William James in his classic work The Varieties of Religious Experience argues that the religious life and vision exclusively pursued tends to make a person eccentric and exceptional. This quote resonates with me on so many levels. On more than one occasion I’ve had people comment “You’re an odd person.” So I suppose I’ve got the eccentric part down if not necessarily the exceptional. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m spending at least some part of every day in self reflection, endeavoring to understand myself better, so that perhaps I can understand others better as well as the world around me.
It was Aristotle who observed that self understanding is helpful in obtaining wisdom. Our world certainly seems to be short on wisdom these days, so it can’t hurt to pursue it with vigor. So add my name to those who are reading, thinking, contemplating this life and our place in it. I can imagine for some of you who follow what I muse about on most days to have questions, I understand that at times my thoughts, at least as they end up on the page, can be challenging, maybe even discouraging to some. But my intent is to hold up a mirror to myself and by doing so reflect back to all of us an image of ourselves. And to extend the analogy, looking in the mirror isn’t always pleasant, but it is necessary if I hope to measure what others are seeing, and certainly if I hope to improve upon what I’m revealing to the world and what the world collectively is revealing about us. Consistency can only be evaluated by comparison to the changes around us.
I read somewhere that the temperature of well water is amazingly consistent. It does not change. If fact according to freedrinkingwater.com, “The temperature of water from wells is remarkably constant. In wells that are from 30 to 60 feet deep, water temperature is 2° to 3°F above the annual mean temperature of the locality. Water decreases in temperature about 1°F for each 64 feet of depth to the well.” But if we drink from a well in the summer the water will seem to us cool, and if in the winter it will seem warm. What is different is not the objective temperature of the water but the subjective environment in which we drink.
I feel like this illustrates many of our experiences in life. We judge objective truths based on our subjective realities. When I talk about culture in my classes, I often use the analogy of a river. And as a river has both an upstream and downstream expression, it is important to understand where we stand along the river if we expect to understand how we are being influenced by it. But here’s the thing. Everyone is simultaneously upstream and downstream, unless they are at the source or the end of the river.
The source of the river should be objective truth and all of us are impacted by our relationship to the source. Our perspective changes the further we are removed from the source. So then it is impossible to obtain the primal perspective without a sense of oneness with the source. Rambling a bit here in my musings, thanks for following along. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus did say it is impossible to step in the same river twice, so maybe this is why I’m having a bit of trouble adequately expressing this thought? Or maybe it is just that I’m in the midst of massive shifts in perspective?
Perspective is an interesting phenomenon. C.S. Lewis says, “What one sees, depends on where they stand.” What depends on Where. Our understanding and clarity of belief and values is dependent upon our current subjective circumstance. This is a challenge when we find ourselves in moments of distress or challenge. Just as many along the river will find themselves in seasons of flood or draught. The river can either be a tragic disaster, or a glorious resource, depending on where we find ourselves in relation to the source of the river.
I wonder how this impacts my knowledge and relationship to God. For me, I don’t ever seriously entertain denying His existence. That isn’t the question I find myself preoccupied with these days. But the question I’m consistently asking is “Where am I in relationship to Him?” And perhaps that is the better question in times of challenge and adversity. How would my perspective change, if instead of lamenting “Where are you God?” I was more discerning in the inquiry “Where are you Scot?”