August 2021 Dialogue

Read Ernie Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Ernie, Part IV

Hey Annette, The Germans have a phrase, "Saulus Paulus," to describe sudden, major transformational moments like the one Saul had on the road to Damascus. Sounds like you've experienced something like that. The heart is a deep place.

In what way do you think your understanding of non-duality will take part, if at all, in this revelation of yours?

Could you send me your favorite link to a Robert Barron video? My boyhood days were deeply immersed in Catholicism as I come from French-Canadian stock and we went to church every week. I went to CCD [Catholic education]. My biological father was fanatical.

My response:

Thank you for taking to my news such a receptive way. I’m impressed. Funny you mention the Damascus experience, because I just picked up a biography of Paul by the Anglican scholar N.T. Wright. For some reason I’m very drawn to Paul, and I think his scripture holds a lot of the keys to questions I still have. But also, like Paul, my conversion is really a much slower process than it may appear. I’m just now barely cracking open doors to whatever is in store for me, cautiously and even suspiciously at times. But at this point I can sense that there’s no turning back, and that it’s all much bigger than I am.

Bishop Barron covers so much ground, and he’s very plugged into modern culture, so he argues with the New Atheists, talks to the trendy podcasters, reviews movies, and also covers all the serious questions about Catholicism. So whatever floats your boat, you could probably find a video of him talking about. I’ll just link to this one on
the Meaning of the Gospel…I just relistened to it this morning and thought it was pretty representative of him. He did a wonderful series on Catholicism for PBS about ten years ago.

I have to ask if you have read Thomas Merton. There is something so compelling about his story ("The Seven Storey Mountain"), and being a wordsmith yourself, you would be drawn to his incredible writing. I think I included a quote from him in an earlier email, but this whole passage just struck me so much: "It is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint. For God is greatly magnified and marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one. There are no two saints alike: but all of them are like God, like Him in a different and special way. In fact, if Adam had never fallen, the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of men showing forth His glories and perfections in an astonishing new way, and each one shining with his own particular sanctity, a sanctity destined for him from all eternity as the most complete and unimaginable supernatural perfection of his human personality.”

It’s this kind of Christian/Catholic thinking that made me want to leave non-duality behind. I have a job to do here. I have a purpose, and it involves my responsibility to Divine Will, and to fulfilling something. I felt like the whole time I was a non-dualist, I was just off the hook for everything. I mean, I always considered myself to be a good person, and I had the qualifications for Vedanta, but within those bounds, I could indulge myself with self-reliance and willfulness all I wanted. And it just wasn’t working.

So to answer your question, no, I don’t think that my non-dual understanding will play a part in this new calling. It’s not like I disavow the reality of it, it’s just that I don’t think it’s relevant. If I felt that entering more fully into the
sturm und drang of human life were going to be intolerably painful, then I could see how holding onto my non-dual “escape hatch” would be useful. But it’s really the opposite of that — I don’t think I can know the Glory fully without risking that pain of life, of taking it all seriously. I think it’s the taking my personal self as real that creates access to a goodness or a love that has no bounds, and so keeps growing in me as I grow to know it.

I’m really glad I didn’t get some kind of permanent end of suffering or something that is promised in non-duality, because then I would have spent a whole human life missing out on the point of it. If it’s just for the ending of suffering, why have humans in the first place? But this, as Merton described, was God’s plan all along.

Frankly I don’t know where to put non-duality in my brain storage. At the moment it feels like a really long relationship that wasn’t satisfying, but I stuck with it as long as I could. And finally I realized that’s not what a relationship is supposed to feel like, and there had to be something better.

Thanks for listening to me blab.

Ernie's response:

I knew about Merton, but haven't read his stuff. I did watch a video of him and the revelation he had in the middle of the street in that city that is often quoted. He had an open door with the Beats (e.g. Kerouac) I believe, so that's how I first heard of him.

And I will check out Episcopus Barron on a quiet day.

My response:

Well, this Catholicism thing seems to be happening. I’ll be starting RCIA next month (sounds like basically CCD), and I’ve been attending Mass every week. Today I looked over some journals from two years ago, when I was thick in Vedanta and getting very depressed, and I found such a hopelessness and pointlessness in my spiritual heart. I went on meds at that time, it was so bad. So I dumped the Vedanta, but it has taken me all this time to adopt a God-based spirituality, which has brought a sense of hope and purpose and meaning that I’ve really never had in any spiritual home. I had some obstacles to clear, about Jesus and things I found hard to believe, but that’s pretty easy to do, once you put your mind to it. And in my case, and at 70 years of age, it seemed essential.

This story from the gospel of John came up in last week’s readings — when many of Jesus’ followers were abandoning him, and he turned to his apostles and said, “Are you going to leave me, too?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom would we go?” That makes me very emotional!

I was so shocked to see how despairing Vedanta had left me in 2019. I mean, really seeing all the spiritual trials and life’s difficulties as pointless and endless, forever! Just going around in circles and ending up back at “nothing is really happening” and other such empty ideas. Nothing to inspire, nothing to give hope, nothing to give meaning. I love that in Christianity, life is about perfecting people, making us find ways to become more morally courageous (I think of the wonderful movie "Man for All Seasons," as an example), spiritually mature, even if these things don’t bring any material gain or what we might usually think of as pleasure. It’s about becoming the person that God created us to be. I can’t remember who said this — St. Iraneus maybe — “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.” These are the kinds of ideas that lift me up out of despair that is so easy to succumb to in human existence.