Odds and Ends

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, so I want to give a brief update on what I’ve been up to. The two week-long trips I’ve taken during this project (first New York, then San Francisco) have left me exhausted physically and mentally upon my return. Exhausted in the best possible sense of the word, of course. As it turns out, seven jam-packed days of visits, interviews, walking (or climbing, in the case of San Francisco) and writing from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I crash at night are something of a marathon. It’s a rush to be so focused from sun up to sun down on this project. And, as incredibly happy as I always am to come back home to my family, I also go through a bit of a grieving period after coming down from the proverbial mountain top.

But, hey, there’s always the next trip! And planning that trip is one of the things I’ve occuppied myself with in these past few weeks. It’s always so exciting to read about the sacred spaces, the diversity of cultures and religions, and the people I will meet at my next week-long immersion. I have the next location programmed and I’ve charted most of the churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and spiritual centers I’ll be visiting. I don’t want to give it away just yet, because I like suspense. But I’ll give you a hint: voodoo!

I’ve also conducted a good number of interviews that I need to commit to writing and post on the blog. There are great stories coming up in the next few days and weeks from people with fascinating backgrounds and experiences with Paganism, agnosticism, esoteric spirituality, Christianity and Islam. And I’ve also been lining up a few weeks worth of interviews here in our local community as well as visits to sacred spaces. In a way, this has been a time of regrouping and administrative work.

As always, I’ve been reading. One of my favorite writers of the moment is religious historian Karen Armstrong. I’m nearly finished with one of her bestsellers, “A History of God.” This is a challenging work that surveys the understanding of God in the three Abrahamic faiths over a period of 4,000 years. One of the questions I often ask of believers is, “How do you experience God?” What I really want to know is how individuals from different theistic traditions define God, but I have come to find that this is an impossible and perhaps even useless question. In an interview, Armstrong was asked to define God, and without skipping a beat she said, “It can’t be done.” She went on to explain that to define means “to put limits on.” You can define a territory, you can define a concept, but God is beyond all that. God is beyond limits, and therefore beyond definition. However, asking people how they experience God has yielded some very insightful answers. In this book, Armstrong does a brilliant job of laying out the theological, practical and philosophical evolution of humankind’s yearning to understand and explain God.

One of the many pearls of wisdom Armstrong gathers in this book is a quote of St. Thomas Aquinas’ that seems as relevant today as groundbreaking as it must’ve been some 900 years ago:

“Hence in the last resort all that man knows of God is to know that he does not know him, since he knows that what God is surpasses all that we can understand of him.”

I will leave you with that for the moment, as I’m sure it should give you quite a bit to think about. But stay tuned, there is more to come. Thank you for following along, and as always, your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated.

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