Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Spirits Of Mount Kinabalu

The concept of sacred places is another subject that fascinates me. Therefore, I have been following stories about the recent earthquake and aftershocks surrounding the East Malaysian state of Sabah's Mount Kinabalu.

According to Dr. Benedict Topin, the executive secretary of the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association, the souls of locals "journey upwards towards our creator in the sky, Kinohiringan. But we are not perfect," he adds, "so our souls rest on the peak of Kinabalu and await for emancipation. It is like our purgatory." According to local lore Kinohiringan created the universe together with his wife Umusumundu, an earth deity.

That sacredness was desecrated recently by four tourists who had scaled the mountain's heights and stripped down to have naked pictures of themselves taken. They were jailed and fined for their misbehavior (actually for breaking local customs and laws).

But locals felt there was a link between the desecration and the earthquake. So sacrifices to appease an angry deity were in order. Read all about that at this link.

There is, one must admit, a fine line between religion and superstition, and often that line is indistinct.

It is easy laugh off stories such as this one as just so much primitive thinking. But I'm reminded of something C. S. Lewis wrote which I've slightly paraphrased: In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Religion we find the poem itself. 

Somewhere therein lies the truth of the matter.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Movie Satan Didn't Want Made

(Just a little note to say that I have been so busy working long hours six days a week that my blogging efforts have suffered. I'm fine and my desire to offer my thoughts hasn't waned, but sometimes life gets in the way. Hopefully things will settled down soon.)

I'm fascinated by the concept of curses. Easy to dismiss but hard to ignore because sometimes bad luck seems to run in chains.

The subject of this post is an old Christian evangelistic movie dating back to the seventies called The Burning Hell which allegedly had a bit of curse back of it.

Although I never saw the movie, it had an impact on my childhood for I heard much about it. My best friend and next door neighbor witnessed a showing of it at his church and he recounted the movie to me almost scene by scene. It played in churches around my area but somehow I never managed to see it.

Now of course I am no longer a fundamentalist Christian, nor a believer in a personal devil. Satan serves as the archetype of evil in my thinking. Yes, I sometimes find myself personalizing the concept in my talking in writing. But I don't think of the matter now as I did in my youth.

Nevertheless a little article I read in the newspaper preserves its makers idea that somehow the Prince of Darkness took time out to attempt to prevent this movie being made.

The movies producer and director, the late Ron Ormond, suffered a nasty fall down some steps on the first night of shooting as he attempted to inspect the set. "While walking down I slipped, but it felt more like I was pushed," Ormond describes the incident, which makes me think of scenes from television series The Haunting.

A moth also seeming attempted to put out a 3200 Kelvin light that was being used during filming. While it was noted that ordinarily contact with such a light would kill a bird instantly, the moth was untroubled.
There was also a severed camera motor wire which delayed filming for several hours.

And as the sound track was being mixed, a fiery explosion caused delays in that aspect of the film's production.

These are just some of the "hundred constant happenings that plagued the crew and cast of The Burning Hell.
Some might just say mere coincidences. Believers will have no trouble accepting the producer's version of this curse. Personally, I think the world would not have been worse off had this film never been made. By all accounts I've heard it is hideous.

Satan has gotten bad press before and should be used to it. It would seem to me he did quite enough back in Eden to make his presence felt.

But seriously, bad luck does seem to have been at play in Ormond's film. However, as always, it remains to be interpreted in the mind of the individual.

Interestingly enough, Ormond didn't start making Christian films until late in his life, after surviving an airplane crash.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

To Control The World

Life is hard. No doubt about it. Sometimes scary. It's a high-speed, many-looped roller coaster ride. There are mountains and valleys - high ones and low, long ones, respectively.

Who wouldn't want an edge to get through it all?

Our scientific materialist friends often accuse us spiritual-minded folks of needing a crutch and an invisible friend (or friends). "Whatever gets you through the night," they say.

However, I suspect the materialists are no less prone to find ways of imposing order or attempting to gain control of this thing called life. That is why they hate mystery and imponderables (not in the sense of things beyond our current ability to understand, but rather that perhaps there are things beyond human comprehension that will never be fully understood).

It seems to me that sometimes the universe just doesn't make good sense. I would go further and suggest that scientists have as poor a record of prognosticating the future as do the religious prophets. That isn't meant as a knock against science, but rather a statement of my distrust of using a single system of thought to attempt to control or impose order on the future.

Perhaps the universe isn't some inert collection of matter acted upon by "the laws of nature." Perhaps mind is the ultimate reality and creation an ongoing process.

Emerson offered that a "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Well, yes; true freethinking is more freewheeling than it is often credited with being.

This is a rather humbling insight for me and has dissuaded me from further attempts to construct a rigid worldview that might seem to allow me to exercise control over things.

As a child of the cosmos I must content myself, I believe, to "go with the flow" and recognize the limits of my ability to understand fully. I seek approaches rather than rigid systems. I recognize the power of illusion. I may believe but shouldn't pretend to know.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Witch In The Tree

Yes, you see her there ... if you use your imagination.

Well, you can now only see her in old photos because the once popular Pebble Beach, California landmark attraction is no more, having been felled by a storm in 1964.

Pareidolia, they call it, when a person sees something with the mind's eye which isn't really there. I mean, after all, witches don't really look like the popular conception of them, as for example, the wicked witch of the West in the movie the Wizard of Oz - do they?

But I do believe in witches. I haven't found a definitive history of witches, I don't think one exists. But as surely as folk wisdom and folk magic exist, so do witches. They were the "cunning folk" of old.

I think witches have gotten a lot of bad press in the movies and in fiction, in no small part because of the way Christianity has handled the subject.

Our imagination has surely run wild on this topic down through the centuries, but I suspect there is more to this than is commonly thought. And I think magic is poorly understood and too quickly dismissed as bunkum. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Two Mysteries

That is the title to a profound poem written by Mary Mapes Dodge, author of children's literature and editor of the children's magazine St. Nicholas.

How heartily do those of us who feel we have glimpsed within our breasts a promise of something beyond this life mortal veil sense that life does have ultimate meaning.

But believing is not knowing. We feel we are faced with two profound mysteries: What is death? and what is life?

Dodge's poem was inspired by an item in the New York Tribune concerning a scene at a wake for the young nephew of poet Walt Whitman.

As the beloved youth lay in his coffin, close by in a great chair, Whitman was holding a young girl in his lap. The girl could not quite comprehend the scene of death before her but looked questioningly into Whitman's face.

"You don't know what it is, do you, my dear?" the poet said. After a pause he added, "We don't either."

How true. And how challenging the words Mary Mapes Dodge wrote:

We know not what it is, dear, this sleep so deep and still;
The folded hands, the awful calm, the cheek so pale and chill;
The lids that will not lift again, though we may call and call.
The strange, white solitude of peace that settles over all.

We know not what it means, dear, this desolate heart-pain;
This dread to take our daily way, and walk in it again;
We know not to what other sphere the loved who leave us go,
Nor why we're left to wonder still, nor why we do not know.

But this we know: Our loved and dead, if they should come this day--
Should come and ask us “What is life?" not one of us could say.
Life is a mystery as deep as ever death can be;
Yet, O, how dear it is to us, this life we live and see

Then might they say--these vanished ones--and blessed is the thought,
"So death is sweet to us, beloved! though we may show you naught;
We may not to the quick reveal the mystery of death--
Ye cannot tell us, if ye would, the mystery of breath."

The child who enters life comes not with knowledge or intent,
So those who enter death must go as little children sent.
Nothing is known. But I believe that God is overhead;
And as life is to the living, so death is to the dead.

I don't know. I honestly don't know. But I do know I could not bring myself to look into the face of a grieving person and offer that this life is it and has no meaning beyond just marking time. The honest answer is that we are faced with two great mysteries.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Are There Guardian Angels?

As I was standing in line at the grocery store Friday awaiting my turn, I noticed the latest issue of Reader's Digest in the magazine rack. The RD makes good bedtime reading for me. The short stories and articles are just the thing for me to read until I'm drowsy and ready to turn in for real.

I couldn't help noticing an item in the section Your True Stories in 100 Words. It was submitted by Grace Napier of Greeley, Colorado, who feels she has a guardian angel watching over.

Guardian angels is a subject I once ridiculed. That was due to my then rigid literalist mindset, as well an ignorance of the imaginal realm. Now I'm more inclined to listen to those who have stories to tell.

Grace Napier relates that she was on her way to work and exiting her yard when "a firm hand restrained my right shoulder, shoving me left." This took her on a longer route "where traffic was not moving."

That sounds bad, but Grace later learned that there had been a fatal traffic accident along the route she had originally planned to take. "I would have been that accident," she writes, crediting her guardian angel with saving her life.

I would assume Napier is a Christian and that worldview is what gives form to her story.

If my credulity is longer strained by such stories, it is because I have given serious consideration to the times in my own life when I sensed a guiding force. I think also of the warnings unheeded that I lived to regret.