The First Sunday of the Month: Blogging the Spirit

Blogging the Spirit: Adventures in Spirituality on the First Sunday of the Month

 

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How do you connect to God? Are there practices or pieces of art or music or liturgy that evoke this relationship?

Is there a book or poem that ‘gets you’ every time, or a writer who sparks you in those hard moments?

Do you find this connection through trees, the changing of seasons, the cycle of the moon?

In my desire to expand my mostly classic literature blog to reflect the variety of books I read, a brief exchange with fellow bloggers regarding religion and spirituality has prompted me to create an informal monthly event shared across social media.


Books, Art, Photography, Music, Poetry, Liturgy, Creativity

Some suggestions: a book review, a personal post on a particular practice, share a photo or piece of art. Is there a word or phrase or passage from your liturgy or spiritual books that you find beautiful? Does a particular melody or a song connect you to God every time you hear it?

If you don’t believe in God or religion but you are inspired by life share, too.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Pagans, Heathens, Druids, Wiccans, Tree-Huggers, Mother Nature Lovers, Those-Inspired-by-Life. Everyone is welcome!

The Mechanics

We can find each other with the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit to use on Twitter and Instagram and other social media. And you can put a link to your post in the comments of my first Sunday post.

Thank you for contributing!
~Laurie

Questions: therelevantobscurity@gmail.com

Penguins and Golden Calves, Madeleine L’Engle (1996) #BloggingTheSpirit

An icon should give us glimpses of our God who is both immanent and transcendent, knowable and unknowable. If an icon becomes more important to us than what it reveals of God, then it becomes a golden calf….

 

pengguinsPenguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places describes L’Engle’s trip to Antarctica when she was 74 years old and the encounters she had with the small, crested Rock Hopper Penguins. She uses the image of the golden calf and her experience with the penguins to illustrate the difference between idols and icons. Like the Israelites, who turned the golden calf into idol worship instead of the worship of God, the penguins became to her an icon that opened her up to experience of God; an icon is the window to that connection.

Madeleine L’Engle, who died in 2007, was a well-known believer in Christ, who often ran afoul of ‘establishment’ Christianity by continuing to question and to seek that which made her uncomfortable in her faith. But her nonfiction has always struck a chord in me, as I am attracted to believers of all kinds who struggle to make sense of their tradition and especially, like L’Engle, see a bigger picture. Books like this mirror my own questions and struggles with spirituality, religion and belief.

It is not flippant for me to say that a penguin is an icon for me, because the penguin invited me to look through its odd little self and on to a God who demands of us that we be vulnerable…Whatever is an open door to God is, for me, an icon.

Because L’Engle uses penguins (penguins?!) as an icon to God, I was intrigued from the beginning and it articulated for me why I find it so easy to connect to God in nature and not in a building. I am never so connected to the experience, love and beauty of the Creator than when I am walking the bluffs overlooking the ocean, hiking the trails of the nearby mountains or when watching a lizard slither across a huge rock in the desert.

There are parts of liturgical services that in the words and rituals, I do see beauty and sincerity. I love getting caught up in words, in turns of phrase, of ideas written just so. And in a moment of public prayer or thanksgiving, I am often caught up in a sea of emotions. But once I leave the building, they are gone. And once I glimpse a hummingbird flitting over a flower or a flock of birds in v-formation it is only then that I can sincerely praise God.

I think we have totally complicated God and what it means to worship. The first thing God did, according to the Bible, was to create the world. Pagans stopped there, while the rest went on to create golden calves, complicated and alienating ways of worship, erecting walls of concrete to hold services, and sadly, making theologies with a total disregard for the Creator’s creation. How ironic!

So, even if we understand that praying through icons is not idolatry, why do we mortals need icons? Icons are not adequate, nor are sunset and moonrise and star-filled skies, though they are icons of God’s creation. Perhaps we need icons because of the very inadequacy of our ability to understand God….

______________________

My Edition
Title: Penguins and Golden Calves
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2003
Pages: 271
Plot summary

#BloggingTheSpirit

#BloggingTheSpirit: Adventures in Spirituality on the Last Sunday of the Month

Books, Art, Photography, Music, Poetry and More

In a previous post, I talked about wanting to expand my blog to reflect the variety of books I read, instead of concentrating almost solely on books about the classics. A brief exchange in the comments regarding religion and spirituality has prompted me to reach out and create an informal event occurring on the last Sunday of the month.

A Little Background

I have been interested in religion from a very young age and while I don’t belong to a specific group or denomination religious biographies, memoir and even the ‘how we practice’ or ‘what we believe’ type of books have always drawn me. This curiosity is reflected on almost any path you can imagine from traditional religions to the New Age to all manner of pagan and wiccan paths.

If pressed I would admit to being in the “I find God in Nature” camp where I happily commune on a regular basis. However, if my friend, who sings in a magnificent Episcopal choir, is having a choral feast day at her church, you will find me there. Or if another friend tells me about a new book on Druidry that really helped him, I’ll pick it up.

Many bloggers easily incorporate these books or other creative arts into their regular blogging fare. But I have been hesitant. It feels too revealing and personal and maybe no one would be interested. Or maybe this clashes with the logical left brain persona I am more comfortable projecting. And while I don’t plan on posting about these books frequently, once a month feels right.

I do not think I am alone and I would love to share and discuss, to know what you are reading, hearing and looking at that inspires you!

I am proposing that we connect on the last Sunday of this month, September 24th with any kind of post you chose: on a book, a piece of art or music, a photograph, a poem that inspires you, a word or a relationship…anything that speaks to your connection to God/The Gods/Soul/The Big Cheese

The Mechanics

In a desire to ‘keep it simple,’ I created the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit which we can use on Twitter and Instagram to find each other. I will also put up a general post on my blog at 12am (PDT) on the 24th where you can use the comment section to share the url to your post.

Please share this post on your blog, Instagram, Twitter, wherever you have social media, if you or someone you know is interested. I can’t wait to see what transpires on the 24th!

On September 24th:
~post to your blog and/or use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter or Instagram
~Go to Relevant Obscurity and share the url to your blog post in the comments of the connecting post
~click on various urls and comment on the posts that interest you
See you on the 24th!

There is More to Me than the Classics: A Conundrum

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I am wrestling with the focus of my blog. I fear I have limited myself to writing almost solely about 19th and early 20th century classic literature (which does make up the bulk of fiction that I read) and wonder if there is room for the history, pop culture and religion I also read?

The phrase relevant obscurity has always been directed at me personally, because the emphasis on the above nonfiction for most of my life made me so suspicious of fiction (I would like to write a post on that) that I am discovering classic literature for the first time. The relevance of these books and how they help me see the past and a period of history I love has added so much to my life.

IMG_4775And yet, I have been reading books on religion and spirituality since I was 12 when I was given a book on Hanukkah; that brought God into my heretofore agnostic worldview and set me on a seeker’s path of which I still walk. And the Medieval history I majored in and the American studies courses I took later still figure strongly in what I read now, though I don’t share any of that here.

 

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So, I am going to try some new kinds of posts throughout the next few months to see how comfortable I am about sharing more of my life through the various books I read, the thoughts they provoke and even some non-book-related musings, because while I have thought hard about starting another blog in addition to this one, oh man, that seems like a lot of work! But also, like many other bloggers and readers, I am multifaceted offline, so why pretend otherwise online?

 

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I would love to know if anyone else feels their blog, either by its title or focus, is too restrictive to the broader range of what they want to share?

What did you decide to do about it or are you still wrestling with it?

Muir Among the Animals (collected writings 1874-1916)

My Edition:muir
Title: Muir Among the Animals: The Wildlife Writings of John Muir
Author: John Muir. Lisa Mighetto, ed.
Publisher: Sierra Club Books
Device: Hardcover book
Year: 1986
Pages: 196

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.[i]

John Muir (1838-1914), the naturalist, is well known as an advocate for the preservation and celebration of natural places through his life and exploration of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and other wild regions of the American West. He was a co-founder of the Sierra Club and his writings were influential in the development of the National Park Service.

Born in Scotland, Muir’s preacher father moved the family to a Wisconsin farm when he was 11. Muir and the Animals is a collection of his writings about his relationship to the farm animals and family pets of his childhood and the untamed wild ones he encountered as he traversed the trails of the Sierras. A singular feature of Muir’s muir1writing is its opposition to his father’s stern Christian faith and the manner in which it perceives the natural world, where creation is for man’s use and control regardless of the consequences.

In Muir’s world animals have a certain anthropomorphic quality about them whether predator or prey, wild or domestic. No animal is too small-ants and bees, or too large-bears and wolves to escape his thoughts. Nor does he shy away from attacking man’s insatiable appetite for meanness and destruction of animal or habitat for what man believes God gave to us to use.

This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them. [ii]

Muir thinks of animals as ‘fellow citizens,’and calls them’insect people’ and ‘feathered people’ “with rights that we are bound to respect.”[iii] Animals have a worth apart from what man wants to use them for. He hoped for a “recognition of the rights of animals and their kinship to ourselves.”[iv] He noted the interconnectedness of all living things at a time when the slaughter and massacre of so-called pests, like the coyote, caused a plague of hares; pointing out that ranchers killed coyotes for poaching their sheep, but in turn eliminated the natural predator of rabbits, whose unchecked proliferation damaged fields of crops.[v]

The book is divided into chapters delineating types of animals: Herbivores, Birds, Domestic Animals, Insects and Predators. Edited by Lisa Mighetto, she has collected material from his various books, magazine articles and unpublished works spanning the years 1874-1916.

As someone who hikes and spends time in Nature, I should be more familiar with Muir’s writings, especially having spent a summer in the Owen’s Valley, but he has escaped me until now. I have only read snippets of his work and various quotes, but being this is the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service it’s time I read more.

I have known many dogs, but to none do I owe so much as to Stickeen. At first the least promising and least known of my dog-friends, he suddenly became the best known for them all. Our storm-battle for life brought him to light, and through him as through a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals. [vi]

Here are several descriptions of John Muir’s encounters and observations of his “horizontal brothers.”

When the Gold Rush of the 1840s ended, tourists from the Midwest and the East began exploring the ‘wilds’ of California. Yosemite and the Sierras were on many an itinerary. Muir spent several years working in Yosemite Valley and when he heard people decry the absence of wildlife he counseled: “…if such would go singly, without haste or noise, away from the region of trails and pack-trains, they would speedily learn that these mountain mansions are not without inhabitant, many of whom, confiding and gentle, would be glad to make their acquaintance.”[vii]

In the section on birds, Muir hoped to gain them sympathy, because they were often slaughtered to extinction. His piece on one town’s massacre of the passenger pigeon is particularly poignant and the killing of robins for Sunday dinner “with shameful enthusiasm,”[viii] vividly told. But in this happier account, he writes about his encounter with mountain quail, speaking of them like a crowd of humans from another country:

Once when I was seated at the foot of a tree on the headwaters of the Merced, sketching, I heard a flock up the valley behind me….Soon one came within three or four feet of me…Presently along came another and another….At last one of them caught my eye, gazed in silent wonder for a moment, then uttered a particular cry, which was followed by a lot of hurried muttered notes that sounded like speech. The others, of course, saw me as soon as the alarm was sounded, and joined the wonder talk, gazing and chattering, astonished but not frightened. Then all with one accord ran back with the news to the rest of the flock “What is it? Oh, you never saw the like. Not a deer, or a wolf, or a bear; come see, come see! [ix]

As a child, the Muir family had a dog named Watch and although he couldn’t read books “we soon learned he could read faces, was a good judge of character, always knew what was going on and what we were about to do.”[x] Unfortunately, Watch had an appetite for chickens from the surrounding farms and for these acts of stealing was condemned to death. After the execution, Muir’s father examined his stomach contents and found numerous chickens. This made Muir muse on the fact though humans eat the same dish without penalty, “our fellow mortals “who eat what we eat….” are doomed for it, instead. Muir takes comfort that the “vast multitudes of creatures, great and small and infinite in number, lived and had a good time in God’s love before man was created.”[xi]

On the advantages of growing up on a farm Muir writes:

is the gaining a real knowledge of animals as fellow-mortals, learning to respect them and love them, and even to win some of their love. Thus godlike sympathy grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless doctrine is taught that animals have neither mind nor soul, have no rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for man, to be petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.[xii]

On the grasshopper, who is a “jolly fellow”:

I was much interested with the hearty enjoyment of the one that danced and sang for me on the Dome this afternoon. He seemed brimful of glad, hilarious energy…A fine sermon the little fellow danced for me…a likely place to look for sermons…A large and imposing pulpit for so small a preacher…Even the bear did not express for me the mountain’s wild health, and strength and happiness so tellingly as did this comical little copper…To him every day is a holiday…[xiii]

How many mouths Nature has to fill, how many neighbors we have, how little we know about them, and how seldom we get in each other’s way! Then to think of the infinite numbers of smaller fellow mortals, invisibly small, compared with which the smallest ants are mastodons.[xiv]

And finally, this plea:

The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo sapiens. From the same material He has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals….Plants are credited with but dim and uncertain sensation, and minerals with positively none at all. But why may not even a mineral arrangement of matter be endowed with a sensation of a kind that we in our blind exclusive perfection can have no manner of communication with?

But, glad to leave these ecclesiastical fires and blunders, I joyfully return to the immortal truth and immortal beauty of Nature.[xv]

Me, too!

southfortuna

________

[i] p. xi.
[ii] p. 192.
[iii] p. xxv.
[iv] p. xii.
[v] p. vvx.
[vi] p. 82. for an account this perilous experience see here.
[vii] p. 11-12.
[viii]
p. 68.
[ix] p. 54-55.
[x] p. 97.
[xi] p. 99.
[xii] p. 105.
[xiii] p. 111-113.
[xiv] p. 117.
[xv] p. 194.