Sunday, May 14, 2006

Look at the bathroom as a chamber of dreams

Thomas Moore writes about the bathroom in his books and in Resurgence’s May-June issue (236) he summarizes the significance of those Bathroom Rituals, primarily associated with bathing. Space doesn’t permit exploration of shaving or the toilet in this particular Deep Spirit column. Moore’s father is a plumber, contributing to his watery interests, and his alchemical studies direct him to bathe his soul as well as his body. Moore mentions Greek associations with theological bathing and describes one of his favourite goddesses: Aphrodite whom he says is "the spirit of beauty, body, sensuality and sexuality, love, pleasure, and adornment." For Moore, the bathroom holds the "genuine rituals in the spirituality of Aphrodite/Venus:"
"It's important to spend time enjoying taking care of your body, not just for health but also for comfort and pampering. We live in a world that has adopted anti-Venusian values to live by and fails to see the virtue in simple bodily pleasures. Some identify spirituality with disregard for the simple pleasure of Venus. Maybe that is because Venus is a goddess or spirit of the deep soul rather than the sublime spirit. I might go so far as to say that good bathing might tame our tendencies toward violence. There is an ancient tradition that Venus calms the excited and warlike urges of Mars.

Just as a church might have a holy tabernacle and a Jewish temple sacred scrolls, so Aphrodite has her own spiritual implements: soaps, cosmetics, oils, fragrances, sponges, and towels. The tub is like a baptismal font, a good moisturiser, a kind of blessed oil. In Aphrodite's realm a luxurious towel may be as precious as a holy book."
Moore asks readers to reconsider what we feel while we become naked,
"The simple act of disrobing is a Venusian gesture. It is probably difficult for most modern people to appreciate this shift in focus from shame to appreciation and from purity to sensuality. But to remain only in the religion of reserve and bodilessness is to deprive spirituality of its physicality, leaving it abstract and severe. Take away any degree of moralistic concern that has been forced on you, and see how the simple act of disrobing stirs your feelings."
This historical split between pleasure and "an unnecessarily spartan spirituality" is a theme echoed elsewhere in Moore’s writings and he says why it bothers him: "It falsely separated body from spirit, thereby allowing no place for the soul."

Edgar Degas, Le Tub (1886)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Childish notions of God keep religion childish

"God and Tragedy," Thomas Moore’s column for Spirituality and Health’s March-April 2006 issue is available in the Archives area of that site. Moore talks about our images of God,
"To deal effectively with our personal tragedies and society's violence, we need a more sophisticated image of God. Stop using "he" or even "she," and immediately you have a more mysterious notion of divinity. Imagine God as the creating spark of this world or as the source of life, and you let go of the anthropomorphisms, the too-human images that reduce the idea of God to a mere projection of our reality and our wishes..."

"Religion does a disservice when it gives us childish notions of a God in the sky who will save us from human insanity. We have to be fully part of this world and take on our responsibility, doing everything possible to prevent wars and make people safe. Maybe we won't ever solve our problems completely, but we can make progress toward that goal..."

"Naïve notions of God are dangerous today, as well. God is the source of life, which is fragile. If we give up the notion of a grandfather in the sky and replace it with a deep sense of the mystery at the heart of things, we might understand the importance of our efforts to make this world safe for us all. A childish notion of God keeps our religion childish."
As a response to this notion, he suggests,
"We need images for the infinite, at the edge of which we live every moment of our lives. We need help maintaining a personal relationship with our mysterious God.

...we have to empty out our images at the very moment we employ them. We can't take them as fact. We have to see through them even as we find God through them. Maybe it would help to remember that God is there beneath all images and names we have for "him." But paradoxically, we can only come close to that God when we give up any names or images we have and to which we have become attached — which is any image at all."
Moore concludes,
"As my heart grows bigger, the language I use for God becomes that much more accurate, and therefore, that much more undefined."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The need to transform catharsis into character

In his non-review of United 93 for Beliefnet, Thomas Moore tells readers that he will not go to see the movie, filmed as a re-enactment of events on the aircraft on September 11, 2001.

Before sharing his decision with readers, Moore writes,
"You don’t hear much about masochism in the popular press, but it is a human tendency of great importance. The workable blend of strength and vulnerability, courage and fear, trust and suspicion that allows us to deal with life’s challenges can often fall apart. A split develops, and strength is no longer tempered by vulnerability. We divide into doers and the done-to, agents and victims, the powerful and the fearful, instead of keeping these strong emotions in tension within ourselves.

A good film could tell the story of 9/11 in a way that would help us think through the issues without becoming further divided in ourselves. It could offer some insight and the beginning, at least, of a narrative that would help us restore our world, find our optimism, and constructively deal with any problems that may have led to the tragedy. It could help us transform the anxiety created by 9/11 into character, our only hope for a better world.

A bad film will keep us split internally, sustain our fear and belligerence, and prevent us from dealing effectively with the complicated world situation that led to 9/11 and its aftermath. It may open up fear and anger and paranoia in a way that takes us back into raw emotion rather than forward into thoughtful reflection. Catharsis often requires revisiting a memory, but not literally. We need to feel the emotions in a context of open wonder rather than victimization and vengeance."
Readers are encouraged to write their reaction to Moore's observations.