Tag Archives: spiritual

We Are The Vandals

5 Apr

Where is the borderline between profound and pedantic? The answer: your mileage may vary. Some books hit you at the right time and change your life. A piece of music might bring one person to tears and leave another person dry. If you have to explain the joke, is it funny?

I keep thinking back to Type O Negative–I loved that band, bought most of their albums, and they had a very tongue-in-cheek approach to their heavy metal/goth music they produced. Anyway, on their third album cover (yes, kids, bands used to put out physical albums!), they wrote, “Functionless Art Is Simply Tolerated Vandalism. . .We Are The Vandals.” When someone asked the guitarist (Kenny Hickey) about that, he said,  “That’s the truth, that wasn’t a joke. Our art is completely functionless. There is no use for it except for listening pleasure or killing time. The rest of the album is a joke!”

A lot of literature is like that. I know the Tanakh (Old Testament) pretty well; I’ve read the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and I’ve picked at a variety of religious texts. If you’re a believer, the lessons are profound. If you’re not… it’s hard to find meaning. Take the Bhavagad-Gita; the seminal work for everyday Hindus, which teaches the lesson of the Gods to men. There’s a lot more holy books in that religion, but that’s the one that gets studied. My grade school knowledge is limited, so all I know is when Robert Oppenheimer quoted it when he saw the atomic bomb test, “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one… I have become death, destroyer of worlds.”

Wow. That’s pretty cool… but it’s out of context. It’s not what the god meant–in context, he was telling Arjuna, “You’re here to fight. It’s your dharma. You’ve become death at this moment, so do it.” Let’s take a random verse from the same text:

O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

Bhavagad-Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 14

If you can get past the rather stilted translation, you might get out of it, “Don’t get too upset if you’re not happy–it comes and goes–don’t let it get in the way.” Which is an important lesson to learn and pretty valuable. But you might get lost in the verbiage, and since I’m not a Hindu, I don’t find it terribly profound.

One of the books that literally changed my life was After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield. He’s an American Buddhist teacher who interviewed fellow clerics from different faiths to ask the question, “What does a spiritual person do when they get burned out?” There are moments in one’s life where you feel close to the infinite–what I call a “spiritual high.” The problem with any high is that you crash from it. So what do you do when you beat yourself up because you don’t feel enlightened when your delicates have to go through the dryer?

This book hit me at a time when I was spiritually burned out–where I fell far short of the Glory of God. This made me realize that I wasn’t alone and I could proceed on in my spiritual journey. For other people, who weren’t in that situation, they might think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and move on to the next book. For me, that was gospel; for others, good advice.

Timing is everything. Maybe you’ll find a moment of perfect clarity in one of my books. Or if $1.99 is too much to pay for revelation, you might find it in one of my free stories. Or maybe you’ll just enjoy them as good stories, either way, let me know in the comments below! Or any other thought about profound literature… I won’t judge. 🙂

Everything Zen? I Don’t Think So.

30 Dec

It’s easy to love the fanatic; their passion and drive speak to everything that we don’t have. However, no one stays in that state forever, because the demands of real life eventually pull us away. So should we shun the moment or embrace it?

I was reading a blog by Bryan Wagner titled You and Constructive Zen, in which he talks about the importance of saying no. Learning to realize that you have too much on your plate and that you can’t help another is important to keeping yourself balanced. In other words, the middle path between asceticism and sybarism that Buddha was going on about.

Let me just preface this by saying I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve struggled with the spiritual high–the trying to achieve it and the disappointment coming down from it. I think that’s why the idealized Buddhist monks act they way they do–if you don’t have any belongings apart from your robe and begging bowl, then naturally, you’ve got little to worry about losing. However, I do want to emphasize “idealized,” because the Buddhist monks I’ve met have real problems, too. There’s politics at the temple/monastery, some smoke like chimneys (so they have to be getting the money for cigarettes somewhere), and others are struggling with their college classes (that someone has to pay for).

Does that mean that clerics have to be ascetic all the time? No, they’re real people–and that’s the point! Sooner or later, you have to come out of your meditation and have a meal, go to the bathroom, or sit on a corner and beg… which is not a pleasant experience. I was talking to an American Zen Buddhist (grew up in that faith) about his going to temple, and he just looked at me confused, because in his tradition, going to temple is the antithesis of what you’re supposed to do. You might get together to meditate, but normally, you’re supposed to be by yourself. In a sense–fundamentalist Buddhism.

But there are limits to what you can achieve by yourself, which is why the greatest spiritual highs I’ve had have been on retreats, camps, things that force you to get away from the demands of the real world to focus on those moments. I’ve broken into song in an open field, wept openly at the edge of the corn, and felt the touch of the Creator in those quiet communal moments. But it doesn’t last–it’s not supposed to.

My favorite interpretation of the story of the Sacrifice of Issac (Genesis 22) is that when his father was lifting up the knife to kill Issac, the angel was holding the knife back; which meant that Abraham couldn’t see the angel, but Issac could. In the next chapter, Issac was blinded–so one interpretation suggested that after you see an angel, Issac was “blinded” to the normal affairs of the world, which is why he couldn’t see that Esau was so bad later on, but also why he just followed in his father’s footsteps (sometimes literally). He lived in the spiritual high so much that it made him blind to the duties of being a patriarch of a wealthy family.

So… be constructively Zen; don’t fear the connection with the Infinite, but don’t beat yourself up for “falling short of the Glory of God.” Find the spiritual in the mundane and understand that you are fallible about to become transcendent.

How did I do? Did I capture the Middle Path well? Do I have no clue what I’m talking about? Let me know in the comments below!

Coming Down from the Spiritual High

8 Dec

You can get high on things other than drugs. Fitness fanatics talk about a “runner’s high;” I’ve felt a “writer’s high” when you finish a story. But there’s also a “spiritual high,” that sense of being so connected with the infinite. But like all highs, you crash.

This is an experience I’ve had many times in my life. I was so moved by one that I thought I’d be a minister. Unfortunately, this happened when I was twelve, and it changed my life… for the worse. The problem with getting a calling so young is that you tell everyone–and then people have a higher expectation of you than a teenager is ready to commit to. So the high wears off and you crash because you can’t possibly meet the expectations you gave yourself.

One of the most troubling–and fundamental parts–of the Bible is the Sacrifice of Issac. Why would God command Abraham to kill his favorite (but not his only) son? He waited so long for this kid that he was promised, and then was told to throw him away. It’s troubling and yet essential, because as the text continues, it assures that Abraham is truly the chosen one to bring God’s message to the world.

However, if you notice in the text, Issac and Abraham do not go home after this incident on Mount Moriah. Sarah dies immediately after, because according to the sages, the Devil told her that her husband killed her only son. You’d have to think that Issac would think his dad was a real bastard. Yet there’s another interpretation.

The one interpretation that I like is that while Abraham is raising the knife, an angel holds back his arm, preventing the killing. Which means Abe can’t see the angel–but Issac can. So Issac is personally witnessing the eternal first hand and that changes his life forever. The sages say that he spent the next several years at the “yeshiva of Shem and Eber,” which according to them, is actually the priest-king of Salem (later Jerusalem) who we met in the previous chapter.

Imagine living your life with that image of an angel–direct experience with God–your entire life. Everything else pales in comparison. This explains why he is “blinded” in later chapters and can’t see why Jacob is so cool and Esau is so evil. Because everything after that experience pales in comparison.

The trick to coming off the spiritual high–as I’ve learned the hard way–is to accept that the spiritual is in all things. Doing your laundry, making dinner, walking around the neighborhood… these can all be spiritual things full of wonder if you let them be. It’s when you expect everything to be of that same intensity–that same spiritual high–that you feel like a failure and the guilt of unrealistic expectations drives you down.

However, I could be completely wrong–what do you think? Is there a better way to stay in that spiritual high? Is there an alternative to the crushing guilt of being merely human? Let me know in the comments below!

And you raise your hands in some stupid symbol…

4 Dec

People will send you the weirdest stuff. So when I get a message on Twitter–in French–to place a candle in a mirror to honor the Virgin Mary, I might think this is a normal day. But some things defy explanation.

When I get this unrequested spam messages, I usually just ignore it, but the fact that it was in another language intrigued me. My knowledge of written French is limited to what I remember from two years of high school, but I feel I can still follow the newspapers when I try. Thankfully, there’s a translate button.

Poser la photo de la vierge Marie devant soi et allumé une bougie blanche à votre droite et un verre d’eau de coco a votre gauche, prononcé un seul vœu et laissé la bougie se consumé totalement, puis après boire l’eau de coco. Si vous avez des questions je suis là

Rituel Marial, comment from @LeMoine on 12/1/20 regarding my NaNoWriMo post.

I’d like to think that this person is a dedicated Catholic who thinks that sending random replies to people will help save their souls from hell, rather than some joker who gets kicks off sending occult-like messages to people, because… seriously? I don’t know what you’re getting from this. I’m not upset, I’m just confused. And there’s enough in my life that I’m confused from that I just ignore it. Frankly, the only reason I’m writing about it is to come up with material for a blog post! 🙂

I’d prefer to think that someone wants to save my soul, because wanted or not, at least someone cares. I wore a kippa/yamulke for five years which just screamed “Jewish” to anyone around. I would get lots of born-again Christians coming up to me and witnessing. They did it out of love, even though it was annoying. Someone who bothers to take their religion seriously enough to wear those obvious flags isn’t about to say, “Gee, I never heard of Jesus before. I should change sides.” But I don’t get angry, because I understand–as a Christian, that’s what you’re supposed to do.

You may have noticed I say “used to wear” before. Because after a while, I got tired of being witnessed to, and people expecting things from me that I was not prepared to give. If you’ve ever seen a homeless man shouting at nothing for hours on end, we just say he’s crazy. Yet in his mind, there are demons who are tormenting them, and they are not figurative–in his mind, they are real.

Maybe aliens from the planet Zardoz won’t leave his lawn. Maybe the Marian Ritual will protect him from the power of hell. Maybe the scroll boxes I put on my door protect us from the evil eye. Does it work in yours? Are there are some rituals or ritual objects you use in your daily life? Let me know in the comments below!

“When Did You Lose Your Grace?”

28 Sep

As I’ve said before, I’m an aficionado of cheesy films. The Prophecy (1995) scratched me where I itched; to date, this is the only film I’ve seen in the theatres more than once. I love this story – angels as heavenly hitmen! No one brings it better than Christopher Walken!

Forget the sequels, this film is wonderfully made. Of course, you have to accept the concept first – there was a second war in heaven and there are “rebel” angels who need the perfect evil general to lead their armies to overcome the “loyal” angels. Somehow, that soul is in a colonel who committed war atrocities in Korea and died in a rural town in New Mexico. Okay, pretty big suspension of disbelief.

Failed Priest Turned Cop – Elias Koteas

The movie starts off with a Catholic priest who suddenly gets a vision so profound he loses his faith and becomes a homicide detective. Okay, big job switch, but he’s our protagonist. He also happens to be the perfect person to follow the leads when angels start killing each other in the streets.

Gabriel – Christopher Walken

Leader of the rebel angels, when his lieutenant is taken out by Simon, one of the loyal ones, has to come down to Earth to get the soul himself. Amazing job through the entire film. He has GREAT lines and fun scenes that balance the utter brutality of his character.

Simon – Eric Stoltz

Plays perfectly what you think an angel would look and sound like. Great performance.

Satan – Viggo Mortensen

Before he became famous as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, this performance is what I know him from. Suave, goofy, and demonic… Hells, Viggo is frickin’ amazing! One moment talking calmly, next teasing, next psycho – wow!

Even the secondary characters rock hard. Patrick McAllister, who played the colonel, never said a word during the film (because he was dead, not that stopped anyone else), but conveys creepy silently. The little girl (Moriah Shining Dove Snyder) is one of the best little girl performances EVER, right behind Newt in Aliens. Completely believable, worked well. Even the teacher / love interest was good, but then again, it was Virginia Madsen… and after Jennifer Connelly, she’s my big celebrity crush.

The lines are memorable, the story flows, and you are alternating laughing and being shocked… sometimes in the same scene. Amazing world building. Fantastic cinematography – there’s one scene that has no words, but explains the new character’s entire backstory in fifteen seconds. Wow! I thoroughly recommend this movie!

However, as said before, my taste in films is not everyone’s. Have you seen this movie? Did you think it sucked? Was it a life-changing experience for you, too? Were you somewhere in between? Let me know in the comments below!

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