Sometimes it is aggravating when IT “reads” my posts and sends me links and ads that “they” think I will like (or buy). However, this was not the case when, after I posted the blog involving Darwin, Mozart and Sunny Choi. Quite mysteriously, a YouTube video of Yeol Eum Son’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 popped up. I sat mesmerized by what I was seeing.
As if Ms. Son’s stunning performance were not enough evidence of her virtuosity, she frequently closed her eyes and silently commanded her fingers to find 1000s of notes “in the dark.” The concerto was 32 minutes long, which required her to commit perhaps as many as 30,000 notes to memory. From my highly limited musical ability, I could not detect a single error.
The fact that it is highly unlikely that 99.99% of the world population will ever be able to do what she can do lends credence to the reason why many biological and behavioral scientists call her “gifted.” However, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps the ability to discern spiritual gifts is as well.
A well-known British biologist has spent much of his career (and made millions of dollars) railing that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Poor chap. I wonder if he has ever hiked to the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome or to the bottom of Grand Canyon; walked through the Louvre in Paris, visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, listened to Handel’s “Messiah,” Mozart’s “Requiem,” or Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”
Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, people have been endowed by their Creator with the spiritual gift of “free will.” It may be the greatest human irony that some of them have chosen to use that gift in an attempt to deny their Creator’s existence.
“What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.” – Renee Daumal
EVERY HUMAN BEING should be fortunate enough to sleep at least one night on top of a mountain, under a starry blanket. John Muir exhorted his followers, “go to the mountains and get their good tidings.” He minced no words describing the potential power of mountaintop experiences to be transcendental, perhaps connecting hikers with heaven. Loren Eiseley noted that, although adventures like these may or may not connect hikers to God, they often result in hikers having a vision or seeing a marvel. Although results cannot be predicted, the limitless possibilities range from subtle to profound to sublime.
There are 1000s of mountaintops, tors, buttes and mesas in the US where a high school biology class could camp out for a night. However, few (if any) can compare with Yosemite’s iconic Half Dome. Twenty-four Biodesign Classes eagerly accepted John Muir’s challenge to climb Half Dome, perhaps in search of a “born again” experience.
In the 1970s, our idea of challenging students to stretch their physical, mental and spiritual wings closely paralleled the goals of the highly successful wilderness program called, “Outward Bound.”
Although each new class had seen countless images and heard numerous stories about the world-famous Half Dome, nothing could prepare them for the view they saw when they arrived at Glacier Point. The view was so extraordinary that it often rendered students speechless. On one trip, while looking up at Half Dome, a male student exclaimed to a classmate, “He’s freakin’ nuts if he thinks I am going to sleep up there!”
Although 20 Biodesign classes made it to the top of Half Dome, only 16 were fortunate enough to sleep overnight (before the practice was banned by YNPS).
I have to admit that, before each of those 16 trips, I questioned my own mental stability.
Those fortunate enough to succeed were offered an extraordinary spectacle that most will never see again. Typically, the Big Dipper loomed above to the north with Merak and Dubhe lined up pointing to Polaris (the north star). Those having trouble sleeping could watch the handle of the giant dipper slowly tick off the changing hours of the night.
Of course, each trip was unique and depended on countless variables. However, when the stars aligned favorably we were able to sit in a circle, read some passages from Muir and share what we were seeing, thinking and feeling. During these events, my role as leader shifted to the role as observer. I often marveled at the innate wisdom that the students exhibited.
On one particular occasion, the level of communication and spiritual camaraderie rose to such a height that it felt surreal. We were snuggled in a tightly bonded circle. The autumn air was chilly and the stars were so brilliant they appeared to be close enough for us to reach out and pick a basket of them.
And then suddenly “it” happened. As students shared their deepest reflections, without warning, they were presented with the dilemma of wondering whether the whole class mysteriously levitated upward toward heaven or if heaven mysteriously descended down to engulf them. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the term, “mandorla,” (almond shaped design) to depict sacred moments which transcend time and space, including the overlap between heaven and Earth. I am not a religious scholar, but this experience seemed to match the Greek concept.
The next morning during breakfast, it was clear to me that the students had changed. The countenance of many of the girls was subtly radiant, not unlike da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The mood of the guys was unusually quiet, more contemplative; some looked a little spooked. I didn’t comment, but imagined some of their private conversations included questions like: “What the heck happened during our circle last night?”
They were in good company. Muir cautioned us that there were no Earthly words that could adequately describe spiritual events.
The students were not the only ones with a beguiling mystery. I too pondered over the event. It was only after returning home that it occurred to me that, aside from my wedding day and assisting with our youngest child’s birth, my star-struck experience on Half Dome was the most intense spiritual awakening in my life.
So, Muir came down from Yosemite’s mountains with, “Thoughts and deeds that moved the world.” Each year, our students came down from Half Dome having seen wonders, marvels, even little miracles or perhaps being gifted with a glimpse into heaven.
For the last few years of leading the Biodesign Class, I had a longing to participate on a trip, but not be the leader. I fancied that I would enjoy being the camp-cook and dish washer, as long as I could observe the young adults interacting with the wilderness. It never happened! However, 20 years after I retired, I was gifted with an experience that would parallel my past activities.
Our oldest daughter Maureen, teaches 3rd grade at Mark West elementary school in Santa Rosa, Ca. Adopting John Muir’s theme, “going out for a walk is really going in,” she organized a study unit on the redwood forest and planned a field trip to nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. The students were required to prepare for the trip by becoming familiar with the plants, animals and environmental factors; basically, they were becoming junior ecologists. Furthermore, she included discussions designed to encourage her students to get as close as they could to the heart of Nature.
Christie and I gladly walked at the end of the line of hikers and I was only asked to clarify a few details. It was a pure joy for us to watch her interact with 23 budding biologist/thinkers. As Pierre Lecomte du Noüy described in, “Human Destiny:”
“The quality of a child’s memory is surprising and is rapidly lost. The coordinating power between his ears and organs of speech is prodigious and rarely lasts beyond the age of ten.”
We watched them stand in awe as they unsuccessfully tried to see the top of the “Parson Jones” redwood tree that towers over 300 feet tall. It had a huge poison oak vine, with a 4-inch-wide stem, climbing up its bark. We saw them exult over a bright yellow banana slug, inching along a stump, just at their eye level. They saw mushroom caps and understood that they were recycling organic nutrients into the thick humus. California bay trees, sword ferns, tanbark oaks and wood sorrel were spotted. Two very young deer caused them to stop reverently on the trail and silently try not to disturb them.
Maureen and I showed them how to use an isosceles triangle to calculate the height of a tree. It was a stretch for 3rd graders, but several hands shot up and students shouted, “I get it!” Archimedes would have been proud. They marveled when they formed a circle with a 25-ft. diameter, to see how wide some of the virgin trees were.
They talked about how John Muir was one of the first men to call for a halt to cutting down redwood trees and began to understand the battle over money vs. saving the trees. The fact that one giant redwood tree could provide enough lumber to build five homes was astonishing to them and they were grateful that without Muir’s vision, the park they were enjoying might have been destroyed.
The 3.5 hours flew by too quickly and for me, concluded with two miraculous events. In preparation for departing, I walked 100 yards to use the restroom. I thought I saw a familiar face approaching from the other side. As it happened, we arrived at the door at the same moment. We both froze and he looked like he had seen a ghost. After a silent pause, I said, “So,” and mysteriously paused. He smiled knowingly and completed my pending question, “Yeah, what are the odds that we are here at this precise moment?” It was an often-discussed theme of Biodesign. His name is Brandon Amyot and he was in the Biodesign Class 20 years earlier. He continued, “I live in Chicago now, but my wife and I are out to attend a wedding. I just mentioned to her that we should post a “selfie” of us on your Facebook page, wondering if you had been here before.” We laughed, hugged and said our good-byes.
He doesn’t know it, but I have come to think there are zero odds for moments like ours. They are humanly impossible to create or comprehend and I suspect that the reason that he paled was his realization that we were experiencing a sacred moment of supreme perfection.
The final miracle occurred at the “Redwood Forest Theater.” Christie and I had gone ahead to carry two guitars. On the way, we met an older gentleman who asked if we were going to perform. We laughed and said that a group of 3rd graders were coming to sing some camp songs. He asked if he could attend.
As the students approached the clearing, their eyes widened and their happy chatter yielded to whispers of “wow” and “cool.” Maureen prepared them for possible moments like these and they could not have been more reverential if they were entering a cathedral; perhaps they were. She and I got out our guitars and led them in songs that they had learned in the classroom. However, this time, their voices sounded like a choir of heavenly angels as love and joy radiated out of every precious face. They inspired me to adapt a phrase from Loren Eiseley:
They sang because life is sweet and the sunlight streaming through the redwoods into a natural temple filled them with unspeakable joy of being alive.
If John Muir had been there, I am certain that his heart would have overflowed with joy by the inner and outer discoveries the 8-year-olds had made. He was keenly aware that no words (including his own) could help a single soul to know these woods. “You must go there,” he preached and understandably wrote:
“See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographer’s plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul. All that is required is exposure, and purity of material.”
As we left the theater, the old man approached us with tears in his eyes and mentioned that he had never heard more beautiful music.
There is no diagnostic tool to measure what Maureen’s students learned on their walk into Armstrong Redwoods. However, if Muir was correct, she exposed them to “purity of material” and the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feels of the redwood forest were imprinted on their little souls and “Parson Jones,” offered them a silent sermon that they will not likely ever forget.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Many of the older Scots claim that they can communicate spiritually with deceased family members and friends by a process they call “kything.” If this is so, I am guessing that John Muir recently did the Scottish version of the “dance of joy” in his heavenly habitation (“God And The Angels Be True”).
Muir believed that Yosemite’s Half Dome was a high altar, appropriately situated at the east end of what he regarded as a natural cathedral, seven miles long by one mile wide. Altars are natural or man-made shrines that have been consecrated by the hearts of men for the purpose of religious or spiritual ceremonies or events. Muir expressed deep concern that many have forfeited their God-given gift of spiritual celebrations at these altars. Although regular church attendance in the US may be declining, for those who make the 5,000 ft. climb up to the top of Half Dome, it is not uncommon for them to triumphantly raise their arms.
With this being so, Mark Salvestrin recently committed a personal rite of sanctification by simply raising his hands (and a book) to the heavens. The book was inspired by John Muir and written by over 700 very curious and very courageous high school students. In the letter previously posted he wrote:
“Some of the concepts we learned and the ideas we shared took shape as threads that would be intricately woven into the fabric of my life.”
Following John Muir (and a plethora of mentors) Mark has immersed himself in Nature, evinced by the recent pilgrimage that he and his wife made to the top of Half Dome. Two weeks later, they doubled up with a hike to the top of El Capitan. The views from “El Cap” are as impressive as those from Half Dome and can be reached without experiencing “Disney Land” throngs of people crowding the trails.
My best guess is that Mark chaperoned at least 10 Biodesign trips. He will deny it but, in a splendid irony, the book he is offering to the cosmos would not have been possible without his loving support and guidance.
Furthermore, what he did not mention was that he, and over 700 other students, added threads that were woven into the fabric of the author’s life. Soul building was part of what we were about, along with accepting Muir’s challenge to get as close to the heart of Nature as we could.
The photo of Mark holding up a summary of 24 years of wilderness adventures gave me goose bumps. None of the adventures would likely have happened without a very perceptive girl asking a simple yet profound question. As Muir feared, I could have missed over 30 celebrations at his High Altar and spent my career dissecting fetal pigs.
It is my sincere wish that some of the lessons that Mark and I and hundreds of others experienced on our wilderness excursions, will be shared to lift the spirits and gladden the hearts of readers.
After Biodesign students explored Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Mendocino coast, it was not uncommon for them to vow publicly (or privately) to return to one of the areas when they became adults. I have no record of how many achieved that goal, but I do know of one ex-student who has climbed Half Dome 8 times.
Therefore, I was not surprised when an ex-Biodesigner mentioned that he was joining a group that was going to retrace the hike that his class took over 20 years earlier.
His class rode a bus from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point and as the bus approached Washburn Point, Half Dome loomed into view. I have seen that view approximately 40 times and each time it has left me breathless. The student responses were predictably gasps, oohs and aahs, however, on one occasion a student blurted out, “He’s freaking crazy if he thinks I am going to sleep up there!”
An orientation discussion included the major landmarks; Muir’s description that glaciation was the primary force that created Yosemite Valley and the current theory that Half Dome did not have another half, but was an atypically formed “pluton.”
After allowing time to absorb the sublime beauty, the group headed south, 1.4 miles to Illilouette Fall. Turning left at the waterfall, they ascended the Panorama Trail to Panorama Ridge.
[I agree with many veteran Yosemite hikers who regard the Panorama Trail as the most dramatic, and thus inspirational, trail in the entire Park. The trail is mostly level and the easier walk provides the opportunity to better appreciate the stunning new perspectives that appear around every bend.]
After approximately 2 miles the trail descended steeply downhill and joined the John Muir Trail, which originates in Yosemite Valley. A short walk to the top of Nevada Fall provided a great place to remove backpacks, relax and eat lunch. After a leisurely lunch, the students donned their backpacks and trudged 1.8 miles to their first trail campsite in Little Yosemite Valley.
The next morning, after breakfast and a briefing of the day’s activities, backpacks were hoisted and they began the challenging, 4-mile-hike up 2700 ft. to the top of the 8800 ft. Half Dome.
After sleeping on Half Dome, the group made the 10-mile descent back to their basecamp at Yosemite Valley.
After the ex-student returned, I contacted him with a request to hear about his adventure. He gladly obliged and filled me with wonderful stories and images. His group left their backpacks at Little Yosemite Valley and they hiked up Half Dome in time for a gorgeous sunset.
“It was a hard hike,” he said, “I don’t k now how our whole class made it with backpacks on.”
However, when I casually asked him how they handled the trail meals, he looked a bit sheepish and said, “Our guides took care of all of that.” I was not aware of such services, but quickly connected the dots and blurted out, “I HATE YOU!” Of course he knew that I was kidding and we shared a hearty laugh.
He obviously had not forgotten that a major chore for the Biodesign trips to Yosemite was preparing trail meals for a group of 30. Rather than packing 15 small backpack stoves, we took three MSR Rapidfire stoves. Each one sounded like a small jet airplane, but could get six quarts of water boiling in about 10 mins. We carried 3, 6-qt. pots and each pot provided enough hot water for 10 hikers.
He continued, “Only some of us had some equipment and rather than spend a lot of money on equipment that we would probably never use again, we hired two guides. They supplied all the equipment, cooked all meals on the trail and filtered all the water we needed.”
When I shared this with Christie, not unkindly, she burst out laughing and said, “I didn’t know that Yosemite had “Sherpa Guides!” LOL
My curiosity was piqued and so I went on-line to research “Yosemite Sherpa Services” (just kidding) and found a plethora of options available. The guide service that I Googled charged $900/per person for a three-day backpack trip similar to the one we took. At first, I was a bit shocked, but quickly recovered and concluded that the price was reasonable for what most participants would call, “a-once-in-a-lifetime-experience.” The $300/per day for guide, food and equipment seemed like a bargain compared to the $450/per night for a room at the Ahwahnee Hotel. Furthermore, it pleased me that our 6-day Yosemite trip cost our students $50. (with confidential scholarships readily available.) When I apologized to parents about the cost, they frequently dismissed my concerns and said their kids cost them more than that when they were at home. ;o)
John Muir hiked mostly alone at Yosemite and was happy with a single wool blanket and pillowcase with some dried bread balls and some tea. However, I truly believe that he would both approve and marvel at the evolution of the latest backpacking equipment and trail techniques, including professional guides. After all, he himself guided many Yosemite visitors, including President Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was so impressed with Muir’s wilderness that, after returning to Washington D.C., he ordered 230 million acres to be protected and formed the foundation for the US National Park Service and the US Forest Service.
The Biodesign Class of 1978 was only the second class to reach the top of Yosemite’s world-famous Half Dome. They donned their backpacks and labored for 10 miles while gaining nearly 5,000 feet of elevation. The last ½ mile involved climbing a steep series of granite stairs and ascending 400 feet of twin cables up a 45-degree grade. The added weight of the backpacks was challenging for the experienced hikers and was nearly overwhelming for some of the beginners. They had been forewarned that the hike would be a group effort and no one would be left behind. Therefore, when the last hiker topped the brow of Half Dome there was a joyful celebration with lots of tears and hugs.
An orientation session helped them find important landmarks. After setting up a bivouac area, water was heated for trail-food dinners. After dinner the class was treated to an extraordinary spectacle of a blood-red sun dropping below the western horizon. When they turned around to return to the camp area, Mother Nature offered an encore performance of a glorious full moon rising in the east.
After sunset the temperature dropped quickly and students huddled closely together in a circle to share visions and reflections of the day. In addition to a collection of John Muir’s writing, I carried a collection of quotes, aphorisms and adages that were selectively used to enhance discussions. Plato was on our reference list of poets, sages and author’s and I offered the following:
“What if the man could see Beauty Itself, pure,
unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its
pollution, stains, and vanities, unchanging,
divine…the man becoming, in that communion,
the friend of God, himself immortal;…would
that be a life to disregard?” – Plato
Plato’s words offered a poignant contrast for the students to contemplate. The only blemish on the gorgeous sunset was the layer of smog that could be seen hanging 50 miles away over the San Joaquin Valley. However, at nearly 9,000 feet the sky was nearly perfectly clear. The stars seemed to be competing to see which could be more brilliant. The air was absolutely still and created a profound silence that was truly sublime.
Following a pause in the sharing, Theresa mentioned that she worked as a counselor at a summer camp for kids with impaired hearing. Evidently, the eerie silence was helping her identify with her campers. She mentioned that she had to learn A-S-L (American Sign Language) in order to “speak through my hands.” And then she said, “I heard a lot of stuff about this class, some of it was pretty weird. Maybe now I know why. We have been in class for only a little over a month; we have climbed a mountain together and I can honestly say that I love every one of you like a brother or a sister. A-S-L has a sign for this kind of love and I would like to share it with you.”
She raised her right hand, folded down her middle and ring fingers, leaving her thumb, pointer and pinkie extended. “It’s kind of a sign-language shortcut,” she said. “The pinkie means ‘I’, the thumb and pointer form an ‘L’ and the pinkie and pointer form a “Y.’”
The lesson was a huge success and the students enjoyed flashing the “I Love You” sign for the rest of the trip. And it didn’t stop there. They used it for the rest of the year and its use was passed down to all the following classes.
The last day arrived and before we headed home we went out to the meadow for what proved to be an emotional a final circle. The mighty Half Dome loomed one mile above our heads. It was time to say “good bye” to Yosemite and it became a bittersweet parting. Of course, every student had a unique experience, but I think a common source of their emotional catharsis can be traced to the two spiritual wells of Joy and Sorrow.
Their joy came from innumerable, priceless scenic images, memories of stress, pain and growth; trail camaraderie and an experience that Joseph Campbell would have described as, “The Soul’s High Adventure.” Most had seen things that they could never have imagined, and in doing so, discovered things about themselves that they never knew existed.
The sorrow probably came from knowing that they would soon be leaving John Muir’s cathedral and would not be able to explain their experience to family and friends. They were also keenly aware that they would be descending back down to the lowland with its smog, grime, crime and rampant materialism.
One Love! One Heart!
Let’s get together and feel all right.
See the children cryin’ (One Love!);
See the children cryin’ (One Heart!),
Sayin’: give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Sayin’: let’s get together and feel all right. Wo wo-wo wo-wo!
However, there was often a deeper and more universal cause for their sorrow. On several occasions students wondered why world leaders could not discard their artificial pomp and shallowness and climb a mountain and spend the night. They wondered if world peace could become a bit more plausible if this were to happen?
After all, John Muir predicted nothing less when he wrote:
“The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, came down from the mountains.”
“Loren Eiseley is less concerned about man conquering nature than nature, in the form of God, conquering the human heart.” Time Magazine.
AFTER nearly 75 years, I have concluded that life is mostly (if not totally) a journey into mystery. E.g. how could I have possibly guessed that a simple, innocent question from a student would eventually guide me to climb Yosemite’s Half Dome over 30 times? Each visit was unique and not unlike meeting a long-lost friend with lots of catching up to do. Intriguingly, most of my trips were with students and seeing Half Dome through their eyes provided some of the most glorious moments of my life.
“I Conquered Half Dome” was the title of a Biodesigner’s post-Yosemite essay, and why not? Tom described the “emotional blood,” sweat and near-blisters that were required for him to hike the 10 miles from Yosemite Stables to the top of Half Dome in one grueling day. The altitude gain was nearly 5,000 ft. and YNPS listed the trail as “extremely strenuous” (and that is without a backpack.) It is a safe bet that his 50-lb. backpack made the trek at least twice as difficult.
Tom meticulously recorded the events of the day including moments of inspiration, and frustration; stops for snacks, water and lunch. He also described the logistical demands of stopping to filter water and apply “Mole Skin” to hotspots before they became debilitating blisters. He noted the high level of camaraderie and playful banter that helped ease the fatigue induced by the steep switchbacks. He marveled at how everyone worked together with the stronger hikers quietly taking sleeping bags or tents from classmates who were struggling excessively.
This hike occurred in the early years of the Biodesign program when the trip was only four days. It involved a 4:00 AM departure and 5-hour drive to Yosemite Valley; one very demanding day to hike to the top of Half Dome to spend the night; one very long day to return to The Valley and the 5-hour return trip home. Due to the very demanding 4-day journey, it was quite reasonable for Tom to feel that he had indeed conquered Half Dome. However, the latter part of his essay took on a very different tone.
“I had never been so exhausted but I could not sleep due to the thousands of rapid-fire mental images of our long hike. Earlier in the evening, we huddled in a circle as you read John Muir’s story about his adventure with the ‘wee little dog Stickeen.’ Muir described their near-death experience in a storm on an Alaskan glacier. The ordeal lasted 18 hours and, although they were cold, wet and exhausted, they were happy to make it back to camp.
“We reached camp about ten o’clock, and found a big fire and a big supper. A party of Hoona Indians had visited Mr. Young, bringing a gift of porpoise meat and wild strawberries, and Hunter Joe had brought in a wild goat. But we lay down, too tired to eat much, and soon fell into a troubled sleep. The man who said, ‘The harder the toil, the sweeter the rest,’ never was profoundly tired.”
“Before the trip we discussed the geology of Half Dome and I was now aware that I was trying to sleep on rock that was over 100 million years old and was there when dinosaurs roamed the earth and perhaps some bird-like forms flew over Yosemite Valley.
I finally gave up trying to sleep and grabbed my flashlight and down jacket. I moseyed out to the “Eye Brow” and carefully dangled my legs over the edge. Interestingly, due to the darkness, the 5,000-foot drop was not as scary as in the daylight. I remembered you saying that Native Americans and “mountain men” could tell time using the “handle” of “The Big Dipper.” I was facing north and looked up to see the giant cosmic-hour-hand above me. And then, IT HAPPENED! A massive surge of adrenaline super-activated every nerve in my body. I was ecstatic, but it was not sublime. I was paradoxically exhilarated, but terrified and quickly began to suffer a panic attack. I could not move! I thought, ‘This is not a good place to be in the middle of the night.’ The panic seemed interminable, but either God or my “reptilian brain” took over and I noticed my hands and thighs slowly begin to inch my body back from the edge. When I stood, I was badly shaken and, with wobbly knees, returned to my sleeping bag.
If I live to be 100 years old, I will never feel the same degree of warmth, safety and comfort that my sleeping bag provided. And then the second major epiphany occurred! What a fool I was to think that I had “conquered” Half Dome! God, Mother Nature or karma allowed me to ascend Half Dome, however; there is still enough mystery and intrigue to last another 100 million years.”
At the youthful age of 17, Tom discovered that he was being conquered and not the conqueror, something more and more people will live and die without discovering.
I don’t think it is elitist for people who have climbed to the top of Half Dome to recalibrate their personal biography into “Pre-H-D” and “Post-H-D.” I don’t think it is possible to climb Half Dome and not have a life-changing experience, however, as John Muir noted about spiritual revelations, there are no earthly words to define them.
“To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Henry David Thoreau
In a bizarre synchronicity, after I wrote this blog I went to a local hospital to have some lab work done. A middle-aged couple was sitting next to me. I thought it was odd that the man had a large suitcase with him. After a few moments, he looked at his wife and blurted out, “I want you to promise me that you will shoot me in the head if I ever touch another drop of alcohol. It will save me a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge to end my misery.”
When I got home I Googled the hospital and discovered that they offer a 28-day alcohol/substance abuse recovery program; the cost is $18,000.
John Muir was amazed that people willingly trust their lives to a little glass-covered dial with a simple, wavering magnetic needle and not see that God, Nature and an inner awareness could guide them as well.
For some mysterious reason, early in the evolution of the Biodesign Class, I felt “guided” to attend a local “A-A” meeting. I was probably motivated by the fact that in the mutual process of exploring the deeper levels of our personhood, it was not uncommon for students to share the horrors of living with an alcoholic parent.
It might have been naïve or rude of me, but I did ask a member of the local AA chapter if I could attend. He thought it was a great idea.
It was not without doubt and trepidation that I entered the meeting. The first, and most shocking discovery was the wide range of members in attendance. The year was 1974 and somehow, I had not imagined that medical doctors, lawyers, CPAs, nurses, teachers, school administrators, clergy members, leaders of the community, even a few housewives would be there.
After the meeting began, the intensely high level of honesty and disclosure in their conversations shocked me. After reading about the program later, it became clear that some (if not all) of the members were dealing with a potentially self-destructive disease and allowing vague, deceitful or disingenuous comments could not be tolerated.
I also learned about “Uncle Bill,” who nearly died of alcoholism before he began the self-discovery process that led to the current program known as Alcoholics Anonymous.
I located a copy of the A-A “Big Book” co-authored by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson. It was immediately clear that the heart of the program involved trying to master the “12-Step-Program.”
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
I an absolutely stunning example of what one person can do for the world, as of 9-1-2013, A.A. has a presence in over 170 countries, with an estimated total of 114,070 groups and more than 2 million members. And perhaps most extraordinary, the entire operation is operated by volunteers. These are people who have experienced the horrors of alcoholism and, more importantly, the joy of on-going recovery. This joy is frequently enhanced as they share with and guide others. This is tremendously important because recovery and rehab programs can be overwhelmingly expensive, often costing thousands of dollars per week.
Understandably, a program doing so much good work cannot do so without conflict. Secular-humanist psychologists go to great lengths to discredit AA. They often rail against the possibility that a mythical god could be involved in a person’s recovery. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the alcoholics can cure themselves and that A-A is “cult-like” organization that is dangerous and counter-productive.
In an interesting twist of fate, “step 12” on the AA list is a perfect corollary to John Muir’s life and work:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Muir’s daily life typically involved “spiritual awakenings” and he dedicated his life to encouraging others to go to the mountains and be “reborn.”
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain
This is a wonderfully interconnected triad that gifted naturalist Annie Dillard would regard as a “bright snarl.” Without a Creator there would be no “astronomy” or evolution. Without evolution the universe would be oxymoronically stuck in the first nanosecond, before time began, with no cosmos. And with no cosmos, humans would not have evolved with the ability to contemplate the works of the Creator.
Two gifted writers have properly suggested that “Mystery” reigns supreme and only egoism and arrogance motivate scientists and theologians to assume that they have all relevant answers. Robert Jastro, former director of the National Aeronautics And Space Administration (“Until The Sun Dies,” and “God and the Astronomers”) acknowledged the limitations of “The Big Bang Theory:”
“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Jastro was a self-described agnostic, yet he used candor and levity to describe the inadequacy of his own thought process.
In an equally terse self-analysis, Fr. Robert Capon, “Hunting The Divine Fox stated:”
“Theology therefore is fun. The inveterate temptation to make something earnest out of it must be steadfastly resisted. We were told quite plainly that unless we became as little children, we could not enter the kingdom of heaven, and nowhere more than in theology do we need to take this message to heart.”
The “Big Bang,” the origin of life and the eventual evolution of human beings remain three of the great, unsolved mysteries of planet Earth. Anthropologist Loren Eiseley concluded his work, The Immense Journey with:
“Rather, I would say that if “dead” matter has reared up this curious landscape of fiddling crickets, song sparrows and wondering men, it must be plain even to the most devoted materialist that the matter of which he speaks contains amazing, if not dreadful powers, and may not impossibly be, as Hardy has suggested, ‘but one mask of many worn by the Great Face behind.’”
In his own words, “The Autobiography of Charles Darwin:”
“When thus reflecting [‘on the universe, including man’] I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man’ and I deserve to be called a Theist.”
Shame on Richard Dawkins, and other science atheists who deny, obfuscate, pervert or “cherry pick” Darwin’s words. They have sabotaged Darwin’s message to make it conform their soulless world, and what a cold, heartless world it must be. If one of Dawkins’ minions decides to initiate a nuclear war, he could shrug it of as a “random” result of Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” It is staggering to know that an overwhelming number of high school, college/university biology teachers agree with Dawkins.
Secular scientists are quick to point out that human beings and chimpanzees share 97% of the same DNA. While the fossil evidence suggests that humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor over 5 million years ago, the obvious fact remains that chimps are chimps and humans evolved into the most extraordinary animals on the planet. Evidently that 3% increase led to the world’s greatest artists, poets, sages, musicians and, ironically, even scientists like Dawkins.
Much of Darwin’s theory can be proven in the laboratory and in the field. For 1000s of years, people have used “selective breeding” and “mass selection” as a means to develop more productive and useful plants and animals. However, this does not mean that his theory is complete and flawless. After a discussion with Alfred Wallace, he acknowledged that he failed to explain human “gifts” such as mathematical, musical and artistic genius. These qualities are almost totally absent in chimpanzees.
All of the genetic changes Darwin observed were minor and only rendered the offspring a small advantage of survival. Loren Eiseley quipped; the human brain grew “like a mushroom in the night.” This has equipped man with an indeterminate period of time of mental growth. There is no known biological cause for the rapid expansion of the two human cerebral hemispheres.
Lamarck’s theory of use and disuse is of no value.
The Leakey family, Louis, Mary and Richard verified the increased cranial capacity of modern man, but they did not demonstrate the compelling factor.
Stephen Jay Gould was a big fan of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” however he failed to show why or how the human embryo (in evolutionary time) suddenly gained the ability to generate a triple-sized brain.
Gould was also a fan of “punctuated equilibrium” which may explain the “fits and spurts of evolution,” but he could not explain the evolution of the human brain.
Pathetically, human geneticist, Richard Dawkins, recently inferred that the human brain evolved out of “nothing.”
The latest wrinkle in the evolution battle is the emerging consideration of “Intelligent Design.” Although the theory suggests that evolution is not a random, chance-born process, it does not describe a “designated designer.” Therefore, “Intelligent Design” does not explain the emergence of the human brain.
The fact of the matter is, by virtue of the laws of chance and probability, the human brain should never have evolved and so it is not surprising that its origin remains a mystery. Considering the universe, with its boggling time/space dimensions, life on Earth is supremely enigmatic. The Earth has been evolving for 4.5 billion years and yielded millions of plant and animal species before man arrived. Darwinian evolution does not need or explain “man.” If all these living forms survived by “instinct,” what need is there for consciousness, values, or free will? If “modern man” evolved 5 million years ago, we have lived on Earth 0.01% of its history and yet arrogant practitioners of Scientism claim that Mystery is irrelevant and that they have all the necessary answers.
Meanwhile, there is a moral and ethical disease that is pandemic in our society and had afflicted scientists as well. It is called “situational ethics” and scientists use it frequently. Lacking any evidence for the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of the first cell or the tripling of the human brain, secular scientists either ignore or obfuscate the issues or make up their own ethics and pander them as truth.
Photo credit: Toscano: Darwin’s Ape. Available Amazon.com