Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spiritual Motion

Have I ever mentioned that I am an avid reader of science fiction? I just love the stuff. In fact, that is how I first learned about the Baha'i Faith. At a science fiction convention. But that's a story for another time (told in a book that is awaiting a publisher, hint hint). I have always figured that Baha'is and science fiction fans are pretty much the only two groups of people that necessarily look to the future, by virtue of their beliefs.

But that's not what I want to talk about right now.

No, today I was thinking about science. The hard stuff, not the fiction, fluff or otherwise. In particular, I was thinking about the laws of physics, and specifically the laws of motion, as described by Newton.

You see, I am of the belief that everything, and I mean everything, in physical creation can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth. I've written a lot about this, and I figure there is still a lot more to be written. Oh, and not just by me. I love to read what others write about this, too. But for myself, I was wondering about Newton and his laws of motion.

The 1st law of motion, in case you have forgotten is: Any change in speed requires a force. Or, in simple terms, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, while an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Perhaps that's why it is so difficult for some of us to get out of bed in the morning.

What are the spiritual implications of this? Well, to me, this refers to the state of our spirit, as well as the state of civilization.

On an individual level, it is a reminder of the reality that my tendancy is to just keep on doing whatever it is that I happen to be doing at any given moment. Like most of us, I presume, I would rather stay in a job that doesn't bother me too much than get up and look for a new one that I would enjoy more. I would far prefer to stay in a house that doesn't annoy me too much than spend the energy looking for a new one.

Similarly, I would rather keep writing what I am writing here, a form of motion, than try and develop a new voice to write something in a different vein.

Whatever I happen to be doing at any given moment, I would prefer to keep on doing it.

I think that society is similar. We, as a group, would far prefer to keep on doing what we are doing, rather than spending the time and energy looking for a better way of doing things. Or better things to do.

The problem, however, is that most of what we are doing is not particularly good. Many of our habits need to be changed if we want to fluorish, as opposed to just survive. In fact, some of our habits have to change if we want to even survive.

This phenomenon of just coasting can actually lead to some serious issues. The Guardian refers to "the apathy and lethargy that paralyze (our) spiritual faculties", which shows that it is an issue we need to contend with. The reason, he points out in this statement, that we don't get up and look for something better is that we either don't care enough about it, apathy, or are just too lazy to do anything about it, lethargy. And this is not good. We cannot be passive players in the course of our life; we need to be active, conscious participants in choosing our direction.

Of course, as everyone knows, this is not easy. It takes energy, either through effort of will, or some possibly catastrophic event in our life.

This brings us to the 2nd law of motion: The force needed to accelerate an object equals the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration. In other words, the more we want to move, the more energy is needed. Coffee, for many of us, provides that acceleration needed to get us out of bed in the morning.

For me, as an individual, that can mean either an event in my life providing that energy, or effort of will. An event that really changed the course of my life was the birth of my son. That provided so much spiritual energy that my life has really never been the same. Regularly reading the Writings every morning and evening also provides that much needed spiritual energy to keep my spirit moving, without which the friction of life would slow me down until I ceased moving altogether. Instead of a large concentrated force all at once, it is a little bit every day.

Some historic examples of this are Saint Paul, with his transformational encounter with the Spirit of God on the road to Damascus, or Saint Francis and his encounter with the leper. In the Baha'i tradition, we also have the story of Badi and his meetings with Baha'u'llah. In those memorable meetings "the spirit of might and power was breathed" into him.

Society is the same. We regularly need that spiritual infusion given to us by the Messengers of God, which is the only force massive enough to move an entire civilization. If we look back through history, we can easily see that the rise of each major civilization coincides with the advent of a Manifestation of God, whether it is Greek society being influenced by the Jewish scholars, or Rome with Jesus, or even the European renaissance being inspired by Islam through the wealth of information brought back by the merchants of the age.

Time and again we can see the result of this massive force, the spiritual energies released by the Manifestation of God, acting upon the world.

But then we encounter the unfortunate reality of the 3rd law of motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. (Or, I have to get up and make the coffee in the morning before I can drink it.)

As it says in the Qur'an, "O the misery of men! No Messenger cometh unto them but they laugh Him to scorn." Unfortunately, we often do a lot more than just laugh at Them. I don't need to go into that here, for we all know it.

I do wonder, however, why we, as a people, would do this. As you can imagine, Baha'u'llah tells us, right there in the Kitab-i-Iqan.
"Consider how men for generations have been blindly imitating their fathers... Such men... become so veiled that without the least question, they pronounce the Manifestation of God an infidel, and sentence Him to death."

It is through this blind imitation, when we allow ourselves to be carried forward in a dangerous direction by this simple application of inertia. It is a sad outcome of allowing that 1st law of motion to go unchecked.

But how does this quote and the 3rd law of motion apply to me as an individual? I think of it as a warning. First of all, if I want to make a change in my life, I should expect resistance. This resistance can either come from within, through that nefarious enemy of mine, lethargy, or from without, through the scorn or distractions imposed upon me by society. Video games and movies are an excellent example of the latter. (Science fictions, novels, on the other hand, don't really count. Do they?)

Secondly, it is yet another warning to live consciously, which, as you know, is a theme that comes up over and over again.

For example, right now, my lethargy tells me to keep sitting here in a coffee shop drinking tea, while my stomach is that force prompting me to cease writing, move on towards home and get dinner.

Tummy 1, lethargy 0. Tummy wins.

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