Sunday, 20 May 2007

If not prepared for can we live?

I decided that the deafening silence last week to my personal journey was down to poor presentation and confused titles (well my life may just be ordinary but not got to that level of humility yet!) So let’s hope this post's title makes more sense and has less technical problems. Also as will be shown I have not rejected all God or Theistic language.

This train of thought was started by Ministry in today's Meeting. The announcement of allowing stem cell research based on mixing animal and human cells was discussed in an early morning religious BBC radio programme. What caught the speaker's imagination was the fact that the cells could be linked so demonstrating the unity of life. (I have read that most living creatures share a common pool of genes but how they get switched on and off is what creates the complexity of apparent differences). Towards the end of the Meeting, more Ministry explored the hidden exploitation of animals in the process as well as the plain fact that if we tackled world poverty then this would increase the well-being of the many rather then the few.

The meeting closed and in the after words session, a whoosh of conversations opened up exploring the notions of when human life is said to begin or what the benefits of research would be for relatives that are in the living death of senile dementia.

I remained silent as my thoughts had gone off in two different directions. One was that the whole issues under discussion call into question traditional Theistic notions of God. In that the idea of man being in the image of God is a key Christian notion as well as having dominion over all that fly and crawl. Both link to the image of the Emperor God creator. If humans are not unique and part of a continuum of life as has been traditional in many Eastern religions then the light is in all creation and not just in humanity. What does this mean for our relationship to the planet and life? To be fair what I have just written applies to the notion of a Transcendent God but it is compatible with Panentheism (not pantheism which is God as nature but everything in God, and God in everything). As illustrated by this old Welsh poem.
I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave on the ocean,
I am the murmur of leaves rustling,
I am the rays of the sun,
I am the beam of the moon and stars,
I am the power of trees growing, I am the bud breaking into blossom,
I am the movement of the salmon swimming,
I am the courage of the wild boar fighting,
I am the speed of the stag running,
I am the strength of the ox pulling the plough,
I am the size of the mighty oak tree,
I am the thoughts of all the people
Who praise my beauty and grace.
My other train of thought, lead me to a concern that the research is driven by a medical profession and public demand that refuses to engage with ageing, dying and death. We urge bodies on to live as that are tired and weary of life. In part this had been set off by reading The year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion where she discusses the gradual change from where grief had a clear public timetable and ritual stretching over years to one now where grief is seen as an embarrassing private affair.

But it also been set into motion by a contradictory approach to the first set of thoughts. This are the ideas of Don Cupitt. In his writings, Cupitt sometimes describes himself an Christian non-realist This means that he follows certain spiritual practices and attempts to live by ethical standards traditionally associated with Christianity, without believing the actual existence of the underlying metaphysical entities. One of his arguments, explores the experiences of early Christian who believed in the second coming and end times. He and many other commentators argue that this what shaped and opened the cult to pagans and took a more equal view of women etc. He extends this today and asks how you would live your life if each day was your last. Dr. Bernie Siegel is a physician who has cared for and counselled innumerable patients echoes this notion as this quote shows.
In many cases people who've become aware of their mortality fine that they've gain the freedom to live. they are sized with an appreciation for the present: every day is my best day; this is my life; I am not going to have this moment again. They spend more time with the people they love and less time on people and pastimes that don't offer love or joy. this seems like such a simple thought-shouldn't we all spend our lives that way? But we tend not to make those kind of choices until someone says, " you have 12 months to live."
They can be reconciled as they both ask me to value life and to live positively but we can chose to express that as helping God's love of the world or seeking to live in a just way. Who cares as long as we
show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world


GMC said...

I was a Vietnam helicopter pilot and for about a year and a half I had the view that each day would be my last. This was a theory that was proven with each close call, accident or death of friend. In the abstract, it is a good idea to live each day as though it was your last. In reallity I don't think you can live with intamincy of death for a life time. At some point life loses its value, both yours and others.
It is a good idea to spend time reflecting on the joys and beauity of life. The positive part of facing death is that you will never feel more alive!
I will have to hold this idea for more time for a more cogent reply.

A tenative Quaker said...

hi, thanks for the comment. I agree in the face of such extreme regular aggression the idea becomes more difficult to sustain. Equally in the long run the early church back peddled on the idea but second coming aspect resurfaced at various times to raise mass movements and still drives various evangelical Christians today.

However, in the day to day experience of living, an interesting book to read that explores the psychological consequences of not dealing with a fear of death is Love's Executioner and other tales of Psychotherapy by
Irvin D. Yalom. He sets out how a belief in being special or a ultimate rescuer are standard responses to the human condition but then writes,

We know about death, intellectually we know the facts, but we-that is, the unconscious portion of the mind that protects us from overwhelming anxiety-have spilt off, or dissociated, the terror associated with death...Most of us, most of the time, live comfortably by uneasily avoiding the glance of death... but ...psychotherapy.. demonstrates that though the fact the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death may save us.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, John,
Sorry to have been a source of "deafening silence" over your last entry. It was really not anything to do with your writing... except that it was a thoughtful and heartfelt post that deserved a similar reply, and I had one of those weeks that just didn't allow time for that kind of "real writing" in it.

Meanwhile, Marshall Massey has replied to your linked comments at Quaker Pagan Reflections. (Sorry I don't have time to post a link there properly-I'm writing this over my lunch, and I've got 5 minutes till the kids come back in!)

Be assured, though--your words found readers, and meant a lot. Be well, and keep writing!

Anonymous said...

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Liz Opp said...


I understand that you perhaps felt... abandoned... with having no comments emerge after your post of 13 May, in which you share much of your tender and difficult life experience.

While it's taken me a while to check back with your blog, when I made my way down to the bottom of the post for Part 2, I didn't see a link to click on in order to add a comment. Not sure if you yourself "closed" the comments at some point or if an option for comments was unintentionally selected--something that has happened mysteriously to myself and at least one other Quaker blogger of late.

Anyway, how horrible to think that no one was reading you--or wanting to respond--after having shared so much about the challenges you've had with feeling/staying connected, cared for, and loved!

You are in my thoughts...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Bookdreamer said...

Yes. I also noticed that as it treated the two posts as one but in the wrong order. Many thanks, for your kind words. Naturally I expect the whole world to stop and stare with rapture at my words, and therefore I am amazed when trifles such as earning a living, catching up with partner, kids, family, friends and self take up the lives of others as well.

I will stop whining now(for a while). In any case I now have a counter on the page so know that someone has read it . So ego suitably stoked and feeling less abandoned!

Must go and read Quaker Faith and Practice as I am sure that can find a passage showing I am suitable for being eldered for my lack of trust that the word will carry. :-)

Mystical Seeker said...

I just ran across you blog. Coincidentally, the concept of living with our mortality is something I just wrote about in my own blog. I wonder if there is a human need to live in denial about our mortality. Or are we more likely to do so in the modern age because, thanks to modern medicine, we in the Western world simply confront random and meaningless deaths much less often so we can put it out of our minds?