Death and the Harvest Cycle and Family

Family and the land

And death and the harvest cycle

Farms ad family farms and neighbors

Dinner and grandparents and daughters and their sons

And friends, beloved ones

And love and connections and community

And communities and the land

And death and the harvest cycle

 

Hand-hewn beams of a hundred-year-old barn

Abandoned, unused, left-over straw

A graveyard, a tombstone, names of the deceased and living

Winter, fields harvested, mud and corn stubble

Lunch and new connections

And family and meeting parents

A hundred-year-old church

Now a theatre and art gallery

 

An abandoned farm house

A new condo and a senior manor

Change and death and new beginnings

Meeting new people and new family

Renewing old connections—teachers, family friends

And the land and family farms

And the harvest cycle and death and family

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Adrenaline and other Moods

I just saw the new Tomb Raider movie, and I enjoyed it.  It was excitement from the beginning to the end.  But I’m mildly disturbed that I enjoyed it.  I am disturbed because of the emotions that the film evoked.  There seemed to be one feeling only, excitement.  But it was an excitement born of fear; it wasn’t a happy excitement–it was an excitement derived from fear that Laura Croft might not get out of the predicament she was in.  It was adrenaline from start to finish.

I have wondered why it is hard for me to watch old movies like The Sound of Music, or even The Wizard of Oz.  At first I thought that it was cinematography.  I thought that I was so used to the millions of cuts cuts in contemporary films, which make a 30 second scene seem long. that I can’t watch old films in which the camera lingers on its subject for longer periods of time.  I thought that was what was making me restless when I watch old films.

But I now think that the reason is more distressing.  Maybe the reason I can’t watch old films is because the emotions they evoke are calmer, more peaceful.  If I am used to feeling non-stop adrenaline, how can I watch a film which is based on happy family life, or the still beauty of the Austrian Alps, and pleasant songs sung by Julie Andrews?  It is a distressing thought that contemporary emotional climate is based on excitement and adrenaline.  That culture no longer feels the calm, the still, the peace of Julie Andrews singing in the Alps.

This theory also explains why symphony halls are experiencing difficulty keeping their doors open.  It may be that the emotions evoked by, say, a Beethoven symphony are extinct in contemporary society.  Maybe people don’t listen to Beethoven anymore because the emotions that Beethoven calls up have vanished from society today.  While music that consists of short musical  motifs on top of a pulsating beat matches the pulsating adrenaline driven passions of society today.

So I wonder, has society lost sublime feelings?  Am I right that anxiety and adrenaline are fueling contemporary emotional life?  Is this why symphony halls are losing audiences?  Why mainline churches are dwindling while Evangelical churches which feature praise rock bands are filled?  Why I enjoyed Tomb Raider and have difficulty with The Sound of Music?

Why Sacred Texts?

I was recently on holidays in the Caribbean.  I was immersed in nature, with the lush foliage, palms, the ocean and snorkeling, sunsets.  It is not easy to explain, but being in nature served to shuck off all the city anxiety, worry, and stress.  I fell into a natural way of being.  Taoists would call it being in harmony with Tao.

My fellow companions on this vacation and I talked about our upbringings and how our past determined the present issues we confront in our life growth.  We talked of spiritual ideas like reincarnation, Scientology, Buddhism, and Swedenborg.  My worldly concerns were gone, and I found myself falling naturally into spiritual interests.  This and the healing power of the love my partner, her sister, and her sister’s partner all felt together.

Then I returned home, and got caught up in the wheels of the world again.  There was one striking impression that I experienced as I returned to work.  I am a pastor.  And in the middle of my first church service back from holidays, I saw the open Bible on the altar.  I thought about how little I was involved with the Bible while on holidays.  And yet there was a deep spirituality about my holidays.  I felt like so many people in the world today.  I wondered why the words of a bronze-age storyteller matter today.  Matter to me, to my spiritual life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson had similar doubts about the relevance of Israelite history and the landscape of Palestine.  His language is somewhat hard to read, but the examples he cites from the Bible are so strange and opaque you get the idea—Emerson doesn’t understand why he needs to read the Hebrew Scriptures.

“What have I to do,” asks the impatient reader, “with jasper and sardonyx, beryl and chalcedony; what with arks and passovers, ephahs and ephods; what with lepers and emerods; what with heave-offerings and unleavened bread, chariots of fire, dragons crowned and horned, behemoth and unicorn? Good for Orientals, these are nothing to me. The more learning you bring to explain them, the more glaring the impertinence. The more coherent and elaborate the system, the less I like it. I say, with the Spartan, ‘Why do you speak so much to the purpose, of that which is nothing to the purpose?  My learning is such as God gave me in my birth and habit, in the delight and study of my eyes and not of another man’s. Of all absurdities, this of some foreigner proposing to take away my rhetoric and substitute his own, and amuse me with pelican and stork, instead of thrush and robin; palm-trees and shittim-wood, instead of sassafras and hickory,- seems the most needless” (Representative Men: “Swedenborg; or The Mystic).

Emerson wants to rely on his own lights, his own mind, draw metaphors from his own natural world—“thrush and robin . . . sassafras and hickory.”  Emerson thinks that he doesn’t need sacred scriptures.  Instead, Emerson thinks that his own mind, birth, and habits are sufficient modes of spiritual inspiration, “My learning is such as God gave me in my birth and habit, in the delight and study of my eyes and not of another man’s.”  This is the basis of Emerson’s criticism of Jacob Behmen and Emanuel Swedenborg.  They bound their imagination to Christian symbolism and the Bible, “Swedenborg and Behmen both failed by attaching themselves to the Christian symbol, instead of to the moral sentiment, which carries innumerable christianities, humanities, divinities, in its bosom.”  Instead of relying on the Bible and Christian symbolism, Behmen and Swedenborg should rely on their own minds, their own moral imagination, says Emerson, “the moral sentiment, which carries innumerable christianities, humanities, divinities, in its bosom.”

However, I think that there is value in mining sacred texts for spiritual direction.  I think that there are things in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures that are of value today—taken with advisement.  I admit the antiquity of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Christian Scriptures.  But everything we think, every judgement we make, everything we know, we learned—either from our family, our city, our country, our schools.  We are born ignorant of everything.  We need to learn everything—to walk, to talk, to think, to make judgements, to hold spiritual ideas.

This is where Emerson mistakes.  He writes, “My learning is such as God gave me in my birth and habit, in the delight and study of my eyes and not of another man’s.”  First, there is no delight and study of Emerson’s eyes.  Every delight and study came to Emerson from another person.  Someone taught him manners; someone taught him civility; someone taught him language; someone taught him the habits he practices.  I think that his New England culture taught him much of who Emerson was.  He himself says so, “My learning is such as God gave me in my birth and habit.”  His birth and habit came from the New England Culture he grew up in.

We are fated to our local customs, our family’s habits, if we do not look outward.  There may be much good in our local habits.  But to remain only in one’s local habits can be limiting.  There can also be falsities and misguided values in our localities.  This is why we need input from other world-views.

The Bible is a 1,500-year-old record of humanity’s encounter with God.  Even if some of it comes from a bronze-age culture, it is still a sincere record of humanity’s encounter with the Other.  Buddhist Scriptures, too, are the product of intense thought, meditation, and spiritual inspiration.  Where do we get our own ideas of spirituality?  I will admit that we can receive spiritual influx directly from God, or the angels.  But a little reflection will show just how much of our spiritual thought and beliefs came from parents, teachers, school, church, local culture.

I suggest that more than we might realize, our spiritual beliefs are, in fact, “another man’s” and not “the delight and study of my eyes.”