Wednesday, July 28, 2010


A question I am often asked when I explain animism is whether things created by human hands, what I call manufactured things, are also alive, ensouled, and intelligent. I do not speak for all animists, but manufactured things sometimes speak to me. Household items, especially. Blankets. Teapots. When I was a kid, I had a relationship with the streetlamp that lit up the city night outside my window.

Manufactured things are a different sort of life form from trees and rocks and clouds, nonhumans made by the Creator's hand.

But who knows? Maybe I'm just nuts. What is your experience with manufactured things?
Best to all,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Learning and growing

Jack and I were talking about the kids last night, about how they were learning and growing spiritually through their adventures. We talked about what I learned during this year's stay at Brushwood and what Jack learned from kayaking on the lake. And we realized that our lives have been about learning and growing in all ways: body, spirit, feeling and intellect.

It was a tough year, but highly successful, because through our struggles and even our sufferings, we learned and we grew. People from many religious traditions seek what they call "spiritual maturity," but for us, it is not a religious pursuit. Rather, this is our ongoing, lifetime project. Both Jack and I have been reaching since we were kids—reaching for deeper understanding, more clarity, and greater knowledge, and to master the spiritual skills of loving, healing, and caring. We raised our own kids to do the same. In fact, learning and growing in spirit may be the very purpose of our fleshly lives.

I met a fine fellow at Brushwood this year, as different from me as you could imagine. While I believe in things unseen, he is a radical scientist. He doesn't believe in what can't be proven. He enjoys technology while I despise it, and we differ in so many other ways that one would expect us to dislike one another. Quite the contrary! We got along splendidly because in spite of our differences, we were both reaching out to learn and grow. We had that project in common, and offered and accepted one another's ideas and opinions as teachings toward that end.

In fact, the whole Brushwood experience is set up for learning and growing, with workshops for formal teaching and hundreds of opportunities for informal sharing. If only the mundane world encouraged learning and growing in spirit like that!

Instead, learning seems painful to many people, associated as it is with enforced and academic schooling. How I wish I could reawaken in my students that passion to learn, the vast curiosity with which they were born, but the rules of public education work against me. Growing in spirit, meanwhile, is limited to the confines of religious doctrine.

Another roadblock is the dogma of consumer capitalism which discourages the very skills and qualities that lead to learning and spiritual growth. Hard work, accepting challenge and seeing it through, taking the difficult but right way, having patience, listening, experimenting, having real-life experiences, trying and failing, face-to-face interactions with humans and nonhumans, and a personal and unique relationship with one's gods all lead to learning and spiritual growth — and are all disparaged by consumer culture.

One source of our contemporary spiritual pathology could be that lifelong learning and spiritual growth are repressed in these and other ways. This repression makes sense, of course, when you consider the power we would gain from being smart and spiritually mature. We would not buy into excuses for violence. We would not buy consumer goods manufactured on the backs of slaves or the desecration of nature. We would not be so easy to lead into wars or to fool into thinking that one can be pro-life and pro-gun at the same time.

When a talk show host told us that Jesus did not care about the social welfare, we would laugh in his face. When a leader told us that the only way to heaven was apocalypse, we would resist.

So, Jack and I were talking last night and we decided we would measure our success in life, and our kids' success, by how much we were learning and growing, not by how much money we made or how few mistakes or how much stuff we'd acquired or who thought we were cool, but by the power of our love and the knowledge we had gathered. And by that measure we are all wealthy, indeed!

* The image on this post is a cartoon of the kids at my middle school.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sun of gOd

The New Animism has its champions, but I have yet to find an argument for the validity of animism as cogent as Gregory Sams'. His book Sun of gOd (2009) doesn't linger long on Sun as a deity, but he makes his point quickly: the earth and all of us puny humans would die without Sun's light, heat, and energy. In fact, Sun may be the progenitor of Gaia, herself. Instead of a litergy of Sun worship, the book builds a case for the probability of Sun's consciousness and intelligence, and in so doing, opens the reader's mind to the consciousness and intelligence inherent in all things. This foundational concept, put rationally and succinctly, builds the case for animism as a rational choice in a contemporary world.

The book takes a rambling route around its main point, touching on topics as diverse as the origins of religious institutions and a planetary tour of the solar system. I was delighted to find many of the questions that have troubled me articulated in the book. For example, in speaking of the crucifixion, "how can logic be so twisted as to propose that, in response to this ungrateful deed, gOd absolved us of all sins . . .?" I found ideas that I've also put forth, as in, "no particular ritual is required or more important than our simple grateful awareness" and the impact of chaos on our best-laid human plans. Just Sams' use of syntax in the word "gOd" as he attempts to distinguish the mono-gods from other gods, brings to mind our own struggle with the issue.

But the most important work Sams accomplishes with Sun of gOd is to call into question the culture's absolute faith in rationalist, materialist science. His critique of science stands well next to Vine Deloria's* as he describes creation evolving purposefully "from the bottom up" and the existence of what he calls "non-brain-based intelligence."

All in all, an essential read for New Animists. You can purchase the book and learn more about author Gregory Sams on his website.
Best wishes,

Post Script: By the way, in the image above, the flowers are singing a hymn to Sun originally written to the Christian god in the 4th century: Phos Hilaron. Drop me an email if you're interested in the complete lyrics.

*See, for example, Deloria's: Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths.