We are among the first peoples in human history who do not broadly inherit religious identity as a given, a matter of kin and tribe, like hair color and hometown. But the very fluidity of this—the possibility of choice that arises, the ability to craft and discern one’s own spiritual bearings—is not leading to the decline of spiritual life but its revival. It is changing us, collectively. It is even renewing religion, and our cultural encounter with religion, in counter-intuitive ways. I meet scientists who speak of a religiosity without spirituality—a reverence for the place of ritual in human life, and the value of human community, without a need for something supernaturally transcendent. There is something called the New Humanism, which is in dialogue about moral imagination and ethical passions across boundaries of belief and non-belief.
But I apprehend— with a knowledge that is as much visceral as cognitive— that God is love. That somehow the possibility of care that can transform us— love muscular and resilient— is an echo of a reality behind reality, embedded in the creative force that gives us life.
― Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living
We could argue that the ancient Egyptians were positively constrained by their hieroglyphic system of writing to express abstract qualities in a crudely physical way. Against such an interpretation, it is important to bear in mind that language is not simply the vehicle of expression of a given mentality, it actually is that mentality giving expression to itself. The very structures of language are the articulation of the mentality. We should be wary of thinking that the ancient Egyptian mind was “really” like ours, but was constrained by the hieroglyphic script. Rather, the hieroglyphic script was the medium most appropriate for the articulation of the ancient Egyptian mentality. Far from being crude, it reflected richly symbolic modes of conceiving and relating to both the physical and the psychic spheres of existence. It has already become apparent that these two spheres were not experienced as separated from each other—as we today tend to experience them. It is now necessary to go further, and seriously consider the idea that psychic attributes were indeed experienced as “situated” in various parts of the body. The pictorial character of the hieroglyphic form of writing made possible a quite effortless translation of this experience into the written word. For the hieroglyphic script, because it was pictorial, had not yet created a division between concrete and abstract, between “outer” and “inner.” And it had not done so just because the ancient Egyptian mentality had not done so.
― Jeremy Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred
In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.
I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men (sic) create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.
― W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
When I felt I was dying, these past few days, things were no longer anthropomorphic. The telephone, which looks like a sort of upturned black snake, was merely a telephone. Every thing was just a thing. The couch, which looked like a big square face drawn by Rubens, with buttons on the cover like wicked little eyes, was just a couch, rather shabby but nothing more. At such a time things don’t matter to you; you don’t bathe everything in your presence, like an amoeba. Things become innocent because you draw away from them; experience becomes virginal, as it was for the first man when he saw the valleys and the plains. You feel you are set in a tidy world: that is a door and it behaves like a door, that is white and behaves like white. What heaven: the symbolism of meanings loses all meaning. You see objects which are comforting because they are quite free. But suddenly you are flung into a new form of suffering because, when you come to miss the meaning of, say, a stool, reality suddenly becomes terrifying. Everything becomes monstrous, unattainable.
― Federico Fellini, Fellini On Fellini
Retombante Stool, Public Domain Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.
What it’s going to be, I don’t know.
Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
And maybe knowing isn’t the point.
Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.
Outside, as she passed the kitchen window, she watched her breath appear before her in the lamplight and then it died away in moist clouds. This was the smoke of her internal fire and her soul. Every breath was a letter to the world. These she mailed into the cold air leaning back with pursed lips to send it upward.
― Paulette Jiles, Enemy Women
Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see someone as he or she really is here and now, and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection, that you can truly love them. Otherwise, it is not the person that you love but the idea that you have formed of this person, or this person as the object of your desire, not as he or she is in themselves.
The music was more than music- at least what we are used to hearing. The music was feeling itself. The sound connected instantly with something deep and joyous. Those powerful moments of true knowledge that we have to paper over with daily life. The music tapped the back of our terrors, too. Things we’d lived through and didn’t want to ever repeat. Shredded imaginings, unadmitted longings, fear and also surprisingly pleasures. No, we can’t live at that pitch. But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware. And this realization was in the music, somehow, or in the way Shamengwa played it. ― Louise Erdrich, The Plague of Doves