Friday, November 26, 2010

Sacred Perception

The sacred fills my mind a lot these days. I pray outdoors and read religious tracts each morning, spend time thinking about guidance from those tracts throughout the day, and ponder the day's gifts with prayers of gratitude before I sleep. And now I'm reading a book (Fingerprints of God by Barbara Hagerty) that is exploding my notions about the sacred. This book, you see, is about the science of spirituality.

The paths I'm going down as I read each chapter are intriguing. What is it about the human structure that allows some of us to have closer relationships with the sacred than others? What similarities in religious experiences span centuries and continents? What kinds of research has been done to learn more about humans' contact with their gods?

I'm astounded by some of the author's findings. First, there are basic similarities in folks' intense religious experiences, no matter what their faith. One key element is the presence of brilliant white light. Second, ingesting certain things (like peyote) can create experiences much like those described by those having intense religious experiences. Third, some people are more prone to be religious than others, with this finding coming from the study of identical twins who are raised separately.

Fourth, a specific part of the brain, located above the right ear, appears to be the "seat" of human perception of religious experience. This part of the brain has been modified surgically (in epileptics, for example) with results impacting the patients' description of religious experiences. Fifth, study of brains of marathon pray-ers, like Franciscan nuns and Tibetan Buddhist monks, shows remarkable similarities, including reduced activity in the parietal lobes, the part of the brain that helps us be oriented to and feel separate from our surroundings. These subjects describe their deep connection to all, including the sacred, while praying, which makes neurological sense, since their brains have scaled down the tool that helps make distinctions between them and their environment.

As I near the end of this important book, I'm pondering the many ways that humans respond to the sacred. As a child, I was given a solid Christian upbringing, but was not discouraged from exploring other faiths. As an adult, I've found study of religions fascinating and, at some times, troublesome. It bothers me a lot that some sects go to great lengths to assert the validity of their truths and the invalidity of beliefs held by others. It bothers me a lot that persons are persecuted and killed because of their religious beliefs. It bothers me that religious fanaticism has created the monster of terrorism in our world. It bothers me that devisiveness, rather than inclusiveness, appears to reign when it comes to religion.

Humans should, I think, be more grateful for their incredible abilities to recognize and respond to the sacred. We should use these neurological gifts in ways that improve the lot of all. That is my prayer this morning.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Blessed, that's what I am. There's no denying that I have been given gifts of incalulable value, including my parents and my daughter. Often wonder how my luck of the draw on many things has been so spectacular.

Approaching this season set aside for specific rituals of gratitude, I'm pleased to see that gratitude is now trendy in pop psychology. We are reminded, in blogs, books, videos, greeting cards, and cute little gift books, that feeling thankful is healthy. We are told that acknowledging our many blessings will bring even more goodness to our lives. We are told that failing to recognize and give thanks for our gifts hurts us.

So I offer my thanks for the myriad of blessings in my life, including the golden fuzzball who follows me around the house. I offer my thanks for the miracles of life on this planet, for the society which allows and protects my freedoms, for the truly astounding gifts of my senses which let me see, hear, smell, feel, and taste joys every day. And I offer some of my favorite examples of prayers folks around the world give as grace:

It is a comely fashion to be glad;
Joy is the grace we say to God.

Prased be my Lord for our mother the earth,
that which doth sustain us and keep us,
and bringeth forth divers fruit,
and flowers of many colours and grass.
(St Francis of Assisi)

O You who feed the little bird,
bless our food, O Lord.
(Traditional Norwegian)

We thank Thee, Lord, for happy hearts,
For rain and sunny weather;
We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food,
And that we are together.
(Traditional Mennonite blessing)

May we be a channel of blessings for all that we meet.
(Edgar Cayce)

Thank you, kind Father,
for giving us food to make
our bodies grow stronger.
Dear God, teach us to share with others
what we ourselves have. Amen
(Chinese child's prayer)

Innumberable labors have brought us this food.
We should know how it comes to us.
As we receive this offering we should consider
whether our practice and virtue deserve it.
(Soto Buddhist blessing)

The lands around my dwelling are more beautiful
from the day when it is given to me to see
faces I have never seen before.
All is more beautiful,
All is more beautiful,
and life is thankfulness.
These guests of mine
make my house grand.

Lord most giving and resourceful,I implore You:
make it Your will that this people enjoy
the goods and riches You naturally give,
that naturally issue from You,
that are pleasing and savory,
that delight and comfort,
though lasting but briefly,
passing away as if in a dream.
(Aztec prayer)

Bless these Thy gifts, most gracious God,
From whom all goodness springs;
Make clean our hearts and feed our souls
With good and joyful things.
(Traditional Christian grace)

And so...I am grateful for all that has fallen into my life, including this blog, Day Full of Miracles, and its readers. For all this, I give thanks.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Prey: The Sequel

So earlier I wrote about hiking in the woods with my dog in an area shared with big predators: wolves, cougars, bears. I chickened out (NOT taking a gun, mind you, just not trekking by myself with my dog there). Now I'm not sure about the wisdom of that choice.

Don't often tear up at the headlines on MSN, but did today as I read "Tigers Nearing Extinction." The ensuing video showed an infared shot of a rare Siberian tiger approaching the camera at night and then, after the same site was razed by a bulldozer, a tiger again approaching the camera. What's going on? Huh?

Maybe the timing was ripe. I'd earlier read a piece about the sad fate of grizzlies in the West, given changes in their wild realm (including those related to climate), human movements closer to them, and states' rights in addressing the "problem." I'd seen earlier a televised interview with the intriguing writer, Doug Peacock, about the importance of predators in the larger scheme of themes, that is, our relationship with the entire planet, the globe that some say we should conquer. My gosh, after all of this, after all of this, I don't know what else to do but cry.

Of course I empathsize with the family of the biologist killed by a grizzly and the sleeping family attacked by the hungry, cub-laden griz sow, and the dog-walker mauled by a black bear in a subdivision. Of course. But the justice of it all seems wrong to me. What were those creatures guilty of besides trying to survive?

I look at my dog. She lives here, comfortably, serenely, arrogantly. She knows all will be provided by the two-legged critters that inhabit the same den. But what about those others, the creatures with DNA not all that different from hers, who are supposed to somehow learn the drifting rules they must follow?

How do they know what they're supposed to do or not do? Not just talkin about the rules of predator/prey; talkin about the rules of land management agencies, depridation payments, hunters' game populations, et al. How do the creatures know that, in years when berry harvests are slight, they should not enter subdivisions, but should high-tail it to the deep woods and find another way to get by? How do they know that humans do not want to be inconvenienced by their ongoing survival needs, even though the means for fulfilling those needs have been changed significantly?

I'm not comfortable being a human being when I read about the line of demarcation of human and predator, not comfortable at all. I live with a golden haired predator and I would hate to think of her being forced to make a survival choice that could result, not in just her demise, but that of her species. I don't know what else to do but cry.