Monday, March 25, 2013

Easter Homily from the Mountainbike Saddle

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
--Albert Einstein

"What good is diversity if you don't avail yourself of it?"
--something I said at the Co-Op and one of the staff members made me repeat it so he could write it down.

In a recent op-ed piece in the Los Alamos Daily Post, my friend the Rev. Paul Cunningham of our First Baptist Church asks why more folks don't attend church services. He hits quite a few points. Here is mine.

When the subject of religion comes up, I am reminded of the Eastern story of The Blind Men and the Elephant**. What much traditional religion fails to address is that in spite of, or perhaps because of all our argument and bickering, it is likely that none of us fully fathoms what brought the Universe, and with it our little species, into existence. As hard as we try, we can only approximate the universe even as we try to measure its physical properties and test our models of its nature. Scientists, like theologians, are blind (or at minimum, visually-challenged) men measuring the elephant. So I get a little uncomfortable in any church that puts a roof over my head. Except, perhaps, with some Jesuits I spent some time with back in Hawaii. Maybe that's because it was Hawaii and the building was quite gossamer rather than sturdy and opaque. Metaphorically and literally.

Looking east across the Rio Grande Rift on 3/24/13
My meditative moments are often spent sitting on the saddle of the mountainbike. Los Alamos provides many opportunities to think about stuff bigger than ourselves. Whether it is sitting at the back of Kwage Mesa looking across that great continental rift zone to the Sangre de Cristo mountains or my favorite place, a small knoll in Bayo Canyon where our local version of Michaelangelo's Prisoners live, mystery abounds. 

Madonna and Child


Michalangelo's Prisoners are semi-finished figures that look like they are trying to escape their stone. On a trail between North and Barranca Mesas is a small knoll where three rock shapes rise from the ground and remind me of three different aspects of mystical thought. One looks to me like Madonna and Child, representing Christianity and to some degree the three major western faiths. One looks like an elephant, representing the Ganesh of Hinduism (as well as other Eastern religions), and one is a tree that has grown through a stone, representing Gaia. Here we find three glimpses the blind men have of that mysterious elephant we call, in our somewhat simple minded manner, by various human names. I wonder if that force of the universe minds.

Interestingly, riding home on Sunday I came to a part of the trail where Saturday's winds blew down a dead tree. Time to think of Ganesh, the Hindu god of the removal of obstacles. Of course its not hard to see how an elephant could be seen as the god of the removal of obstacles...
Calling Ganesh and a chainsaw...

Anyway, happy Easter, Passover, Science, Atheism, or whatever fits your bill. Perhaps we can get Rev. Cunningham and some of our other religious thinkers onto mountainbikes to continue the discussion back in that area that my friend Louis and I call the "Church of the Happy Canine", as we call that open space where we walk our dogs and contemplate stuff.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

**  A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"
The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.
"When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'
"Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.
"Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.
"Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.
"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus."
Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,
    O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
    For preacher and monk the honored name!
    For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
    Such folk see only one side of a thing.


Lori B. said...

Enjoyable read, from trunk to tail. I would like your Church of the Happy Canine.

Little Jimmy said...

At the end of every bike ride, I am certain that I have been blessed by a good and just creator!