Archive for the ‘God’ tag
This is another scene taken during a week-end trip to WuZhen, ZheJiang, PRC. At a number of locations in the ancient village, narrow bridges arch over the series of canals that serve as streets. With the improved economy in China, the number of visitors to sites such as this one have become tourism hot spots. Modern China is wrestling with its identity in the modern world and finds that it needs to reconnect with its past, in a mythological way, as it embraces the heady pace of economic expansion, stock markets, real estate and private enterprise. Places like WuZhen serve this purpose admirably.
This photo of people going “over” the water has a certain “feel” of modern man mindlessly following a path, not daring to think deeply about what and where they are going, not questioning. The leaders of modern man promise wealth, happiness, freedom from evil. Listening to the noise that comes out from the different corners, I hear leaders exhorting their communities to overcome evil, the evil of others that gets defined in religious terms, racial terms, political terms, economic terms, or even in class terms. Enemies are evil made manifest. Goodness is always the collective to which one belongs. Bob Dylan’s song, “With God On Our Side” is a good example of this kind of belief.
But, how can one understand this “overcoming evil” represented by our enemies be they Republicans or Democrats, Communists or Capitalists, Christians or Muslims, the corporate elite or the shiftless and lazy welfare bums? The problem shows itself in deadly terms as is being witnessed in Libya today as sides are taken and bombs are flying. Caught in the middle, dying, are Libyans, ordinary people at the centre. And this is just one of what seems to be an uncountable number of “conflicts” where good is trying to overcome evil with both sides of each conflict being both the good and the evil depending on which side one stands holding a gun or power or an idea.
“People speak sometimes of “overcoming” evil. But have we the power to overcome it? It should be remembered, first, that “good” and “evil” are only our judgment in a given situation, or, to put it differently, that certain “principles” have taken possession of our judgment. Secondly, it is often impossible to speak of overcoming evil, because we are in a “closed” situation, in an aporia, where whatever we choose is not good. The important thing is to be aware that we are then in a numinous situation, surrounded on all sides by God, who can bring about either the one or the other and often does.” (Jung, CW 10, par. 883)
That is the problem in getting caught in taking sides, we end up caught in a closed situation rather than being able to “hold the tension” in order to allow another possibility to emerge, one that doesn’t take sides. Rather than following blindly down a prescribed trail, one needs to stop and step off the trail long enough to allow other voices to be heard. Listening to voices banished into the shadows of the personal and collective unconscious allows for new possibilities to emerge where before it was only a black or white possibility.
We are a strange animal, we humans. We want it all to be black or white. We want it all to be understandable, to be quantifiable and provable by reason, fact and evidence. I have been reading a historical novel set in China called Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Just a few moments ago, before setting down to write today’s post I read the following words: ”The World is not something to be understood. It is vanity, illusion to even try.” (p.333) And, these words feel right, that one needs to accept the unconscious faces of whatever God we choose to believe in, for the world will never make sense otherwise. All would end up becoming nothing but meaningless chaos.
Eight Koi fish swimming in a pond in Hong Mei Gong Yuan caught my eye on a recent trip to that park. In my travels through many parts of China, I have found these golden colored fish swimming in ponds and canals and aquariums. I don’t think there is a park in China that doesn’t set up a pond for the Koi fish. The Koi is a symbol of good luck, of prosperity and of happiness. In this small school of Koi which caught me eye, the number of fish, eight, also has a symbolic meaning in Chinese terms, a symbol of luck. I guess that you could say that I stumbled upon “Double Good Luck” with this image.
The fish has a wealth of symbolism in psychology as well as in all cultures. In my culture, the fish symbolizes the peace of Jesus. In Jungian psychology, the fish is representative of the archetype of the “Self,” an archetype of wholeness that is often synonymous with “God.” The fish is a denizen of the water, symbol of the unconscious and as such is often symbolic of the unconscious movements in one’s dreams which point to libido, and to personal growth, a fertility of consciousness.
The number eight is also significant as it symbolizes “infinity” or that which is without end or beginning including all that is – present, past and future – all that yet isn’t. Eight is about balance, about the recycling of time and the process of continual rebirth. The cycling evokes a rising into consciousness and a descent into the unconscious only to again rise into consciousness. In a way, one could take the symbols of fish and the number eight to represent the process of individuation – personal growth through a journey embracing both the dark and the light, consciousness and the unconscious.
As I was visiting the park with my wife, she noticed my interest and looked at the scene and decided it was time for a rare photo of myself, thinking.
Ta Promh has gifted me with more photos than I can ever use, as well as a life experience that I will never forget as long as I remain a conscious being. In this photo, a tree rises from the ruins of Ta Promh. The seed that became this tree belonged to the world of possibility. The possibility of life is the greatest mystery. Mystery is one way that I sense the spiritual, the existence of something that humans have given the name, God. As I look at this expression of mystery, I see two faces, one of creation and one of destruction, one of light and one of shadow.
“When we speak of “the gods” we are speaking metaphorically, as befits any approach to the mysterium tremendum, the great mystery. The gods are our personifications, please recall, the constructs of our limited intellects, which point toward the energies which run the cosmos and course through our being. So if one is “depressed,” then our being is not consonant with the intention of the gods. The gods may very well take us anywhere they damn well wish, of course, including depression as a steady state. But when we examine the psychodynamics, that is, the dynamics of the soul, we discern that depression is the expression of an energy transcendent to the ego’s choices, albeit felt as an oppression.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 104)
What is is that resonates for me and others in the presence of mysterium tremendum? Well it is that aspect of self that is the soul. I know the soul is there. here and in all that is me. I am a biological being, but the body is just the container, not the essence of who I am. Whatever it is that is the self is more that the body. Yet, the body has its role, its purpose in the life of the soul. As I come to realise this, I begin to understand better my purpose.
This understanding isn’t an intellectual understanding. My mind resists the fuzziness of soul, of this mysterium tremendum. My mind wants it all to be straightforward, provable to mind analytical mind, verifiable by my physical senses. As I resist the shadow and run into obstacles, my mind is taught a lesson and is reminded that I need to attend to ALL that floods my consciousness, even the stuff that only appears at the edge of consciousness, the numinous stuff. I resist too hard and find out that I don’t really have all the self-control that I think I have. The message is clear. I am not in this alone and I am part of a whole.
A second photo from the series taken at Ta Promh, a group of buildings and temples near Angkor Wat, shoes how trees have wrapped themselves around doors, walls and windows of one of the temple structures. I took the photo in the late afternoon, a time when light coats everything with a sheen of gold. Though the scene is one of abandonment and decay, there remains a strong sense of what was in place in the times before abandonment. There is a feel of almost holiness as if this was a once-upon-a-time favoured place of the gods.
As I look at the photo, I almost sense a heaviness, a depression. Yes, this is a holy place, but the intent of ego which was responsible for building the temple has been overthrown. The gods have responded to the ego and not in the expected manner. As Hollis would explain it, “the ego’s agenda is overthrown” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 109). What is it that overthrows the intentions of ego, the plans of men and women? Listen to Carl Jung’s thoughts on this matter:
“I know of the existence of God-images in general and in particular. I know it is a matter of a universal experience and, in so far as I am no exception, I know that I have such experience also, which I call God. It is the experience of my will over against another and very often stronger will, crossing my path often with seemingly disastrous results, putting strange ideas into my head and maneuvering my fate sometimes into most undesirable corners or giving it unexpected favorable twists, outside my knowledge and intention.” (Jung, Letters, vol. 2, pp 522-523)
God then is a personal god, one with which one battles. One knows that this god is present and has a presence that transcends all that one knows. Yet this personal god with whom one wrestles is also bigger than just a personal god for one person. This transcendent otherness is also engaging others and in found in places and within images. One knows this presence through some aspect of self and consciousness that is found only on the edges, a numinosity.
This image holds that sense of numinosity for me. This was a place for the gods, and curiously the photo “glows” pointing back to the gods that have transcended the time and place. And what is left becomes a temple that points to a God transcended, not a god tamed by man, contained by man’s stonework.
I woke up two days ago to a light skiff of snow coating the grass, cars and bushes. It is the first snow of the season. From the kitchen window as I looked out at this scene, there was a sense of the numinous, a sense of more than the content of the objective reality caught by the camera and my eyes.
That numinous quality points me towards something that defies being objectified, something that transcends as well as going under and into all that I know. It is at moments like this that I get a sense of what god could be. I know that a god has to be more than me, but it also must include me. I sense that it has to include everything, not just a select group of initiated members. The air, the water, the minerals, all animate and inanimate life must be encompassed by this god if that god is to fill my sense of god-ness.
“What can be said of the gods which has not been said? Who are they? Why does a relatively rational person even refer to the gods today? What can we say, if anything, about them? Are thy naught but our projections? Are they in fact the old parent figures in the sky which we inherited from tribal history, from when the heavens were “up there”" somewhere? Are they watching us with some large book, some doomsday accounting, the purpose of which is to frighten us into right conduct? Or, can a person who believes in the metaphysical reality of God A, his god, but not God B, his neighbor’s god, still find a way to listen rationally to all this palaver?” (Hollis, Mythologems, pp 82-83)
Yes, these are questions that don’t want to penned into a corner with answers that can be put into some text somewhere to serve as a new “bible” for “modern man.” As I read this in Hollis’ book, I thought of a song I have recently played as I practice with my new guitar, an old song from Bob Dylan called “With God on Our Side.”
“Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.”
I know that, even though I didn’t come from the mid-west, I came from the same belief system. I was a Catholic that had God on his side; and the Protestant kids were left out in the cold while I became a “soldier of Christ.” It didn’t matter if they called themselves Christians. It didn’t matter about the other religions lived by other kids on the street. Only I had a chance of going to heaven. As long as I believed and stayed true to the Church. That was a long time ago. In the sixties when I took up folk music and first played Dylan’s song, I was repulsed with the sense of exclusion that seemed to pervade religions. I had tried so many different versions of Christianity and had made some friendships with others who were Jewish, agnostics, or another as of that time unknown to me religion. Like Dylan, I said to myself:
“So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war.”
Today, I can’t lay the responsibility on God to stop wars, to stop global warming, to stop all of the geological and political and economic upheavals now headed our way. God is found in all of it, not outside of it.
I took this photo about a week before I left Canada for China. The scene is in a historical reconstruction of a Métis settlement in north-central Saskatchewan, a tiny Catholic community. In the past this community was the site of a battle between those trying desperately to hold on to an older vision versus the modern (at that time) power that wanted these old ways buried. Today, this site is a tourist stop. One can see evidence from the past which speaks of what was. Yet, not matter how much nostalgia might press, one can never reverse time to return to the way it was.
As a diversion from thinking too much, I am reading a novel called “The Alchemyst,” by Michael Scott. It is a book borrowed from my local library back in Canada, an ebook. Just over half way through the book I came across these words that I immediately knew should become part of my next post, this one. ”Once begun, change cannot be reversed.” Of course, I immediately thought of this line from a “Jungian” point of view. And, I thought of my “changes.” As a youth, the earliest memories are of a “belief” in God and how I was going to be a “Soldier of Christ.” I didn’t live in a “religious” family; somehow, the spiritual drive was evident early and most in my family thought I was going to be a priest. But, I saw too much that didn’t fit with spirituality in the “church” as I experienced it, and moved away. I visited other churches of other faiths hoping somehow that I would see what I wanted and needed. What I found was that I was all on my own. At seventeen years of age, I came to believe that Neitzsche’s “Zarathustra” had it right, that God was dead. Music had replaced religion for me. It sometimes echoed my pain, my longing, my questions.
God – John Lennon
God is a concept,
By which we can measure,
I’ll say it again,
God is a concept,
By which we can measure,
I don’t believe in magic,
I don’t believe in I-ching,
I don’t believe in bible,
I don’t believe in tarot,
I don’t believe in Hitler,
I don’t believe in Jesus,
I don’t believe in Kennedy,
I don’t believe in Buddha,
I don’t believe in mantra,
I don’t believe in Gita,
I don’t believe in yoga,
I don’t believe in kings,
I don’t believe in Elvis,
I don’t believe in Zimmerman,
I don’t believe in Beatles,
I just believe in me,
Yoko and me,
And that’s reality.
The dream is over,
What can I say?
The dream is over,
I was dreamweaver,
But now I’m reborn,
I was the walrus,
But now I’m John,
And so dear friends,
You just have to carry on,
The dream is over.
I can’t go back, even to the days of the music and John Lennon. Yet, in the past was something that I found, something that still exists, a state of “grace.” It was and is a gift that somehow wasn’t limited to a time or place or creed. It was and is something that I found and continue to find, within my “self.”
“In Jung’s view, the psychological experience of unconscious compensation, which demonstrably moves toward wholeness, is comparable to the experience of God; indeed, he argues that the two are virtually indistinguishable. The experience of this wholeness or psychic integration Jung came to equate with the concept of grace . . .” (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, p. 13)
The mystery of coniunctio, of the joining of the two into one, a holy marriage – well, this photo is about joining together as these two dragonflies engage in an act that is shared by most creatures on this planet. I think it necessary to bring Jung’s words here in order to better understand the term “coniunctio.”
“The coniunctio is an a priori image that occupies a prominent place in the history of man’s mental development. If we trace this idea back we find it has two sources in alchemy, one Christian, the other pagan. The Christian source is unmistakably the doctrine of Christ and the Church, sponsus and sponsa, where Christ takes the role of Sol and the Church that of Luna. The pagan source is on the one hand the hieros-gamos, on the other the marital union of the mystic with God.[“The Psychology of the Transference,” (Jung, CW 16, pa. 355.)
Thus we see that coniunctio is not a physical union as many would like to believe as they search for their “soul mate.” Rather, it is mental, an internal state of being, a union of opposites, and in particular, the union of the conscious and unconscious. Regardless, there is something very mysterious in this, something we touch on when we lose ourselves in the embrace of passion with other. Albert Einstein speaks of this sense of mystery:
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual who survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.” - Albert Einstein, “The World As I See It” (1931)
Like Einstein, I would have to say that I also am a deeply religious man. I sense the presence of deity in the images, in the well-springs of my centre and often in the faces of others as well as nature. Entering into cathedrals I am brought into a state of presence both within and without of deity. I, too, marvel at the world at what each part adds to the whole and the mystery behind, within and surrounding. This is what I try to hint at with my photography.
This is a Buffalo Berry Bush that is a native plant to the prairies. There is an interesting story from our First Nations People about the Buffalo Berry Bush that I want to pass on here. One thing that I thought most important was the attitude towards the deity that stands behind all things. This story can be found on the web, here.
Why Indians Whip the Buffalo Berries From the Bushes
The Indian believes that all things live again; that all were created by one and the same power; that nothing was created in vain; and that in the life beyond the grave he will know all things that he knew here. In that other world he expects to make his living easier, and not suffer from hunger or cold; therefore, all things that die must go to his heaven, in order that he may be supplied with the necessities of life.
The sun is not the Indian’s God, but a personification of the Deity; His greatest manifestation; His light.
The Indian believes that to each of His creations God gave some peculiar power, and that the possessors of these special favors are His lieutenants and keepers of the several special attributes; such as wisdom, cunning, speed, and the knowledge of healing wounds. These wonderful gifts, he knew, were bestowed as favors by a common God, and therefore he re- vered these powers, and, without jealousy, paid tribute thereto.
The bear was great in war, because before the horse came, he would sometimes charge the camps and kill or wound many people. Although many arrows were sent into his huge carcass, he seldom died. Hence the Indian was sure that the bear could heal his wounds. That the bear possessed a great knowledge of roots and berries, the Indian knew, for he often saw him digging the one and stripping the oth- ers from the bushes. The buffalo, the beaver, the wolf, and the eagle – each possessed strange powers that commanded the Indian’s admiration and respect, as did many other things in creation.
If about to go to war, the Indian did not ask his God for aid–oh, no. He realized that God made his enemy, too; and that if He desired that enemy’s destruction, it would be accomplished without man’s aid. So the Indian sang his song to the bear, prayed to the bear, and thus invoked aid from a brute, and not his God, when he sought to destroy his fellows.
Whenever the Indian addressed the Great God, his prayer was for life, and life alone. He is the most religious man I have ever known, as well as the most superstitious; and there are stories dealing with his religious faith that are startling, indeed.
“It is the wrong time of year to talk about berries,” said War Eagle, that night in the lodge, “but I shall tell you why your mothers whip the buffalo-berries from the bushes. OLD-man was the one who started it, and our people have followed his example ever since. Ho! OLD-man made a fool of himself that day.
“It was the time when buffalo-berries are red and ripe. All of the bushes along the rivers were loaded with them, and our people were about to gather what they needed, when OLD-man changed things, as far as the gathering was concerned.
“He was travelling along a river, and hungry, as he always was. Standing on the bank of that river, he saw great clusters of red, ripe buffalo-berries in the water. They were larger than any berries he had ever seen, and he said:
“‘I guess I will get those berries. They look fine, and I need them. Besides, some of the people will see them and get them, if I don’t.’
“He jumped into the water; looked for the berries; but they were not there. For a time Old-man stood in the river and looked for the berries, but they were gone.
“After a while he climbed out on the bank again, and when the water got smooth once more there were the berries – the same berries, in the same spot in the water.
“‘Ho! That is a funny thing. I wonder where they hid that time. I must have those berries!’ he said to himself.
“In he went again – splashing the water like a Grizzly Bear. He looked about him and the berries were gone again. The water was rip- pling about him, but there were no berries at all. He felt on the bottom of the river but they were not there.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘I will climb out and watch to see where they come from; then I shall grab them when I hit the water next time.’
“He did that; but he couldn’t tell where the berries came from. As soon as the water settled and became smooth – there were the berries – the same as before. Ho! OLD-man was wild; he was angry, I tell you. And in he went flat on his stomach! He made an awful splash and mussed the water greatly; but there were no berries.
“‘I know what I shall do. I will stay right here and wait for those berries; that is what I shall do’; and he did.
“He thought maybe somebody was looking at him and would laugh, so he glanced along the bank. And there, right over the water, he saw the same bunch of berries on some tall bushes. Don’t you see? OLD-man saw the shadow of the berry-bunch; not the berries. He saw the red shadow-berries on the water; that was all, and he was such a fool he didn’t know they were not real.
“Well, now he was angry in truth. Now he was ready for war. He climbed out on the bank again and cut a club. Then he went at the buffalo-berry bushes and pounded them till all of the red berries fell upon the ground till the branches were bare of berries.
“‘There,’ he said, ‘that’s what you get for making a fool of the man who made you. You shall be beaten every year as long as you live, to pay for what you have done; you and your children, too.’
“That is how it all came about, and that is why your mothers whip the buffalo-berry bushes and then pick the berries from the ground. Ho!”
It looks as though this is a dead tree, but appearances are often deceiving. What is visible in this photo are simply some of the wounds the tree has received as part of “living” a full life as a tree. Nature teaches me a lot. For example, I see wounds such as this, leaves eaten off of smaller plants, road kill of animals small and big – life is not “fair” in any sense of the word. Life simply happens. And along the way as one goes through life catching diseases, suffering falls, scrapes and broken bones, life has a way of coming to an end. The who cycle of birth and death repeated over and over again in plant, animal and even at a larger level is simple a process that has no moral or ethical “good” or “evil” side.
I wonder why we humans have a tendency to ascribe the pains and joys of living to good and evil and to the gods. Life is life. In saying this, I don’t want to discount good and evil, for they are there. But as I said in my last post, they are both faces of gods, of the One God when it comes down to final definitions. I mentioned in one of my responses to comments made here about the story of Job as found in the Bible. I want to follow up on that reference with some words of Jung’s.
“Without wishing it, we humans are placed in situations in which the great “principles” entangle us in something, and God leaves it to us to find a way out. Sometimes a clear path is opened with his help, but when it really comes to the point one has the feeling of having been abandoned by every good spirit. In critical situations the hero always mislays his weapon, and at such moment, as before death, we are confronted with the nakedness of this fact. And one does not know how one got there. A thousand twists of fate all of a sudden land you in such a situation. This is symbolically represented by Jacob’s fight with the angel at the ford. Here a man can do nothing but stand his ground. It is a situation that challenges him to react as a whole man. Then it may turn out that he can no longer keep to the letter of the moral law. That is where his most personal ethics begin: in grim confrontation with the Absolute, in striking out on a path condemned by current morality and the guardians of the law. And yet he may feel that he has never been truer to his innermost nature and vocation, and hence never nearer to the Absolute, because he alone and the Omniscient have seen the actual situation as it were from inside . . . (Jung, CW 10, par 869)
So who can judge us as we wrestle with good and evil, for we do wrestle with both? Who can know the intention, the situation, the purpose of such encounters with good and evil? It becomes a difficult enough, if not often impossible, to judge. It is enough o simply bear one’s wounds and continue being present in the situation called life.
While at the family reunion taking photos to be part of the official record of the event, I took time for a few extra photos such as this one and the one from the last post. As usual, a sunset scene fills a spiritual need for me and reminds me that I am but a small part of something so much larger. And for me, this spiritual resonance alerts me to something beyond what I can hold within my limited consciousness, something I can only approach and often only obliquely.
It must be my age, but I think often of good and evil. The problem is that I only think I know what good and evil are. I am hearing a lot of frantic voices foretelling the end of the world and of rewards and or punishments for those who have either lived good lives or else lived lives filled with sin. Some people I know believe in a Rapture in which they feel the chosen good people will be taken directly to heaven while the rest of the world will have one final chance to choose goodness over evil. Others are adamant that on December 21st the world is coming to an end as predicted by the Mayan calendar (actually not predicted, but that is another story). Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, wars, famine and flood – all these things are waved as proofs of the coming end when and where good shall triumph while evil perishes. But what is this good and evil?
“When someone speaks of good or evil, it is of what he calls good or evil, or what he feels as good or evil.” (Jung, CW 10, par 858)
This jumps out at me as I hear about American and Canadians fighting for good with God on their (our) side as they fight the evil Taliban. I also see how problematical all of this is when I hear of the radical Islamic groups fighting for Allah against the evil American empire. Good and evil are held as different things by different people. What I might see as evil, another might see as an act of bravery and holiness, an act that will gain immediate entrance into some version of heaven.
“Principles, when reduced to their ultimates, are simply aspects of God. Good and evil are principles of our ethical judgments, but, reduced to their ontological roots, they are “beginnings,” aspects of God, names for God. Wherever, therefore, in an excess of affect, in an emotionally excessive situation, I come up against a paradoxical fact or happening, I am in the last resort encountering an aspect of God, which I cannot judge logically and cannot conquer because it is stronger than me – because, in other words, it has a numinous quality . . .” (Jung, CW 10, par 864)