Sunday, 26 July 2020

                                   Thoughts Prompted by Lockdown

“Go mark the matchless working of the power,
That shuts within the seed the future flower …”

What a marvellous invitation to us all. It was written by William Cowper many years ago. In so few words he has prompted us to look outside ourselves at the beauty and majesty of the world of nature and to see for ourselves the wonder that is the work of God.

During this virus-inspired lockdown, there has been ample opportunity for thinking and contemplation; for wondering afresh about the source and purpose of life; for looking at the natural world with eyes made sharper by the stillness that has enveloped our lives in so many different ways.  Many are saying the onset of this terrible virus gives us a unique opportunity to examine our world and what we as human beings have made of the singular and amazing  opportunity presented to us by life on Earth.

Things are bound to change as a result of what has been happening during the past  seven months but will they change for the better? That is almost entirely in our own hands. We as a species, shaped the social, legal and religious structures of our societies; we created the moral mores that have such a huge influence on people’s lives: we created the consumer society and its materialistic obsession with money; we choose to turn a blind eye so often to abuses of power. We also created sectarian religion with its lust for temporal power and its insupportable claims to possess absolute truth. There is no shortage of areas needing improvement. All we need is the will to use this unique opportunity in positive ways.

In my view, examining the natural world in depth and not just superficially, is a good starting point. Not only should we be awe-struck by the power that can produce such beautiful flowers from a mere seed but we should examine the manner in which all species, animal or vegetable are inter-dependent; how they live in their own way but do so almost entirely in harmony with other forms of life. Even a superficial examination of the natural world cannot fail to impress us with a profound sense of beauty. Nature does not create ugliness. Whether it be beauty of form and shape or of construction. Nothing that has been created falls short in this regard.

Examine the function of the humble leaf, for instance. Not only does it perform an essential service for the plant or tree of which it is a part by using its chlorophyll to convert sunlight into plant food but its design is perfect; utilitarian, symetrical and beautiful. How, I wonder would human beings have designed it? One only need look at some of the monstrous buildings human beings have designed or the homes that have been constructed for people to live in. Beauty is in my view, essential to the proper fulfillment of life. Surround human beings with ugliness and life in those surroundings will become ugly. Not in every case of course because some human beings are capable of rising above ugliness but that is only true of a minority.

Ugliness is not just a matter of form, it is also true of action. Many of the ways in which we have shaped our human societies positively encourage ugliness in action and behavior. Although the capitalist system has enabled many people to enjoy a high standard of living and has enabled science to lengthen human life and make it more comfortable and enjoyable, there is a negative side. The same is true of various non-capitalist systems used in different parts of the world.  Likewise with religion. All these systems possess far too few checks and balances to regulate human greed, lust for power and acquisitiveness. Many have made life for some easier but by no means all.  Linked to increasing human arrogance in our reasoning abilities, too many have been persuaded to embrace the arid doctrines of materialism. Above all, we constantly fail to recognise the corrupting influence of power or implement sufficient measures to minimize it. By our actions humanity is in danger of completely losing contact with reality.

The reality I refer to is not reality based purely on what is apparent to our physical senses. It is the reality that all life is spirit; that physical form is purely temporary; a requirement to enable spirit to experience the adjustments needed to live for a while in a physical world; to live under the constrictions imposed upon the inner spirit by the total domination of five physical senses. In this regard, all life, animal, vegetable and mineral is identical. Nothing that exists physically is devoid of the power of spirit needed to energise it. Physical life only exists by virtue of spirit.

One only has to think about those we love, whether human or animal, to realise the truth of this. What is it that we love? Is it the tangible things? The physical form, the voice, the physical strength or the achievements? What is love? Why do we fall in love with one person and not another? The answer to none of these questions involves just physical factors. Rather must we turn to personality and other intangibles. Of what do these intangible attractions consist? I believe we are not capable of answering that question in purely physical terms.  Look into the eyes of one you love and it is impossible to believe what you see in those eyes is transitory; that it will cease to exist one day. Our personalities are our core, the real person. Personality is a combination of inherited family tendencies, experiences since birth and the spirit within; the spirit Wordsworth described as being born “not in utter nakedness, nor in entire forgetfulness but trailing clouds of glory, do we come from God which is our home.”

Except we understand our true spiritual inheritance, life on Earth becomes inexplicable; a journey undertaken blindly and purposelessly. How can one explain the huge differences in individual personal circumstances if we persist in believing life occurred by chance in the primordial mud and that we cease to be when death comes calling? Where is the justice of one being born in abject poverty whilst another is born in the lap of luxury? How can we justify so many people living in total squalor with no hope of escape? Were it true that life ends in physical death, we would all be totally justified in adopting atheism and grabbing all we possibly can without concern for others. Fortunately, that does not happen because most people are at heart generous and caring; two intangibles closely allied to our spiritual, not our physical selves.

I have no doubt that life has purpose and I’m not alone. When he was a young man, the American poet, Robert Frost described the soul’s birth and purpose movingly in his poem, “The Trial by Existence.” In it he explains that each individual chooses to be born for “some good discerned”. This choice is made even after being told in detail all that awaits in Earthly life. The soul also knows it will not be able to recall with any certainty the fact that it chose. An inspired work, very much worth reading.

Many other poets and seers have explained that we are a great deal more as individuals than we see reflected in the mirror. We should pay more attention to them, for they have received inspiration through their inner selves. That same inner self which leads to our being attracted to one person rather than another; that same inner self which makes so many of us aware of atmosphere in a room or a building, even when there is no outward indication. The same part that knows instinctively there is a power greater than ourselves that orders everything in the universe but allows us free will to determine our own path of life.

By marking the wonders apparent in the natural world and contemplating their implications for ourselves both as individuals and collectively, we can begin to make sense of life. We can begin to see why since the beginning of time, humanity has been convinced of a power greater than  themselves: a power we call God. In doing so we will be following the dictum of John Milton, “In contemplation of created things, by steps we may ascend to God.”

Lionel Owen  2020

                                        The Divine Architect

How often does one hear the complaint that if there is a God, why does he allow any of the terrible atrocities and natural disasters of this world to happen? Those who make such statements usually go on to say that as a consequence, either there is no God or else they cannot believe in such a God. To adopt this attitude is to totally misunderstand the nature of God and of Man.

Neither Man nor animals are creatures under the total dominion of God: A God who is always watching to ensure that human beings especially are not being harmed as a result of natural forces or human actions.  Life, and that includes all animals, insects, birds and fish, as well as inanimate life, such as the planet itself, does not end when physical life ceases. It is an expression of the love of God and his desire to see life progress. God, in his wisdom, gives all his creation free will because that is the way life, in any form, can grow in understanding. It is often through the consequences of what we call “bad” things happening that we and other life, learns to adapt and to improve. Because humanity possesses self-consciousness, we are able to learn both from our mistakes and to benefit from disasters in ways that animals find less easy to do, though in fact they learn to adapt also.

To come to even an imperfect understanding of God and our position in the scheme of things, there is one basic factor we need to accept. Without it, the whole mystery remains completely obscure. This factor is Spirit. We arrive in this world from another, non-physical world and at our birth we retain some memory of that other world but the memory fades as we mature. All life is spirit. The physical form it takes whilst on Earth is transitory and only necessary in order to experience a period of time where the Spirit is subjected to the enormous, often overpowering, influence of our physical bodies and our physical senses. Why?

Even schoolchildren these days are aware that energy cannot be destroyed. It can change its form; a solid becomes a gas or a liquid etc. but nothing is destroyed. So it is with our true selves, our Spirit. For the period of our stay on Earth, it is the form we see each day. The form we readily recognise and accept as our true self. However, this form is not permanent. Once we leave the Earth, when we “die”, the physical body is no longer required but the real self, the Spirit, returns to that world designed for the life of Spirits, no matter what form it had while on Earth. At that point, the physical body changes its form and reverts to the various Earthly chemicals etc. of which it was formed in the first place. However, the individual personality, the person we know and love, has not disappeared but continues to the next stage of its life experience in another world. Having accepted that life is Spirit and indestructible, we can now contemplate why we experience life in a physical body and the nature of free will.

Because physical life is finite, the influence upon our Spirit of our five senses is enormously powerful.  It seems to me that it is designed to enable our Spirit to experience the restrictions upon it that do not apply in the non-physical world. To use a simple analogy, it is similar to the effect on the mill stream of the mill race.  The race squeezes the stream into a very narrow channel, thus increasing its power. The Spirit has to learn how to adapt to these conditions and in doing so, the Spirit itself undergoes change. It is almost certain I believe, that Spiritual lessons are learned from a variety of experiences on Earth and it’s very probable that the same Spiritual lesson can be learned from a variety of different experiences. I believe for instance, that if we fail to learn the intended lesson from one experience, we then undergo a completely different experience that teaches the same Spiritual lesson.

This is tantamount to denying the existence of freewill, you may feel. It is not the case. It only seems so to our finite brain which always tries to persuade us that it is in control. William Wordsworth explains our birth and the influence of the brain far more eloquently in his poem “Intimations of Immortality”.

“Our birth is a but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And comes from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
Not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, which is our home.”

“The homely nurse doth all she can
To make her foster-child, her Inmate Man,
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.”

Free will means exactly that. We are free to decide in any way we wish, how to deal with whatever circumstance we meet. However, with freedom come responsibility and consequence. In making a choice, certain consequences arise that will affect the future of ourselves and others. We must be aware of this if we are to make the most of the opportunities life on Earth gives to us. Because we quickly forget the “imperial palace whence we came”, our lives on Earth can easily become a series of uncomprehending, staggering steps as though we are blinded. Such is the experience of many unfortunately. Can this be changed?

Yes, because our true, inner self (Wordsworth’s soul) is aware of who we really are and the purpose of our life on Earth. It is that same inner self which guides us through the apparent maze of life here. It knows the lessons we need to learn in order for our Spirit to grow brighter. It prompts us to take this decision rather than that and leads us sometimes into experiences that can result in valuable lessons being learned. We may ignore the prompting of our inner self if we choose. The consequences could then become unpleasant, not just for ourselves. For instance, we may be prompted not to embark upon a certain course but we ignore the prompting, due perhaps to fear or greed. Both of which result from misunderstanding our true nature and from forgetting we are Spirit beings. Also, surrendering to them makes us more inclined to ignore the prompting of our inner self in future.

We cannot avoid responsibility for the choices we make, whether they be good or bad and that responsibility extends beyond our Earthly lives. However, when life here is over we experience in the next world, a review of our lives on Earth. During this review we are able to see the effect of our choices, not only through our own eyes but also through the eyes of others. In this way, added to the better knowledge we then have of the true reason for our life on Earth, we can judge how effective our Earthly life has been in relation to the growth of our Spirit. Good and bad are viewed together and I believe most people do far more good in their lives than is realised.  It is natural perhaps that we tend to overemphasise the negative but the review allows us to take a balanced view.

How is spiritual progress measured?

It is all a matter of light. The Spirit is a body of light  (“the bright star that rises with us”) and the brighter that light is, the more progress we have made. That’s all very well but what leads to progress?

The answer is service. Each of us has opportunities throughout life to be of service to others. I speak here, not of some great, publicly acclaimed act of service or of outstanding bravery but of everyday service to one another, or of courage shown in the face of adversity. Service can be spending time to really listen to the concerns and fears of another person or being empathetic when they are experiencing loss. There are countless other ways in which such service can be given and in many instances people automatically respond in helpful and positive ways.

Here on Earth it is not always possible to see how bright the Spirit is but in the next world, all can see it.  Indeed where we dwell in that world is determined by the brightness of the Spirit. It is as though there are many different countries or continents, each delineated by the brightness of its light. It is impossible for any individual to dwell in a particular country or continent there unless their individual light is at least equal to the light emanated by the country concerned.

It is important to realise that opportunities for service to others are no fewer in the next world than they are in this. We all arrive there just with the personality we have developed here and nothing else.  We invariably need help and guidance. It is never refused. In turn we are able to provide help and guidance to others there. Service is the coin we use to pay for spiritual progress. Such progress never ends and as the individual Spirit progresses, so it becomes brighter and because each Spirit is a part of God or the Great Spirit, its brightness expands the brightness of that awe-inspiring power. Thus it appears God does not stay the same but grows as we each grow, for we always were and always will remain, a part of God.

Is this expansion perhaps the main purpose of life?

Lionel Owen 2020