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Monday, December 22, 2014

Did God Order Genocide in the Old Testement?


   
   Did God command the Israelites to commit genocide in the Old Testament Scriptures? This question has aroused quite a lot of debating in Christian and anti-Christian circles. It even featured in Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion to blame religion for perverting morality. Of course, the questionof morality iteself is ironic, since without the reality of natural and revealed law as found in religion, morality would cease to have any concrete meaning, and would be nothing more than a subjective guessing game on how each of us should behave. But anyway, to the point: did God command genocide, or not? 

     It’s a complicated subject matter, one that is open to debate among Catholic Biblical scholars and readers alike. I have heard the argument that God is sovereign and therefore can command us to do anything He likes with impunity. But this is more of a Puritan tradition, used by the likes of Cromwell to justify his own mass murder as the self-appointed Scourge of God. It flies in the face of the Catholic teaching on Natural Law. God, by His very nature, is goodness and righteousness itself, and by His very nature cannot command us to do something intrinsically evil and somehow make it right just because he ordered it. For God to counteract the Natural Law would be equivalent to him destroying Himself.  

    Some might say that certain things were allowed for a given time in human history, but forbidden now. For example, sibling marriages would have necessary to populate the world at the earliest part of human history, but is now forbidden. That having been said, I think the question of murder is another field entirely. Massacring non-combatants (women, children, the aged, and unarmed civilians) is one of the greatest crimes against justice and mercy because it evolves taking the lives of the innocent. Even after having their judgement clouded over by the Fall from Grace, I believe that human beings, whether Jewish or Pagan, still had an inkling that such activity was gravely wrong. And that “knowing” was placed in their hearts – and our hearts – by God. Would He really counteract His own law, nature, and essence, to such a dramatic extent?  

    Another argument insists that the cultures wiped out were so perverse and wicked that they deserved annihilation, down to very last infant, and God gave the Israelites something of a dispensation to carry out His Divine punishment. Furthermore, it is proposed. the children of these cultures were better off dead than being raised in Paganism and going to Hell. Frankly, this smacks of religious fanaticism.Trying to prevent children from going to hell never gives anyone the right to slaughter them. Similarly, the evils of a given culture would not give conquering cultures the mandate to commit genocide. Would it have been right for the Spanish to wipe out every single Aztec in their conquest of Mexico, even though the Aztec Empire worshipped devil gods and practiced mass human sacrifice?  

    At this point in the argument, many Biblcal apologists simply throw up their hands and say, “It’s a mystery!” I’ll agree with them to a certain point – the ways of God are a mystery, and the language we use to describe Him will always fall short of the reality. He is above and beyond anything we could ever say or write, just as the glories of heaven and the pains of hell are beyond our wildnest imaginings. And yet the combination of Natural Law and Revelations of Jesus Christ has given us a greater capacity than ever to see the Face of God. We know that He would never order others to commit evil, and genoice is always and forever one of the most heinous crimes. So my theory, in keeping with theological consistency, is that God never ordered the Israelites to commit genocide. So why does the Bible claim that He did?  

    The Old Testament is a history and folk anothology of the Jewish people – a people who I belive, in concurrence with the whole of Christendom, was chosen by God to revive belief in a single, omnipotent deity, become the deposit for many of His laws, and prepare the world for the coming of Christ. That having been said, they were still a pretty primitive people. Ancient Israel was basically a conglomoration of savage desert tribes, and their perspective on life seems to have been fairly distorted. Like many of the Pagan cultures that surrounded them, warfare was a way of life and mass killing an excepted result.  

    When describing God, the Jewish authors of the Old Testament often used imperfect human attributes such as “jeolous”, and perceived Him as having a strictly tribal identity as opposed to a universal one. They honestly seemed rather uncomfortable with God, as if he was an unpredictable stranger, which the Fall of Man had indeed made Him. But this, I believe, can be traced back to the warped mentality of humanity as opposed to any personality incongruity on the part of God. God was revealing himself a little at a time, but in the process, his identity and intent were bound to be mangled now and again by human interpreters. As a result, historical events were sometimes meshed with certain theological meanings that seem near unreconcilable with our present understanding of God through Jesus Christ.  

    For example, it is said in the Book of Exodus that God “hardened the heart of Pharoah” so that he would chase after the Israelites who had just been set free from bondage. But God, by his very nature, is the softener of hearts, and would never cause someone to reject that which is right. This has to be a clumsy theological interpretation made by a human author. Likewise, whenever Israel conquers territory, wins a battle, or massacres a nation, the Israelities say it is God’s direct intervention and order. Whilst I do believe all things are under the Providential will of God, and the Israelites were meant to rise in prominence in The Middle East in order to be a bastion of monotheism and prepare for the coming of The Redeemer, I also believe that the will of Man sometimes found justification by calling it the Will of God. The same problem can be found throughout history, when people commit atrocoties by championing manifest destiny and self-glorification under the banner of religion.  

    If this sounds like I’m rejecting the Bible, well, I’m not. If anything, I’m rejecting a strict literalist perspective commonly embraced by Fundamentalism. The Books of the OT are “inspired” because through them God reveals important truths. That having been said, we are not bound to accept every single theological explanation introduced by human authors, just as we are not bound to accept every scientific assumption. In the give and take of human-divine relations, not every word in the Biblical texts was necessarily dictated directly from the mouth of God. The project was definitely divinely inspired, but human beings, with their limited capacity for understanding the truth, may well have infultrated it with their own imperfections.


That’s not to say these ancients did not hit the nail on the head many times, both in transmitting Divine Revelation and picking up on Natural Law. There are prayers and poems of extreme beauty, prophecies of redemption that came to pass, tales of heroism and virtue, as well as the grudual acceptence of the the Law through The Ten Commandments. But it also should be noted that the extended Law of Moses for the People of Israel was definitely imperfect. “Moses permitted divorce,” Christ said, “but I say that any divorced person who remarried commits adultery.” Also, it has ben speculated that when Christed tossed the money-changers out of the Temple, it was more that just the business dealings that angered him. “My Father’s house should be a house of prayer for ALL the nations,” he said, possibly pointing out that the Pharisees had made the faith into an exclusive Jewish club.

     Famously, there was also the issue of stoning women who commited adultery, which Christ put aside, and the primitive practice of having a woman drink poison, assuming that she would somehow survive if innocent of a crime. There were, of course, elements of the law that were meant to work for a time and then ceased to be feasible. “New wine cannot be poured into old wine skins,” Christ said. Things like circumcision, blood sacrifices, and abstince from pork are no longer manditory. Things like singling marriages, polygamy, and divorce are now forbidden. Naturally, human perspective has also come a long way through a reawakening to natural law and fuller revelation. Then again, it has also sunk back into obscurity in many ways. We continue to be, tragically, a fallen, confused race.

    Of course, using a critical interpretation of the OT, there are many things to be questioned. Would God really ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, when God abhorred human sacrifice and natural law markes it out as intrinsically evil? At least in that story, however, it’s pretty clear that God never intented Abraham to go through with it. Nevertheless, in these cases perhaps we need to penetrate the bare bones of the stories and look for the moral and allegorical significance to make them worth while. Basically, if soemthing doesn’t make sense literally, try to analyze it a different way. So in God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, we are seeing Man put to the test of offering up his only beloved son for God…just as God would offier up his own beloved son for Man.

    Likewise, in the destruction of other nations and everything belonging to them (booty, livestock, etc.), we see a turning away from sin and its near occasions that draw up to sink into hedonism and hethanism, running after the world, the flesh, and the devil. The list of potential allegorical and symbolic meanings goes on. That having been said, while the perception man has about God may chance, and God may reveal His nature to us gradually, God never changes and has always been perfectly aligned with the Natural Law.

     Just as the Genesis narrative of Creation is not built on scientific criteria but on the perspective of the men of that age, so we must view it according to our growing understanding of geology and biology. Just as the histories are something of a socialogical anthology, so we must view them according to our increased knowledge of ethnology and psychology. Catholicism left behind a strictly Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible generations ago. Now its time to move forward, using the fullness of our God-given intelligence to understand the Bible and embace the fullness of Divine Revealation found in Jesus Christ.

 

 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Our Love Must Make Us Strong: The Music of Loreena McKennitt


    It all started one Christmas as I rummaged through the CD racks at the library, in search of Christmas music different than the usual run-of-the-mill. I had several gigs lined up for the season, and planned on singing “Coventry Carol”, so when I stumbled across a CD called “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” which included it in the track list, I immediately thrust it into my green library bag for check out. I thought little of it at the time, but this would start me on the road to a new musical fandom.  

    At home, I listened to the CDs I had gleaned, with some degree of disappointment since most were pretty common-place, and the Celtic-themed ones were generally too “Pop” for my tastes. While I certainly can appreciate such groups as Celtic Woman and artists as Enya, their style always sounds a bit faux, like they have journeyed too far away from their roots and lost that magical connection with the past. But then I put “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” into the CD player. The first song listed was “The Holly and the Ivy”, but it was different than I had ever heard it. The tune was altered, made deeper and more mysterious somehow. And then I heard the voice of the woman singing it. It was so ethereal, so pure, so rich, so real. I looked on the CD cover for her name. It was Loreena McKennitt.

    After finishing listening to “A Midwinter Night’s Dream”, I tracked the other albums in her 9-disc collection: “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”, “The Book of Secrets”, “The Mask and Mirror”, “The Visit”, “An Ancient Muse”, “Elemental”, “Parallel Dreams”, and “To Drive the Cold Winter Away.” Needless to say, I became progressively hooked, and was sad when there were no more of her CDs to order. I was even more sad that she hadn’t been hired to do the music for The Lord of the Rings instead of Enya and Annie Lennox! Meanwhile, I did some research on my new favorite musical artist, and learned something about her background and philosophy of life.

    Loreena Isabel Irene McKennitt, CM OM, is a Canadian of Scottish and Irish descent who specializes in the Celtic/World genre. Not only does she have a truly gorgeous voice, above and beyond any Celtic singer I’ve heard, but she also plays the harp, keyboard, and accordion. In addition to all this, she composes much of her own music and runs her own independent company called Quinlan Road. In spite of all her well-deserved success, personal tragedy struck when both her brother and fiancĂ©e were drowned in an ice-fishing accident. In their honor she has become an advocate of water-safety and water-rescue missions, and uses her high profile to help others in harm’s way. She also has held a ceremonial title in the Royal Canadian Military.

    Loreena’s music touches on a multitude spiritual themes, emphasizing the elements of the human experience that bind us all together across different plains and ages: our shared desire for true love, a place to call home, liberty from oppression, and communion with the Divine. Nevertheless, her works tend to stay broad in scope, addressing the plight of humanity, yet avoiding specific political skirmishing. Unlike so many other Celtic singers, she does not succumb to a Scots/Irish clannishness, but uses her roots to branch out into new dimensions, realizing that the original Celts were migratory people and their story connects with many others.

     Loreena often chooses classic poetry to set to music, bringing back forgotten literary gems to the popular consciousness. Many are drawn from the great romantic narrative tradition, such as “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Tennyson, and “The English Lady and the Knight” Sir Walter Scott. Others deal with the mysteries of nature such as “Snow” by Archibald Lampman, or the mysteries of death such as “Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare. Still others explore the essence of love such as “The Two Trees” by William Butler Yeats, and others explore the essence of human suffering such as “The Stolen Child”, also by Yeats.

   Her choice of folk songs combines old standards with new vocal styles and a dynamic range of instruments from a variety of cultures and periods. Some involve unusually alterations to the melodies or phrasing, such as “The Holly and the Ivy”, “Star of the County Down”, and “Greensleeves.” Others are simply infused with new vigor through the sincerity of Loreena’s story-telling style, such “Annachie Gordon”,  “As I Roved Out”, and “The Blacksmith.”

     Her own compositions manage to keep faith with the older folk tradition while also being strikingly fresh and original. Some are veritable anthems for justice, such as “Breaking the Silence” and “Beneath a Phrygian Sky”, while others focus on the mysteries of human relationships and the ongoing journey of life such as “Penelope’s Song”, “Night Market in Marrakesh”, and “The Never-Ending Road”. Her lyrical intuition matches her musical one, and she can almost be called a modern mystical poet in her spiritually thought-provoking pieces.

     Loreena started life as a Canadian farm-girl, and although she has certainly become something of a Citizen of the World since then, her activity in the armed forces shows her patriotism. As a musician, she has said that it is her desire to share always, and as a representative of the military, to share the gifts and perspectives that soldiers have to give to civilians, and at the same time share the gifts and perspectives that civilians have to give to the soldiers. Indeed, this attitude is very appropriate, since it embodies the calling of the bards of old, whose social duty was to bridge gaps and walk between the lines.

     Religiously, she is a bit of a mystery. Evidently her father was Protestant and her mother Catholic. Although she seems to have been raised Presbyterian, she now identifies herself as broadly spiritual and not directly affiliated with any organized religion. Her music seems to confirm this, since it draws from a wide range of religious traditions, most notably pre-Christian Paganism, Catholicism, and Islam. She also seems to relish overlapping religious references, such as in her songs “Mummer’s Dance” and “All Soul’s Night”, both of which highlight Pagan ceremonies that were given new Christian meanings as missionaries made their away to the four corners of Europe to spread the Good News.

     There are other more specifically Catholic-themed pieces such as “Skellig”, written by Loreena in honor of the Irish monks who saved civilization during the Dark Ages, and the incomparable “Dark Night of the Soul”, a deeply moving rendition of the mystical love poem to God written by St. John of the Cross. There are others that emphasize the depth of human emotion released through prayer and the ongoing search for God, such as “Dante’s Prayer”.

    Whether or not Loreena has established religious clarity, I think there is no doubt that she is deeply spiritually aware, and has led others to search for God and the meaning of existence through her music. Perhaps her own past sorrows and single vocation has made her a special instrument of empathy and embodiment of the songs and stories she weaves. She herself has said that she does view those who have been touched by her music as mere “fans”, but acknowledges that a much deeper connection between her and them has been forged. For her willingness to share her God-given gifts with the rest of us, I for one will be eternally grateful.

     I think the ultimate meaning behind the music of Loreena McKennitt is that, as she herself wrote in Beneath a Phrygian Sky, “our love must make us strong.” No matter what tribulations we may face, no matter what losses we may suffer, there is some undying hope that lingers in the soul that the intangible realities that are of most value will never be lost to us forever. Love will win out in the end, will give us strength to live and die well, and as Sir Walter Scott poetically put it, “love shall still be lord of all.” As Christians, we realize this ultimate expression of love in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to earth as an innocent baby on the first Christmas and continues to accompany us on the journey of life. With Him at our side, the lyrics of The Never-Ending Road are given a new depth of truth: “The journey goes on/There’s no mystery to fear.” 
 
Loreena Isable Irene McKennitt
 

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground" by Harold C. Gardiner...

is the book that first inspired me with a love of St. Edmund Campion when I was 11 years old. It is a book for young people, and yet it holds a dramatic poignancy for people of any age who love holiness, heroism, and richly romantic story-telling. Today, for the feast of Fr. Campion, I'll copy out the section of the book describing his martyrdom. After reading, I do hope you'll be inspired to read the book in its entirety:


    "The plodding horse stopped at Tyburn. Father Campion was untied. He stood there, looking out and around. Before him was an immense crowd. The ordinary people stood at the foot of the gallows. Off a little way was a grandstand, and in it, dressed in all their finery, sat members of the court and nobility. Public executions in those days were a matter of sport, and it was quite the thing for gentlemen and ladies, who would be very kind to their own children, to assemble in a moodof pleasant excitement to witness the brutal death of a criminal. And no criminial could provide more entertainment than a condemned papist.

   Father Campion did not know it, but in the crowd throning at the foot of the gallows was young William Harrington. Since the day he had fled from Lyford Grange, William had been following the fate of his beloved Father Campion. He had heard from a Catholic man who had been present at the trial how Father Campion had won the day by his calm and dignity. He had heard whispered and hinted how the brave priest had withstood the torture of the rack. Now, though he knew there was nothing he could do save pray, he stood, jostled and pushed about by the crowd, looking up at the figure of his dear Father Campion.

   'Oh,' he thought, 'if there were only something I could do. If only I could tell this mob of people how brave and gentle and truly English Father Campion is. But no -- that is not the way it has to be. Dear Father CAmpion will go to his death, and few will now know what it is he is doing. I do know, please God, and with his help, I will follow Father Campion in God's good time." William pushed nearer the high platform on w hich stood the menacing gallows. He stared at the cross-shaped structure, and a shiver ran up and down his spine.

    Through the crowds and over the roar of shouts and rowdy laughter, William saw Father Campion stand up after he had been untied from the hurdle. Then he was pushed and bustled onto a cart underneath the gallows. The noose was fitted over his head. The supremem moment Father Campion had been looking forward to for years was at hand; he was to lay down his life for Christ and his Church. But there was a pause. Some of memebers of the Queen's Council and some Protestant ministers crowded about Father Campion. Here they, too, had their last chance. Perhaps Father Campion could be persuaded at the very end to confess his 'crimes'. William's heart beat fast as he stood close and listened.

    'Confess your treason, Campion', shouted one of the Queen's councillors. 'This is the last chance you will have to admit that you have been a false subject to Her Majesty.' 'As to the treasons that have been ladi at my door,' replied Father Campion in a strong voice, 'and for which I am come here to suffer, I desire you all to bear witness with me that I am thereof altogether innocent.' 'Oh, no, Campion,' cried another of the noblesit is too late now to deny what was proved against you in open court.' 'Proved?' cried Father Campion. 'What was proved was simply that I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that Faith have I lived and in that Faith I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then I am guilty; as for the other treason, I never committed any, God is my judge. But you have now what you desire. I beseech you to have patience, and suffer me to speak a word or two for the discharge of my conscience.'

    But the babel of voices swelled and roared around the muddy and broken figure. William, listening with all his heart, heard the voice of Father Campion above the din. And what he heard made tears of joy and love start up in his eyes, for Father Campion was praying for those who had brought him to this awful end. He asked God to forgive all those who had borne false witness against him; he forgave the jury and the very an who was to butcher him to death. Then he ceased, save that his lips continued to move in silent prayer. The senselesss dabate was not yet over. A minister stepped forward and tried to lead Father Campion in prayer. Father looked up at him gently and said: 'Sir, you and I are not one in religion, wherefore I pray you content yourself. I bar none of prayer; but I only desire them that are of the household of the Faith to pray with me, and in my agony to say one creed.'

    'But why do you insist on praying in Latin? Pray in English like any good Englishmen.' 'Do you mind?' replied Father Campion with great mildness. 'I will pray to God in a language we both well understand.' 'But at least admit your crimes agains the Queen adn beg her forgiveness, Campion,' thundered one of the Council. 'Wherein have I offended her? In this I am innocent. This is my last speech; in this give me creedit -- I have and pray for her.' 'You pray for the Queen, you say. But what Queen is it you pray for, traitor?' 'I pray for Elizabeth, your Queen and my Queen, unto whom I wish a long quiet reign with all prosperity.' There were Father Campion's last words.

    Young William Harrington turned his head away as the driver of the cart raised his whip and brought it down smartly on the horse's back. The horse bolted forward. The cart was swept away from under Father Campion's feet, the rope tightened, the noose closed, and there, against the gloomy and stormy sky of London, a dirty and twitching figure swung in the death agony. In a few moments the body was cut down and the rest of the horrible sentence was carried out. William Harrington felt as though his heart would burst. What was it he felt? Was it sorrow, or joy, or horror at the butchery? It was hard to tell right then, but years later he would know what the emotion was, for he, too, would follow the footsteps of his beloved Father Campion -- and they would be footsteps that led to glory, no matter how brutal and in human the execution that would lead to that glory.

    There was a moment's silence all over the large crowd. Here and there voices could be heard raised in the prayer Father Campion had asked for. There was the sound of intaken breath from the mob. Lungs were fillled with the murky London air, and then, and explosion of sound -- cheering, cries of mockery, crude laughter, all drowning out the sound of the executioner's ax.

***

    In her apartments, the Queen had been pacing back and forward. Early that morning it would not have been too late to cancel the execution. Should she call it off? But no, it was too late. Now that Campion had been condemned for treason, the Queen could not free him. She knew, though, as she had admitted, that she had no more loyal subject than the young man to whom she had been so attracted to many years ago. She sat and began playing with letters before her on the desk. An attendant waited. The Queen turned impatiently. 'Has the execution taken place yet?' she croaked. 'No, Your Majesty, but I fancy that when it does we shall be able to know the exact moment, for there is certain to be a great roar from the crowd when the traitor Campion gets what he deserves.' 'Keep your opinions to yourself, hussy,' barked the Queen. 'Traitor, indeed! I would that all my ministers were as loyal.' The attendant gaped in surprise, but at this instant, through the open windows came a great animal-like roar.

    The queen hurried to a window. Could it be that she saw the glint of steel in the distance as the ax rose and fell and rose and fell again? She shuddered a little and turned away. Had the attendant been near enough, she might have heard the Queen heave a deep sigh and mutter to herself: 'The flower of the realm! Where will it all end if I have to put such men to death? Who will be left? Who will love England for its own sake and not for the favors they hope to have from me? God save England give me back noble men to help me.' But England was saved -- in a higher sense than the Queen ever meant. It was, in God's Providence, saved by men like Father Campion and the hundreds who followed him up the bloody path of martyrdom. The Catholic strength of England, strong today and growing, took its nourishment from the blood of the martyrs. It has always been thus. Father Campion had foretold it. His dismembered body at Tyburn proclaimed it to the world. What was it he had written in his famous Brag?:

'Be it known to you that we have made a leage -- all the Jesuits in the world...cheerfully to carry teh cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed in your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.'


"So the faith was planted: so it must be restored...."


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Good Saint Andrew....


When your bones washed up on the western isles,
You as a fisherman staked your claim
To a land and people sprung up from the sea
With the warmest hearts to strengthen their breasts

 Your bones, bleached white, were laid in the earth
Like the seeds that are sown for the harvest to come
And they rose with the people when right bid them rise
To drive the invaders back into the sea
 
A fisher you were in life and in death,
And you pulled them into your brother’s barque
As the Children of Peter, the Rock of the Church
Before harsh waves washed many away
 
But there were so many, bold and brash,
Saints and soldiers, rebels and rogues,
They held fast and fought hard, as was their lot
And showed what it meant to be Scottish and free

And then there were those who built for the future
The gentleman, lawyers, inventors, and priests
They embraced a new union they saw as a blessing
And showed what it meant to be Scots and Brits
 
Remember us now, in an age of delusion,
When “freedom” is used in the cause of division
A word, bleached white, sapped of strength and spirit
As meaningless as a vulture's song

May Scotland be as she always has been
A land of proud hearts and reasoning minds
Let her do or die to defeat oppression
Even if oppression of small-mindedness
 
Let your bones rise again, Good Andrew of Old,
And bring your people together again
To fight the battles that should be fought
And find the peace found only in your Master


***

David Cameron's St. Andrew's Day Speech, November 30, 2014


Less than three months ago the people of Scotland voted to keep the UK together, and I was just one of the millions of people who were relieved, proud and delighted that Scotland decided to stay. There was one big message at the heart of our campaign: We can have a strong UK and a strong Scotland - with its own identity and achievements to celebrate. That's what St Andrew's day is all about.

 As we celebrate St Andrew's Day, we celebrate Scotland, this great nation of culture and enterprise, of pride and passion, whose countrymen and women gave the world the steam engine, the television, penicillin, James Bond, Harry Potter - even the Higgs Boson. Today, Scotland's national day, the world shows its admiration for those achievements, and the bagpipes will ring out from the islands of Argyll to the streets of New York.

Everywhere you look around the globe, people want a bit of Scotland: in Australia, where tartan is proudly worn; in the Bahamas and Canada, where haggis is eaten; and in France, where they drink more Scotch in a month than they do Cognac in a year.

This St Andrew's Day, we will be celebrating that huge global reach, flying the flag for Scotland at our UK embassies and high commissions. And when I think of the Saltire, set against the sun in Dar es Salaam, billowing in the Ottawa wind, I think of all the incredible things that we are doing, together, as a United Kingdom, whether it is our aid workers in West Africa saving people from the deadly Ebola virus, our security forces keeping us all safe from the threat of ISIL or our businesses taking on the world - and winning. The key to a successful future is working, as one, for the good of us all. That is why all of us - in every corner of our country - will be celebrating St Andrew's Day and why nowhere will the Saltire be flown more proudly than here, above 10 Downing Street.

Hey, prime minister, hire these guys as ambassadors of Scottish good-will!

 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Real, Solid, and Unbending: The Life and Legacy of Sir John Moore


    Sir John Moore first leapt out of the pages of British history for me when my friend, Graham, who lives not far from Moore's birthplace in Glasgow, Scotland, bid me look him up online. It turned out to be unnecessary since I had already done so months before on one of my crazy historical searches, printed out his biography, and stuffed it in a the back of a too-long-neglected folder which I finally rediscovered. When I had made the print out, I had no idea who Sir John was, and did not even bother to read it through at the time. The only reason I made the copy to begin with was because I took a fancy to his appearence at first sight. Now, looking back at the portrait of him in his dress uniform, with his handsome, memorable face and warm, mesmeric eyes, I remember why he first captured my imagination. I had thought I should have liked to know him very much, just by the way he stared out at me from across the centuries...   
 
***
    John Moore was born in Glasgow in 1761, the son of Dr. John Moore, a respected surgeon, teacher, author, and clergyman from the burgeoning middle class at the crux of the Scottish Enlightenment. He was very much the epitome of his class and age, as one of the defining elements of the Enlightenment was an emphasis on cultivating a polite society of well-rounded gentleman, proficient in the arts and the sciences, as well as philosophy, theology, and ethics. When Dr. Moore became the tutor of the Duke of Hamilton’s eldest son, Douglas, he created enduring ties with the socially elite, and often brought along his son, John Jr., as a companion for Douglas.

    By his early teens, young John was already known as a rambunctious lad, hyper-active and accident prone. One such boyhood “accident” occurred when he was play-acting a duel with his father’s pistol…without paternal permission. Assuming it was unloaded (first lesson: never assume!), he squeezed the trigger and heard a scream from a laundry maid cleaning up in the next room! To his relief, she had only been slightly wounded in the arm, and his father was able to patch her up and paid her off without any further trouble. We can only guess what he decided to do to leave a lasting…umm…impression on John!

    Now that he was in his teens and the companion of a nobleman’s son, it would be devoutly hoped that young John had learned to temper his exuberant nature and abide by his father’s insistence on learning self-control. Well, perhaps he did in parts, but he was never one to be cowed by his “betters”, and when the duke’s son Douglas became bored and challenged John to a fencing match for sport, John refused to let him win as was expected.  Douglas became so frustrated with this persistent teacher’s brat, that he struck too hard and accidently lanced him in the side. John refused to react to the pain, but merely stared defiantly up at him with his piercing hazel eyes and snorted, “Ha!”

   Seeing the blood gushing onto the floor and John turning pale, Douglas was horrified at what he had done and rushed to alert Dr. Moore who came to bandage his son’s wound. Thankfully, the incision had not penetrated too deep, but enough blood was spilt to make the young nobleman truly repentant of his bad temperament during the match, and from then on, he learned respect for his little mate and decided to drop the pretext of being his superior. As a result, they struck up a lasting friendship that remained strong until Moore’s death.

    As was customary in the upper classes, the Duke of Hamilton decided that his son should tour Europe, and Dr. Moore and John got to accompany him. As usual, John found trouble a plenty, including the time he climbed the side of lava-spewing volcano in Italy and came back covered in ash and suffering from various burns. He also had a run-in with some young noblemen in Paris, who had the impertinence to make fun of John’s simple choice of clothing and hair-style, in contrast to their feathers and frills and wildly ostentatious wigs. The mockery set his Scottish blood to a boil, and John charged into them like a whirl-wind. The French youths had been raised to believe that fighting with ones fists was uncouth, but John, having received boxing lessons in the back streets of Glasgow, had no scruples about knocking them all flat!

   Dr. Moore, who had been nearby studying some famous sculptures in a park, was soon on the scene, patching up the “victims” black eyes and bloody noses, and trying to get the stains out of their fashionable attire. Afraid the whole escapade would cause a diplomatic embarrassment, he made quite a scene of lecturing John and sending him off to spend the rest of the day in room at the local inn, grounded. But perhaps secretly, he was just a little proud of his son, and his son’s fists!

    One way or another, it is obvious from his letter back home to his wife that Dr. Moore quite pleased with his boy’s progress in learning. From Geneva, Switzerland, he wrote: ‘He really is a pretty youth! He dances, rides, and fences with unusual address; he draws tolerably, speaks and writes French admirably, and has a very good notion of geography, arithmetic, and practical geometry. He is always operating in the field, and showing me how Geneva can be taken’.

    In Prussia, John met George Keith, the old Earl Marshall of Scotland, who had been exiled for Jacobitism after the 1745 rebellion. The old veteran took a liking to the energetic teenager instantly and spent hours instructing him on the ways of warfare. When it was time for them to part, Keith gave John a brace of Prussian pistols and a pocket-sized edition of Horace, both of which he would treasure for the rest of his life. The old marshal must have inspired John, because afterwards he took an increased interest in the military. Given his eagerness, he was even offered a position in the Prussian army as a mercenary, but John preferred to serve his own country, and purchased a commission as lieutenant in the British army at age 16.

    Lieutenant Moore would experience his baptism of fire during the American Revolution, where he would distinguish himself as a courageous and proactive officer. He also would demonstrate the moral character instilled in him by his father when he refused to shoot an American officer who had his back turned to him as he desperately tried to rally his breaking ranks, using his sword more as a method of direction than protection. Like another Scottish officer in the British army, Major Patrick Ferguson, who stayed his hand when he could have shot George Washington in the back, Moore ascribed to a gentleman’s code of honor which made it repugnant for him to shoot a fellow officer unless he could look him in the face.

    Over the course of the next three decades, Moore rose in the ranks due to his competence and diligence in his chosen field, and he was even knighted (a fact that he jokingly wrote to his mother about, in shock that he should ever bear a noble title!). He participated in various campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, as well as off-shoot rebellions such as those launched by the United Irishmen in Ireland and Slaves in the West Indies. It is interesting to note that Moore had some sympathies with the plight of both the Irish and the slaves, and even though it was his duty to put down the risings which endangered British security, he was not shy about imparting his opinions on reform to his government. 

    Sir John earned his men’s undying admiration for his personal courage, always leading from the front and often being wounded as a result. He also implemented new methods of training into the British military continued to be a mainstay after his death, and he also created the light infantry regiment which would be replicated in armies throughout the world. He was known as a strict disciplinarian, but he was not cruel or excessive in his meting out of punishment. Usually, he tried his best to avoid harsher measures such as floggings and hangings unless other milder measures had been tried and failed, making him one of the few truly humanist commanders of his time. He summed up his own position as follows: "Nothing could be more pleasing to the commander of the forces, than to show mercy to a soldier of good character, who had been led inadvertently to commit a crime; but he should consider himself neglectful of his duty, if, from ill-judged lenity, he pardoned deliberate villainy.”   

    On a personal level, Moore did learn to reign in his boyhood impulsiveness for the most part, but never lost his love of adventure and curiosity about the world around him. He was good-natured and had a quick wit, making him a desirable edition to social circles. His integrity was said to be beyond reproach, and his word was his bond. He was also an excellent judge of character. To have him for a friend was a priceless treasure, but with those whom he distrusted, he remained cold and aloof. Bunbury says: ‘Everything in Moore was real, solid, and unbending. He was penetrating and reflective. His manner was singularly agreeable to those whom he liked, but to those he did not esteem his bearing was severe’.

    Physically, he was tall and dignified, with penetrating eyes and handsome facial features. He aged well, and could still be said to have an attractive quality even after years of strain and hard fighting. However, Moore remained a bachelor, mainly because he did not want to make things hard for any family he might have should he be killed in battle.  The closest he ever came to tying the knot was when General Henry Edward Fox tried to match-make the 47-year-old Moore with his 17-year-old daughter, Caroline. She was beautiful, intelligent, and just the kind of person Moore found appealing. He was instantly smitten.

    However, it’s questionable if the attraction when both ways, because Moore decided to graciously bow out of any engagement, writing to her that he feared the age gap between them might ruin her chances for true happiness with a younger man. This act, almost more than anything else, show the depth of his consideration for others. Caroline later married the young Sir William Napier…and proved just what a smarty-pans she was by managing to crack Napoleon’s secret code that her husband had been toying with!  

   In 1808, Sir John was given command of a British army to aid a Spanish rebellion against Napoleon Bonaparte, who had invaded Spain and put his brother Joseph on the throne as a puppet king. For Moore, the mission was a thankless task, and the politicians who sent him out on it were fully prepared to make him the scapegoat if things went wrong. Unfortunately for Moore, things did go wrong. The man-power guaranteed him by the Spanish proved to be merely a drop in the bucket, and Moore found himself woefully outnumbered by an army under the leadership of Napoleon himself. In addition, the supplies promised by the Spanish people never materialized, and the British general realized that retreat to the coast was the only chance of saving the army from complete destruction.

     Napoleon’s troops were hot on his trail, but Moore used all his skill to maneuver away from him. It was becoming increasingly evident that while the goal for Napoleon was victory, the goal for Moore was survival. But the survival rate in the British army was plummeting, as severe winter weather and lack of supplies sapped the strength from the men and their female camp followers. Many fell out of line and froze to death along the roads, while others took to looting the towns they passed through and terrorizing the less-than-welcoming inhabitants.

    Moore was furious at his subordinate officers for being unable to keep order among the ranks, and ordered severe punishments (including executions) for those who harmed civilians or damaged/stole their property. In spite of his show of good will to the Spanish populace, the majority still refused to aid Moore in any way, fearing repercussions from the French who they knew were trailing him. British morale overall was extremely low, and it got even worse when their long-awaited shipment of food was overtaken by plunderers from their own ranks and devoured.

    Then the British troops received a random boost to keep their heads above water. British soldiers managed to defeat a superior French force in a skirmish along the banks of a river, and took a distinguished-looking French officer prisoner. Taken to Moore’s tent, the captive divulged that he was none other General Count Charles Lefebvre-Desnoutte, the leader of the Imperial Cavalry Guard and nephew of the Empress Josephine. Suddenly overcome with a stress-attack, the prisoner collapsed into a nearby chair, and Sir John took pity on him and personally cleaned and bandaged the saber wound on his forehead. He also lent him one of his pairs of winter long underwear since he had fallen in the river and was soaked to the skin. For Moore, this was close to a gesture of solidarity, since we was a long underwear freak who had a dozen pairs packed in a cart on campaign!

    Moore also sent a flag of truce sent across the river to procure Lefebvre’s baggage from the French. Then he invited Lefebvre to dine with him on the verbal promise not to escape, and gave him his own saber from India to fill his empty scabbard and restore his honor. Two years later, when he was being forwarded to England as a prisoner, the French general did effect an escape, probably justifying it since Moore was dead by then and there was nothing in writing binding him to the personal oath. But that was in the future. For the present, his loss was an embarrassing blow to the French camp.

    Napoleon, with his true sense of fair play, exploded in a temper tantrum, and declared that he would face Moore himself since no other general in Europe was worth his personal attention. Nice words, but having been out-run and then harassed by second rate troops of inferior numbers, led by a rough-and-tumble son-of-a-Scottish-moderator was too much for the Emperor to stomach, and he ignobly retreated to his comfort zone, a waterproof carriage, and went back to Paris under the pretext of an emergency of state. Later, Napoleon would say of his rival: ‘His talents and firmness alone saved the British army from destruction; he was a brave soldier, an excellent officer, and a man of talent. He made a few mistakes, which were probably inseparable from the difficulties with which he was surrounded, and caused perhaps by his information having misled him.”

    Napoleon having retreated to lick his wounds, Marshall Nicholas Soult, Duke of Dalmatia (called “Duke of Damnation” by the British Soldiers) was left in command of the French advance. Like Moore, he had originally been from a middle class background, but volunteered for service in the French military and rose in the ranks through merit. Also like Moore, he was the epitome of a gentleman, always acting with courtesy and greatly admiring chivalry in others. For example, when British Major Charles Napier was wounded five times in battle, a French drummer protected him from being bayoneted by an Italian soldier. Soult ordered that drummer, to be decorated by Soult with the Legion d’Honneur, and when Napier’s mother fell ill in England, Soult and Marshall Ney allowed him to return to England on parole for one year. They did not inform the harsher Napoleon of these good deeds.

    Years later, when he was the French ambassador at Queen Victoria’s wedding, Soult met up with the Duke of Wellington and became good friends with him, chatting happily about their mutually shared experiences on opposites sides during their wars and carrying on a long written correspondence after Soult returned home. But all that was yet to come.  

    Currently Soult was closing in on Moore, who finally had made his way to the fortress of Corunna in Northern Spain and met up with Spanish locals willing to aid him in their common fight against the tyranny of Napoleon. The mission now was to get the bulk of the British Army safely out of Spain via transport ships due to arrive on the coast any day from England. The Spanish partisans knew that they were risking everything by helping Moore, and that they would be left behind to face the French alone. Yet they boldly made their decision to stand with the Briton who had come to liberate them, even though he now faced nothing but retreat. These Spaniards still believed that if the British army could be saved, it would return to fight another day.

    On January 16, 1809, Soult and the French Army met the British at Elvina outside of Corunna, and a hot conflict ensued. Moore was looking his most dashing in his scarlet uniform on the back of a pale-gray warhorse, leading from the front as always and galloping back and forth across the battlefield. The soldiers were inspired by his fearless presence, especially the 42nd Highlanders to whom he called, “Highlanders, remember Egypt!” This was a reference to a campaign in which Moore had fought the French along the banks of the Nile, and the Highland regiment had been instrumental in wreaking havoc on the enemy.

   Soon after this exhortation, a soldier of the line had his leg torn off by a ball, and screamed aloud, making the other soldiers waver. “Hold to rank, soldiers!” Moore bellowed, then spoke to the injured man being carried off the field, “My good fellow, we must try to bear these things better!” Not long after, Sir John would have the opportunity to put this point into practice.

    As he was giving instructions to one of his subordinate officers, a cannon blast knocked Moore from his horse. At first, it did not appear that he was injured, but closer inspection revealed that the ball had almost completely torn off his arm from the shoulder, as well as shattering his ribs. The soldiers who saw their leader fall were stunned, seeming to believe that he was indestructible. But Moore did not make complaint, even as the Highlanders jostled their fellow-Scot onto a stretcher and carried him off the field. One saw that his sword was jabbing into his wound and tried to unbuckle it, but Moore stopped him and retorted, “’Tis better that it leaves the field with me.”

     As his stretcher approached was carried through a dark street in Corruna, Moore seemed to sense someone he recognized in the crowd and called his name. It was Colonel Paul Anderson, an old friend from battlefield days gone by. Sir John reached out and seized his hand, seeming to realize his own mortality and seeking whatever comfort he could. He pleaded in a whisper, “Anderson, don’t leave me…”

    When his French valet Francois saw his master on the stretcher, and a look of horror passed over his face at the sight of  the hideous wounds. But Moore, always thinking of others, comforted him in French, saying, “My friend, this is nothing.” Then he gave him a reassuring smile. A surgeon was called in, and even though Moore insisted that he should focus on those who still had a chance of surviving instead of himself, the medic proceeded to prod and dig in the wounds. True to his character, Moore did not make a sound, although his face was completely drained of color from the intense pain.

    He continued to ask how the battle was going, and he was told that the British were indeed holding the French at bay. “I hope my country shall do me justice,” he remarked, and then tried to compose a message to his mother, but was overcome by emotion at the thought of never seeing her again. “I have so much to say, but cannot get it out,” he gasped, a sob catching in his throat.

    Watching Moore suffering became increasingly painful to all those around who knew and loved him. He finally murmured, “It is a great discomfort…it is a great pain…I feel so strong, I fear I shall be a long time dying…” Then he turned to one of the officer nearby, one Major Stanhope, and murmured, “Remember me to your sister.” Evidently Moore had struck up a correspondence with Lady Hester Stanhope, and she had become his confidante and friend. Whether or not there were any romantic connotations is a mystery of history. One way or another, these would be his last words. Mercifully, he faded away quickly, without a struggle.

    Meanwhile, Moore’s second-in-command, General Baird, was on board a British ship having his arm amputated, and did not cry out through all the pain. But when he was informed of Moore’s death, he broke down and sobbed. In the aftermath of the battle, the whole army seemed to be in a state of shock over Moore’s loss, who represented the spirit of service, courage, and determination to see their cause through any difficulty. Years after the successful evacuation from Corunna, the men who had served under him would continue to proudly mark themselves as “Moore’s Men.”

    After the last British ship had sailed for the safety of England, The French took Corunna. Marshall Soult, true to form, dismissed with Napoleon’s plans for reprisals and  gave the Spanish defenders generous terms. When he found the shallow grave of his adversary, Sir John Moore, he ordered a plaque to be erected with the following inscription from Horace, the classical poet that the bold Scotsman had loved so well: 

 
"So it is true in the long sleep of death
Our hero lies, whilst Honour with bright faith,
Truth and Justice unashamedly weep for,
Their one incomparable son."  
 
***
 

    As often happens in my historical studies, I find myself becoming personally attached to these very real figures from the past, and I can honestly say that I am thankful to God for the legacy of Sir John Moore. If it had not been for his seemingly inglorious retreat across Spain, Napoleon may well have had enough time and man-power to capture Portugal. Without Portugal as a landing zone, the British army under Wellington would not have been able to return into Spain, where they defeated the French armies and spelt out the beginning of the end of Napoleonic domination on the continent.
 
    So I guess it’s a blessing of Providence that Sir John Moore was the right person at the right place at the right time, with the courage and skill to challenge a tyrant, no matter how daunting the operation might have seemed. But beyond that, he was a true gentleman with a sense of decency and honor that resonates in any age, and I find myself drawn to pray for his soul often, and hope that perhaps we might meet someday on a better plain. As a Scot and a Brit, he was truly one of the flowers of his country and an example of heroism in an era of travail...
 

Moore
Sir John Moore, R.I.P.

 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Blessed be the Creator of the Universe...

who has put me where I am from all time and eternity. May I come to better understand Him through the beauty of His creation, our mother earth. May I hear His voice in the bird’s song and thunder cloud, see His handiwork in the delicate violet and mighty oak, smell heavenly perfume in the scent of pine and falling rain. May every breath I take honor Him, and refresh my body and soul. May I give and receive love, just as I breathe in and out. May I manage the gifts of nature and be a good steward of these gifts. Let me treat my body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit, making sure that the food that goes into my mouth, and the words that come out of it, are wholesome and pure.

May I learn the balance between venerating the old and embracing the new, seeking new opportunities to be of service to all living things, especially the least of my brothers and sisters. May I always appreciate the priceless quality of all life, especially that which is most vulnerable. May I be guided to the meaningful relationships and activities that will make me a better person. May I always be grateful for life, for human relationships, and experiences that help me learn and grow. May I be appreciative of second chances and gift of forgiveness when I make mistakes.

May I learn to let go of sinful tendencies that may hinder my spiritual growth. May I accept the graces given me, act upon what is right, and reject what is wrong. May His love fill me with a desire to teach truth and create beauty, as a sub-creator sharing in the wonder of bringing forth what is new and refreshing what is old. May I find a balance between passion and discipline as an artist and an activist. May I be inspired by all that is good, coming from the Hand of the Greatest Good.

May I never forget that I was born into the world for a purpose, and never despair that I am loved by my Creator. May I always seek His Will in my life, following His call to be a force for good in the world through a specific vocation. Though the path may be mist-laden, may I have the peace of mind to take it one step at a time, knowing that God will reveal all things in time. Through free-will, I am a co-creator in the Providential plan. Let me never violate this trust in may by straying into darkness. May His Spirit transform and inspire me to reach my full potential as His Daughter. May the artist within me create truth and beauty through words, images, and the magical weave of music.

May I be thankful for the current of Providence running through the journey of my life, and may I be filled with his unconditional Divine Love so that I may extend it to all those I encounter. Even to those who see themselves as my enemies, let me turn the other cheek and show them the love of God. May I never lose my awareness of and connection to the spiritual world, no matter how strong the pull of this earthly plain may be on me. May the Great God of Mercies heal any generational wounds that may have been caused, and help me to show mercy to every living thing. May I have clarity of objective judgments, but be wary to make subjective judgments of others, leaving that to the Searcher of All Hearts.

May I love and honor my parents more deeply, and embrace my position in my family and working harder to be a proactive member of that unit. May I appreciate their wisdom that comes with experience and the love they have shown me since my birth. May I forgive their short-comings as I forgive myself for areas where I fall short, realizing that God forgives us, the slate is wiped clean and we start over again. May my love and honor of family extend back through the generations, as I pray for their souls. My I see all of humanity as my family, since we are all Children of the same Father, whether we are here or there, in this world or in another.

May I learn to accept the things I cannot chance, but never lose vision of the way things should be, nor the passion to bring about that which I am able. Never let me lose the force of will to battle for a better world, and may an evening star ever shine ahead of me on the lonely road. May the Light of the Son ever cause the shadows to fly away, as an oil lamp dispels the darkness. May I learn from the world around me, while never losing my innocence. May I unite all my sufferings with the Crucified Redeemer and those suffering throughout the world. May I never become cynical, and learn to move on after events that wound me.

May I love my community and give of myself to better the lives of those nearby me. Let us all learn the power of unity and diversity, knowing that whether in prayer, work, or social endeavors, our unique talents and attributes better and stronger joined together. Let me help others, but also never be too proud to accept help myself. May I not seek praise and recognition in the good deeds I do, but for the joy of being of service to others, and to inspire others to do likewise. May I be guided to meaningful events to involve myself in, and friendships to forge. May I see each occurrence and situation in my life as part of a greater whole. May I never despair, knowing that, in the end, justice is inevitable in the overall scheme of things.

May I have the strength to forgive all those who have hurt me in the past. May I have peace in the midst of strife, joy in the heart of sorrow, and the power of discernment to know when I am being called upon to act. May I be given the strength to overcome evil with good, and be a peace-maker in the midst of anger. May I speak the truth with compassion and clarity, keeping channels of communication open, and never giving up on dialogue, even when difficulties occur. May I have focus on finding solutions to problems through positive and proactive responses. May I always work to restore relationships shattered by misunderstanding, and to appreciate differences while holding fast to my own beliefs.  

May I be given the Words of the Holy Spirit when I am called upon to speak, and may the flame of love burn my lips and the arrow of love pierce my heart. May I have eyes to see the beauty around me, and honor that beauty. May I focus on all that is true and noble, and banish dark thoughts. Let me see the inner beauty of myself and all people instead of by physical attributes, reaching out to them as a “soul-friend” and basing our relationships and transactions upon integrity and sincerity. May I take responsibility for my actions and not blame others. May I accept the criticism of others and work to be a better person.

May I reach out to others in friendship to everyone I meet, and act responsibly towards all living things, knowing that it is a great honor to be alive and that I am made in the image and likeness of The Creator. May I have a depth of compassionate and a yearning to aid all those in need throughout the world, whether I know them or not. May I respect all forms of life, and act in a way that attracts respect from others.

May I learn to be contented with my station in life, however simple, and appreciate the richness of life in ever act of my day. Let me keep my focus on the present moment, and aware of the large and small miracles around me. May I always appreciate the interconnected web of life and providence, and extraordinary events that make themselves manifest at just the right moment. Let me have faith in the power of Providence, that right will win out in the end, and all things unfold for a Divine purpose. May I cultivate patience, waiting on God and submitting to events beyond my control, and maintain serenity in the midst of frustration.

May I find balance in all things, and help me to discern it, finding stability in the midst of change. May I overcome the of fear death and embrace it as a door to a new life when the designated time comes. May I be prepared at that moment, and the times when I must lose loved ones through it in this world. May I always remember that those who have gone before are more real than ever, and that the Divine Life is beyond time and space. May I never forget them during our separation, and never lose hope of seeing them again.

May I find comfort in the ebony cloak of night, and the music of stillness that wraps the earth. May my heart feel peace in the silence, marveling at the sacredness of the Divine Creator, of my eternal soul, and my connection with all living things. May I appreciate the gift of sleep, another form of inner stillness to revitalize my body and soul. May my thoughts be of peace, and my dreams be of peace, and may I arise in the morning with renewed purpose to be the best I can be in this Creation of the Divine Creator.


(Note: The bulk of these reflections had their origin in a New Age meditation CD that I adapted to fit the Christian perspective. If the early missionaries like St. Patrick could take a stab at it, well, so can I!)


"Blessed be the Creator of the Universe..."
  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The New Age Movement....

is hard to pin down into any definite set of beliefs or rules of the road. It is a montage of spiritual traditions form around the globe, plus some new interpretations made by meditative modernity. But judging from the brand most commonly found in Organic Food Magazines, there are some similarities that can be broadly grouped together under the airy-fairy title of “spiritual awareness”.

   Basically, according to Buddhist tradition, the only way of finding true fulfillment in life is by tapping into an inner divine force that each person is supposed to possess. Once it is found, people are supposed to be “at one with the universe” and have the power to drive away negativity and will positivity into being. This divine force is said to connect all living things and bind us in commitment to one another. Being a “conscious” usually also means trying to achieve both spiritual and physical health and wholeness. Yoga, Reiki, and pressure-point therapy all forms of this. Also, there is an emphasis on mind-over-matter, as seen in the arts of self-defense utilized in Kung Fu and Karate. 

    There is also a deep consideration for the natural world and a desire to “get back to nature”, eating organic foods and taking herbal remedies, plus taking an active part of preserving wildlife and endangered species. As to their perspective on duties to their fellow human beings…it varies. Some place a rather ridiculous emphasis on their own ability to obliterate negativity from the world by merely not adding to it, and therefore doing nothing to stop it. Others, as demonstrated in the series Kung Fu, actually take the idea of trying to bring truth and justice to the world very seriously.

    The New Age people realize that there is something more to reality than the mere physical, and they are willing to search out the truth about the mystery of our lives and our relationships with one another. That much I respect them for. I also respect their desire not to bring any unnecessary negativity to our planet, and as an organic eater and near-vegetarian who loves animals, I also sympathize with their dietary choices. Plus, I will confess to generally enjoying the Serius XM Channel Spa, which plays music broadly considered “spiritual”, ranging from Loreena McKennitt to LotR themes to meditative instrumentals to chants from every religion under the sun.

    But I feel that while they may have the best of intentions, the New-Agers have made a serious miscalculation: namely, who’s running the show. They say that human beings have “divinity” within them; but I would counter that it is merely a reflection of our Creator, who is truly Divine. We are made in his image and likeness, with a great capacity for virtue and an inherent attraction to truth and beauty. Indeed, being spiritually “conscious” is abiding by this inner desire for goodness and ultimately perfection. It is understanding that we must love and respect all living things, and work to heal a broken world and cultivate that which is noble.

   And yet, as wondrous as human beings are, we are still deeply flawed and perfection eludes us. We cannot just will that all suffering should cease and expect it to take place. That is not in our power. We must not turn inward and worship ourselves; we must not expect to find all the answers through mere meditation; that would be a betrayal of our own quest for perfection. Even done with the best of intentions, worshipping any part of ourselves is a dangerous perversion, settling for a reflection rather than the reality.

    So I would propose that those engaged in the New Age Movement would try to look beyond themselves in their quest for the Divine. They are on the right track when they say that there is something connecting “all the universe”. Basically, everything is made by the Creator, the ultimate source of goodness, truth, and beauty. That human beings are special among all other living things is because we have intellects and free wills in His own image, and as such we have a great responsibility to live up that by choosing good over evil. Sadly, we don’t always do it, and all sorts of “negativity” is brought into the world through our own deviation from that which is right. There’s no way of just wishing away all the evil in world – God will not even do that, since it would be a violation of our own free will.

    But that very “negativity” is still turned to good, because inevitably people will rise up to oppose evil and make sacrifices on behalf others. And as God is the Prime Mover of the Universe and Ultimate Cause of All Good, everything ultimately falls into His Providential Plan. As human beings, we are sub-creators in a fallen world, and it is our calling to become “spiritually awake” – but not to some divine force of our own, but by the Power of the Holy Spirit who enkindles in us the Fire of Love. Now, with this understood, there is certainly nothing wrong with choosing to respect all of God’s creation by “green-living”, and respecting our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit by eating organically and using herbal remedies. As far as I’m concerned, natural living is a form of growing close to God through the wonder of His creation.

    And there is certainly nothing wrong with using spiritually-evocative music for meditation, or lighting candles and incense for that matter, as long as we are worshiping God and not our “inner divinity”. But again, all this must be viewed cautiously from the perspective of a Christian, especially when it comes to certain exercises such as Yoga which were designed specifically for Eastern religious meditation. Opening certain doors that can lead to subliminal self-worship can be spiritually perilous. Nevertheless there is certainly no reason for us to be intimidated when we encounter those who ascribe to the New Age Movement. Far from it. We should do our best to dialogue about our commonalities on the spiritual journey and clearly point out our differences, encouraging the development of personal relationships and minds open to the truth.


Meditation, fine; self-worship, not so!