Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
But Why NOT A God?
I was lisening to a radio talk show interview of a guy who is brilliant by any calculation, a modern day Renaissance Man.
He achieved a PhD in Philosophy and an MD before the age of 31. He is now in his mid-seventies. He has written many books. He has worked as a philosopher, psychologist, psychiatric doctor, and a college professor. He is famous (and controversial) in particular for his work with people who have had near death experiences (NDEs).
As a result of the latter interest, he has done considerable research in the shadowy world of communicating with the dead. It is for this pursuit he is most famous, although for all his curiosity about the afterlife, he rejects a religious perspective, prizing, instead, curiosity.
Nevertheless, as one listener, a follower of Jesus Christ, noted, for all this impressive, accomplished man’s curiosity about death, the dead, and the journey there (and back), the doctor’s brilliant, inquiring mind has not applied the same intellectual discipline to studying the existence of God. He rejects a personal religious and/or spiritual tradition.
I noted the irony there, too…
This reminded me of something I often ponder and by which I am always humbled and awed: the power of free will,* this time as related to the question that occurs to everyone, at one point or another: is there some kind of higher power?
And, of course, as this man illustrated, we are free to choose to pursue that, or not, as we wish.
The spiritual quest, so to speak, starts young, too, pretty much as soon as a child’s critical thinker gels to the point of asking the philosophers’ questions on death, kid-styled: “Why did Grandpa die?”, “Do we all die?”, “Where do we go after we die?” and, flat-out, “Is there really a God?”
These kinds of questions usually emerge about the age of 4-6. And just as there is no way you can adequately prepare, say, a pregnant woman for the universe-splitting challenge of hard labor and delivery, it is also difficult to prepare parents for the advent of their little intellectual.
And a kid knows you’re shining them on, too, if you just answer “Well, a lot of very smart people ask the same questions, Junior. Good job!” Or something deflective like that.
(Meanwhile, Mom or Dad might also be thinking, at the dawning of a new era in their own, in this case parenting, awareness, Oh, my God! And in a few short years he/she will be a teenager! Learning to drive! DATING! Or something like that.)
“The World Is Too Much With Us”
While listening to this high-caliber thinker and his response to the caller about the existence of God, or at least, the idea of God, I was also reminded of the nineteenth-century Wordsworth poem, “The World Is Too Much With Us” (reprinted from the public domain):
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
In this poem, Wordsworth laments the fact that due to the cares and busyness of the world (making a living, buying and selling) we often lose our connection with nature and with imagination–both of which enable us to catch glimpses of the unseen.
He equates the unseen with old pagan traditions, with the creation of legends and lore, and with greater spiritual awareness. Simpler times, you might say, less hurried and distracting, where “noble savages” were imagined to be more in synch with nature, or so writers of the romantic literary style mused.
Fast forward two centuries, and Wordsworth, romantic poet or not, would weep, I think, over how truncated our thinking has become since; how limited not only in imagination but also in spiritual curiosity, having been hemmed in by seven-second sound bytes and slide-by memes, in many ways more overpowering and time-consuming than the constant din and demands of the machinery of the early industrial era in which he lived.
The poet would be shocked by the hive-mind mentality of much of popular culture, and even, ironically, in most of education that in this politically-saturated era tends to herd especially young, fresh minds that are ready to gather-in the bounty of ideas swirling all about like those “howling winds” but instead are reduced by the “digital industrial revolution” into so many pretty, but dead (“sleeping”) flowers, as it were. Virtual flowers that seduce the passer-by with their beauty, ringing, and dinging, but they’re not real.
I guess my own “message to the world” as another poet, Emily Dickenson, described her poetry, would be on the subject of powering down the distractions and taking a walk, fishing a lake, hiking a new trail, or simply sitting in some art gallery or museum and pondering what mind, emotion, will, spirit (or Spirit) first perceived then created this work that, now, suddenly (or maybe later, gradually), might tell us something important about our lives, our quests, our journeys from one eternity to the next.
You just never know.
For if we lose this capactity, if we “lay waste our own powers” of observation, reflection, adventure, and full-throated curiosity; if we close off the door that first prompted us as little ones to think beyond food and comfort to what our spiritual instinct also began to thirst and long for, how might we, like the poem’s subject, also go “out of tune?”
What would we also miss?
Of an essential nature?
Of an existential nature?
Of the possibility that there is, indeed, a Higher Power, Creator of creators, Who shares with His created, you and me, a capacity to think beyond, above, and within?
If we are open to it…
Wordsworth would, I think, on observing–and feeling–the condition of intellect and soul today, mourn the increasing loss of not only imagination and unfettered curiosity, he would also grieve the loss of the necessity of such to inspire the best and greatest in us–and for us.
For in all the “getting and spending” of this age, as amazing and technologically advanced as it is, we, too, are in danger of missing the reflection of the moon on the water, the suggestion of what rises from the deep, what harmony there might be in an existence beyond what, for just a few dollars more, a few more hours laboring at the machines, “they” promise us we can have to assuage the essential loneliness that urges us forward in all of our quests.
We may lose this opportunity bit by byte, as it were, due to the greatest “industrial distractor” of this age, of discovering more, and in so doing, even though standing on some “pleasant (ground)” where we ought to have glimpses of that “that would make (us) less forlorn (lonely),” we would have lost the connection, the hope, the comfort.
For the “seen” can reveal so much about the unseen.
If we ditch the distractions, stop, look–and listen.
As put another way, in another verse:
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
9 Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:7-10, NIV)
Lastly, from my own quest (as unique to me as is yours, to you), I am reminded of this:
“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. (Romans 1:20)
I pray that the modern Renaissance Man, a most remarkable fellow of great curiosity and achievement, will also take time to look around through a different lens, explore one more curiosity, open one more corner of his mind–and heart–and in so doing, find, at last, what is in my view and experience, the grandest quest of all: knowing God.
Which is really just the beginning of exploring a world heretofore only imagined, a comfort only hoped, a companionship only dreamed, and an adventure** only longed for.
*For other thoughts on this amazing, powerful gift, see here.
**How to get started? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Related information.
Image of head with question marks from Wikimedia Commons
Image of child gazing at night sky from Wikimedia Commons
Image of woman on sea shore from Wikimedia Commons
Image of cell phones and lap tops from Wikimedia Commons