For those who like to plan ahead before setting out on an enterprise of any kind, who enjoy having an itinerary prepared by a travel agent prior to embarking on a journey from home, let us take a few moments to establish some ground rules for the discussion in these pages, to define some terms, and generally to share a sense of each other. We need not go into too much detail but just enough to provide an overview of more or less where we are headed and how we expect to get there. Those who are not procedurally minded, and who prefer to take an uncharted course may want to choose to skip this foreword altogether and jump ahead into the text itself.
First, we should make it quite clear that this is a discussion. We are going to be asking ourselves about the nature of the universe and of our reality, seeking to understand something about who and what we are, and this is an area in which there really are no experts. If we do not understand the answers ourselves, and we can do that only by reaching them ourselves, they are not truly answers at all. So each of us has an equal stake in this effort, and our contribution to it must reflect that. Certainly, the focus of activity in any book seems to be on the writer while the reader simply absorbs, nodding in agreement or mumbling in disgust. But that is nowhere near a satisfactory description of what we are undertaking, and if that is all that occurs, then we both lose. While it might seem that I am in a controlling position, able to determine what goes into this inquiry and the direction it will take, that is no more than appearance. Indeed, as I develop and pursue the thoughts and ideas included here, there will be many others which come to my mind but which will be excluded from the text for lack of space or time, or because I cannot find a way to put them into words. But nonetheless will I ruminate upon them as we go along, and I urge you to do the same with such points or concepts as may surface in your mind from time to time. When a thought arises which is not touched upon in the discussion, lay down the book, and follow its development in your own mind. Some in the sciences as well as other fields tell us today that our thoughts exist forever, and that there are ways we can retrieve or play back our own and those of others. If this is true, then possibly your tangential wanderings during this reading will intersect mine, to the eventual benefit of us both. In any case, I consider this effort a discussion, a mutual undertaking, not a lecture, and I hope that you will do so as well.
Secondly, I would emphasize that this is not intended to be a dispassionate inquiry. Our interest is not academic but intensely personal. We have joined forces here, in effect, to find out if there is more to our lives than just meeting the mortgage payments, and there is nothing sterile about that concern. If our discussion does not somehow change the image we see in the mirror, give to it more meaning and purpose, then we have gone nowhere. The underlying subject matter of this book is fraught with emotion, and we would probably not be together today had it not already brought us to tears more than once. We are here precisely because we have, each in his own way, come to realize that the question of our true nature is an important one, something we need to understand, and is, or at least may be, susceptible to our own efforts at answering it. And our emotions will be present - anxiety, even anger, and hopefully some relief. That's all okay and to be expected. But the key is to express the emotions as they surface, and then to inquire of ourselves why a particular step found sensitive toes, and finally to move onward. In a discussion of this kind, there is no place for stone-walling, repression of feelings, or refusal to participate. By its nature, it will be personal; by ours, it can be productive.
Also, in an inquiry in which we are all at once experts and novices, there are bound to be some internal contradictions and inconsistencies. To the extent possible, of course, we will stay on one track and follow it, but inevitably some of what may be said at one point will seem (even be) inconsistent with what comes forth at another. That is in the nature of a discussion, and this is a discussion of the nature of reality seen as I see it now and put into those terms and constructions which seem now best to express that view. I reserve the right to change my mind, and you should do the same. We are seeking truth, and while the path from here to there is a straight one, we have done and will continue to do a lot of stumbling and wandering about in the traversing of it.
As to our itinerary, we will be looking in the first chapters at the way in which we seem to see and to react to our lives and at how that affects or determines our understanding of reality. We will focus briefly on the so-called scientific method for the development of knowledge in which many of us have been tutored, and will try to determine the extent to which that is a useful process for this inquiry and whether or not we need feel bound by it. From our conclusion on these and related questions we will seek to establish a workable and practical understanding of the nature of reality. From that point, we will in succeeding chapters attempt to integrate our findings with the lessons of the New Testament.
The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are an inheritance shared by us all, especially in the West, but they are one with which many of us have serious difficulties of various kinds. Together, we will try to iron out some of those problem areas. By the time we are done here, I hope we will have opened up for each of us a whole new way of looking at ourselves and at the world around us such that we will quite literally be different persons as we close the book from those we were at its start. This is, to be sure, a tall order, but it is one which we can meet, if both of us genuinely wish it.
Now, let's look at some of the terms and constructions likely to arise and try to come to a more or less acceptable understanding of what we will mean by them. We have already mentioned “universe” and ”reality”. And no two may be so difficult and mercurial as these. Generally speaking, I will use the former to mean Creation; that is, the universe (or Universe) is Creation as seen by the Creator and therefore may (probably does) include elements or aspects of which we are totally unaware. The universe then is what is created. Reality, on the other hand, we might take to mean the universe as we see it: that which we perceive within us and outside us, including the act of perception itself. From the Creator's point of view, the universe and reality may be, likely are, one and the same, but from ours there might be a difference. Perhaps we can put it this way: reality represents to us what we can, or think we can, grasp of the universe; it is our definition or description of the universe. In this way, our conception of the nature of reality may change as we change, but the universe remains constant. Unfortunately, we will almost certainly use the terms interchangeably now and again, especially in those areas where we are not aware of the difference between them - that is, in those areas where our reality seems to us to be the universe as the Creator sees it. So long as we are aware of the risk, it should pose no real danger; but we must both remain alert to it.
Also, we are going to use the word “see” (in its various forms, including the idea of vision) in a way that is intended to go beyond the function of the physical eyes. We do that often in ordinary speech (as in, I see what you mean) but here we will be intending something beyond even that. The kind of vision and seeing we will be referring to is the process by which knowledge or understanding is reached without any apparent rational explanation. Some may prefer to call this intuitive knowledge as distinct from acquired knowledge. The important point is that it seems just to happen to us, as when an idea leaps to our awareness out of nowhere and prompts us to exclaim ”Eureka!” We cannot explain the process by which it came to us, neither can we often describe exactly what it is we see.
This kind of knowledge is non-transferable, transcending as it does the senses and the mechanics which process them. Many, if not all, religious and philosophical disciplines talk of this phenomenon. If you have experienced it, it is a part of your reality, and you recognize its essential nature. If you have not experienced it, it will seem a meaningless idea; but it will, nonetheless, happen to you sooner or later, if you are prepared to let it happen.
”Truth” (with an upper case T) and “God” are terms which should be self-explanatory even though none of us knows exactly what either means. In this discussion, I will generally use the word God when I mean the Creator in His role as that (intending thereby neither to affirm nor deny that He may have other roles); those who prefer to use labels such as ”the creative force” or “infinite intelligence”, or some other, are, of course, free to do so, and I urge you to read those where you see the word God.
As to Truth, it is that which we seek and which, from time to time, we see. The way we describe what we see will vary with each of us, depending upon our background, education, and perspective, and, to the extent that we are honest, we will then be imparting truth (with a t in the lower case). Thus, truth (our description of what we have seen) can be different for each of us, but Truth (that which we have seen) is the same for all of us. It is, then, the descriptions which vary; there are many truths, one Truth. Also, we can say about Truth that once seen, it is easily and quickly recognized. While another's true explanation or description of it may seem laborious, complicated, and hard to grasp, the Truth itself is none of that. And in the sense that God as the Creator is too the Truth of Creation, we may use this term to mean that aspect of Him.
About the use of these and other words, it is important that, as in any communication between persons, we try to be as consistent and clear about their meaning as possible. On the other hand, much forward movement can be lost if we allow ourselves to get hung up over the selection of a particular word in preference to another in making a point. Clearly, we do not want to be sloppy, and we must make every effort to avoid that. But it is equally true that what we are dealing with here are ideas, ideas which some of us may never have really wrestled with before, and if we are to succeed at all we must feel free to let ourselves formulate them in any way we can. Once again, this is a discussion. It is not intended to be a final product but rather a starting off point for continued searching, a catalyst to generate more questions suggesting alternative answers prompting additional questions.
Finally, in these times it is relevant to explain that the use of the masculine gender generally, in pronouns for the proper name God, and in terms like man in the sense of mankind, is a grammatical option imposed by the nature and limitations of the English language. The alternative construction he/she and its like seem unnecessarily complicated, and so I have chosen not to use them. None of us would be on this search for Truth, and certainly we would not be comfortable in it, if we carried with us as accompanying baggage the kind of prejudices and misconceptions which chauvinism of any variety generates. Jealous, belligerent, and blind attachment or devotion to any idea, concept, or circumstance clearly has no place in an inquiry of this kind, and to the extent that I know myself I bring none of it here.
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