Editor’s Desk: Living in a Field of Perplexity on the Spiritual Quest

Image source: Dreamstime |  © Fernando Jose Vascocelos Soares

Journalist and author Krista Tippett, in her book Becoming Wise, writes, “Spiritual life is a way of dwelling with perplexity – taking it seriously, searching for its purpose as well as its perils, its beauty as well as its ravages.” And that is where I often find myself when it comes to spiritual questions. I seem to live in a field of perplexity, constantly searching for a “truth” that is big enough and solid enough to anchor and hold me.

Recently I was fascinated with the research that cosmologist Nancy Ellen Abrams, J.D. and I explored related to her theory of God based on science. When this program aired in early January it jangled the nerves of more than one listener. For example, Jim, from Maine, wrote (and I quote with his permission): Nancy Ellen Abrams hit a deep theological nerve with me. I was incensed by the declarations expounded in her “concept of God.” We’re all welcome to develop “God as we understand…Him…Her”, but as a Christian with a theological degree her “proclamations” hit my “God nerve.” It’s one thing to share an opinion, quite another to declare “Truth.”

He went on to ask several pertinent questions: Why can’t God pre-exist — Know everything/be omniscient? Do we want a God who is measurable? Sorry to semi-rant. This just hit me strongly this morning. 

Entering a brief correspondence with Jim, I responded: I hear your questions and concerns. Nancy gave her view and, as you could hear from my questions, I was not convinced, although interested in her “scientific” view. It is a perennial question for me (the proof of God). In my life and my personal spiritual quest, I’ve delved into many different religions and have gone through periods when I felt I knew the entire truth, only to then, once more, find myself flung out of the narrower confines of perception and into a larger field of awareness that inevitably lead to more questions. It’s the basis of the work Michael and I set out to express in the world when we began New Dimensions more than 4 decades ago. For myself, I’m happy to say that I continue that road of exploration of truth, beauty, and goodness. I hope you can forgive my clumsy attempts in considering such subjects and I send most sincere apologies if these same attempts have offended you. It was not my intention to cause any distress.

Jim’s response was as follows: Thanks for your kind and timely response. It’s a tricky area for sure. This has been a generation of much spiritual inquiry for myself as well. She was just too adamant for my liking.

This exchange with Jim from Maine was food for thought for me, as I received a phone call a short time later from a listener from Hawaii who felt she had a need to call me and tell me of her experience with God. She said she’s never been religious but when her son was diagnosed with a brain tumor (from which he eventually died) she was angry with God and demanded evidence of its “realness.” She then heard a loud bang in her kitchen and found that a crystal bowl had spontaneously shattered.

This story reminded me of Carl Jung’s conversation with Freud and the occurrence of a spontaneous noise, as researched and reported by Len Fisher, Ph.D. in Untangling Life’s Complexities:

The incident happened in April 1909, when Jung was 33 and Freud was 52 years old. Here is Jung’s own account, given to interviewer Aniela Jaffé fifty years later:

“It interested me to hear Freud’s views on precognition and parapsychology in general. When I visited him in Vienna in 1909 I asked him what he thought of these matters. Because of his materialistic prejudice, he rejected this entire complex of questions as nonsensical …

While Freud was going on in this way, I had a curious sensation. It was as if my diaphragm were made of iron and was becoming red-hot – a glowing vault. And at that moment there was such a loud report in the bookcase, which stood right next to us, that we both started up in alarm, fearing the thing was going to topple over on us. I said to Freud: “There is an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorisation phenomenon.”

“Oh come,” he exclaimed. “That is sheer bosh.”

“It is not,” I replied. “You are mistaken, Herr Professor. And to prove my point I now predict that there will be another loud report!” Sure enough, no sooner had I said the words than the same detonation went off in the bookcase.

To this day I do not know what gave me this certainty.”

My good friend Ron Rattner, who is the author of the blog Silly Sutras, recently posted a piece by Tom Atlee about Einstein’s belief in God as universal intelligence. Ron introduces it:

Einstein did not believe in a formal, dogmatic religion, but was religiously and reverently awed and humbled with a “cosmic religious feeling” by the immense beauty and eternal mystery of our Universe. He often commented publicly on religious and ethical subjects, and thereby he became widely respected for his moral integrity and mystical wisdom, as well as for his scientific genius.

Here are a few quotes from Einstein on the subject:

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fates and actions of human beings. ~ Albert Einstein, Telegram of 1929

The harmony of natural law…reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. ~ Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive. ~ Albert Einstein [As quoted in Dukas, Helen and Banesh Hoffman. (1979). Albert Einstein – The Human Side, Princeton University Press.]

I add one more thought on the matter, again from Krista Tippett, who quotes from Jonathan Sacks in Becoming Wise:

One way is just to think, for instance, of biodiversity. The extraordinary thing we now know, thanks to Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA and the decoding of the human and other genomes, is that all life, everything, all the three million species of life and plant life – all have the same source. We all come from a single source. Everything that lives has its genetic code written in the same alphabet. Unity creates diversity. So don’t think of one God, one truth, one way. Think of one God creating this extraordinary number of ways, the 6,800 languages that are actually spoken. Don’t think there’s only one language within which we can speak to God. The Bible is saying to us the whole time: Don’t think that God is as simple as you are. He’s in places you would never expect him to be. And you know, we lose a bit of that in English translation. When Moses at the burning bush says to God, “Who are you?” God says to him three words: “Hayah asher hayah.” Those words are mistranslated in English as “I am that which I am.” But in Hebrew, it means “I will be who or how or where I will be,” meaning, Don’t think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you. One of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God’s presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. Don’t think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion.

So, dear reader, I invite you to continue this pilgrim path of following “the trace of God’s presence” with me in exploring the “reality of God.” I suspect I’ll be traveling this road until I meet, him, her, or it on the other side of life.

– Justine Willis Toms