Archive for April, 2007

Where do we go from here (part two)

April 22, 2007

In Meeting for Worship on the last day of YF Camp the above title of a song from the musical “Once More With Feeling” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer kept going through my head. I was thinking about everyone leaving from camp, how people were going south to Dunedin, north to Kaitaia, and to many places in between. How some were going to Australia, New Orleans, and even one on a train journey across China and Russia to the UK.

These people who I’d spent five very full days with, people who I love dearly and had gotten even closer to, were scattering to the four winds. Some I won’t see again in person for two years or more. It got me thinking about what separates us, and what connects us.

On a purely physical level spending 5 days together means that we’ve shared the very atoms of our bodies. Atoms of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen pass from one person to another through breathing, water vapor from sweat and the sloughing of dead skin. 98% of the atoms in our bodies are replaced each year. After 5 days we are, in some small way, made of parts of each other. Some of the atoms that were once in my body, Alex is now carrying across China.

When we leave each other, our relationships developed and enhanced over five days, what else has changed? We have a new set of memories of each other. We have shared experiences, stories, catch phrases and jokes that only make sense to those there. At the level of mind, what is a person, but their collected memories and experiences, the patterns that reality has imprinted on their brains? When we know other people what is it that we know? We have a complex picture in our mind of the ‘pattern’ of that person. Humans are uniquely able to hold a model of the way another person thinks. That’s what enables us to have empathy. We can figuratively try to see things through another person’s eyes. It’s by no means a perfect copy, but the better we know someone, the more we understand them, the more accurate that ‘pattern’ is. So if our minds are patterns of experiences, and we can hold an albeit imperfect model of another person’s mind within our own, then again, when we leave other people we, in some strange sense, have a part of their mind within ours.

At the level of spirit, what is it that connects us? What is enhanced by spending time together, in worship, in laughter and in the simple acts of love and friendship? To me, it’s very hard to describe. There’s a sense of abiding connection that feels like it goes deeper than just the memory of those people. I don’t have the esoteric theology to explain it in objective terms like I can the science of the physical world, or the knowing of the psychological world. I know that there are some friends of mine that I get a strong sense of them a few moments before the phone rings and it is they on the other end. A number of eastern spiritual thinkers talk about the ‘ground of being’, of spirit as a single source which we are all connected to, and that at the level of spirit we are not distinct, but are always together in unity.

Orson Scott Card, in the Ender’s Game series describes the fictional concept of ‘philotes‘, very basic indivisible building blocs of matter and energy. When philotes combine to make durable structures, protons, neutrons, atoms, molecules, organisms, planets, etc., they “twine up”. Each philote connects itself to the rest of the universe along a single ray, a one-dimensional line that connects it to all other philotes in its nearest immediate structure. As individual people develop in relationship with each other, their philotes ‘twine’ together across space and time. There is of course no scientific basis for this fictional theory, but it none the less appeals to me. That in some sense we perhaps become more spiritually entwined with each other.

The words of the song from Buffy go:

Where do we go from here?
Why is the path unclear?
When we know home is near
Understand
We’ll go hand in hand
But we’ll walk alone in fear
Tell me
Where do we go from here?

I think it’s wrong. We might sometimes feel that we walk alone in fear, but physically, mentally, and perhaps spiritually we have become part of each other. We are connected, and because of that we are never alone. Wherever we go from here, in some way, we go together.

Where do we go from here (part one)

April 15, 2007

At the moment, up to Arthur’s Pass for a week at the bach, to catch up on sleep and spend time with the kids. And also to connect with nature and cool my spirit in the chill beauty of the mountains and beech forest. I promise normal blogging service will be returned next weekend, with thoughts about YF camp.

Just breathe

April 1, 2007

Recently we had a dinner for Young Friends and Junior Young Friends in Auckland. There were about 20 there, and many didn’t know each other so we played a name game on the back lawn. It involved throwing apples (from a tree in the garden) to each other, and saying each other’s names as we did it.

After that we took hands for silent grace before the meal. Sue explained to those who were new what silent grace was all about. She said that during the silence people could give thanks, or if they didn’t know what else to do, they could just breathe.

Being silent and just breathing is being physically still, yet not still. We are still moving subtly, continuously mingling ourselves with the universe. George Fox said:

“Be still and cool in your mind and spirit from your thoughts and you will feel the divine source of life in you.” 

Perhaps when we are still in our mind and spirit it is the same. Our spirit is still moving, subtly breathing with the tides of the universe. When we still our bodies we become more aware of the breath, the palpable flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide atoms in and out of our body. Perhaps the more still we can be in our minds, the more aware we can become of the flow of the living energy that connects us to all things.

Hands and heart

April 1, 2007

The flower arrangement at Meeting today was a combination of nerines and five finger. Nerines are a South African flower, and five finger (pseudopanax) is a New Zealand native. The person who had brought the flowers explained that they could be seen as a symbol of harmony, of the possibility for peace. In the 1980s New Zealand and South Africa were in conflict over a rugby tour where many people in New Zealand protested about the continued oppression of apartheid.

I liked the symbolism of the green five fingered pseudopanax as hands, and the bright nerines as hearts. When hands and heart are separated, at odds with each other, terrible things can happen. When they are aligned, in harmony there is the possibility for peace and beauty.