Tag Archives: God

A Handy Houdini Escape Ploy

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Grandma Dorothy and the four grandsons (I am the one to her left)

 

New Start–146
(Published in Ascent Aspirations)

Opening Stone-Henged Doors

Open sesame speak friend and enter
Roll the stone from Jesus’ tomb

There is always a latch trick
To opening stone-henged doors

When they work the tricks
Are slap your head simple

And when they don’t work
It’s at least amusing excusing proof:

You’ve let the situation get
Complex on you

When you’d been warned
Not to get any on you

Complexity that is
The opposite of Zen

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
As followers might know, lately I’ve been waxing biographical. But people always say, can you give me an example? And if I were asked the question, how do I account for my (lately, if yes, belatedly) happy state, well, I being an honest boy would reply, it was from my version of Sufism. Which begs the same question, wanting an example showing how those two things might be connected.

And the only example I have at hand is my own life. And it has struck me that (at least to me) the path through that thicket was damned interesting, and instructive, such that now I can make a few observations.

So you see I have come full circle and so let’s circle back to my childhood-acquired Sufi inklings.

The nice thing about childhood is you have nothing to compare it to. If you are in an orphanage, (Yo! I was, as you would know from the preceding blog posts) and other kids aren’t, it’s just like getting used to the fact that some other kids have rich families (Better Halloween costumes and all). And too, it’s like the Lillian Gish line in the movie Night of the Hunter (Four stars! Charles Laughton’s only and yet masterful directorial attempt!) where she tells what she most admires about children: “They abide.”

So back to the story:
I guess I could tell about when at age eight I dressed up as a girl for Halloween and couldn’t use any restroom. Mostly to please (the Wagnerian honcho lady) Mrs. Hunt’s nine year old grand daughter Sandra Sue, who dressed me like a girl doll. When I tried to go into the boys’ bathroom, a man stopped me and admonished that little girls weren’t allowed. Fortunately the Halloween party was at the country school house and there was, just outside, an assortment of hidden places to pee.

Or I could talk about my infatuation with Sandra Sue and how we played post office but just when we got to holding hands we went for a walk at dusk and she sat down on a cactus and we had to go right back where she was sequestered by fellow females gathered to pluck the quills from her butt. (I kid you not)

It seemed after that that either I had painful associations, or it was too cacti-infected anticlimactic, but the upshot was no more Sandra Sue for you know who.

I hope your romances end better . . .

But this is all high school. I guess I should just mention the heart stuff and move right along.

I hope I have not painted an incriminating picture of Mrs. Hunt, the very large and intimidating matriarch who ran things in those parts. In actual fact the main (Dickensian!) punishment was having to go to bed early and not watch television with all the other kids. Each night we would lie on our stomachs on the living room floor in front of the television and lick salted lemons, and raw potatoes too now I think on it. The punishment was extra draconian if it involved not seeing Disneyland on Sunday night.

No the sins there were not so much of commission. More of omission, I believe the Catholic church calls them.They weren’t even sins, as in tell me in what real world venue is a Mrs. Hunt going to be a mother? But she never even smiled sweetly at us, with the notable exception of an imitation of life when the welfare lady turned up. (More on that anon). Quite a contrast occurred however between her behavior with us ward of the court kids and her genuine and obvious affection for her own family’s children, who lived also in our midst.

As I implied, the county child welfare lady would came round to check up on us. Stupidly, she didn’t just drop in. No, she made it by appointment and in the few days before she showed, Mrs. Hunt put on a semi-sweet vaguely convincing sweetness facade. And she always smiled beamingly upon us in front of the lady. But we were hip to the threat behind her eyes, if we should tell any stories about peach tree switches or the rampant unfairness with which she treated us, especially compared to the kids in her own family. (Who could do what they wanted to us with an impunity bought of knowing they could lie and always be believed . . .)

And yet justice demands we not call it Dickensian. C’est trop fort.

But we had to get tough, fend for ourselves, and cry every night for our mothers.

As for any religious impulses, I was big on Jesus.* Just like the negro slaves turned that way. When you have nothing in this world, you hope for a good next. And say what you will, what with all this talk about God being love and its corollary that when you see love in action it does say “God is here!”

And if you really feel that in your blood and bones, it’s a handy Houdini escape ploy. I refer to the wonderful glow of gratitude that you have been granted such exalted company.

More on this anon, or as my beloved Grandma Dorothy used to say when she retired, “I’ll see you anonymous!” (If you’ve heard that before, sorry but I never tire of it.)
God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*I was always talking to Jesus. It was a regular, if one-sided conversation. (Especially there when I felt I needed to go faster on my bicycle. Maybe next time I will tell about how I got that for Christmas.)

And I’ve heard that’s a good thing. At least it seemed so to me while reading in the (to me) inspiring and very short book about and by Brother Lawrence, (A monk from five centuries ago) called The Practice of the Presence of God.

Of course, I also talked to my bicycle. (Hey, company is where you find it)

But for heaven’s sake I was just a child. I am reminded (in my defense) of C. S. Lewis who was very pleased when he asked a boy what he liked about Easter. The boy replied, “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.” Lewis thought Jesus would be flattered to be put on a par with a child’s love for chocolate.

The Brass Tacks of Simple Truth

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Joan of Arc by Mathieu Stern

Joan of Arc by Mathieu Stern

PR3–53

A Shy God Pinned Down

“Your faith was strong, but you needed proof.”
–Leonard Cohen (Hallelujah)

Scientists demanding evidence
Of God’s existence may be good at a lot
But they’re not so keen on irony:
Even in their favorite realm of observation

Their own guy Heisenberg
Famously showed that just the observing
Compromises the variables sending
Such a thing to beyond any certainty

And yet they expect to nail God down
Wings extended like insect specimens
Why if God were a mere atom
As we’ve seen they still would fail yet

They expect a shy God pinned down would
Not just haul out a Houdini of some pin-wheeled
Galaxy escape leaving the learned gentlefolk
Clutching either air or ether

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle readers,

Last post (December 5, as I recall) was dedicated to a binary fusion of two issues, the first being the passing of the Buddhist Leonard Cohen, a favorite musician and songwriter. This was juxtaposed with the issue of the existence of God and disputes or speculations about that, facilitated by the Buddhist comparison in that Buddha never suggested there was a God. But (forgive me if I am oversimplifying this even to the point of erroneous opinions, and if so, I plead ignorance). And I mentioned how I thought it was probably because Buddha saw this as superfluous to the necessary understanding, and fraught with misinterpretations (e. g. the crusades, the Spanish inquisition, etc). Not to mention hypocrisy.

God is a good and golden thing, and can be suitably focused on by as Jesus would say, His fruits, as opposed to actually naming Him. Or Her, though obviously any God worth his ether would be beyond sexuality which is a form of duality, and God by definition is infinite, and thus has no opposite. But I say Him for convenience sake.

But I digress. (I should scrawl lipstick on a mirror saying stop me before I digress again!)

So good-bye to Leonard Cohen. You will be remembered.

And now, back to what was originally intended to be the main issue, proofs of the existence of God.

A favorite writer of mine is C. S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Perelandra trilogy, umpteen essays on metaphysics, and a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, of Lord of the Rings fame.

One of the main reasons I like him so much is he has presented a convincing proof of the existence of God. Which is a neat trick if indeed God would rather leave the matter up in the air. * It was read many years back, and so I can’t remember the exact work. I suspect either his God in the Dock, or The Case for Christianity. Though as I recall it wasn’t necessarily Christian-specific. (Which is a good thing, since though I tend to adore Lewis, I am put off by his Christian chauvinism. Especially annoying to a Sufi, Sufism having as it does, largely Islamic roots. I expect Lewis had no problem with Dante’s having put Mohammed in the innermost circle of hell. Which is ironic, because I heard a Sufi give a talk that claimed that in fact the Divine Comedy was largely lifted–read plagiarized–from a work of the Sufi poet Ibn Arabi, who of course, had placed Mohammed in Paradise.)

But as usual, I digress.

Of course Lewis’ proof was necessarily a matter of circumstantial evidence. I imagine not least because in all honesty I am having trouble imagining what God could offer (even if God unaccountably felt some necessity to kowtow to our presumptuously demanding, judging egos) to definitively prove the matter, a la in a court of law.

Eye witnesses? Not likely. God is famously invisible. Except of course by Joan of Arc,
(for a wonderful Leonard Cohen song about her, see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtwUyDPXROQ)

and that was merely the Virgin Mary. (and even that was never explicitly declared to be her identity) And why? A hint is in the bible, in Exodus, “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” **

That is usually taken to mean the sight would stop your heart. Stuff like that. As if God is scary looking. Inayat Khan of course refers to the ego as the referred-to thing living. In other words you must lose your ego to see God.

But more to the practical point, the very demand for a proof that is of this world, falsely presupposes that God is of this world.*** Or at least is at all restricted by this world, and as such any physical etc. sort of proof, would be perforce highly misleading, and would from God’s point of view, who wishes to emphasize His love aspect, highly beside the point, and dangerously confusing the issue of love with a power which can only persuade via a shock and awe more reminiscent of fireworks dancing in the air, or levitating pianos, the irony of which is this: these things even if vouchsafed would be nothing compared alongside the stupendous circus tent of the night sky, just for instance. And we don’t seem to be convinced on account of that.

And so, no, this incredible spectacle is not enough for the skeptics who want cheap tricks instead. Voltaire was the wiser one, an honest-to-God skeptic, by inclination, who nevertheless famously said, referring to the universe, “I cannot believe there can be a watch, but no watchmaker.”

To be continued, next post.
God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

* Which is an interesting business. Because these naysayers and skeptics have forgotten one thing. What if God WANTS to keep people guessing, having a choice in whether to believe or not? What if God is leaving clues about which believers (like me) can and often do, point to. But always leaving some plausible deniability to satisfy skeptics if they were so inclined. Let’s put it this way. If we posit the existence of an all-powerful but modest God who wants to be seen only by those He can trust, don’t you think He could obfuscate the matter? Many clever criminals can cover their tracks, so isn’t it obvious a supremely clever God could cloud up all the evidence, leaving only the tell-tale smell of a divine rose? Something that would never stand up in a court whose judge was the left brain (as opposed to the heart)? Indeed, this was the point made by the Indian (Parsi, para precisar) mystic Meher Baba, in his interesting short essay, “God Is Shy of Strangers.”

**You can find this here: Exodus 33:20. But I believe in a sense this is true, and what inspired this poem (one of my most popular, apparently):

PR4–228
A Game God, Likes to Play

God reveals Himself out of the corner of your eye
Then when you turn and look
He’s gone

It’s a game God likes to play
Of plausible deniability
A game of stay away

Because if love could hurt it would not be love
And it’s not good for your eyes
To look into a welding torch

It’s not good for your body
To be in the center of the sun
It’s this distance that proves God’s love

And the sneaky game of teasing then disappearing?
It’s because God can’t help cheating a little
It hurts to be so far from one you love

***My favorite mystic, Meher Baba, (If you want to see why, read the About section at the top of my main page, which is accompanied by other choices, such as Poems–all mine, Stories, and Quotes) said that to expect to understand God with your mind is like expecting to see with your ears. The apt instrument for that, Baba said, is the heart.

Worship Something You Can See and Trust

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Leonard Cohen in Amsterdam, 1972

Leonard Cohen in Amsterdam, 1972

Worship Something You Can See and Trust

People laugh
When they don’t feel like laughing
But no one cries
When they don’t feel like crying

That should tell you something
I mean
(And mean is operative here)
Look in the eyes of people

While they are doing evil
People who take their own pain
And want to spread it around town
You will never find joy there

Unless of course just the unkind fake kind
And you know what all this tells me?
Worship something you can see and trust
Worship tears of joy

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Leonard Cohen just died. And thereby hangs a tale. He was a Jewish Buddhist. More of a Buddhist I believe, than Jewish, and an interesting sort of Buddhist.

I don’t know much about Buddhism, and it is an odd introduction to a post dedicated to a discussion about the existence of God (Which was the plan. Half written in fact. But then, as I say, the great man died). It is odd because Buddha never talked about a “God.”

I have a theory about why. It goes something like this:

People go funny on you when you bring “God” into the equation. (And often it is taken as a frightful invitation to hypocrisy or worse, an excuse for abuse.)

But I think Buddha wanted to go directly to the indisputable part of God, the joy that comes from eliminating fruitless desire. I tend to go that way myself. As you can see with the introductory poem above, though perhaps it stems as well from gratitude. Or from the feeling one is not after all, alone. That one has a powerful and loving protector, who just happens to see a bit further than we can.

But what else would you expect when you compare the infinite to the finite? Is it reasonable to expect that the finite is fit to judge the infinite? I think this is the main reason (among the wise) for the constant iteration of the need for faith.

But I digress.

So I will attempt to blend these two subjects (Leonard Cohen, a Buddhist, and the question of the existence of God) into a coherent whole. (Wish me luck!)

There are ways, and then there are ways to approach the issue of God or not. Especially anent the matter of “proving” such a thing.

For instance, I remember watching a high class drama on television, in the course of which a visiting friend was told that the music being listened to was a proof of the existence of God. It was the third movement of Beethoven’s fifteenth string quartet. You can hear it here to decide for yourself about that:

And Leonard Cohen certainly approached the subject interestingly. Seeing the Divine also in sorrow and despair. This is a needed subject in this world of tears and doubt. A favorite example of mine is from Kahlil Gibran, in his wonderful book The Prophet. When the eponymous prophet was asked, “Speak to us of pain,” the prophet said something like this: The pain, the sorrow in our lives, digs a reservoir whose depth defines our capacity for joy.

Of course, I personally am a Pollyanna poet, in that I like to emphasize the bright side. But I do admit it needs to be done, some comment on the rationale for the other side. After all, this grand experiment we call creation had to be a perfect thing, a complete thing, and so it had to include pain and suffering. If only for the fulfillment of Hegel’s dialectic. For a chat with that in it see the post for September 1, 2014:

https://rumi-nations.com/2014/09/01/god-had-a-wee-problem/

And Leonard Cohen was big on recognizing that. In his poem, “Anthem,” he put it into perspective:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

And in his song “Hallelujah,*” which has struck a chord in so many hearts as to be in danger of trivialization . . .(It has been adopted into popular culture to the point almost of constant repetition, which can be a bad thing**)

Well, folks, this post is getting to have a super high word count. And so it looks like it will be a three-parter. And this seems like a good place to stop. Stay tuned for the next two installments which really get into the issue of the existence or not, of God. If you click on the follow button and enter your email address, you will be notified when parts two and three are published.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

* Available here (my favorite version, sung by the tragic Jeff Buckley):

**Here’s an example. Perhaps you gentle folk are familiar with the incredibly beautiful Canon in D, by Pachelbel. When I first heard about it, was years ago during my initiated Sufi days in the San Francisco ashram. A dear friend, Marianne Barnhart, came by with the record in hand, and played it for me and my then wife, Judy. And she told me I could get it for only a dollar due to a come on of an offer from some classical music society membership. So I ordered it and sat hour after hour, day after day, just listening to it. But do you what can happen from constant repetition? One gets dulled to it. It loses its magic. In fact just yesterday or the day before I wrote a poem about the danger of that, saying that was the trouble even with the moon and stars. Here is the poem:

New Start–45
The Trouble with the Moon and Stars

“If you really want to live in a rainbow
there is no reason why you shouldn’t.”
–Pollyanna’s father (PBS Masterpiece Theater)

Consider prisms if you will–All those colors
Now why was that necessary
In the evolution of the world?
But then why were tears necessary

Or a big hug?
But here I am back again to tears
Or have you never cried from receiving a hug?
Especially when you really needed it

And hadn’t seen it coming?
The trouble with the moon and stars
(Why we don’t cry every night just for that)
Is that it comes to be expected

In a way we would all be happier
With amnesia
Of course there is a precedent for that:
Witness reincarnation

As for Marianne, that later became a bit of a tragedy at least on my side, when I lost her friendship. I am just throwing that in, in case Marianne is reading this, so she will know that she was missed. You see, a lot of this blog’s followers are from that old Sufi group. For the record, I was tempted to include Cohen’s song, So Long, Marianne, except it would have been misleading since so much of it is not applying to Marianne’s and my situation. Oh hell, in at least an appreciation of Leonard Cohen, here is the apt url:

And while on the subject of lost loves, this is for Kate of Lowell high, who fancied herself Suzanne

And finally this, for a new friend, Hakima, whose favorite Cohen song was this: