Thursday, January 24, 2019



From actual conversations, I recently developed the following scenario about 'emptiness' and 'personhood.'  You'll recognize some of it.  Then, we continue with other passages from 'conversations.'

...'Emptiness' simply means that there are no human concepts or vehicles of perception, sensation or language adequate to describe or reference experience of God.  We comment all the time on the topic, but it is at best symbolic.  Perhaps you are thinking of it in a different way? Or, maybe it's just best for you to get your rest.  Good dreams...  S.F. CA

"But then it’s like the atheist argument that God doesn’t exist....when you're saying God doesn’t exist....the atheist first acknowledges something called then refute God’s’s contradictory. So how can there be ‘emptiness’ to then know God? One has to have some perception of God to then experience God ...and knowledge is human thought and experience through inspiration. There cannot be complete ‘emptiness’ in ones being to know God.  H.S. CA

"Until one meets God
"In other words, for the theist choice to work, its core has to be beyond human categories... including our experience of the experience and our ability to perceive it

"Then beyond the bliss associated with 'emptiness,'  and the liberation from our ideas about God(s), Enlightenment or Salvation, 'emptiness' is also freedom from the obstacles to whatever 'relationship with God' or 'Enlightenment' is or means.  That is, malice, duplicity, vain or cruel manipulation of others for personal gain, etc- everyone has their own favorite way to avoid the obvious terror of 'emptiness.'

"When Georgia and I had that experience at Eagle Rock just north of Pyramid Lake NV, besides the overwhelming awe of it, was terror before the vast 'otherness' of it.  

"And that might just have been an 'alien' (ET) or an angel (Seraphim) as I have hoped.  This because there was nothing hostile about it,  And my sense of the place other times- and Georgia's who didn't indulge religious jargon,- was gentle purity that inspired a devotional attitude.  S.F. CA

"I'm in complete agreement with the texts you quoted. I believe in the peak experience ideas of Maslow. They are common in religious and artistic realms. Life is filled with so many miseries, real and imagined, that it's a wonder that anyone is ever truly happy. Peter Berger is also great on these moments of transcendence.  

Your ruminations remind me of some of those of the early Protestants in the book I'm reading, Reformations. There isn't much new under the sun. Their ideas recalled various heresies of the early church and those of the present world. The book is reinforcing my ideas that truth is hard to come by, and that the clear and absolute definitions of the church have to be rethought in many cases. Forgive me if I don't go into details; life is short and my energy is low. This is not to say that your ideas are heresies; far from it; many of them are logical and worthy of trust. So much has to do with our subjective dispositions. I'm fed up with such things as Pius XII and his definition of the Assumption. Not that it isn't true; but to force Catholics into a belief that even Catholic scholars can't find early evidence for, with the threat of eternal hellfire if you don't believe; that's what leads the church into disrepute. And what prompted him was an alleged vision of the virgin!!! Dogma posited on a private revelation (if it was real; no one can either prove or disprove it). This is not to denigrate the Virgin, the real Virgin that is, not the holy card image of her.  C.B. UT

...In the 1960s Islam began to dominate the new nation of Indonesia.  They defined religion as social organizations that believed in God/Allah.  This raised a major problem for the many Chinese who lived there and managed much of the world of commerce.   Could Buddhism as practiced by thousands be considered a “religion” under the definition of the government.  Today in each Buddhist temple in Indonesia there is a “license” to practice and  it states that Buddhism believes in God.  When the officials reviewed Buddhism and its doctrines, they heard the description of “Thusness”  (Sanskirt tathata)….and in essence said “near enough” and declared it to be a religion.  This means that the doctrine which says everything is endless and has no beginning and no end ….is without characteristics such as “large” or “small” ….is interpreted by Indonesia as “God”.     But in doing so,, they permitted the idea that “God” is not creator…not jealous…not loving….not “near”….not “far”…and at the same moment not not-near…The Sivite tradition has made light of Sakyamuni as being a mere mortal and they instead say how much more important is Siva, a god with powers that are far beyond the human.  I am convinced that “endlessness” is a major teaching of Buddhism…often overlooked…for it is endlessness that does away with any definitive characteristic, any idea of a source and beginning point, and free of any idea of a final moment of time. L.L. N.CA  

Thanks for your insights and information re Inodonesian Buddhism. 
An aside, the Catholic priest who baptized me was an Indonesian Chinese Buddhist in his youth on Java.  His family sent him to Belgium to Louvain to get him away from his father who had become a Buddhist monk/hermit in his later years so that he wouldn't become a Buddhist monk.  Instead he converted in Belgium to Catholicism and became a Benedictine monk.  He had a PhD from Louvain in Diplomacy- Political Science today?  He was missionary in western China until their expulsion in 1949, the year I was born.  25 years later and he an elderly monk at Valyermo CA (St. Andrew's Abbey), taught me monastic history, Catholic catechism and Chinese brush painting.  A wonderful man.

I'm glad to know what you told me about Indonesian Buddhism and Islam.  My brother had his fatal heart attack on the island of Bali in Indonesia where he collected indigenous textiles and folk art.  SF

Now finally, a question that seems to follow upon the 'quidditas' of things- Thatness- is a theory of person  and personality. Thoughts on such?  Who or what are we that we perceive the 'thatness' of things.  S.F. S.CA

The questions you are raising require a great deal of discourse, discovery, and communication.  I can’t at this moment respond at that level.  Just a few thoughts.   Tathata has been translated as “in-itself”…undetermined oneness where essence is “in-itself”.  I think your question is about agency. When does essence operate as “agent” rather than substance for others.  You see the complexity. L.L. N.CA

You're right, Lew, 'Personhood' is too broad a category.  How the American rt wing ever got control of it politically is one of the great mysteries of politices... Besides, my performance in debate or discussion these days slides to anecdotes and pictures with even more 'episodic' idea-craft than ever.  Though that as well can be telling re 'communicaiton and discovery' Sometimes is the only way...

And you've got more demanding issues before you, I know- I hope you find blessings and grace inbetween the challenges.

All the best,  


The Tortise and the Serpent

Acrylic on Paper 9” x 11” 2018



Thanks for your thoughts. A woman friend of the monastery visited me here recently. She is a convert, with two teen age daughters. They go to Catholic high school but have doubts about some of the teachings of the church. So has she. What to say to them? About God: "scientists" make the mistake of denying a "God" because they think God is part of the universe that can be measured (there is no physical "science" without measurement). For us, God is not part of the universe; the universe cannot create itself (anyone who thinks it can is wrong). Therefore, the world must be eternal. As Catholics we admit that this can be true: as long as God is, he has been creating; nothing contradictory in this. But even if so, we still need a principle that lies outside the measurable universe. You can't push eternity forever without a cause for the eternity itself.

We can try to answer people's questions or doubts. Much that Catholics may be tempted to doubt is not really teaching that is infallible; there are few infallible doctrines.  A Catholic governor of a state was recently asked how to could sign a death warrant for a fellow who murdered several teen age girls, given the recent Pope's comments. I would tell him to ask the Pope to explain Pius IX's official executioner, who bragged about using a straight-edged guillotine. And this was not yet 200 years ago.  If the church's moral teaching can change in one direction, it can change in another direction.

Just a few random thoughts.



Dear C.B.,

I'm back from the second of my 3 fall travels.  I've been thinking about our recent conversations.  Thank you for your 'Sword and Scimitar' reference.  I signed up for several of their free email subscriptions- yes, I still read on occasion.  Though, I also appreciate other approaches.

The 'subjective/objective' issue we've touched upon is an old one by now with many nuances.   When you wrote: 

"For Biblical science (like any historical subject), a text has the meaning that the original author assigned to it. That's the reason for all our research, to try to find that intention. Otherwise we're lost in complete subjectivity." 

Perhaps that was more than you intended...  You softened a bit with admissions about various interpretations and latter-day works of fiction.  When one considers the ingenious confabulations of writers like Joyce, Proust or Dostoevsky, one might indeed wonder about 'original intentions.'  

Who were the original authors of the New Testament?  Or the Old?  What provoked their efforts?  Is it possible to be objective before the immense challenge of all their perceptive filters as well as our own.  (The whole of the Nepsis Foundation project for me has been just such a consideration- a process of self- and world examination. It might yield some insights.  But it is merely a personal exercise and quails before the task of really understanding somebody else and their times)

I appreciate the approach of scholars such as Judith Lieu- and yourself.  Beyond general interest about the truths a critical attitude might excavate, perhaps the greatest contribution of biblical science is the correction of error- both intentional and inherited- on all sides.  None-the-less, there is also value in say, St. Francis' use of Sacred Scripture as oracle as well as inspiration.  Or, Aelred's interpretations to create his treatise on "Friendship."  Even Bede offers colorful insights. None such particularly critical in a scientific sense- The Greek enlightenment around the 5th Century B.C.,  is felt down the ages- Certainly provides a different perspective to Semitic experience-  In doing so helps fashion attitudes in such Northerners as Eckhardt but especially influential Thomas- so many others.    Boniface used it to cut down a forest...

The topics of perception and perspective are nearly endless.  So, let me conclude my reflections (like skipping a stone across the surface of a mountain lake) with what you said about Scripture generally, "...There are few answers; just enough. Same for morality as it is for doctrines."  I also appreciate what you said about what must have been incredibly frustrating for the Lord Christ:  To be God and to be ignorant!!  That is a sacrifice of truely universal dimensions.

Maybe we should take a road trip next summer.  British Columbia.  The Yukon.  Anywhere cool.  I'll drive, provide the car and gas.  You provide lodging.  We can stop to rest along the way. We pay for our own food.  What do you think?  We both prefer long periods of silence.  And can take advantage of the advantages of prayer- 'the family that prays together, stays together.' 

Just a thought.  Might be great- a great last challenge.  Mt. Denali!

Hope this note finds you well and at peace,



Dear Stephen,

Finished the poem. ["A Poem of Voices"] Most striking lines: “pluck the string, climate of my dreams,” “Queen of heaven, you’ve waited for the turning of my heart,” and one that made me smile as it spoke to my own experience of hitchhiking through California Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota to Iowa, “hitchhiking describes one as a beggar.” An acceptance, in both our cases, I think.

The early parts brought me back to my early readings, as an English major of Eliot, Joyce and others. The poem, as it’s character matures is successful as a quest. I did not find much repetition. I think “crepuscular” was used two or three times. Okay not to change if you want to preserve the original. Reference to country people’s attitudes towards death as different from city folk doesn’t speak to my and other’s experience and ...therefore seems more like opinion than universal truth. In the same vein observations on the good simplicity of rural life being superior to suburban materialism seems an oversimplification, and perhaps it is a reflection of the temperament of that age, sixties and seventies, and it works there. Good, I believe, crosses classes and geographies, everywhere. Same with bad. I confess my own geographical prejudices when it concerns politics. Seems like everything that is backwards—racism and intolerance comes out of the rural South these days. But I know there are exceptions to the rule and recognize that this is only an opinion. This is an immediate reaction on my part, perhaps even a mis-reading, that could be corrected by a deeper, more careful reading. There is, after all, always so much more to discover in reading the Bible and even the A.A. big book.

Your poem made me think of a wonderful book by a friend of mine, Angus Fletcher, who passed away a few years ago. Title is A New Theory of American Poetry: Democracy, the Environment, and the Future of Imagination. His subjects are Emerson, Whitman, Ashberry, and John Clare. He, in part, describes how poets have observed and described nature in ways that resemble the scientific, and deals with Whitman’s departure from the European Romantics. There is much that is new and exciting here. I know you would enjoy it and hope that you will read it one day...



Dear M,

Thank you for your note.  First,  I'm impressed that you read 'Voices' all the way through.  There is not a huge congregation for 99 page poems. I take your comments seriously and will remember  to connect them to those lines you mention.  So, I'm encouraged by your general 'take' on this piece.  

The length of people's reading lists in our circles or bedside piles of books is a familiar, challenging refrain.  Competition for attention is almost a spent field for me, so I appreciate the time you do take.  Some time ago, both the poems and paintings for me have taken on the mantle of Icons and Mandalas as aids for meditation, devotion, the 'yogic' path generally.  Indeed, they often function for me as shamanistic objects or a sorcerer's paraphernalia as they spread out with the other objects of my psychic altar.

And thank you for reminding me of your hitchhiking exposure!  Our response to Kerouac!  If you don't mind I'm thinking of adding your comments to my White Lights blog- 'Conversations' that charts an eclectic collection of exchanges such as these.

All the best,



Dear Stephen,

I've come to appreciate the pairing of the poetry with the pictures. For instance, the parts of the poem on the innocence of nakedness I can see in some of your paintings. Did not detect this before; glad I do now. Also, I tend to be impatient with long introductions, but read them whenever I found myself asking, hmm, what is this? The intentionality is clearer with the intro.

... There will be more time for working on my books and dipping slowly back into my AVP work.

Onward and upward . . . 

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