Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English anchoress, or religious hermit, wrote: “He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God. In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, - I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me.”
Julian "one-ed" with the All by contemplating the particular.
During a summer sojourn at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, I gathered dark red earth into a bag and put it in the back of the car to take home. It was a sample of the Chinle Formation, a distinctive layer of lavender, red, and blue-grey soft dirt, formed from alluvium over 200 million years ago and sandwiched between layers of hard sandstone. Back in Los Angeles, I put the dirt in a bucket, added water, formed a mud ball, and began the process of making a dorodango, a Japanese art form. I shaped the ball, put dirt on the surface to get it dry, then put it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Hours later, I took it out of the bag, where it sweated out moisture from its interior. I spread more dirt on its surface, rubbed it smooth, and put it back in the bag. I repeated this process every day for about two weeks. Finally the ball ceased sweating in the bag, and at that point I gave it a final polish with a soft rag. The deep color of the dirt came through the shiny surface. It looked like a ceramic ball, glazed and fired in a kiln, but it was no more and no less than a handful of dirt. The process of making this dorodango was very satisfying, in a way I can barely verbalize.
In New Mexico, I gathered dirt from another source, as well: the Santuario de Chimayo, an old adobe church from the Spanish era. In the back of the sanctuary of this little church in a tiny town at the base of the mountains north of Santa Fe is a little adobe room with an earthen floor, and in the floor is a hole full of pale, pink, powdery dirt that pilgrims for 200 years have rubbed on whatever part of their body ails them. The reported cures have drawn devotees from all over the world to fill vials of the dirt to take home with them. I put the dirt into little glass vials to give to my students when they are in crisis or when they are about to begin a new venture. As is the case every time I visit the Santuario de Chimayo, I felt holiness, and palpable wholeness, in that little adobe room.
William Blake, in his poem "Auguries of Innocence", wrote: "To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour...." One way to apprehend the Universe, which is one-ed with the Divine Being that includes and enlivens all within it, is to hold reverently a handful of dirt. The Whole is in every part.
"The Universe creates its own observers and admirers," wrote Friedrich Shleiermacher, a 17th-18th century German theologian. By admiring dust, I admire the One who forms me from it.
“One knows that which one thinks one knows less than that which one knows one does not know.”
Nicolas of Cusa, 1444-45 Ever tried so hard to solve a problem that you thought your head would explode? You're not alone. Sometimes our obsession to figure something out gets in our way of finding the answer.
George Polya, a celebrated mathematician who pioneered the field of multi-dimensional geometry, was concerned with the state of mathematics education. To contribute to better teaching methods, he wrote a classic book, "How to Solve It", in 1944. In it, Polya repeated this admonition: "Look at the unknown." Stop trying to solve it, at least for a while. Just look at it, sit with it. Give it your mindful attention. Let it sink in. Admire it! Then compare it to other unknowns, other problems. How were those problems solved? How might those solutions apply to this problem? Polya's wisdom generalizes to all forms of problem-solving, within and beyond mathematics. Though Polya might not have described it this way, his method can be characterized as contemplative and meditative.
I set up a blackboard in the courtyard of the University Religious Center at the University of Southern California. I invited students, staff, and faculty to write down "unknowns" from any or all disciplines. Participants are invited to use a color of chalk not yet used for other initial "unknowns". If a contributor sees an "unknown" on the board that is reminiscent of another "unknown", even from an entirely different academic discipline, they are invited to write it down with the same color of chalk, with a line connecting it to the "unknown" that inspired it. If the connection between "unknowns" seems a bit tenuous, there's no worry - the contributor can add it to the board, with a line to the one that inspired it, and see where the conversation leads - and later see if others add "unknowns" that relate to that addition. Contributors can take pictures of their additions and post them with comments at #lookattheunknown on social media.
Contributions so far, in 3 days: "My destiny in this world." which led to: "What is after life?" "What can I learn about my religion from non-practitioners?" which led to: "What can I learn from your religion?"
(PS: I hope others copy this idea at other schools, churches, etc., and post their results at #lookattheunknown !)
I'm 100% in support of Hillary Clinton becoming our next president, a candidate whose qualities I admire 75%.
I'm 0% in support of Donald Trump becoming our next president, a candidate whose qualities I admire .01%.
That's my November 8 spiritual math. What's yours?
Many of my friends and colleagues admire Clinton less than I do, and I can appreciate their viewpoints. But I am praying that they'll join me in the first part of my equation, and support her 100% nonetheless. Because as recent events further underscore, there's zero good in letting Donald Trump enter the White House because people were too discouraged, disgusted, or complacent to vote. And in order to get Hillary Clinton elected, full emotional engagement is required. Her election will be won with infectious peer-to-peer enthusiasm, or it won't be won at all. I will focus on and lift up her positives in the election season, and commit myself to political engagement for the long term after she is elected in order to address the problems that come with her flaws. No news in this. This is always required of us as citizens, no matter how stellar the candidate, after every election.
Till then, I'm in, 100%, for Hillary Clinton, with a holy spirit of hallelujiah! 100% for Supreme Court nominees that will preserve abortion rights, consumer protections, voting rights, and protect us from big money in politics. 100% for preserving and extending Obamacare. 100% for massive investment in public infrastructure and the un-offshore-able jobs that will go with it. 100% for preserving and improving the public safety net for seniors, the disabled, and the poor. 100% for a sane, seasoned person to have control of the nation's nuclear arsenal, until we rid ourselves of that menace. 100% for a president who shows respect for ethnic and sexual minorities, and shows respect and offers cooperation with other nations in making the world secure. 100% for a president who takes science seriously in shaping public policy.
Commitment to Hillary Clinton's election can and ought to exceed our level of admiration for her qualities as a candidate. I was 100% for Barack Obama, too - a candidate whose qualities I admired 85%. Today, 100% enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton is necessary for the well-being of our fellow citizens, in America and around the world. The stakes are too high, the consequences too serious, to be half-hearted or even three-quarters hearted about her as we talk with our friends and relatives and colleagues about this election.
Let's all take deep breaths and open ourselves to an attitude adjustment, regardless of where we stood before the Democratic convention. Optimism isn't optional this time around!