UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

1 Advent

1 Advent

Advent--a time of preparation. I think it has taken me this long--62 years--to come to appreciate these little seasonal reminders the church has given us, to help us remain mindful. Each season seems to carry a unique message, and all these individual seasonal messages add up to a yearly calendar that helps us keep sharp our sensitivities to things it might be easy to start taking for granted--a remindful calendar-- a remember to pay attention calendar.

The time of preparation dramatizes the ritual of birth and death that is played out every single day, and reminds us to be ready. The Christ may come at any time, but we must be ready.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming".

Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday. The Eastern churches' equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in both length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on September 1. At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming."

What follows is a little list of things to remember in Advent written by Martin Luther:

 HOMILY II: THE COMING OF THE KING.
FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT. (FROM THE GOSPEL.)

"Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek," Matt. xxi. 5.

"THIS is a prophecy of the Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ, about which there are three signs. First, the dignity of Him Who is coming; secondly, the utility of His Advent; thirdly, the manner in which He came. Of the first sign we read in the Gospel, "Thy King cometh;" a merciful King; a just King; a wise King; a terrible King; an omnipotent King; an eternal King. A merciful King in sparing; a just in judging; a good in rewarding; a wise in governing; an omnipotent King in defending the good; a terrible King in punishing the evil; an eternal King in ruling eternally, and in bestowing immortality.

Of the first, Isa. xvi. 5:
"And in mercy shall the throne be established."  
Of the second, Isa. xxxiv.:
"And behold, a King shall reign in justice;"  
Isa. xvi. 5:
"And He shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David."  
Of the third, Ps. Ixxiii. 1:
"Truly God, is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart."  
Of the fourth, Jer. xxiii. 5:
"I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute justice and judgment in the earth."  
Of the fifth, Esth. xiii. 9:
"Lord, Lord, the King Almighty, for the whole world is in Thy power."  
Of the seventh, Jer. x. 10:
" But the Lord is the true God, He is the living God and an everlasting King ;"  
S. Luke i. 33:
" And of His Kingdom there shall be no end."  
Of the seven, collectively, 2 Macc. i. 24:
"O Lord, Lord, God, Creator of all things,
Who art fearful, and strong, and righteous, and merciful, and the only gracious King."

Wisdom in the Creator, mercy in the pitiful, goodness in the good, justice in the just, severity in the terrible, power in the powerful, eternity in the eternal. This is the King Who cometh to thee for thy profit. Here the use of the Advent is noted, for it was seven-fold as applied to the present time: First, for the illumination of the world; second, for the spoliation of Hades; third, for the reparation of Heaven; fourth, for the destruction of sin ; fifth, for the vanquishment of the devil; sixth, for the reconciliation of man with God; seventh, for the beatification of man.

The Son of God did not want to be seen and found in heaven. Therefore he descended from heaven into this humility and came to us in our flesh, laid himself into the womb of his mother and into the manger and went on to the cross. This was the ladder that he placed on earth so that we might ascend to God on it. This is the way you must take. If you depart from this way and try to speculate about the glory of the Divine Majesty—without this ladder—you will invent marvelous matters that transcend your horizon, but you will do so at very great harm to yourself."

Now, something I really enjoy, in giving these sermons, is reading great poetry aloud. The great poets, like the great saints, grapple with spiritual problems and give us comfort of a different sort than the scriptures, although it is like the scriptures, in that it tells the truth. Here are four truth -bearing poems:


Who has not found the Heaven - below -
Will fail of it above -
For Angels rent the House next ours,
Wherever we remove –"

John Donne (1572-1631):

"Annunciation


Salvation to all that will is nigh;
 
That All, which always is all everywhere,
 
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
 
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
 
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie 

In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
 
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
 
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try. 

Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
 
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
 
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
 
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
 
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
 
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

 George MacDonald:

   Advent
"Come, saviour of nations wild, 

Of the maiden owned the child
 
That may wonder all the earth
 
God should grant it such a birth. 
Not of man's flesh or man's blood
 
Only of the Spirit of God 

Is God's Word a man become,
 
And blooms the fruit of woman's womb. 
Maiden, she was found with child, 

Nor was chastity defiled;
 
Many a virtue from her shone:
 
God was there upon his throne.
From that chamber of content,
 
Royal palace pure, he went;
 
God by kind, in human grace 

Forth he comes to run his race.
From the Father came his road,
 
And returns again to God;
 
Unto hell it did go down,
 
Up then to the Father's throne. 
Thou, the Father's form express, 

Get thee victory in the flesh,
 
That thy godlike power in us
 
Make sick flesh victorious.
Shines thy manger bright and fair;
 
Sets the night a new star there: 

Darkness thence must keep away; 

Faith dwells ever in the day. 
Honour unto God be done;
 
Honour to his only son;
 
Honour to the Holy Ghost,
 
Now, and ever, ending not. 
Amen."
 
Emily Dickinson’s Poem #1309 (on the Paradox of Advent):

"The Infinite a sudden Guest

Has been assumed to be –

But how can that stupendous come

Which never went away?
Heaven is so far of the
Mind
That were the
Mind dissolved -
The Site - of it - by Architect

Could not again be proved -
‘Tis vast - as our Capacity -

As fair - as our idea -

To Him of adequate desire

No further ’tis, than Here -

The Journey of the Magi was written by T.S Eliot in 1927. Many interpret this poem as a reflection of Eliot’s own journey from agnosticism to Christian faith.

"A cold coming we had of it,
 
Just the worst time of the year
 
For the journey, and such a long journey:
 
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
 
The very dead of winter.’
 
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
 
Lying down in the melting snow.
 
There were times we regretted 
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
 
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
 
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
 
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
 
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
 
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly 

And the villages dirty and charging high prices: 

A hard time we had of it. 

At the end we preferred to travel all night,
 
Sleeping in snatches,
 
With the voices singing in our ears, saying 

That this was all folly.
 
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
 
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
 
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
 
And three trees on the low sky,
 
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. 

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
 
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
 
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
 
But there was no information, and so we continued
 
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon 

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory
 
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
 
And I would do it again, but set down
 
This set down
 
This: were we led all that way for
 
Birth or Death?
 
There was a Birth, certainly,
 
We had evidence and no doubt. 

I had seen birth and death, 

But had thought they were different; this 
Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
 
Death, our death,
 
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
 
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
 
With an alien people clutching their gods. 

I should be glad of another death."
- T.S. Eliot



Rainer Maria Rilke:
Annunciation to Mary
"The angel’s entrance (you must realize)
was not what made her frightened. The surprise 

he gave her by his coming was no more
than sun or moon-beam stirring on the floor
would give another, — she had long since grown 

used to the form that angels wear, descending;
never imaging this coming-down
was hard for them. 
(O it’s past comprehending,
how pure she was. 
Did not one day, a hind
that rested in a wood, watchfully staring,
 
feel her deep influence, and did it not
 conceive the unicorn, then, without pairing, 

the pure beast, beast which light begot, — )
 
No, not to see him enter, but to find 

the youthful angel’s countenance inclined
 
so near to her; that when he looked, and she
looked up at him, their looks so merged in 
one
the world outside grew vacant, 
suddenly,
and all things being seen, endured and done
 
were crowded into them: just she and he
eye and its pasture, visions and its view,
 
here at the point and at this point alone:-
see, this arouses fear. 
Such fear both knew."

The following are two short but meaningful quotes, and a longer piece from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From his God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas:

“God can make a new beginning with people whenever God pleases, but not people with God. Therefore, people cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past.”  

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent” 


The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God's dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. "Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!" (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings. 
"Our whole life is an Advent, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people will be brothers and sisters."
It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience."

[Sidebar: There is an interesting ramification of the idea of FEARING Christmas; it is that Christmas, like all second comings, comes like a thief in the night, and inevitably catches us unawares, and unprepared. Christmas is a reminder to remind ourselves that human life is a serious business that requires serious people to PAY ATTENTION. KEEP YOUR LAMPS LIT.

Back to Bonhoeffer:]

"Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy.

God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be - in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God's goodness will once again draw near. We think of all of God's goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: "Behold I stand at the door!  Open wide the gates!" (Ps. 24:7)

One day, at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right: "Come, you blessed. I was hungry and you fed me." (Matt. 25:34). To the astonished question of when and where, he answered: "What you did to the least of these, you have done to me?" (Matt. 25:40).

With that we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?

Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).

Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent - that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: "On earth peace to those on whom God's favor rests." Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. "I stand at the door?" We however call to him: "Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!" Amen."

[Sidebar: Even if a person makes it the disciplined purpose of his life, to remain fluid and open to the subtle influences spirit has on mundane existence, there will still naturally be moments of  greater intensity, like a planet orbiting closer to the sun may feel the greater heat. Christmas is the season of lights because the seasonal darkness, by contrast, brings out the light of spirit more brilliantly.

What follows is a statement by James Joyce followed by commentary by Joseph Campbell; together they make a nice reminder that the Christ is everywhere and in all of us:


From James Joyce's Ulysses:


" ... Are you a god or a doggone clod? If the second advent came to Coney Island are we ready? Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, Bloom Christ, Kitty Christ, Lynch Christ, it's up to you to sense that cosmic force. Have we cold feet about the cosmos? No. Be on the side of the angels. Be a prism. You have that something within, the higher self. You can rub shoulders with a Jesus, a Gautama, an Ingersoll. Are you all in this vibration? I say you are ... " 
And Campbell's commentary:

"Joyce (I believe) says we are all in this vibration. The miracle of the Incarnation is the Magnificat of each one of us: Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, and so on—we are all particles of the Christ. Very frequently, you know, Joyce brings out key thoughts in a totally contrary kind of language and situation. So his essential message here—and this is the Gnostic message—is that the face of God is the face before you: your friend, a stranger, or whomever."

The great find of this week's meditations on Advent comes from, you guessed it, Rudolf Steiner:

Now we revisit Rudolf Steiner's insight into the 
The True Second Coming - by Robert S. Mason

"
"Another tremendous revelation from Steiner's spiritual science concerns the true nature of the Second Coming of Christ. Steiner was adamant that the physical incarnation of Christ can happen once and only once.
"Just as a pair of scales can have only one balancing-point, so in Earth evolution the event of Golgatha can take place only once".

The amazing fact is that the Second Coming is happening now, but that most of mankind is unaware of it. Actually, the term "second coming" is not in the New Testament; the Greek word is parousia, meaning roughly "active presence". It was this "presence" that Saul/Paul experienced on the road to Damascus; Paul being mankind's "premature birth" of the coming new experience of Christ.

Parousia was translated into Latin as adventus, which means arrival, thus helping to give rise to the expectation of a physical arrival of Christ. The original Greek term seems in consonance with Steiner's explanation. In fact, it is the driving force behind the "apocalyptic" convulsions and struggles of our time.

For, as the picture is given in the Apocalypse of John, the bottomless pit is opened, Michael casts the dragon and his hosts onto the earth, the vials of wrath are poured out, and Babylon is overthrown -- all in preparation for Christ's triumph that brings the New Heaven and New Earth. Most of us are unaware of this present Second Coming because it is not happening in the visible, material world, but in the "ethereal" region of the earth. "Ethereal" means the system of "formative forces", bordering on the physical, that raise inert matter to the realm of the living. . .

[ . . . the Second Coming shall be a tremendous event, not limited to a particular location:

"For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be."
(Matt. 24:27)
The ethereal is super-physical, not bound by the laws of material space; Christ's appearance in the ethereal earth is everywhere-at-once. And since the ethereal is super-physical, some degree of super-physical vision, or "clairvoyance", is needed to see into it."

Notice that Steiner places great emphasis on developing clairvoyance, not as some rarely discovered miracle, but as the stock-in-trade for the devotee on the spiritual path. He encourages us to develop "super-physical vision"--it's just one more way of paying attention.

Moreover, contrary to some of the comments I have quoted above, Steiner is telling us that Christmas is not about the FIRST coming of the Christ, it is about the eternally unfolding SECOND coming of the Christ. Now, as we have admitted above, there must be moments of heightened intensity in the rhythm of life, but it must also be admitted that the theme song of Christmas has always been, "Live in the spirit of Christmas all the year long." Perhaps the realization, waiting for us at Christmastime, is that, with each passing year, our own personal capacity for love and virtuous acts is expanding like the eternally unfolding SECOND coming of the Christ.

Let us pray:
Jesus we fear your coming, as we fear all great and terrible things. But let us embrace our fear, as a virgin wife embraces her husband for the first time, and push onward to the light. Amen

20 Life After Death


20 Life After Death

Last week we concluded that there is life after death—end of story. So, today’s sermon examines not so much the veracity of the Life-After-Death scenario, as some of the various possible descriptions of the Life-After-Death scenario. Last week’s sermon suggested that the question of life after death was just one more rational concept in the complicated jig-saw puzzle of concepts which the mundane mind incorporates to arrive at its rational articulation of the experience of spirituality; it was suggested that the picture, of what the afterlife will look like, is slightly different for everybody, implying, therefore, that the role the afterlife concept plays in our total faith/doubt package, and its effect on our behaviors and values in this life, will also be, on a case by case basis, correspondingly distinct.

As usual, we will use Wikipedia to kick off the discussion:

Afterlife
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"In philosophy, religion, mythology, and fiction, the afterlife (also referred to as life after death or the Hereafter) is the concept of a realm, or the realm itself (whether physical or transcendental), in which an essential part of an individual's identity or consciousness continues to reside after the death of the body in the individual's lifetime. According to various ideas of the afterlife, the essential aspect of the individual that lives on after death may be some partial element, or the entire soul, of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity. Belief in an afterlife, which may be naturalistic or supernatural, is in contrast to the belief in oblivion after death.

Some belief systems, such as those in the Abrahamic tradition, hold that the dead go to a specific plane of existence after death, as determined by a god, gods, or other divine judgment, based on their actions or beliefs during life. In contrast, in systems of reincarnation, such as those in the Dharmic tradition, the nature of the continued existence is determined directly by the actions of the individual in the ended life, rather than through the decision of another being.

Christianity
Mainstream Christianity professes belief in the Nicene Creed, and English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use include the phrase: "We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."

When questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead (in a context relating to who one's spouse would be if one had been married several times in life), Jesus said that marriage will be irrelevant after the resurrection as the resurrected will be (at least in this respect) like the angels in heaven.

Judaism
Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife
• Judaism believes in an afterlife but has little dogma about it
• The Jewish afterlife is called Olam Ha-Ba (The World to Come)
• Resurrection and reincarnation are within the range of traditional Jewish belief
• Temporary (but not eternal) punishment after death is within traditional belief

She'ol
Writing that would later be incorporated into the Hebrew Bible names Sheol as the place of the dead. The Christian writer's traditional re-interpretation is that the Hebrew word Sheol can mean many things, including "grave", "resort", "place of waiting" and "place of healing".

Islam
48. What does Islam teach about life after death?
It teaches that a human being not only has a body, but also has a 'spirit' given to him or her by God. The spirit is the seed from which a higher form of life grows within man, higher than physical life, just as the body has developed from a small 'seed'. Just as in the world around us, higher forms of life evolve from lower ones, similarly from the life of the individual in this world is evolved his higher 'spiritual' life. During his life, man's deeds shape and mould his spirit, for better or worse, according to his deeds. When a person dies, the physical body is finished, but the spirit remains, as he or she had moulded it by their deeds when alive. That is the life after death."

Now the first thing I want to ask is, “Where do all these assertions about an afterlife come from?” Clearly, the vast preponderance of evidence comes from anecdotal reportage: other people have told us about the afterlife, by going there and coming back; even some us have “been there and come back”, and in prayer, is seems a safe bet to say that, ALL of us have, in some subtle way, “been there and come back”. But how can we be sure about any of these reports or experiences if “coming back” means, “not being dead?” How can we be sure that our memories of spiritual experiences are not mere hallucinations, and when we are REALLY dead, we are REALLY DEAD? We can begin with a materialist explanation of the so-called Near-Death-Experience, and see if that makes us nervous:

Has science explained life after death?
by Josh Clark
"As many as 18 percent of people brought back from death after a heart attack said they'd had a NDE. While many religious adherents might not be surprised by these accounts, the idea that human consciousness and the body exist distinctly from each other flies in the face of science. A brain-dead person should not be able to form new memories -- he shouldn't have any consciousness at all, really. So how can anything but a metaphysical explanation cover NDEs?

A study from the University of Kentucky has quickly gained ground among scientists as possibly the best explanation for NDEs. Researchers there theorize that the mysterious phenomenon is really an instance of the sleep disorder rapid eye movement (REM) intrusion. In this disorder, a person's mind can wake up before his body, and hallucinations and the feeling of being physically detached from his body can occur.

The Kentucky researchers believe that NDEs are actually REM intrusions triggered in the brain by traumatic events like cardiac arrest. If this is true, then this means the experiences of some people following near-death are confusion from suddenly and unexpectedly entering a dream-like state.

This theory helps explain what has always been a tantalizing aspect of the mystery of NDEs: how people can experience sights and sounds after confirmed brain death. The area where REM intrusion is triggered is found in the brain stem -- the region that controls the most basic functions of the body -- and it can operate virtually independent from the higher brain. So, even after the higher regions of the brain are dead, the brain stem can conceivably continue to function, and REM intrusion could still occur.

The Temporal Parietal Junction and OBEs
While the REM intrusion theory for near-death experiences explains the apparent hallucinations that accompany NDEs, another aspect remains a mystery. How can a person watch his body after he dies? Though out-of-body experiences are sometimes reported as part of the near-death experience, they can also stand alone, indicating that they are a different animal than NDEs.

This is supported by a bit of accidental research. To find the cause of a 43-year-old epileptic patient's seizures, Swiss neurologist Dr. Olaf Blanke conducted a brain mapping test using electrodes planted on the brain to determine which area controls what function. As one region was being stimulated, the woman had a sudden out-of-body experience. She told Blanke that she could see herself from above.
Blanke determined that by electrically stimulating the woman's angular gyrus, a part of the temporal parietal junction, he could induce her OBEs. What's remarkable is that the patient experienced an OBE each time her angular gyrus was arbitrarily stimulated.

Both Blanke's and the University of Kentucky theories explain OBEs and NDEs. But what about when you put the two together as an explanation for experiences like that of Pam Reynolds? This still does not resolve how Pam Reynolds and others like her view themselves outside of their bodies while they were brain-dead."

[Sidebar: I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I want to reiterate this last sentence: “This still does not resolve how Pam Reynolds and others like her view themselves outside of their bodies while they were brain-dead.” Many out-of-body reports include the spiritual vision of the “dead person” not only as ABOVE the body, but sometimes, in the next room or, indeed, the next county. If a theory were devised to explain this, on the basis of the above arguments, it would have to assert that the eyes of the BRAIN STEM are mobile, itinerant, and peripatetic.

Going on:]

"NDEs may be a result of REM intrusion, triggered in the brain stem. But OBEs are controlled by a region of the higher brain, which is clinically dead when NDEs occur. What's more, it seems logical to believe that the higher brain must still function in order to interpret the sensations produced by the REM intrusion triggered in the brain stem.

Even though combining the University of Kentucky and Blanke theories does not produce an explanation for NDEs, it does not mean that either theory is wrong. Research in one area often leads to a breakthrough in another. Perhaps we will find out that an organic function is indeed behind NDEs.

If neurology does come up with the definitive explanation for NDEs, the mystery may still remain. Science could explain the "how," while leaving the "why" unanswered. Discovering an explanation for NDEs may reveal a door to the metaphysical world, which could possibly be unlocked -- and explored -- by science."

[Sidebar: Well, duh.]

"As physician Dr. Melvin Morse wrote, "Simply because religious experiences are brain-based does not automatically lessen or demean their spiritual significance. Indeed, the findings of neurological substrates to religious experiences can be argued to provide evidence for their objective reality”."

[Sidebar: In other words, the fact that scientists can yank the chain of the soul and make it do certain predictable tricks, like any other organ, muscle, or material substance, does NOT mean that there IS no transcendent soul, that there is no discrete spiritual entity, separate from the body, but  connected to the body in, if not a MYSTERIOUS way, certainly a COMPLICATED way. Scientists should not be so proud of their electrodes and brain map in creating OBE’s because Hindu yogis have been able to duplicate these effects WITHOUT wiring, for thousands of years; these abilities in the adepts have been shown to PROVE the existence of the souls, not disprove it.

Furthermore, scientists should not so quickly conclude, from the holes is their conclusions, that their scientific methods or procedures are somehow flawed—they should look for unexplainable phenomena with the eyes of pure reason, pure thought, and conclude what any thinking man must conclude—that the world of thought is real and , so far, beyond the range of our electronic instruments’ detection capabilities.]

The following piece reviews some of your basic fundamentalist truisms, which, though clich├ęd, deserve a place in this discussion:

10 Reasons to Believe In Life After Death

"While some believe it’s impossible to know whether there is life after death, belief in immortality is a timeless phenomenon. From the pyramids of the Egyptians to the reincarnation of New Age thinking, people of all times and places in history have believed that the human soul survives death. If there is no consciousness or laughter or regret beyond the grave, then life has fooled almost everyone from the Pharaohs of Egypt to Jesus of Nazareth.

An Eternal God
The Bible names God as the source of immortality. It describes His nature as eternal. The same Scriptures tell us that God created us in His likeness, and that His plan is to welcome His children eventually into His eternal home. The Scriptures also teach that God introduced death into human experience when our first ancestors trespassed into the darkness of forbidden territory (Genesis 3:1-19). The implication is that if God allowed the human race to live forever in a rebellious condition, we would have unending opportunity to develop into proud, self-centered creatures. Instead, God began to unfold a plan that would ultimately result in the eternal homecoming of all who chose to be at peace with Him (Psalms 90:1; John 14:1-3)."
 
[Sidebar: I believe this sentence, “The implication is that if God allowed the human race to live forever in a rebellious condition, we would have unending opportunity to develop into proud, self-centered creatures,” suggests many powerful ramifications:

1.   What about the relationship between death and original sin, for instance: if Man, once infected by the fruit of the tree of knowledge, were allowed to retain the knowledge both of good and evil, AND of the power to defy the law of God, eternity might easily find itself peopled by a race of Satanic ego maniacs. Breaking the cycle of growth in rational knowledge by introducing death into the system, sounds kind of like breaking a tension cycle in a violinist’s technique—relaxing the grip of tensed muscles, allowing the position to begin again. Without death, original sin might grow, unimpeded, into a universe- engulfing cancer; and without life after death, Man, created in God’s image, could not enjoy the return to his source in the Heart of God.

2.   Another implication is that, living in the shadow of death serves as a constant reminder that life resonates beyond the confines of carnal knowledge. The mystery of death sobers the proud and calms the furious.

Back to 10 Reasons:]

"Practical Effects
Belief in life after death is a source of personal security, optimism, and spiritual betterment (1 John 3:2). Nothing offers more courage than the confidence that there is a better life for those who use the present to prepare for eternity. Belief in the unlimited opportunities of eternity has enabled many to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own life in behalf of those they love. It was His belief in life after death that enabled Jesus to say, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). It is the same truth that prompted Christian martyr Jim Elliot, who was killed in 1956 by the Auca Indians, to say, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”


The following pair of excerpts bring a little classical philosophy to the party, and show how St. Thomas Aquinas was able to put a spiritual spin on the materialistic views of Aristotle. It seems that science and spiritualism have been at odds for 2500 years; original sin pervades the scientific perspective, and the Cloud of Unknowing envelopes the act of  Faith:

Plato
“Plato was a dualist, meaning that he believed that humans are composed of two elements, body and soul; two separate entities; a corporeal body, and an ethereal soul. The ‘soul’ is simply a function of the body. Plato held that the soul was tripartite; composed of three elements in much the same way as a chariot. At the helm is the soul’s logical element, commanding the two horses- base desire, and emotional drive. When reason is in control, and coordinates the horses, life is smooth and good. When the horses are unruly, and logic is thrown aside, life becomes stressful and full of strife.

Plato held that this tripartite soul is in a constant cycle- being trapped in a human body, and then escaping the body at death to return to the ‘realm of the forms’, and back to a human body, and so on ad infinitum- as the soul is both eternal and immutable. His student Aristotle contested this viewpoint, claiming instead that soul and body were inseparable- an early materialist stance- the soul being a component of the body, helping to keep it alive and enrich it, in much the same way as blood. Descartes may have attacked Aristotle’s assertion, based on his argument from doubt- if the soul is simply a component of the body, then it’s existence can be doubted, rendering it effectively corporeal, and therefore not the metaphysical entity which Descartes believed it to be- and which, indeed, his assertion ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ seems to prove it to be.”


St. Thomas Aquinas is known as the first of a group of philosophers known as the scholastics. Scholasticism was a movement in the medieval period to reconcile Christian dogma or doctrine with the somewhat newly discovered objective philosophies of Aristotle and Plato. Thus, we observe that: not only has the Mind/Body dichotomy been a controversial subject ever since philosophers first began to write, but the battle between religion and science has also been raging, within the Christian church, ever since 11 or 1200; this little piece by St. Thomas Aquinas is a charming introduction to this subject.

Aquinas and Life After Death
“Saint Thomas Aquinas, famous philosopher and theologian of the thirteenth century, is known for adhering to a worldview very dependent upon Aristotle’s philosophy. Though the task of reconciling Aristotle’s philosophy with Aquinas’ proved difficult, he was very thorough and well argued in it. One of the biggest problems Aquinas ran into during this attempt to make his views compatible with Aristotle was that of life after death.  Aquinas made arguments against Aristotle’s idea that the soul is mortal, among which include
the idea of concept abstraction, and
the necessity of unity between body and soul.

            Among Aquinas’ weaker arguments for the immortality of the soul is that of desire. This argument essentially states that because no human desire is in vain, the desire to live on after death will not be either. This argument does not come with great support other than the belief that God does not leave any desire unanswered.

A stronger argument comes when Aquinas alludes to concept formation. Aquinas believed that because humans are capable of thinking of ideas apart from material substances, that souls were also able to live apart from the body. For example, we can think of the Pythagorean theory as an abstract concept without seeing it being used to find the length of a hypotenuse. Therefore, the soul can live on without the body because it does not need the body to exist, just like ideas do not need material bodies to be realized."

[Sidebar: Many concepts of spiritual existence are IN FACT living spiritual entities; an idea's incarnation into the physical, by any means, gives that idea life in the exact same way our souls bestow life upon our our physical bodies; that is to say, many philosophers perceive THOUGHT itself to be an abstract reality with its own supernatural identity, structure, and sphere of influence; THINKing being the same as AMing. Is thought, itself, therefore, the essence of the soul?—or is it, as in the case of the neutrino detection, merely the evidence of where some higher supernatural identity has been?]

I have declared, for years, that music is not a representation of an abstract reality, but the living presence of an abstract reality made manifest in the physical universe. Music, as thought, rightly claims to be as much a spiritual reality as any prayer, or miraculous pre-cognition. We cannot see the wind, but we know where it has been; likewise we cannot see the soul, but without it we would see nothing, because we would be conscious of nothing.

Furthermore, music, as thought, lays as much claim to immortal being as any other emanation of soul.

Wikipedia on the Cloud of Unknowing-Anon

“The book counsels a young student to seek God, not through knowledge and intellection (faculty of the human mind), but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought. This is brought about by putting all thoughts and desires under a "cloud of forgetting", and thereby piercing God's cloud of unknowing with a "dart of longing love" from the heart. This form of contemplation is not directed by the intellect, but involves spiritual union with God through the heart:

"For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.""

These two paragraphs may appear to contradict the comments I have made, concerning the spiritual reality of thought, since thought, by this author, is rejected as a lower mode of consciousness; but remember I also suggested, above: many philosophers perceive THOUGHT itself to be an abstract reality with its own supernatural identity, structure, and sphere of influence; THINKing being the same as AMing. Is thought, itself, therefore, the essence of the soul?—or is it, as in the case of the neutrino detection, merely the evidence of where some higher supernatural identity has been?

The Cloud of Unknowing author subsumes all spiritual identity under the general heading of “love”. God is love, is enough for him. Would that it were enough for me.

In this presentation, we are suggesting a definition of spiritual activity as: abstract (superhuman) ideas not only being born into the physical dimension, but acting on it in certain physicalized ways. The paragraphs below on William James take this idea still further.

William James
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"View on Spiritualism and Associationism
James studied closely the schools of thought known as associationism and spiritualism. The view of an associationist is that each experience that one has leads to another, creating a chain of events. The association does not tie together two ideas, but rather physical objects. This association occurs on an atomic level. Small physical changes occur in the brain, which eventually form complex ideas or associations. Thoughts are formed as these complex ideas work together and lead to new experiences. Isaac Newton and David Hartley both were precursors to this school of thought, proposing such ideas as “physical vibrations in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves are the basis of all sensations, all ideas, and all motions...”

James disagreed with associationism in that he believed it to be too simple. He referred to associationism as “psychology without a soul”. Because there is nothing from within creating ideas; they just arise by associating objects with one another."

[Sidebar: As we have noted above: the fact that objective observation can document the active phenomenology of a spiritual entity, does NOT negate the possibility of a of higher dimension of existence for that spiritual reality. The thing perceived is the thing as it exists in an abstract or supernatural dimension. I think therefore I am—it doesn’t get any plainer than this.]

"On the other hand, a spiritualist believes that mental events are attributed to the soul. Whereas in associationism, ideas and behaviors are separate, in spiritualism, they are connected. Spiritualism encompasses the term innatism, which suggests that ideas cause behavior. Ideas of past behavior influence the way a person will act in the future; these ideas are all tied together by the soul. Therefore, an inner soul causes one to have a thought, which leads them to perform a behavior, and memory of past behaviors determine how one will act in the future."

[Sidebar: You can see, here, how the Aristotelean/Acquinas controversy continues to rage.]

"These two schools of thought are very different, and yet James had a strong opinion about the two. He was, by nature, a pragmatist and therefore believed that one should use whatever parts of theories make the most sense and can be proven. Therefore, he recommended breaking apart spiritualism and associationism and using the parts of them that make the most sense. James believed that each person has a soul, which exists in a spiritual universe, and leads a person to perform the behaviors they do in the physical world. James was influenced by Emmanuel Swedenborg, who first introduced him to this idea. James states that, although it does appear that humans use associations to move from one event to the next, this cannot be done without this soul tying everything together."

[Sidebar: This idea harmonizes with the Platonic idea that “At the helm is the soul’s logical element, commanding the two horses- base desire, and emotional drive.”

Back to James:]

"For, after an association has been made, it is the person who decides which part of it to focus on, and therefore determines in which direction following associations will lead. Associationism is too simple in that it does not account for decision-making of future behaviors, and memory of what worked well and what did not. Spiritualism, however, does not demonstrate actual physical representations for how associations occur. James therefore chose to combine the views of spiritualism and associationism to create his own way of thinking that he believed to make the most sense.”

The expression "to make the most sense," in this context, may be said equally to mean, "to be the most true." Sense, as a logical entity, and Truth as a spiritual entity, are harmoniously homogenized in the cloud of unknowing.

This last quotation by Gary E. Schwartz, from his William James and the Search for Scientific Evidence of Life After Death, is in the same ball park as my comments last week on the subject of neutrinos; i.e., that very small things, as yet undetectable by current science, may indeed turn out to be the MATERIAL basis of the soul AND eternal life.

Contemporary Physics, Systems Theory, and the Persistence of Information
"As described in detail in [his] book integrating systems theory and quantum physics (Schwartz and Russek, 1999), while at Yale [he] also became open to the possibility that not only did information carried by photons persist in the ‘vacuum of space’
(a core assumption of quantum physics and astrophysics—without this assumption, there would be no justification for the development and application of precision optical as well as radio telescopes),
but that this information retained its systemic / feedback structure, and therefore could continue to function theoretically applied to all systems at all levels which contained dynamical feedback loops.

In other words, just as the light from distant stars continues long after the star has ‘died’—i.e. the photonic information of the history of the star continues in space (a fact which makes the science of astrophysics possible) — patterns of photonic information and energy comprising biological systems could conceivably continue in space after the organism had died (despite the low intensity of the energy—in quantum physics, intensity is defined as the number of photons per unit period of time).

This led to the novel prediction that learning and memory processes which required the existence of networks of feedback loops could conceivably continue in space (since their informational structure would persist in the vacuum as well). Simply stated, the integration of systems theory with contemporary quantum physics revealed a possible theoretical framework for predicting and explaining a variety of seeming anomalous experiences and phenomena, including the continuity of cognitive processes after physical death.

Moreover, since animal brains contained billions of neurons with potentially a hundred or more feedback loop connections (on the average) per neuron, this raised the possibility that memories and consciousness associated with all living systems with functional nervous systems could, in principle, continue in some form after physical death."

At the beginning of this sermon, I mentioned my intention to offer a  variety of possible descriptions of the Life-After-Death scenario. I don't know whether I have done exactly that, as much as I have offered a variety of justifications for the Life-After-Death scenario. Perhaps the justification comes with a built-in description. My mind reels, at that particular suggestion. It is overwhelming to think about, merely because each anomalous soul, in this wide universe, expresses its thoughts in subtly different ways, making the possibility of coming up with some globally uniform description of the After-Life, an impossible dream. That is, unless we return to this:

The Cloud of Unknowing author subsumes all spiritual identity under the general heading of “love”. God is love, is enough for him.

Certainly, at some point, it must be enough for me--else, whatever will my death mean?

Let us pray:
Jesus, as we approach the season of Advent, and prepare to solemnize the anniversary of your incarnation at Bethlehem, we are minded of so many deaths and rebirths. Give us the strength of attention to steadfastly fix our eyes on the newness of life offered to us by you through a birth and a death. Amen.