THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY: WHO ARE WE, AFTER ALL?

By Paul M. Lewis

Whom do we identify with? That’s a basic question all of us may want to spend some time thinking about. It might seem at first to be of relatively small importance, too abstract to even mean anything in the real world. But it turns out the answer to it influences a lot about how we live our everyday lives.

Let me start off with an example from my own life. When I was young, I thought of myself as a good Catholic boy. At least, that is what I strove to be, possibly more so even than many of my classmates at St. Patrick’s Grammar School (yes, in those days, they were thought of as schools where grammar was taught, meaning not just how best to construct a sentence, but more widely, how to comport oneself in the world, how to construct a life). At St. Patrick’s, there were good boys and bad boys, the latter (mostly Italian—no one said Italian-Americans in those days) being those who flaunted the rules and wore their hair in a certain style the nuns most definitely disapproved of called a DA, or duck’s ass. They were the rebels, the tough guys, the non-conformists, the group I didn’t belong to (as much as I may have secretly wanted to be one of them).

Instead, I hung out with those who were less outwardly rebellious. But even these boys swore, spent a lot of time talking about sex, and generally didn’t take religion all that seriously. I tried to identify with them, but somehow it never came off very naturally for me. Inwardly, I disapproved of (could it be said that I feared?) their language, their topics of conversation, and their general disinterest in religious teachings. I suppose some might have thought I was a bit of a pill. The one saving grace I probably had was that, even at a young age, I instinctively knew enough about how to get along with people for them to accept me as one of their own. But, unbeknownst to them, I would often sneak off and kneel in prayer in the darkened interior of St. Patrick’s Church, or attend Friday night Benediction (a traditional Catholic devotional service). No wonder then, at age fourteen, I decided to enter a monastery.

Even there, however, I found boys who did not quite live up to my standards, which were very high! Yet people still appeared to like me because I was by nature a peacemaker and someone who tried to see the best in others, while openly criticizing no one. A big part of my not criticizing others stemmed from the awful realization that I knew I was far from the idealized self I imagined I should be. How could I blame others for not being somehow better, when the very faults I recognized in them I also saw all too clearly in myself—in fact, far worse ones? There were things the Church said not to do which I did, and many others which, while I might not have done them, I earnestly wanted to. And if I wanted it so much, wasn’t that tantamount to actually doing it? In short, the standards I believed the Church established for me, and those that I freely embraced on my own, were mountains so high I could never hope to fully scale them. In that sense, I consistently set up my own failure.

And so, my principal focus of identification in those years was with an idealized Church, one that I believed would allow me to lead a life I felt I was supposed to lead. It was a kind of umbilical cord that provided an association, a connection with an entity that I felt to be greater than myself, and which at the same time gave me a kind of scaffolding upon which to construct a life that I otherwise felt to be constantly on the verge of collapsing disastrously out of all control.

It worked, too, at least for a while, even if not completely, because I often felt I failed at the high standards I had created for myself. As such, and in keeping with Catholic teaching, I thought of myself as a sinner. Still, the superstructure did provide me with a consistent foundation upon which I endeavored to build something. Until, of course, it didn’t. The first problem with what might be called the “idealized external” is that it is, by definition, outside of oneself; and the second is that it, too, eventually shows itself to be less than perfect. Even I could see that the luster had begun to tarnish, that the Church was showing a darker, seedier, more squalid side. After all, it was made up of people, and people are far from perfect. Aside from being sometimes good and helpful and even loving, they—we, all of us—are also more than capable of selfishness, cruelty, prejudice, cynicism, arrogance, egotism, deceitfulness, anger, even violence. And the list could, of course, go on.

What I am saying is that any organization, any human group, no matter how good its intentions (in particular, its initial intentions, until time and usage begin to break them down), is so flawed we ought to think long and hard about fully identifying with it. And not just religious organizations; other groups as well could certainly be included, such as political parties, philanthropies, environmental groups, sports teams, cultural associations, as well as organizations affiliated with labor, the military etc.

In fact, the core of the problem comes exactly down to the question of the depth of one’s identification with the external. My childhood relationship with the Catholic Church, and with the particular monastic tradition I belonged to, was so all engulfing as to obscure everything else. I took it to be all there was, and when I eventually began to realize that life was writ far larger than that, more complex, messier, dirtier, more intent, more insistent on its own needs than anything I had previously thought possible, then I saw that this first object of my identification could no longer contain everything that I was.

But what could? That is the very question I have struggled with for many years. It is a question all of us must face. What I have always looked for is a wider, a deeper, more all-inclusive connectivity. Ultimately, I came to believe that this was my own relationship with my self; or, I should say, with my Self, the capitalized “s” indicative of some part of my being (and not just mine, of course, but everyone’s), beyond mere ego identity, that both includes all the things of everyday concern and, at the same time, goes beyond that.

I take great comfort in a particular passage from one of my favorite scriptures, the Bhagavad-Gita. If ever there has been a more insightful statement on identification, in the largest sense of that term, essentially on who we are, then I don’t know what it might be. Speaking of union with Brahma (the Creative Principle of the Godhead), Krishna says: “He so vowed, so blended, sees the Life-Soul resident in all things living, and all living things in the Life-Soul contained…Who dwell in all that lives and cleaves to Me in all, if a man sees everywhere—taught by his own similitude—one Life, one Essence, in the evil and the good, hold him a yogi, yea, well perfected!”

Taught be our own similitude—that’s a very interesting phrase. The language may sound a bit obscure, but put more simply, what it means is that we see in others exactly what is already within us, namely both evil and good; actually, more to the point, some messy, chaotic intermingling of the two. That is what human beings look like, at least on the outside. Within, who knows? Perhaps something bigger, more perfect, something that connects with all of life, and at the same time transcends it. Maybe this is what it means to realize who we truly are. And, if so, that’s what I want to identify with.

THE CONVERSATION I HEARD ONE DAY ON THE GYM FLOOR, OR WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BELIEVE?

By Paul

I try to go to my gym at least four or five times a week.  The idea is to keep the blood flowing through my 69 year old veins, so as to avoid another heart attack (I’ve had two).  So far, it seems to be working pretty well.

The particular gym I go to is part of a local Jewish Community Center.  I’ve heard that about half of the people who attend it are Jews, and the other half are not.  So, when I overhear things while working out, I’m not normally particularly aware of who is saying what.  However, not long ago, I did hear a conversation between two middle-aged women, both of whom, it soon became obvious, were Jewish.  One of the women was telling the other that she and her family did not attend temple anymore.  The other woman said she didn’t either, but both quickly assured each other that it was still important for them and their children to identify as Jewish, and in some sense to follow the traditions.

Now, I pretty much keep to myself while on the gym floor, and prefer not to stand around chatting.  After all, that’s not why I’m there.  So, even if I’d known these women, which I did not, I probably wouldn’t have said anything.  Besides, I’m not Jewish, so in that sense what they were saying was none of my business.

Or was it?  I began thinking later on what it meant to have a religious identity.  These women, and presumably their spouses and children, clearly identified as Jewish, but they went on to say that they didn’t particularly believe in God anymore.  That was interesting, I thought, because I think of myself as having no religion at all, and yet I do believe in God.

Once upon a time, in what now seems like the far distant past, I strongly identified as Roman Catholic.  Indeed, specifically Irish Catholic, if that makes sense.   For me at the time, what this meant was strict adherence to religious dogma, trust and reliance on the hierarchical model of the Church, and a strong belief in and reliance on some of the more devotional aspects of the Church, things like saying the rosary, prayer to the Blessed Mother and the saints, and attendance at such services as Benediction (the reverential viewing of the Eucharist, accompanied by set prayers and hymns, all in Latin at the time).  In fact, these devotional practices somehow took on for me an even greater importance than the Mass itself or the sacraments.  And I think that was not so unusual among old-fashioned Irish-Catholics.

What happened between then and now is a long story.  But it involves a lot of anger and disillusionment on my part, disenchantment at what I came to see as the profoundly uncharitable nature of the Church, and recognition of its doctrinaire rigidity that brings so much unnecessary pain and suffering on so many people.

In the course of throwing off religion, I became for a while what I thought of as an atheist, although it soon became clear to me that this did not suit me very well.  I still, by the way, admire atheists, inasmuch as for me at least they represent the utter no-nonsense view of life as it is lived in the here and now.  I came to see that many atheists appeared to be more moral than some religious people, certainly than many dogmatists and religious fanatics, and that they were willing to face the ultimate questions with admirable honesty, courage, and directness.  I don’t mean to say that I wish I were an atheist.  If I wanted to, I would simply be one.  Still, as I have said, I admired them, and still do.

Does it seem surprising that I – a professed “believer” – would admire someone who professes not to believe?  I hope not, because doubt, and wonder, and an awe that, as it were, strikes one dumb, are basic to what I see as a belief in a Divine Spirit.  And lots of atheist, I think, look at the world with awe and wonder, and yes, probably sometimes with doubt too.  After all – or am I imagining it? – doubt is not limited only to religious believers.  Absolute sureness, with never a moment’s hesitancy or uncertainty, is the property only of total blind faith.  But in this sense, atheists too “believe in” their atheism and perhaps – like many of us – occasionally have their own doubts about what they believe.  Faith does not eschew our need to question.

Still, it was interesting that the two middle-aged ladies in my gym continued to very much consider themselves Jewish, even though, as they averred, they had no faith in God.  Of course, much has to do with people thinking of being Jewish not merely, or solely, as a religion, but as an ethnicity, as being part of “a tribe,” as it were.  For me, too, I still think of myself as Irish-American, since believing or not believing should in principle have little to do with that identity. I still have an interest in Irish history, literature, mythology, and even, fleetingly, the Irish language.  And yet, I have to admit to myself that something has changed for me, that in some sense I no longer feel quite as Irish as I once did.  And I wonder if my gym partners, too, somehow were not protesting just a little too much about still feeling perfectly Jewish either.

I’ve come to my own conclusions about spirituality, and am convinced that it does not necessarily have anything whatsoever to do with religion.  Religion is about organization and laws and rules, things of the earth, human things.  Sometimes, too often in fact, it’s also about control of people, about power and authority.  And in emphasizing these things, religion all too often leaves out that awe and wonder, that inability to define what is ultimately indefinable and unutterable that to me identifies what I think of as true spirituality.

But the wonder about religion, and about identity, has not left me.  Nor the wonder about atheism either, because as I see it atheists are believers in the sanctity of the manifest world, while adherents of spirituality are believers in what is unmanifest.  However, I do not see the two as all that different, because at least for me the Unknowable Unmanifest permeates, pervades, and informs all the known manifestation of the natural world.

So, why talk about all this in the first place then?  Why wonder about religion, atheism, identity, or even spirituality?  There may be as many answers to that as there are people who think about such things.  My take on it is that there has to be some connection, some balance, between whatever your belief may be (and remember, I list atheism as a kind of belief) and how a person acts in the world.  It’s no more enough to only sit in the forest and meditate than it is to go to a church, or simply to deny the existence of a God.  In every case, we have bodies, we live in a physical world, and it is our duty to make the most of that.  Making the most of it, in fact, means fulfilling our own potential as much as possible, and treating others, indeed treating the whole world (I mean the physical planet) respectfully, even reverentially.  I hope no one misunderstands me:  nobody has to be – or should ever be – anyone’s doormat.  Neither should we go looking for trouble, and we ought instead to go about creating as little trouble in the world as possible.

I have the sense that behavior is more important than belief.  Life is not easy for anyone.  Who does not have trials and difficulties to face, everything from sickness and physical suffering to loss of those whom we love?  Who among us can say there are no personal battles to fight, no wars to engage in, many of which are waged right within our own psyches?  I often think of the Bhagavad-Gita in this regard, the great Hindu scripture, wherein at the beginning the blind king, Dhritarashtra, asks his seer to describe to him the scene on “the scared plain” before them.  On one level at least, the Bhagavad-Gita is the story of a battle between two warring royal families.  But metaphorically it describes the battles we all have before us on “the sacred plain” of our lives.  No one, however fortunate we may think that person, escapes these battles.   The Jewish ladies in the gym were talking about one tiny skirmish, but each of us has his own challenges, her own grief, great or small, at varying times in life.

So, belief may be a good thing, as long as we do not use it as a cudgel to beat other people up with.  And, as I said, who does not believe in something, even in his right and ability not to believe?

As I see it, whatever it is you may believe, in the end there are a few essentials that should always be kept in mind:  don’t behave badly, treat others with compassion and respect, and in whatever way possible do everything you can to leave this beautiful planet of ours a better place than you found it.  What more can be asked of us?  What more, in fact, can any of us do?

 

FEELING ANTSY

By Paul

I don’t mean to mislead you by the title. I’m not feeling antsy in the sense that I’m restless, or eager to move on to something new and different.  I’m not fidgety, or edgy, or restive, or jittery, but I am ill-at-ease.  And in this case, it’s all about ants!

I guess I ought to be used to it by now. It’s a reoccurring problem here in Southern California.  Every August, during those dreaded dog-days of summer, we have to deal with ant attacks.  They often start in the bathroom, but in the end they invariably migrate out into the kitchen, which is where they really want to be.  Sometimes they make a stop along the way in the pantry, too, but as often as not they pass completely by that larder of plenty, and head straight for what they’re really after, namely, water!  Yes, it’s water that draws them, even when I, for one, cannot see any water standing around.  Sometimes it’s enough that you’ve left a damp sponge on the rim of the sink, and they’re at it, like flies on honey.  As a matter of fact, I think I’ll drop that tired old cliché entirely from my vocabulary from this moment forward, and instead substitute the far more apt, and more immediately useful, phrase: “like ants to water!” 

The cause of it all is the heat.  And not only the heat, but the dryness.  These past couple of weeks have seen temperatures rise to the upper 80’s, and even into the low 90’s, with no particular cooling trend in the offing in anything like the immediate future.  And of course, no rain, ever.  Not that this is something unexpected here in California at this time of year, nor – it would seem – for many in other parts of the country, where they have been suffering far more than we.  But even the Romans had to deal with something similar every year, which in fact is where we get the name dog-days, as you may already know.  They associated these miserable, oppressive, sultry days of boiling, broiling, stifling heat with the so-called Dog Star, Sirius.  It’s the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which itself means Greater Dog.  And for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it appears most prominently from July to early September, making all living things on this part of the planet as wretchedly uncomfortable as possible. 

Still, I’m not yet ready to attempt the principal cure of the Romans, which they tried repeatedly with, one has to think, unfailing lack of success, namely, the sacrifice of a brown dog to mollify and appease the sparkling magnificence of the dreaded Dog Star.  Truth be told, I don’t even really like killing the ants.  And there’s the rub, or at least part of it.  I look at these creatures, tiny as they are, and I think that each one is an almost incredibly perfect being in its own right.  It amazes me that these minuscule insects are so astonishingly well made, each with its own kind of life force that generates movement and intention (of a sort anyway, maybe more chemical in this case, rather than volitional, as we might think of it), but with a head and eyes and six legs that allow it to cover every conceivable kind of terrain, including up walls and across ceilings, with antennae waving which they use to communicate mysterious messages to others of their kind, far removed from all human understanding.

In addition, on a somewhat different, though I hope related note, I happen to have been reading recently about the Jain religion of India.  I have learned, for example, that Mahavira, the last in the line of the great Jain gurus (a contemporary of the Lord Buddha, by the way), taught utter non-violence toward every creature on the planet.  It goes without saying, of course, that not only do observant Jains refrain from eating animals, nor do they wear animal products of any kind, but the most serious among their practicing monks walk about with gauze draped over the mouth and the nose, so as avoid any inadvertent breathing in of insect or other life forms.  They can also be seen walking slowly along with small, soft brooms in their hands, gently brushing the path in front of them, lest unsuspecting, though nonetheless deadly, trampling feet may bring an untimely end to the life of a tiny creature in their way.  They do not even eat fruit which has to be cut from trees, but wait instead for it to fall to the ground, rather than taking knife to a living branch.  The ultimate goal of such ne plus ultra non-violence, just as with the Buddhists, is the complete annihilation of the ego, and thus the cessation of the cycle of endless births and deaths and rebirths, so as to avoid the pain (and the potential destruction) involved with being born yet one more time in yet one more body.  For to be in a body, almost by definition, is to murder other living beings. 

Thus, I stand before you here today, accused, judged, condemned.  Un-Jain-like, indeed un-Buddha-like in the extreme, I am a killer.  I have destroyed hundreds, perhaps thousands of ants, living creatures with rights of their own, merely in the last three days.  How far is that, I ask myself, from walking along with a broom, sweeping the path in front of me, lest I inadvertently step on one of these, the least of God’s creatures?  I am not even a very good vegetarian, truth be told.  I used to be better, when I was at least “ovo-lacto,” that is, when I ate only eggs and milk products for protein.  These days, however, I kill fish, as well (or at least I participate in the killing by buying it).  Some odd doctor or other convinced me years ago that I was eating too many eggs and too much cheese, and thus contributing to higher levels of cholesterol in my body, which itself then contributed to at least two heart attacks.  So, I decided to sacrifice fish – brown dog like? – on the altar of what I call my health.  Just as I have made the decision to kill ants, as many as possible, in the name of living in a home free of the intrusion of creatures constantly creeping about over sponges and glasses and whatever other dish or implement we may have inadvertently been left about on the counter near the sink. 

And so, I admit to you my imperfections, and I accept that, if the Jains and the Buddhists and the Hindus are right, I will have to reincarnate yet once again, having sadly failed at that one killing allowed even to the greatest of the sages, that is, of the ego itself.  For now though, it seems that I must muddle along in my murderous ways.  I will do it, though, as much as I am able to, without anger, without malice, and with whatever honoring in my heart I can muster for the perfection of other living beings, all the while taking heart from the words of the Lord Krishna himself to Arjuna, his reluctant warrior of a disciple, in that great book of war and killing, the Bhagavad Gita:

Thou grievest where no grief should be!  Thou speakest words lacking in wisdom, for the wise in heart mourn not for those that live, nor those that die.  Nor I, nor thou, nor any one of these ever was not, nor ever will not be, forever and forever afterwards…Life cannot slay. Life is not slain!  Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never; never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams!  Birthless and deathless and changeless the spirit forever; and Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it may seem!

 

ENTROPY AND THE LOSS OF CHILDHOOD FAITH

By Paul

 Church buildings, just as religions themselves, come and go.  That is the nature of reality, as we normally perceive it.  All entities in the physical world have their beginning, their growth into eventual maturity, and their inevitable decline and demise.  This is in accord with the basic principle which physicists call entropy.  Here is what Steven Hawking has to say about it (although his main topic in this case happens to be black holes, in the process he gives a very good brief explanation of what is meant by entropy): 

“The nondecreasing behavior of a black hole’s area was very reminiscent of the behavior of a physical quantity called entropy, which measures the degree of disorder of a system.  It is a matter of common experience that disorder will tend to increase if things are left to themselves.  (One has only to stop making repairs around the house to see that!)  One can create order out of disorder (for example one can paint the house), but that requires expenditure of effort or energy and so decreases the amount of ordered energy available.   (The Illustrated Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking, Bantam Books, November 1996, page 130)

He goes on to explain that this is in exact accord with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that entropy in an isolated system always increases.  We see this basic principle in all things, even in the stars, which too have a birth, a period of growth and maturation, and an eventual dissolution.  Entropy, then, is essentially a measure of disorder, and when energy ceases to flow and to hold things together, we say that the organism in question dies.    

So, if even stars (and, of course, people) die, then why not church buildings?  Now, you may be wondering at this point what the reason is for my going on so insistently about church structures.  The answer is because I happened to have read recently in an article in a local newspaper that the church across the street from where I grew up in upstate New York is about to be torn down.  Normally, I readily admit, such news would hardly rise to any level of great importance.  However, for me it does feel big, indeed, inasmuch as this particular church, both the building itself and what it came to represent for me (it was called St. Patrick’s), played such a major role throughout my childhood. 

St.Patrick’s, first of all, was an enormous structure made of red brick.  It loomed huge over the entire town of some 17,000 souls, who at the time clustered around.  And yes, I understand that much of what we once, as children, thought to be vast in size and scope, upon later inspection in adult life will appear far smaller, less grandiose, almost pathetically less imposing.  But I assure you that this is not the case in regard to St. Patrick’s.  I returned many years later as an adult who had traveled the world and had seen something of both the great medieval cathedrals of Europe and the imposing ancient temples of Asia, and this building, St. Patrick’s, still felt as though it towered over all other structures in its domain.  It dominated the neighborhood and the city itself in a way that made everything else feel and somehow even appear to be less.    

St. Patrick’s was built well over a century ago, originally constructed to mimic the great basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, France, minus the final tower.  For reasons I have never been able to discover, that crowning glory of the building was not added onto St. Patrick’s, due – I always supposed anyway – to lack of funds.  The church, after all, was created as a result of the accumulated donations of hundreds, if not thousands, of poor working Irish in the neighborhood, people like my grandparents and their parents, who labored for a pittance in local factories.  As such, there was only so much money to go around.  Still, in the end they were able to create an imposing structure, splendid, even awesome in its impact.  And this, after all, was the very point.  Just as with any other building constructed for such purposes, St. Patrick’s was made to inspire, to move, to uplift, and to remind people that there was more to life than the drudgery of life’s everyday concerns.  The idea was, literally, to make people look up upon entry, so that they would also feel uplifted. 

Whether or not this architectural feature always worked as it was designed to remains of course a matter of opinion.  It both did and did not for me, I know.  On the one hand, I spent many a morning serving mass in this great church, warm and comforted against the snowy blasts outside.  Inside, according to the old Tridentine rite, the priest celebrated the liturgy in Latin while facing the altar, his back to the people, as we altar boys responded in a Latin learned by rote. At the time, I understood nothing of what I said, although somehow, even now sixty years later, I can still recall almost every word.  Old grandmothers sat in the back, fingering their beads, as the priest spoke majestic words from afar.  Neither these grandmothers, nor virtually anyone else in the entire congregation (the church was filled on Sundays for six different masses) understood what the priest was saying.  But it seemed to matter very little to them in that world of my youth.  People believed that the words were both magical and sacred, and that was enough. 

Those days, to be sure, are now long gone, both for me and for just about everyone else.  Yes, there are a few holdouts who still insist on the mass in its ancient form, and the ultra conservative Pope Benedict XVI has even issued a so-called motu proprio, essentially a kind of executive order, called Summorum Pontificum, which allows bishops to grant permission for the ancient liturgy to still be used in certain circumstances.  But essentially the old mass is dead today, just as, I would argue, the Church itself is also dying.

And why not?  The principle of entropy works here every bit as much as it does with any other organism (organism, that is, in its most general sense, as some kind of an organized whole with interdependent parts). St.Patrick’s, too, is about to die.  Due to ever dwindling attendance, it was closed by the diocese of Albany late in the year 2011, and the local bishop and the city appear to be about to sell it to something called “The Price Chopper.”  Being unfamiliar with this company, I make the assumption that it may be a sort of so-called big box store, which sells otherwise useless items to people who essentially do not need them.  Or, I suppose it could be a grocery store, and living bodies, highly organized organisms that we are, do after all need the input of continued food (i.e. energy) in order to maintain our organized structure.  One way or another, it will replace what was at least intended to be a temple to Spirit with a temple to the body. 

My own brother died on Easter Sunday, 2011, and his funeral mass (non-Tridentine) was celebrated in St. Patrick’s Church.  It was the first time I had been inside the structure in many decades, but it looked exactly as I remembered it.  I imagine that his funeral was one of the last ever to be held there.  From my own admittedly self-centered point of view, I experienced all of it as a sad, if oddly fitting, final goodbye to childhood faith and family, and an ironic, if unwilling, welcome to the entropy that we, all of us, must ourselves one day face. 

I actually take some solace, if you can believe it, in the First Law of Thermodynamics.  It states that energy can be changed from one form to another, but it can neither be created nor destroyed. St.Patrick’s, for better or for worse a building meant to inspire and to uplift, will soon be ripped apart, brick by brick, and in its place a structure put up whose purpose is ostensibly to chop prices.  Is this an equal trade of energy?  I will leave that for you to decide.  The Catholic Church has done as much harm as it has done good in the world, and many (myself included) would say it has done far more of the former than of the latter.  At least the Price Chopper, it can be said, is honest and utterly unpretentious in its self-presentation, and does not purport to be more than it is.

There is no escaping entropy’s final verdict.  We can only put it off for so long.  And so St.Patrick’s too will go, whether I like it or not, replaced by a mere emporium.  That, too, will one day crumble and return to the chaos from which it originated.  When I was a child, the priests of St. Patrick’s used to tell us: remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.  They could have said the same thing about churches, and church buildings, too.  But energy – another form of Spirit? – that’s something else altogether.  It lives on in its essence, permanent, unmoving, unaffected by the laws of physical change.  It has no parts into which to disintegrate, has no ordered organization to fall into disuse or disrepair. 

That’s where I want to live.  Here is one of one of my favorite passages, from Chapter XII of the Bhagavad-Gita (Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation, Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, California, 1975, page 111).  The Lord Krishna (an incarnation of the Divine Spirit) is speaking to his disciple, Arjuna:  Whoever serve Me – as I show Myself – constantly true, in full devotion fixed, those hold I very holy.  But who serve, worshiping Me, The One, The Invisible, The Unrevealed, Unnamed, Unthinkable, Uttermost, All-pervading, Highest, Sure – who thus adore Me, mastering their senses, of one set mind to all, glad in all good, these blessèd souls come unto Me.” 

Now those, in my view anyway, are words you can really build your house on, and no entropy, however powerful, will in the end shake its unmovable foundations.