My apologies for the long delay between the last post and this one.
I’ve had my plate full – and happily so – with a little thing called the Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment. Long story short, I’m building myself another day job. Anyhow, nothing more now about my own attempts at Coincidence Management ™; here’s another entry in the “Narrow Path” series.
A French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, once wrote: “Oh, will you not give me, who has suffered so much, the life of adventure found in children’s books?”
How many of us get into magic or other spiritual quests for this reason? And is there, or is there not, an element of guilt in it? Is there nothing more in it than escapism? (Why the hell did T. H. Lawrence do it?)
Are our poets at fault? Was Plato right to warn against poetry? (But he advocated geometry, the measurement of the world, instead. I think I’ve got hold of the wrong dichotomy here.)
I have discussed before the Declaration of War against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality, and Eoghan Ballard’s cogent exposition of the imperialism that underlies white middle-class America’s embrace of … well, spiritual gaudiness generally.
But is there a way to do all this innocently – without running roughshod over other people’s spiritual treasures?
How did the Cao Dai Church do it in Vietnam? (If you click on the link provided, the first picture above the cut is of an edifice that reminds me, just a little bit, of the Missionary-Independent Spiritualist Church I visited yesterday. You can’t google it yet, but it exists due to the hard work and conviction of my main mentor, Catherine Yronwode.)
Anyhow, check out the Wikipedia link to the PBS story about Cao Dai, which is as deliberately syncretistic as Unitarian Universalism now is. After the communist takeover of North Vietnam, séances were forbidden to the hierarchy; now, this was a central practice of the Church. However, a Vietnamese-American author describes the current situation this way: “We don’t see the necessity to have a séance anymore because we have direct from the Supreme Being to people by returning inside to our heart to see the Supreme Being in there, to see God in there.”
I see a comparison to the Roman destruction of the second Temple at Jerusalem in 70 CE; just as that resulted in the development of rabbinic Judaism and the relocation of spiritual activity to the synagogues of the world, the shutdown of centralized spiritual communication via the Cao Dai hierarchy spreads, rather than dissipates, spiritual power. I mean to say that spiritual power is democratized rather than dissipated!
Hasn’t the same thing happened in the African-American Diaspora? Isn’t hoodoo, conjure, the Pentecostal movement, the Holiness movement – in which the manifestation of the holy spirit bears noticeable similarities to the highly prized spirit possession of African religions – and the black church – isn’t it all the American Cao Dai?
Another question suggests itself: why have not those people subject to religious imperialism contented themselves with be mild and tepid religious observances of the West? Why have they developed nothing similar? (And no fair comparing Buddhist monasteries to the bland tedium of a second-rate Protestant sermon; there is no comparison with an intense bout of, say, Vipassana meditation.) Let us not underestimate the value of amazement and splendor in spiritual life.
But this still leaves unanswered the question of spiritual imperialism. I’m not callous enough to say that there is no such thing; but the white folks’ story is much more complicated than some conjures or medicine people are prepared to believe. I think the next thing to investigate is something I’ve only heard of, but have not yet been convinced of: “bourgeois emptiness;” the so-called “hunger for meaning.” Maybe I’m not as high on Maslow’s ladder I thought I was. Or maybe it’s just my conviction that I already have so many of the things money can’t buy.