Friday, December 04, 2020


This is where my thinking began in seminary — not religious dogma.

Working on these materials I keep running into problems that send me scurrying to find more facts and thoughts and there are always a LOT of them. Many people are considering the reframing that comes from the amazing insights that keep appearing. Here’s a quick list.

What is real? We know now that our brains form a frame in the earliest years and everything after that must fit the frame or we just don’t know it exists. But a powerful event or new evidence can break through that, so that suddenly we see the same things in a new way. It can change our morality, our confidence, and even our safety.

Some people have retreated from the old-fashioned religions that were developed in other places and times by taking science as a source of what is TRUE in some ultimate sense, but now even science as it morphs to fit new facts and understandings is not permanent. In fact, two contrasting understandings of the same thing may make them seem contradictory, possibly allowing toggling back and forth, so one Monday we all agree on one thing and by Wednesday have doubts, on Friday change our minds entirely.

One of the hardest to grasp and yet most explanatory contexts of science is quantum mechanics, a deep and scary coherence that insists there is a submicrolevel of existence where all things are merely energy in whirling patterns, escaping Newtonian understanding of our world. We know we can still sit on chairs and eat scrambled eggs, but can we be sure that love is possible or that our plans for progress can succeed at all?

If our understanding of the world is not made dependable by intense felt meaning, aren’t we just robots staggering around doing whatever is in front of us? Some people are strongly conviced that there is some REAL reality behind what we think is reality, even if we admit it is only the illusions built in us from our infancy and reinforced by those close to us. This is the basis of talk therapy, which is basically meant to persuade us that life is better than we thought.

It turns out there is no big humanoid somewhere who parents the planet and occasionally rescues us. No ship of little green men who know more than we do. Not even Tolstoy’s fantasy of a green branch somewhere with the secret of life written on it. A new but difficult understanding is that we are merely nodes in an infinitely complex webwork of systems and relationships and that our best morality is acting in ways that sustain all those connections, make them richer, and treat our actions as a form of music seeking harmony.

But occasionally something like the planetary disasters of geological or climatic shifts or viral waves from animals knock all our built infrastructure and ability to stay alive into a black hole. In the tension between what is personal and what is community — let alone what is universal like whatever it was that has eliminated so many species of hominins, leaving only remnants of code in fossils or our own bodies — force us to admit we don’t have much power. Our bodies are frail. Our cooperations are temporary.

“Embodiment” has finally rolled back our valuing of steely rationality and logic. Our instrument of participation in the world is our bodies. But our WHOLE bodies so that within our skin we have gut wisdom and muscle knowledge. Next we have the ability to participate in the world beyond our skin, whether or not trees and dogs are “real”. Our basic ability is to accept the impact of the world that comes in code based on electrochemical information and to transform it into concepts of color or sound which are refined and organized in something like aesthetics, far more commanding than ten commandments. It records our actions and their “value”.

This is the material of the intense felt meaning that guides us as we go. Most of the time we don’t think about it, unless it gets out of whack and doesn’t work. Or if somehow, for some quantum mechanical reason, we are flooded with something outside experience. A theophany, if you believe in Theos. Unless one’s capacity to think is deranged, one’s instrument is broken by madness, the experience usually doesn’t last long. Traces can be captured by our various arts. At least we try.

Lately we have been confronted in the most material way by evil arising from broken mind instruments preying on systems and acting through whole cultures for their own ends. “Money”, a symbol system of value, has taken on a false reality that grips desire and control.

This has interacted with a new ability to communicate instantly by handheld participation in interactions involved in things like the control of massive infrastructures (dams, power stations, GPS), code sent through satellites, standing on the moon and arranging pop-up events. This has had profound and unanticipated impact on our chief money management by creating an instant stock market that feeds on loss and tragedy, justifies the loss of lives and whole cultures, ravages the resources of the planet.

What is the intense felt meaning that will make this survivable? I think it must be a kind of domesticity, a sensory embeddedness in what might not be real in some ultimate sense, but in the sense of the human life span and sensory capacities can comfort us with song and soup, a human hand held and a laugh shared. It helps if we can pause for a ritual moment that creates a chance to recalibrate, take a breath. Breathe — oh. . .

I’ve read and written a lot about how to shift the brain from operating in one system web (there are thousands of them, formed by experience) to another one that fits better or moves to bodily needs like sleeping or eating or contact with another living being. Like going to sleep and waking up or getting hungry or reaching out in a hug. If these things are done well, evil is less likely. This is a reason to feed and shelter everyone universally so they don’t have to riot in the streets to feed their babies, even if it costs lives.

Violence, sex, crime, are pre-existing, inherited animal strategies determined by our evolutionary chain of creation and participation in survival. Each category can be inhuman and destructive or forces for good. Even violence, even crime which is a way of exceeding or escaping one’s culture. Sex in the sense of fertility, continuing the species, has been separated from all the social and emotional management a culture usually invents, so that it struggles to be real. We underestimate how responsible we are for what we create.

This is all foam and verges on the kind of pontification that takes us nowhere. But in a dark world it can be a bit of light. You know the symbols, the stars, candles, searchlights, bonfires and faraway sidereal events.



Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.