Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Landscape of Facing Death



I watched my friend Chris Bernard face his eminent death with love, courage and dignity. While participating in this with him, I wondered, what is the state of mind that death requires of us?

What can we bring to it to ease our own suffering at the moment of death? Should we rage against the dying of the light like Dylan Thomas? Should we reach out for spiritual support, ask forgiveness, say farewell? What do YOU think?

Friday, January 8, 2010

What do we do? What do we do?



Merriam-Webster defines the word “do” as ways we act, behave, get alone, fare, manage, happen, finish and serve, among others.  Often our actions require our ability to rationally ascertain the context of our actions, the possible consequences of our actions and the ethics of our actions before we do anything.  Or do they?  Our actions, I think, like our words, are very clear indications of our state of mind.  Sociopaths would act differently than saints in the same circumstances, because they bring to the moment, a different frame of reference, different viewpoint and different foundation for action.
There are psychologies to both doing and doing nothing.   Yes, there are rational-emotional models of the factors that predispose humans to do nothing.   And there are theories of the psychology of action, which take into account reasoning abilities, emotion, attitude and other factors.
When our belief system holds God and Divine Action, our state of mind is very different than states that do not hold that belief, and our actions may reflect these differences.  To understand and bridge these differences, The Vatican Observatory (VO) and the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences (CTNS) jointly sponsor a series of conferences on divine action. The theme of each conference is an area of the natural sciences: quantum cosmology and the laws of nature (1992), chaos and complexity (1994), evolutionary and molecular biology (1996), neuroscience (1998), and quantum mechanics (2000). This brings specificity and precision to the discussions of divine action. In one of the papers from these conferences, along with summaries of many others, is posted on the CTNS website:  In “The Metaphysics of Divine Action,” John Polkinghorne notes that any discussion of agency requires the adoption of a metaphysical view of the nature of reality. He claims that there is no “deductive” way of going “from epistemology to ontology,” but the strategy of critical realism is to maximize the connection. This leads most physicists, he claims, to interpret Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as implying an actual indeterminacy in the physical world, rather than an ignorance of its detailed workings.  Polkinghorne’s summary on the nature of Divine Action includes the insight that divine agency has its own special characteristics and that God’s knowledge of the world of becoming will be truly temporal in character.
In his book, Religion in late Modernity   Robert C. Neville,  suggests that these inquires  “concerning divine action takes its rise from people who affirm as a supposition the belief that God is a personal being of some sort.”
In A Search for God In Ancient Egypt, by Jan Assmann, divine action and religious experience are part of the cosmic dimension of the mystic experience.  Here, divine action is implicit in all contact with the divine once transcendence into Divine Presence has been realized.  In other words, our actions become Divine Action, while in the presence of the One within.
To Bernard de Clairvaux, mysticism is the highest degree of the scale of love and “a perfect participation in the love which God has from Himself in the unity of the Spirit…to become thus is to be deified.”  Our actions are naturally inspired from this unity of the Spirit that pervades our state.
This idea is similar to the mystical divine action, our own action, taken as a result of our mystical union with the God with us.  The mystic Jan Ruysbroeck suggests in mystical union God “breathes us out from Himself that we may love and do good works; and again he draws us into Himself, that we may rest in fruition.”
Our efficacy and actions then, may be defined by whether or not we believe in God, and if we believe that God is external and personal, or a state of being within ourselves.  What do YOU think?

Artwork by Beth Nash.  Many thanks.