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

No comments:

Post a comment