Monday, April 9, 2012

The divinity of Man

Or, the divinity of humanity.

Since we are still more or less in Eastertide, this is perhaps an appropriate time for a post like this.

Catholic catechism engraves the above phrase into your mind from when you reach the age of reason (age 7) till your death.
It's not quite beaten into you, but close :-)

So, it's not something any Catholic should forget.
But alas, we do. At least I do.

So it is with great surprise that I was reminded of this by a woman who is in fact an atheist, or so she claims.
This woman was spectacularly intriguing, to say the least.
Watching a 1984 interview of hers, I was stupefied by her kindly face and her patient answers and rapport with her interviewer (who was a young man).

The woman in question was Swiss adventurer, sportswoman and writer Ella Maillart.
I have no idea why I had never heard of this woman before.
At the time of that interview, she would have been 81. She died in 1997.

Born to a french-speaking Swiss father and a Danish mother in Geneva, she and a friend skied the Alps and sailed the lake of Geneva every winter and summer respectively.
She was known to drive from Geneva to Afghanistan in 1939 (wow!) and was a true daredevil, to say the least.
She was captain of the Swiss national women's hockey team, and participated in the 1924 Olympics in sailing.
I don't think she ever married, or had children (at least I cannot find evidence to support this, except that in the interview I saw of her, she was wearing what seemed like a wedding ring).

She was by no means a 'traditional' woman.
For someone born in 1903, let's just say she was a bit of  a 'free spirit'.
Understatement of the year :-)

Ella Maillart is described as a feminist.
I can see why.
Here is a woman who never followed what was on the script. She never became the 'pregnant and barefoot wife' she was supposed to become. Apparently, she got too much of her father's adventurous spirit :-)

I have a slight problem with this labelling of Ella Maillart but I shall drop this angle, because in fact she is not the main focus of this post.

Something she said in her interview, is.

She ended up in India on a 'search for the truth' and spent three months in some temple with some holy men/gurus who were her spiritual advisors. They gave her heavy-duty spiritual books to read and she lived the life of a 'monk' (her own words) for all that time, learning from these holy men. She says with humour and humility that it took her 3 whole months to 'get it', i.e. the 'truth', which was what she was looking for, when it took most other people a few days.
She claims she did not believe in God. She was a bona fide atheist.
God was un mot vide, to her. An empty word.

And yet, Ella Maillart said this more than once in her interview:

Human beings have a divinity within them which is a reflection of God's image in them.

She went on to write several books on this topic, and to my eternal shame, I have never read any of them, yet.
But I shall. I am sure I will learn something from them.

This is where I get all philosophical on you :-)

Ella Maillart's words made me think of human beings as a whole.
Our failings, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our pains, our successes and our challenges.

With all of these, we are still a reflecion of our Creator.
That's deep.

So, if each of us is a reflection of God, then we are all co-creators of each other, really.
Makes sense.
We reap what we sow. We create and destroy.
One of the laws of Nature is, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Everything we do affects someone, somewhere.
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.
Maybe not here, maybe not there, but somewhere.

And everything that is happening now, is simply another event in the chain reaction that happened long before we were born.
We can swing that chain reaction in any way we want, while we are capable.
We can choose to do good, in which case we align ourselves with God's good Nature, or we do bad in a conscious way, in which case we deviate from His innate Nature and hurt ourselves  and others in the process.

Not a bad catechism lesson from an atheist.
And a feminist to boot.

The above are my thoughts as inspired by Ella Maillart.
But it appears I am not the only one waxing lyrical about philosophy round these parts.
Shortly after I drafted this post, I came across this comment from BeijaFlor regarding this post of his about 'closure'.

"There is a system of religious philosophy – often labeled “gnosticism” – that sees us as immortal beings, splinters of the Godhead if you will, who live out our lives on Earth in order to experience life as a mortal being; to learn from its pains, its struggles, its inequity, and all its “wrongnesses,” up to and including death. Some versions of this belief system hold that we come straight into this life, all unwitting, from our previous death. Some hold that we spend most of our existence as spiritual beings in a spiritual plane of existence, parallel to Earth, and that we map out the lesson-plan of each Earthly life before we cross over from “the other side” and take up our new life. It’s a matter that is outside the realm of this physical universe, and so it’s impervious to scientific proof. But I find it comforting, and I have had experiences in this life that convince me to trust this belief."

Holy schmoly, that's profound!

Ella Maillart and BeijaFlor are probably kindred spirits.
Interesting that the other thing they have in common is sailing.
Does sailing do this to you? :-)
Any other sailors out there? Do you share these views on the 'Godhead' and His image as reflected in human beings?
Is this one of the symptoms of 'sea sickness'?
Just kidding...

All I wanna know is, is Rasana a sailor too?
He said this recently:
"There is a point to blaming the dead. Shall I meet them after death, I'm giving them a whack, even if we're all part of the same Godhead/matterium such that I feel the pain too."


Formal Catholic Catechism for me began at age 7 just before First Confession and First Holy Communion and ended at age 8 just before Confirmation.

After that, it was kinda like, 'yer on yer own now, kid!'.

I exaggerate...but let's just say I am no expert on philosophy.

Bellita once said she was religious but not spiritual. I thought spirituality was a big part of religion and therefore found Bellita's comment incomprehensible. I am still confused.
Is all this what we call 'karma'? Is 'karma' a necessary part of religion or is it more like 'stand-alone'?
Ella Maillart has passed on, God rest her soul.

BeijaFlor is thankfully still with us.
I hope he enlightens us with his expertise on this matter. He has previously shared with us that he trained as a spiritual counselor.
This stuff intrigues me.
And it is increasingly clear that I need some education on it.
Please spill the beans, BeijaFlor.
I am curious.


Anonymous said...

Bellita once said she was religious but not spiritual. I thought spirituality was a big part of religion and therefore found Bellita's comment incomprehensible. I am still confused.

Happy Easter, Spacetraveller! :)

This is Bellita. I'm having more trouble signing in, which is why I've picked the "Anonymous" option . . .

My occasional description of myself as "religious but not spiritual" is a play on the "spiritual but not religious" cliche that I hear from a lot of people these days. (Among folk who are as observant as I am, I sometimes mischievously reverse another famous construction, saying that "my flesh is willing but my spirit is weak"!)

I do think it's possible to be spiritual without being religious, but to me the concept means that "Anything goes" . . . that anything can mean what you want it to mean . . . and I reject the slipperiness of it. (Here's an example . . . Last year, when Oprah interviewed Bo Derek and the latter woman said she didn't think of herself as spiritual, Oprah contradicted her, saying, "My definition of spiritual is someone with an open heart. And I think you have an open heart, which makes you spiritual." Derek didn't look very convinced, though. Hahahaha! And that's the kind of thing I mean. If everyone has a different definition, then we're all just talking past each other.)

During Lent, I picked up an old prayer booklet from the back of my church. (In my parish, when someone dies, his or her entire collection of prayer books, holy cards, and other similar items is often left in the church by the family, so that others can take what they want.) The booklet I chose was so "old school" that it included promises for all its devotion . . . the 15 promises for those who pray the rosary . . . the 15 promises for those who say the St. Bridgid prayers . . . the 15 promises for those who make the Way of the Cross . . . the promise to those who wear the Brown Scapular . . . and a whole bunch of indulgences. Vatican II didn't revoke any of them, but I'm sure many modern Catholics would be a little embarrassed by what seems so much like superstition, which is why we don't hear much about these promises today. But I like them because they came from a time when people believed in the efficacy of prayer . . . that is, in specific effects brought about by prescribed prayers.

For them, it wasn't just about doing something that felt "spiritual," but about walking a well-worn path in order to get to the desired destination. And they believed that daily Mass and Communion, the rosary, the Way of the Cross, and other devotions were the best paths to those destinations. I believe that, too.

Spacetraveller said...

Welcome back Bellita!

Yes, I see what you mean about the spirituality thing. Sometimes it means whatever we want it to mean :-)

At least with formal religion, there are carefully laid-out beliefs that unite all those who believe them. There is no confusion about that. For example, Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception. It's clear. If it is too hard to believe that, you simply do not call yourself Catholic...
What I find really interesting is that many people who have trouble keeping to their 'formal' religions find it much easier to embrace 'sprirituality' in the form of exotic religions. Why is this, do you think? Could it simply be the novelty of a new ideology? Or is there something 'easier' about certain other belief systems that is lacking in Judeo-Christianity?

Anonymous said...

@ ST,

Some of the appeal is novelty. Something new to me is NEW!

Part of the new is not being constrained by the rules of the old and familiar. Who wants to be trapped like that?

It's a bit like hiring a consultant, who is no smarter than you or me, but he's from out of town and carries a briefcase.

BTW, nice to see you at Danny's. Once the pin is out, Mr. Grenade is no longer your friend.


just visiting said...

Yay Bellita is back.

The spiritual and the religious. I was brought up with both and so I have a fusion of Christianity and esoteric beliefs that would make me a heretic in either realm. And yet, it makes sense to me. Some experiences in life defy the usual explanations. And it's always the glitches in the matrix that make me take a second look and ponder the mysteries.

As for the philosophies...For every action there's a reaction. I also think that we draw certain people and experiences into our life depending on the lessons we're here to experience. I think if most of us took a close look at our lives, we would see themes. One of mine would be polarity.

Spacetraveller said...

Thanks Bill!

I guess it is only right - variety is the spice of life :-)

@ JV,
"I was brought up with both and so I have a fusion of Christianity and esoteric beliefs that would make me a heretic in either realm."
This made me chuckle :-)
One always feels like a 'foreigner' even in one's own home, not so?

I agree with you about 'themes'. So true. It's amazing how when you WANT to see it, you suddenly do. And then everything makes sense.
For sure, YOU make a lot of sense.

I am yet to find out what my 'theme' is, but I shall try to find out :-) It wouldn't surprise me if polarity were among my themes though. It is a very important theme in life, I concur.

Anonymous said...


May I write you privately about something? I know your e-mail address because you enter it when you leave comments on my blog, but another Wordpress blogger once told me that using it to e-mail a commenter without getting permission first is "misuse" of their personal information! So I'm asking you, just to be safe. :)


just visiting said...

Of course dear. E-mail away. lol