the powerful destructive and creative forces that allowed and continue to allow our existence. But make no mistake our future survival is not only in the hands of this evolving Universe, but in our own.
Awe and Amazement "Radical Amazement" (Judy Cannato) is our common ground. It allows us to see (be conscious of) the beauty of creation, deal with the dark side, and measure our participation as responsible fully aware life forms. Humans are currently the top dog life form on this planet. Will it always to so? Not necessarily. We get to choose. At least for a while.