Mar 19, 2009

Good questions

I enjoy Oprah's Soul Series radio podcasts and have just listened to her interview with actor Rainn Wilson.

At one point during the interview, Rainn gave a good list of "life's big questions", and I feel like trying to answer them:

What does your soul look like? I love Oprah's answer in the interview: "My soul […] looks like everybody I see." As for me, I find I am stumped by the question. It leads me to another question: Why does my soul have to look like anything? But you know, Oprah's answer is a good one because it echoes the truth that the world that we experience is a reflection of who we are. But the soul is beyond our everyday lives and our bodies; it is who we are when we aren't humans, inhabiting these bodies. It is what keeps us alive, even when mind and body fail us. It is the spiritual equivalent of a heart beat. And that has lead me to my answer: My soul looks like a breath.

What do you miss most about being five years old? During the interview it seemed the question was really about what do you miss about being a child, which was a bit of a relief for me because I can't remember what it was like to be five years old. Rainn's answer was that he missed not being jaded. I don't feel jaded, though I can have moments where I feel like saying "whatever" in the same world-weary tone the young use. But that isn't how I really feel about the world. I can still be awestruck by the world around me. Take today for instance: I was fascinated by a moth resting on the wall of my building and blew on it to see if it would react. My breath made one of its wings ripple a bit. I wasn't expecting that. A moment of absolute wonder. So I don't miss having the mind-set of a child. What I do miss about being that age is being small enough to crawl into someone's lap and be held there. I miss sitting on someone's lap.

If you could ask God one question, what would it be? Oprah responded with "Why?" as in "Why are we here?" which turned out to be Rainn's last Big Question, so I'll answer that first:

Why are we here? Rainn's faith (baha'i) states that we are here to be of service but also to prepare for our spiritual life. The analogy was just as a baby in a womb is growing limbs and eyes and ears in order to function in this physical world, we are growing in spiritual ways in order to function as spirit. We are learning compassion and service and reverence for life. I have read many similar answers to that question so I wouldn't ask it, myself. Simply put, we're here to experience God and God's creation up close and personal through the material.

So back to that one question I'd ask God: I'd ask in what way I am like God. I would ask that question because I think the answer would teach me about the nature of God - and therefore my own nature. In fact, I think I will ask that question, because I am very curious about the answer.

Later in the interview, Oprah asked a thought-provoking question of her own: What do you want your life to represent? In your encounters with everyone, what do you want the message of your life to be? Shortened down to:

What is the message of your life? Oh, wow… Who thinks of that? Rainn hadn't but part of his answer was that he wants to have a great time and be living in God's will at the same time. He wanted to merge having a kick-ass time with the music turned up loud while serving God which is also the same as serving humanity. Oprah was thrilled by his answer. Her own goal this year is to be more in that space where God is, but while still having a good time. Their answers suggest to me that they think goofing around, laughing, cranking up the stereo and generally having fun seems counter to being spiritual. I, however, do not believe that one is opposite of the other. Quite the opposite: Delight and joy and living in the moment are spiritual qualities. When you are completely happy, you are in divine space. Granted, people like Eckhart Tolle come across as very calm and even-tempered and unruffled and many of us associate that kind of demeanor with spirituality. We expect being spiritual to be like living in a monastery: Quiet, contemplative, calm, low-key and patient. But this actually runs a bit counter to Rainn's earlier statement about a tenet of the baha'i faith: Creativity is akin to prayer. Art is communicating with God. I would imagine so is the appreciation of art.

Speaking of which, that reminds me of an experience I had in a Norwegian church during a Christmas mass at about age 10 (and I may have told this story before): A choir of 7th graders sang two very beautiful hymns very beautifully. When they were done, the congregation let out a collective sigh of appreciation. I lifted my hands, ready to applaud but noticed that no one else did. The minister got up on his pulpit and said, "Wasn't that absolutely lovely?" and the congregation answered with a heartfelt "Yes!" The minister then said, "I'd give them a round of applause if we weren't in God's house." At those words, a door shut inside me. If God cannot allow one group of people to show their genuine appreciation of another group of people, then I have no use for that god. That shut door led me to search for other spiritual truths and other spiritualities, and several years later, I learned that God would indeed want us to show appreciation for each other; joy is a divine emotion. Later, the Norwegian church loosened up and now allows applause, but I no longer attend.

Towards the very end of the interview, Oprah told of the time she was asked the question, "What do you know for sure?" She was so stumped by it, it stayed on her mind for days, and was the direct reason her column in her magazine "O" has that question as its title. I once thought about that question. It morphed into "Why do I know what I know?" at one point. I decided that what my head was full of opinions, impressions and personal experience. That the so-called facts in my head, placed there by family and school, were second-hand information. I actually had no way of verifying the truth of them (not even 2 plus 2 equalling 4. In math, you can get it equal 5, if you want). History, language, math, physics, politics - only with deep study of these subjects could I hope to verify what I know about them, and until that happens, I have no choice but to lump my entire education in with the other fuzzies of opinions, experiences and impressions. So what do I know? I know that God answers my prayers, because it keeps happening. I know my family loves me because I have evidence of that. And that's what I know. Those two things. Everything else is subject to change based on the next sound-bite that comes my way.

Finally, a last question from the podcast: What absolutely delights you? Ideally, I think this question should be answered with a very long list. The best thing to experience is delight in many things, big and small, every day. My current delights are offering (after a long absence) a new post on this blog, the podcast I just listened to, been inspired by and have quoted from, and the sun brightening the walls of my living room.




Rainn Wilson was interviewed in connection with his new website for discussing the Big Questions: SoulPancake.com/

2 comments:

Sparkling Red said...

Churches have done a lot to spoil God's reputation.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Sadly, yes. I notice it in Norway where the Lutheran Evangelical church has been the only exposure most Norwegians have had to religion, creating an awful lot of self-proclaimed atheists. Interestingly, the annual New Age fair is an extremely popular event.

I realize I didn't answer one question in my article above, but that's because I don't have an answer. Must think. :-)