DOCTRINE AND LIFE

It seems to me that intellectual assent to

Some doctrinal formula

Won’t cut it

If you stay the same person

Or rebirth isn’t new birth at all

And repentance is but a Biblical, Latinate word

Some say faith will do it, alone

Some say without works, faith is dead

If I stay the same, the same nature, natural man, I’m dead

I shudder, chagrin at where I’ve been

And in the development I know hope blossoms

Planted in this fallen, fallible flesh, this clod of clay

Torment, foment, and a breath of inspiration

Bringing life,–they say I’m living better

If living matters amid faith alone

All I can say, can see, is I’m less restless, fractious, caustic, cynic

I know life is better for me, some serenity

I don’t know if it’s the Spirit moving over the faces of the deep

If it’s rebirth,

Or even if new life matters amid intellectual assent to

Some doctrinal formula

I know what I am, and what I am agrees with me

And I agree, assent, with the life coming at me

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Spirit and Matter and Life

Dead matter.  That’s how I saw the material world.  My understanding of Jesus added to this world view, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless” (John 6:63).  I understood this statement of Jesus according to the science I was raised with.  The atoms, chemicals, material compounds were all dead matter.  There was the spiritual world which is alive, and there was the physical world made up of dead matter, atoms, chemicals, material compounds.  “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”  Even Nature was made up of dead matter.

The cells in our bodies, the leaves on trees, the soil in which plants grow are all made up of atoms, chemicals, and material compounds which are dead matter, I thought.  This world view is called Cartesian dualism.  Renee Descartes tried to come up with a theory to account for the relationship between spirit and matter.  Willing your arm to move is spiritual.  Wanting, or willing, is spiritual.  But your arm is physical.  How can something spiritual like the will affect something physical like your arm?  I’m not sure Descartes ever came up with a satisfactory solution to this problem.  But he described the problem well—movements of the soul are spiritual; movements of the body are material.  “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”  Actually, Cartesian dualism actually goes back to Plato.  In Plato, there are two worlds: the world of the unchanging Ideal Forms, or ideas (ideai, eide) and the world of matter (hyle).  For Plato, what is really real, and our eternal home, is in the world of Ideal Forms; we end up on earth through a fall from the realm of Ideal Forms.  So the separation of spirit and matter can be traced way back to Plato.

While early Christians were sympathetic to Plato, notably Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa, there is a problem with Plato.  The Bible says that when God created Nature, God called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Plato’s contempt for the material world is not shared by Christians.  Nature is created by God and is good; we are meant to be born here by God’s creative design.

But is matter dead?  Is the theory of matter that I grew up with true?  I am not a physicist.  But after reflection on Swedenborg’s theology, and after dialogue with a Cree elder, and from what I know about contemporary quantum physics, I think there’s only a thin veil between spirit and matter—not the drastic gulf one finds in Plato and Descartes.

Quantum physics tells us that matter is continually in flux.  Sub-atomic particles are popping into existence and vanishing out of existence all the time.  Atoms and molecules are continually vibrating.  Electrons are more a shell of probability than they are particles that are here or there.  Furthermore, matter is not solid.  Consider atoms.  The electron shell around a nucleus is like a pea in the middle of Shea Stadium.  There is that much space between the electron shell and the protons and neutrons in the nucleus.  But not empty space.  There are electromagnetic fields, gravitational fields, and all manner of other forms of energy that make up “dead matter.”  Energy fields such as the electromagnetic field permeates all of the universe.  Our very thoughts are electromagnetic impulses.  Sparks.  Electromagnetic energy.  If our thoughts are electric sparks and if electromagnetic fields permeate everything—even rocks—how different are our thoughts from rocks?  From the matter in our thoughts and the matter in rocks.  Both are made up of sub-atomic particles and energy fields that are always in flux—are alive?

The veil between spirit and matter is very thin, probably porous.  Now, I don’t think matter is dead.  Now, I see God in all God’s creation.  Now I revere Nature as I do Nature’s Creator.

An Environment Evacuated of God

I think we live in a world evacuated of God.  Back in the late 19th century Nietzsche prophesied the death of God, “Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the horizon?”  We are now in the 21st century, and in most public spheres God is dead.

What this means is that 21st century western society has lost the sense of the sacred.  We hold little sacred, do not hold each other sacred, do not hold the universe sacred.

This means that Nature is not sacred Creation.  It is a collection of unfeeling elements, molecules, atoms, quarks, and quantum fields.  That’s what makes a tree grow, a flower bloom, a river flow, the sunrise.

Since Nature is not sacred, it is easy for us to do what we want with Nature.  We can burn its forests, throw our garbage into its ocean, pipe our defecation and industrial waste into its rivers, kill its wales, tigers, bald eagles, fill the heavens with sulphurous fumes, carbon dioxide, soot, and fluorocarbons.

If we treated our fellow humans like this, we would be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated.  But doing all these things to Nature ends up doing them to each other.  Oxygen comes from forests, we fish the oceans, drink rivers, breathe the air, and animals are our fellows.  We think so little of each other, that we don’t recoil from indirectly hurting each other by violating Sacred Gaea.

I’m not sure science and legislation can fix our eco-system without humanity recovering a sense of the sacred.  And I’m not sure we can return to our holy roots and find our way back to the sacred.

An Olding Man in Key West

I was a young man

Visiting Key West

When first I looked into

Stevens’ “THE IDEA OF ORDER IN KEY WEST.”

I didn’t understand a word of it.

But I was a young intellectual

Being an intellectual

In a place with a literary history

 

In Key West then, there were many young

Old hippies, tradesmen, college students

Partying

 

I came back an holding man

I re-read “THE IDEA OF ORDER IN KEY WEST”

Now I understand much

Most of it

And I am an holding man with

Intellectual inclinations

 

Coming back to Key West

Old memories barely triggered

But after a couple days

I remembered much

 

But in Key West now, there are families

A resort town

Tawdry tourist shops or high end

No local hand-crafts

I don’t see so much partying

But I am holding now,, and don’t party.

 

Though Stevens didn’t think much of Nature

In Key West now

There is the same lush vegetation

Palms, mangroves, tropical brush

And the blue-green sea is the same

The same