Monthly Archives: March 2014

revelations

IMG_8185IMG_8181

This week I have been reading the New Testament: The Revelation of John, a series of stories written centuries ago offering guidance and understanding about our lives and how we should live them. This specific excerpt from the New Testament has not yet revealed any clear or illuminating messages to me. Granted, I only got about 12 chapters in struggling with the heavy layers of metaphors and ancient language and was ready to give in and get the cliff notes for the Bible (only $10 on Amazon!) Then a Living Chapters reader recently reminded me that these complicated layers of written revelations “were all written in a specific time-frame and oftentimes in response to a certain situation.”  She suggested that I “try not to take everything that is written so literal.” Basically my message from her was to lighten up a bit. Be open and have fun with this. She also suggested reading something more contemporary.

Well I have found it nearly impossible to take anything I have read thus far in The Revelation of John literally.  So instead of responding literally to the text I am reading this week, I will respond to the revelations that I am receiving myself this week through my own specific time-frame outside of the readings.  In an effort to become more comfortable and loosen up about this material, I will share the experiences of my current here and now. How am I reacting both to the external act of reading “John’s” revelations and to the internal act of creating and reflecting upon my own beliefs through my personal mediation practice.

Literature, philosophy and poetry have always been an inspirational way to reflect upon and come to an understanding about our belief systems.  Learning how others process ideas is a great way to validate or form our own opinions. One of the requirements from my chapter writer this month is to experience a spiritual practice with others in community to witness and open a door to new perspectives and insights.  I look forward to attending a service in a shared setting.  Maybe there I will find some translation for these layered explanations that I am reading in the Bible.  My preference currently though is to be open to exploring the new territory that is within me.  Our beliefs are personal and true to each of us. Right now I find it important first to look inward and be honest with myself about what my own truth and understanding is, what it may have been and what it may grow into.

My first choice of expression for sharing these revelations (and maybe my most fluent way of doing so) is through the creation of an individual visual language that can be read by many and interpreted in different ways.

This week I respond with a series of photographs. These images depict the experience I am going through here looking inward, validating and questioning my own beliefs and philosophy. They also express my feelings about seeking new ideas looking externally, in the shared quest for spiritual growth and knowledge.

Reaching out. Reaching in.

Do my images question what it is you see and believe? Are your beliefs based in organic forms? Are they based on a structure? Do we need structure for organic form to exist?  Do we need organic form for structure to exist? As in photographs, lights, darks, and gradations must be examined and come together in a balanced way for the picture to ever become clear.  This week I have had fun practicing, photographing and playing with the act of seeing all of what is in front of me, inside me and around me.

What do you see? And where do you look? Take a moment to explore around each window and door, you may find it as fun as I have.

3/14/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

in the beginning

IMG_8121IMG_8157

Like this month’s chapter writer Seth, I was taught the Catholic faith growing up. (well partially). I say partially because my parents were divorced and I was only exposed to Catholic teachings when visiting my father and Italian grandparents on the weekends. Conveniently our visits coincided on Sundays, which meant I spent 50% of my Sundays during childhood in a Catholic Church and/or Sunday bible study classes called CCD. When it became my choice if I wanted to attend these rituals or not, I stopped attending both by the time I was 13. I am 37 now and have participated in little to zero other organized religious services or gatherings outside of weddings and funerals.

Reading the Bible this month, although strange to me, may actually come at a perfect time. As I said in my previous post, my own spiritual growth and exploration has had plenty of time and space to grow in the past six months. I started a meditation practice back in September guided by my first existential chapter writer and have continued the practice at my own pace and with my own agenda.

Here in St. Croix, I have had even more time in a very surreal and existential setting to ponder even more my connections to the environment and the people around me (Chapter 7 and Chapter 8). Thinking about the connections between it all inevitably has led me back to the overall existential questions about God and faith. But I must admit, even just picking up the physical book “The HOLY BIBLE” is giving me flashbacks of being a kid and dreading the oddness and confinement that I felt when attending Sunday mass.

The one thing I probably do agree with from my Catholic teachings is that confessing or being honest about things you’ve been hiding, or holding back can sometimes feel really refreshing. (As long as it is NOT in a small dark closet and to a stranger behind a wooden wall! That is just scarring not sin-relieving) So with my Catholic background in mind let’s start out this month with my top 10 confessions(in no particular order) about my religious experiences now and then.

1) I have never read the Holy Bible: Its true. At least I don’t remember ever reading it. Maybe I read a bit back in CCD bible study classes as a kid but if I did, I blocked this out of my memory. And my only experience with Genesis was rocking out to Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel with my brother in the 80’s. I also blocked out almost everything else about CCD except the fact that I got in trouble for having a Michael Jackson “Thriller” folder (that was considered unholy in my class?)

2) My father had to bribe me with Dunkin Donuts munchkins to sit still in church – this was the real motivation behind my good behavior during church.

3) My brother and I spent our time in Sunday mass gambling. We would bet each other our allowance money on guessing pre-sermon how many times the preacher would say Jesus, Christ, or Holy Spirit. The closest who did not go over won the bet.  This took our mind off of the echoing booming voice of the preacher and the somber and serious expressions on everyone’ face in the congregation.

4) I never (until now I just looked it up) knew what my “CCD” class name stood for. Now I know and it creeps me out a bit. Check it out here if you are curious too.

5) Going to Catholic mass always felt like a huge punishment – I dreaded it and was only comforted when I focused on listening to my grandfather playing the organ as he did on particular Sundays. (and of course the idea of donuts afterward)

6) Getting communion freaked me out. I cannot remember how old I was when I had my first communion (ceremony and all). But I do remember having to wear an awful white dress and crying the entire service. I avoided taking communion in mass thereafter like a 4-year-old would avoid eating vegetables. Somehow eating the body and blood of Christ was never appealing to me.

7) The most religious experience my mother introduced me to was the album “Jesus Christ Superstar” My brother and I at age 8 and 12 memorized the words to these songs and ran around singing happily to this record.  I saw the film much later in high school. It did not bring me back to the church but gave me a greater respect for the stories that going to Sunday Mass had turned me off to.

8) I love the idea of finding community in faith, a church or religion – but have always felt more ostracized by all of these things than welcomed. I have felt more at home and welcomed in neighborhoods I’ve lived in, friend’s homes for dinner, movie theaters full of other science fiction fans, classrooms that I’ve taught in and group yoga mediations. (to name just a few of the many positive and uplifting community experiences I’ve experienced)

9) I often have lied when someone would ask me if I believed in God. I told them yes to avoid any long-winded converting conversations that may come after if I told them I didn’t believe. (is this a double sin if you are lying and not believing in God?)

10) And last but not least, I procrastinated this weeks task of reading the first 11 chapters of Genesis through. I just sat down and read it (did it twice actually). And somehow I still don’t really understand it fully. Do I need to relive my CCD classes?

Maybe I need to read the chapters through at least once more with a few more chapters for context? I know that these are ancient stories to help us come closer to translating the genesis of the earth and our lives but am finding it hard to translate to our current times. I am grasping little in this right now that relates to or adds to my already strong sense of personal faith, and guidance that I believe is necessary to move through the world. I will however remain open and will read further. There is always something to gain from processing how others around you navigate the world. Like the moth to the fire. The flame can lead the moth to a blinding enlightening experience or it can lead to a fiery end . If we are alert and make our own decisions there is nothing wrong with following our own path to knowledge.

3/7/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

no gospel here

IMG_8069IMG_8070

Wow. Jesus! were my first words in response to this month’s chapter. The Trinity Task? The Bible? Talk about taking me out of my comfort zone! I am being asked to get down with GOD this month and read the Holy book. I have to admit, I was quite surprised with this existential challenge and even more mystified that it came from my most sarcastic, cynical and atheist friend from high school that hung out with me in cemeteries and played in garage bands. This serious, sensitive and carefully laid out month came out of the same mind that also created the darkest, funniest and foreboding poems, as well as kooky cartoon creatures (including my favorite – the vampire balloon). My history with Seth ensures me that I am in good hands this March.  I trust his instinct and have faith that this experiment can only bring some sort of new enlightenment.

Unlike Seth, I identify as an agnostic. I am more comfortable with the fact that we just may never know or prove that a GOD exists. I choose not to believe that we all will be going to heaven or hell someday after living our last day and taking our last breaths. Yet I do not rule out the possibility of the existence of a God, our higher selves or universal energy source of some kind. Let’s just say my personal spiritual practice has taken its own path and has grown exponentially over the past few years wandering on its own course without a compass, text, or church for it to live in. Although I prefer and have enjoyed the organic personal journey that I have been on. I welcome the opportunity to put my personal ideas and philosophies into context with others. Sitting down to read and examine others philosophies only helps to validate, strengthen or break down my own beliefs and values.

For most of my adult life, I have kept my religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) to myself. The only real strong belief that I religiously preach is that I believe everyone is entitled to their belief systems and/or truths. The only vows I make are not to push my own understanding on someone else and not to judge another who believes differently from me. Preaching and judging, often go hand in hand when it comes to religion or just about anything. I find that doing either of these things to be a waste of time. We ultimately cannot change others. I will not use my energy or time to try to do so.

With that said, this does not mean however that I am not open to sharing my thoughts, opinions and feelings on the topic of faith, religion and spirituality. This will be the first and possibly the only time that I will openly make my beliefs public so I will preface the month’s writings by saying please take my opinions or leave them. It’s no gospel here!

Ok here we go, week one: The Old Testament, Genesis Chapters 1 -11. With a coconut and rum drink in one hand and the Holy Bible in the other, nestled into a comfy Sunday afternoon spot, I began my first Bible study session.  To start off on the right foot, I recited Seth’s highlighted John Cage quote “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four” said a quick prayer that I would find something useful in this centuries old doctrine.

3/5/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

chapter 9

IMG_7974IMG_7975

Spirituality/Existential

Preface:  My Bias

I’m an atheist.  I’ve been an atheist since my early teens.  My arrival at this position was a combination of growing up in the Catholic Church and finding logical flaws in many of the arguments purported in Sunday Mass; spending a year reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelations as well as biblical scholarship; developing an interest in science, history, and philosophy; and my growing uneasiness with the idea of a personal, loving God existing concurrently with the reality of evil in the world.  Over the years, my position has matured but the basic core of my beliefs has remained constant:  there is a serious lack of evidence to support the existence of God.  Or as Bertrand Russell stated, when asked what he would say to God if confronted with him:  “God, why did you make the evidence for your existence so insufficient?”

That being said, why would I volunteer to participate in the chapter on spirituality?  Despite my lack of belief in all things supernatural, religion and other manifestations of spirituality have always been a topic of interest for me.  One aspect of religion that I consider important to the development of a person (though it is not the exclusive dominion of religion) is quiet meditative introspection (i.e. prayer).  That is not to say that community is not as important, but whereas prior chapters (September excluded) have been more outwardly expressive, I wanted this chapter on spirituality to be more internally reflective and self-examining.

The Task:  The Trinity

  1. Reflection through study:  I’ve provided a selection of religious texts for you to read to provide you with a diverse though extremely limited introduction to religion and how people of a spiritual worldview translate their feelings into words.  Even though this is not a comprehensive survey of world religious texts, I’ve tried to represent both Western and Eastern religious traditions and I think these are all important texts to read.  (I encourage you to read further.)  Write and reflect on what you are reading.

  • Week 1:  Old Testament – Genesis (read Chapters 1-11)
  • Week 2:  New Testament – The Revelation of John
  • Week 3:  Taoism – Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
  • Week 4:  Buddhism – Silence by John Cage (read Lecture on Nothing & Lecture on Something)

*A note on my selection of texts:  In regards to the biblical readings, excluding the Christ story, Genesis and Revelations are, in my opinion, the two most influential Books of the Bible.  The Tao Te Ching is the most important text of Taoism and espouses an interesting theme of action through inaction.  I chose John Cage to represent Buddhism, not because I couldn’t find a sufficient Buddhist text, but because I thought you might find it interesting to reflect on how an artist (musician) whose life and music was thoroughly influenced by Buddhism translated his spirituality into thoughts and words.  I also encourage you to listen to his works to capture the full experience.

  1. Reflection through mediation:  All religions involve some type of introspective practice.  Whether it is reciting scripted prayers or quiet mediation, reflection on God, the community, and the Self are essential to spirituality.  So your task is to set aside 5-20 minutes twice a day (morning & evening) for prayer/mediation.  The form and location of this mediation can be of your choosing and it can change from morning to evening and/or day-to-day.  It can be silent mediation in the traditional Zen fashion (as you did earlier in this project) or a recitation of the Rosary.  Regardless of the form, this should be a twice-daily ritual.  As John Cage wrote, “In Zen they say:  If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four.  If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on.  Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting.”

  1. Reflection through participation:  And so as not to make this chapter a completely introspective task, here is the community element.  Community building and cohesiveness is an important aspect of religion, so your task is to attend one religious service this month.  It can be a Catholic Mass or a Wiccan ceremony, whatever is available to you, and if possible speak to the participants about their spiritual experience.

Conclusion:  Alpha and Omega

I hope whatever you cull from this month’s chapter (and this project in general) that it serves you moving beyond Living Chapters.  Despite my own beliefs, I think there are wellsprings of creative and mollifying resources in daily introspective reflection.  I don’t feel this type of mediation needs a supernatural or religious structure to be beneficial to an individual, but that is a path each person has to navigate for themselves.  As Lao Tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Hopefully, this experience and this project will be an important step in that journey.