Thursday, March 14, 2013

Concluding Circle of Life

I finished James David Audlin's Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders.  I have three items.

1.  On page 336, Audlin states:

"The generations to follow us will be unlike us, the Two-Minded Generation...They will not say one religion or ancestry is better than another.  They will not blindly insist on one or another way of doing things.  Rather, they will live fully as traditional people, in complete harmony with each other and all living beings."

On page 338, Audlin draws from a variety of religious traditions:

"The Talmud of Judaism teaches (in Yalkut Shim'oni): 'G-d formed Adam of dust from all over the world: yellow clay and white sand, black loam and red soil, so that the Earth can declare to no race or color of humanity that they do not belong here, that this soil is not their home.'  In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter the disciple of Jesus declares, 'I truly know that G-d pays no attention to your face [i.e., race], but in every nation those who fear G-d and do what is right are acceptable to G-d.'  The Prophet Muhammad, on whom let there be peace, is remembered for standing in respect one day as a funeral went by; according to the Hadith, when his disciples asked if he realized the deceased was a Jew, he replied, 'Was he not a living spirit?'  Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-[Gita], 'Many are the paths of humanity, but they all in the end come to me.'  The Creator created us all, and not only humans, but all living things."

I know how a number of conservative Christian apologists would respond to what Audlin is saying.  "Audlin says that one religion is not better than another, but does not he presume that his beliefs and way of doing things are better than others?"  "Audlin is quoting selectively from the religious traditions that he mentions, cherry-picking the parts that accord with his own ideology.  There are exclusivist elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which Audlin ignores."  I've never actually heard these words being used to critique Audlin, but I have heard or read similar words being used to critique religious pluralism.

I think that the critiques are fair, but I don't dismiss religious pluralism.  The reason is that I believe that a number of religions have wisdom and appear to advocate similar principles of spirituality, or getting in touch with the sacred.  It's important to remember that the religions have differences among each other, too, and so they're not always saying the same thing.  But there also seem to be commonalities, and I enjoyed reading Audlin because he traveled between religious traditions in seeking to communicate profound spiritual points.

2.  In reading this book, I absorbed some things and not others.  At some times, I was passively reading words and was not paying too much attention to what I was reading.  At other times, however, I was deeply absorbing what I was reading, and the pages went by quickly.  This book reminded me of Madeleine L'Engle's Crosswicks Journals and Genesis Trilogy in that it had a lot of spiritual meanderings, and that's a big reason that I enjoyed it.  On some occasions, I needed to reread a section because I felt that I had glossed over it and missed something profound.  This was true of a story that Audlin tells on pages 98-99.

In this story, there is a hunter whom many women wanted to marry, and whom many grandmothers wanted their granddaughters to marry, and yet the hunter was not interested in marrying anyone.  Rather, he was preoccupied with hunting.  One day, when he was out hunting in an unfamiliar area, he saw a beautiful woman.  He gave her some deer and they had a meal together, and he also looked at what she was weaving.  They spent the night together.  The next morning, however, the hunter looked beside him and saw in the bed a dry and shrunken body, which seemed to have been dead for a long time.  The hunter took the weaving still and returned to his tribe, wiser and sadder than he was before.  He was now seeing in all women the mystery of the woman whom he had met, and he was sensitized to the transitory nature of life.  He settled down with a woman and had a family, but he still cried whenever he "took out a bit of old, unfinished weaving".

I liked this story because of its bittersweet ending, but also on account of the man encountering a woman who lived years ago.  I enjoy time-travel stories.  Moreover, this story reminded me of an episode of The Dead Zone from Season 1, "Shaman", in which Johnny interacts with a Native American from the past in an attempt to save his tribe from a meteor (I draw from wikipedia's language here).

3.  I talked yesterday about Audlin's discussion of Native American eschatology.  I should note that Audlin has a series, Seven Novels of the Last Days, some of which are about eschatology.  I may read them sometime.

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