Archive for August, 2012

Henry David Thoreau: Nature Mystic

August 31, 2012 - 4:00 pm 30 Comments

Henry David Thoreau: Nature Mystic:

The Rev.Peter E. Lanzillotta,Ph.D.


Thoreau once remarked, “My life is like a stroll along the beach.” But any of us who are acquainted with his life would see it as a collage of diverse landscapes. Importantly, each scene is firmly rooted in nature, and each holding to natural principles and laws as their guiding wisdom. Thoreau’s life portrays a wisdom or a way of knowing that is simple and visceral-a way that transcends intellectual analysis and all of its complexities, to reveal basic human truths and their deeper realities.

Most of us know Henry David Thoreau as the American author, naturalist, and social iconoclast. His most popular work, Walden, has been required reading in high schools everywhere, and most of the people familiar with American history and culture connect him to the glory years of American Literature before and during the Civil War. But there is a pity in that: to call him only a writer of personal and earthly adventures is to limit him unmercifully. He was a man of letters to be sure, but even more, he was a man of the soil and the soul. (my future book or workbook will be called: “Tilling the Soul” combining gardening advice with insights from Luther Burbank, John Muir, Ansel Adams and other nature mystics and teachers…. )

Thoreau’s words and observations about nature and life are timeless. When he speaks to us about natural beauty, social and material excesses, the responsibilities of conscience and civic duty, these themes are as vital a concern today as there were in the 1800″s in New England, probably more so.

He asks us to live deliberately, in a purposeful, beneficial relationship to the whole of life. He recommends that we acknowledge the essential unity and majesty of the Creation, while also contemplating carefully each day’s involvement and requirements of living out what one believes is right and true.


He believed that “the heavens were only as high as our aspirations,” and that “There is just as much beauty visible to us in a landscape or in people as we are prepared to appreciate, and not a grain more. We cannot see anything [wholly or completely] until we are possessed with the true idea of it, [that is], until we take it into our heads and [into our hearts],

and then we can hardly see anything else.”

Henry David Thoreau was the second son and the third child of a pencil maker who made his mark by quickly setting his priorities for his life- standards and ethical positions that soon separated him from the mainstream of life in and around the town of Concord. Thoreau attended Harvard, studied for the ministry, but found no direction there, and after graduating without distinction, he knew that he would never fit in socially. He became determined to find or to forge an alternative lifestyle that matched his keen and often ascerbic view of society. Consequently, he developed a disdain for the social niceties of his day, and looked with suspicion on anyone who flaunted their status or rank. Deliberately, he chose to distance himself from the absorbing, soul emptying worlds of business and politics. After a short stint as a school teacher, this nonconforming clergyman went on to invent a better pencil, and after that, Thoreau chose a more introspective life of writing and nature studies. (By the way, he only made ONE superior pencil, and then stopped… he did not want to be burdened or trapped by the worlds of industry, sullied by commerce, and “the profit motive.”

How then, did he support himself??? He earned his necessary moneys through his remarkable gift for measurement and math. He was soon known as the best surveyor and land assessor in his county. Never lacking for work, Thoreau was fortunate enough to choose when he would work or to work only when his personal need required it. This skill of his brought him some fame and renown.


His skill was this: He could sight measure 16 rods (880 yards) better than a whole crew with chains and sticks. When it came to building his cabin at Walden, he dug a six foot by seven foot root cellar in two hours, and quickly mastered almost any manual skill he attempted to learn!

Even so, our liberal religious movement does not remember him for his manual skills or his mathematical abilities. The Thoreau we know and admire was a man of principle who consciously chose not to conform to his contemporary society and all of its shallow codes and contradictory rules. Instead, he opted for spending his time in the company of Concord’s flora and wildlife.

Now, many would regard Thoreau as a loner, a misfit, and a voluntary outcast from society. The truth is that Thoreau loved people as individuals, but held a great dislike for what social conventions and societal expectations can and often do to a person. So it was, that he chose the refreshing non-threatening environs of natural solitude over the melee and confusion, the demands and the exhaustion, we call modern society. For him, the hollow superficialities and the teeming social prejudices he saw operating all around him, were almost too much to bear. Unless the social interaction was meaningful, such as to share in the quest for beauty or truth or unless the meeting was for the more noble purpose of addressing a moral wrong or social injustice of his day such as slavery, Thoreau had been known to prefer the company of the oaks and the owls as his nightly companions.

As a young man, Thoreau decided to remain unattached to either people or things. He made no room in his life for the usual routines or indulgences. He neither drank liquor, coffee nor did he ever smoke. He did not eat meat, and he showed little interest in women. He rarely attended church, refused to pay taxes, and never voted.

Frankly, he sounds a little dull!


Even though his only marriage was to his ideals, his impact on  our American society has been a noble and unmistakable one.

Thoreau gave little thought to money, and saw the pursuit of wealth as being the cause of many of his society’s woes. He felt that wealth is better measured by free time than money. He once remarked, “A man’s solitude is not measured by the distance of miles one lives from his neighbor, essentially [one’s wealth and ones] solitude is determined by what they think about when they are alone.” When he was asked if his lifestyle was lonesome, he responded, “How could I be alone? Is not our planet part of the whole Milky Way?” Clearly, Thoreau was a man who picked his friends sparingly and his social appearances carefully. As for the trappings and pleasures of his contemporary society, he states, “Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of modern life are not only dispensable, but are [or act as] a positive hindrance to the elevation of humanity.”

R.W.Emerson, Thoreau’s early tutor and the principal person who encouraged Thoreau’s literary career, observed this about his young friend: “[Henry] declined to give up on his larger ambitions of knowledge and action for some small craft or a mere profession. He aimed at a much higher calling-the art of living well.” “No truer American ever lived,” Emerson continues,

“He chose to keep his solitary freedoms over the disappointment of family and friends. He struggled to secure his own independence, and expected everyone to do the same, as their duty. Never idle or indulgent, with hardy work habits, he secured his life, his freedom, and his personal conscience.”

We admire Thoreau, even to this day, for this model of American “rugged individualism,” and for his absolute allegiance to the truth. His actions were intentional, and far-reaching in their scope and in their influence over time and culture.


For example, his views on civil disobedience deeply and dramatically influenced the thoughts and actions of both Gandhi and M.L. King. His was a deliberate lifestyle, one that was freely chosen and held to be self responsible. In Emerson’s words, Thoreau lived out a life that could be called “sincerity itself.” (Stories: Thoreau in Jail, visited by Emerson; The Bhagavad Gita, not the Bible, and Gandhi carried Civil Disobedience with him and M.L. King read it during his time in the Birmingham jail… )

His value for religious liberalism today extends and deepens to his ability to perceive the Divine in nature as an intricate, indispensable part of the whole. He could be called the first spirit-filled environmentalist. In the Oriental philosophies such as Zen, the aim of the spiritual life is to live “at one” with the natural world around you. Henry David Thoreau did this better than any other American. When I read about his complete love and respect for the woods and streams, and his devotion to what the earth and the animals can teach us, I was enthralled to think that anyone could attain such empathy, such a “connected-ness” to it all. (Story: Sprained ankle-Arnica flowers) He knew the rivers around Concord like his own blood, the leaves were his skin, and the rocks and ridges were his bones and sinews. Concord’s wood was an entire world in one place, and his intimacy with nature blessed him and the journal entries he left for us preserved the beauty, poetry and inspiration that is the soul of life on earth in a way that no dry natural science texts could never convey.

In many ways, Thoreau can be seen as the American or as the Unitarian Saint Francis; someone who was dedicated to revealing the spiritual realities that can be found in nature and in life. In that regard, he was wary of what the contemporary media or the press had to offer. …


He advised, “Read not the Times, instead learn to read the eternities.” [For the news distresses or oppresses us] Blessed are those who don’t read newspapers, for they will read nature, and through nature, will find God.” …

To me, Henry David Thoreau deserves the title of being one of our liberal saints, or as the tradition recalls them, one of the New England divines, who formulated our religious principles and beliefs. While he would reject such a label, I feel that it would suit him well. The attitudes he expressed through his writings are important to the development of a Unitarian social conscience, and his desire to create an approach that is willing to witness, and then to risk, for the sake of justice-making serves as our shining example. Although he thought little of churches and even less of the clergy of his day, his life’s work acts as a testament to the virtue of following one’s own conscience over any hasty consensus, and always choosing morality and ethics over expediency and convenience. His was a heart response to life; a empathic response that was stripped to the essentials. Thoreau’s chief concerns were for the freedom of personal morality over and above religious convention, for the human soul must be loosened from the bondage of dogmatic obligation and be allowed to rise to new levels of conscience and conviction. His goal was humanity’s release from society, and the renewed dedication to how the true and essential interdependence of humanity and nature can teach eternal, spiritual, and necessary ethical lessons.

If we could capture the what Thoreau meant when he recommended that we live deliberately, to live a whole life, we could summarize by listing these 6 chief ideas or lasting ideals:


There are three qualities for our daily lives- They are the quality of our Time; our Solitude; our Simplicity; Then he recommends that we look at Nature as a reflection of the Divine; The fifth and sixth ideas are our prophetic responsibilities- having and maintaining a moral conscience; and when necessary, civil disobedience.

These foundational ideals, were his ethical compass which pointed, directed and guided his every step.

From his legacy, modern open minded people are called into the process of questioning the motives, moods, and mindsets that currently direct our social and personal choices, and reinforce the need to be active agents in responding to both problems and potentials of our current society.

Many open minded people tend or at least desire to see themselves as fulfilling Thoreau’s maxims and moral guidelines. Many of us see and feel ourselves to be removed and distant from the narrow social norms. We gladly identify with his words about being “different drummers,” and to some extent, it is true.

Each time we take a risk for conscience or for truth’s sake, we are acknowledging his example for us. Whenever we are willing to take a stand for environmental protection, or for balancing the scales of oppression with justice, we are walking in his shoes.

Despite all the idiosyncrasies of his character, it is in the nobility of his life choices, and the values they represent, that we are issued a challenge and given an inspiring example. Many literature professors, naturalists, and students of political ethics, urge their students to read and reread Thoreau every few years. It is my hope that we, as religious liberals, those who most directly inherited his legacy of reverent contemplation and responsible action, will heed this advice, keep it in our minds, our hearts, our steps… and then lead the way.

So Be it. Namaste. Amen


Pastoral Reflection: Media and our Minds


“We should be careful, Thoreau once warned, “to treat our minds as innocent and ingenuous children whose guardians we are- and to be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust upon their attention…

Every thought that passes through the mind helps to wear and tear it… to deepen its ruts, which, as in the streets of Pompeii, evince how much it has been used. How many things there are concerning which we might well deliberate whether we had better known them.”

Recently, there has been much made of how the media, and the freedom of speech and expression impacts the lives of children and adults. Some examples are: flag exhibits, hate radio, lack of enough children’s TV programming vs. violent video games, the availability of bomb construction via the Internet, the lack of civility in culture, and the coarseness of everyday advertising and language. These and other issues ask us to examine and evaluate just what kinds of communication are best to allow or what kinds of language, ideas, and expression can serve to create or destroy the social dialogue and direct the moral compass that best guides our society. Thoreau would weigh into this discussion on the side of prudence, and recommend engaging in dialogue that inspires, and does not demean human dignity or cheapen self-worth. He states, “As you see, so at length, will you say.

Do our perceptions dictate our reality? If so, then what are we feeding to one another in our homes, churches, schools, etc., that encourages virtue and values, altruism, idealism, and the willingness “to love your neighbor as yourself?” While the freedoms to say and do are vitally important, has this generation confused the implied responsibilities for those freedoms with the opportunities for amoral license? Ask yourself to ponder this question, and reflect on Thoreau’s words for us today.

A Few Selected Thoughts

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he had imagined, he will meet with a success

unexpected in common hours.

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more

encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. It is something to be to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful, but it is more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which we morally can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.

Wherever a man separates from the multitude and goes his own way, there is a fork in the road, though the travelers along the highway see only a gap in the paling.

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

If you have tried to build castles in that air, your work need not be lost – that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence of it in their opinions and lives that they have heard it. It would not leave them narrow-minded and bigoted.

Anyone in a free society where the laws are unjust has an obligation to break the law. —

Henry David Thoreau

Quotes and Thoughts on Education

August 30, 2012 - 11:49 am 15 Comments

Quotes, Thoughts and Reflections on Education

In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

– Henry David Thoreau


The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.

Robert Hutch

It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape –not from our own time,  for we are bound by that– but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our own time.

T.S. Eliot

Education is the instruction of the intellect in the laws of Nature, under which name I  include not merely things and their forces, but men and their ways; and the fashioning of the affections and of the will into an earnest and loving desire to move in harmony with those laws.

T.H. Huxley

The entire object of true education is to make people not merely to do the right things,but to enjoy them; not merely industrious, but to love industry; not merely learned, but to love knowledge; not merely pure, but to love purity; not merely just, but to hunger and  thirst after justice.                            John Ruskin

The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.                            Ralph Waldo Emerson

El hombre que puede hacer fácil lo difícil es el educador.

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates.

The great teacher inspires.                          William Arthur Ward

El educador mediocre habla. El buen educador explica. El educador superior demuestra.

El gran educador inspira.

I touch the future, I teach                     Christa McAuliffe                          Yo palpo el futuro, yo enseño.

Those who educate children well are more to be honored than even their parents,

for these only give them life; those the art of living well.                                  Aristotle

The most extraordinary thing about a really good teacher is that he or she who

transcends accepted educational methods.                                Margaret Mead

The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence.      A. Bronson Alcott

El buen maestro defiende a sus alumnos contra su propia influencia personal.

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein

Teachers are more than any other class the guardians of civilization.         Bertrand Russell

He who opens a school door, closes a prison.                                      Victor Hugo

Modern cynics and skeptics…see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage

than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.   John F. Kennedy

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who

touched our human feelings.                                           Carl Gustav Jung

Children need models rather than critics.                                 Joseph Joubert

Los niños necesitan modelos que imitar, no críticos.

The first idea that the child must acquire in order to be actively disciplined is that of the

difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.                                 María Montessori

It is greater work to educate a child, in the true and larger sense of the word, than to rule a state.

William Ellery Channing

The highest result of education is tolerance.                                  Helen Keller

El resultado más elevado de la educación es la tolerancia.

What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.                                Karl Menninger

All who have meditated in the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the

fate of empires depends on the education of the youth                                 Aristotle

In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained

intelligence is doomed…To-day we maintain ourselves.

To-morrow, science will have moved forward yet one more step, and there will be no appeal from the judgment,

which will then be pronounced on the uneducated.                   Alfred North Whitehead

Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the

education of all adults of every age?                                  Eric Fromm

Only the educated are free.                                  Epictetus

Sólo las personas educadas son libres.

Educate a man and you educate an individual – Educate a woman and you educate a family.

Agnes Cripps

Educad un hombre y educaréis a un individuo. Educad una mujer y educaréis una familia

Education is the cheap defense of nations.                                Edmund Burke

La educación es la menos cara de las defensas de una nación.

Education should be related to an intercultural and interdependent world. A world in which education teaches man to foster sharing attitudes, to compete with oneself and not with others, leaning to be tolerant, and to develop pity and solidarity for the suffering of  mankind. A world free from prejudices, where learning to care, learning to be, learning to share, learning to grasp the hole and act on the parts, and learning to carry on learning should be society’s main objectives.

Miguel Ángel Escotet

It is only the ignorant who despise education.                                Publilius Syrus

Sólo los ignorantes desprecian la educación

If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for ten years, plant a tree.

If for a hundred years, teach the people.                                 Kuang Chung

Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing;

education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.          Will Durant

You have to study a long time to know anything at all.                                  Montesquieu

Hay que estudiar largo tiempo para saber un poco.

There is nothing more fruitful than ignorance aware of itself.                        José Ortega y Gasset

No hay nada más fecundo que la ignorancia consciente de sí misma.

e don’t understand life any better at forty than at twenty, but at forty we know it and at sixty we are finally willing to admit it.                                 Jules Renard

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.      Bertrand Russell

From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery.

Alfred North Whitehead

Despite her influential role in educational thought, Montessori has been neglected by quotation anthologists

(nothing from her is to be found in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations or the Oxford Book of Quotations, and she

has only one entry in the Yale Book of Quotations).  To help remedy this oversight, I present a dozen of her best

quotations below: ( copied from Dr. Mardy’s quotes)

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

“No social problem is as universal as the oppression of the child.”

“Do not erase the designs the child makes in the soft wax of his inner life.”

“To ensure moral salvation, it is primarily necessary to depend

on oneself because in the moment of peril we are alone.”

“We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants waiting upon a master.”

“There can be no substitute for work, neither affection nor physical well-being can replace it.”

“The development of the individual can be described as

a succession of new births at consecutively higher levels.”

“The world of education is like an island where people,

cut off from the world, are prepared for life by exclusion from it.”

“The greatest sign of success for a teacher . . . is to be able to say,

‘The children are now working as if I did not exist’.”

“The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood,

when no one can teach them anything!”

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge,

there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future.” “Our care of the child should be governed,

not by the desire ‘to make him learn things’,  but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light

which is called the intelligence.”


The teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn

Is hammering on cold iron.                           Horace Mann

Learning is discovering that something is possible.                           Fritz Perls

Aprender es descubrir que algo es posible.

Education is not the filing of a pail, but the burning of a fire               William Butler Yeats Le educación no consiste en llenar un cántaro sino en enceder un fuego.

Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.     John Patrick

It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it,

and that ordinary education can take no account of so aristocratic a good. I do not believe this.

The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in  grown men and women. …It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education.      Bertrand Russell

The test and the use of man’s education is that he finds pleasure in the exercise of his mind.

Jacques Barzun

La prueba y la medida de la educación de un hombre es el hecho de que encuentre placer

en el ejercicio de su mente.

Every great advancement in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.  John Dewey

Cada uno de los grandes avances de la ciencia ha surgido como consecuencia de una

nueva audacia de la imaginación.

What scupture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul.                        Joseph Addison

La educación es al alma lo que la escultura es a un bloque de mármol

It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.              René Descartes

No es suficiente tener una buena mente. Lo principal es usarla bien

A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.                                  Moliere

Un tonto educado es más tonto que uno ignorante.

Education with inert ideas is not only useless; it is above all things harmful

Alfred North Whitehead

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.                  Henry Adams

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should

be doing for themselves.                              Abraham Lincoln

In praising or loving a child, we love and praise not that which is, but that which we hope for.


Al amar o alabar a un niño, no alabamos y amamos lo que es sino lo que esperamos que Sea.

By learning you will teach; by teaching you will learn.                   Latin proverb

Al aprender enseñarás; al enseñar aprenderás.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day:

Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.                        Chinese proverb

Regala un pescado a un hombre y le darás alimento para un día. Enséñalo a pescar y lo

alimentarás para el resto de su vida.

A teacher is better than two books.                       German proverb

Un maestro es mejor que dos libros.

Whatever is good to know is difficult to learn. Greek Proverb

Cualquier cosa que vale la pena saber es difícil de aprender.

Education is light, lack of it is darkness.                                  Russian Proverb

La educación es luz, su ausencia es oscuridad.

When the mind is ready, a teacher appears                                 Zen Proverb

Cuando la mente está preparada, aparece un maestro

Wisdom is the best traveling companion                                      Spanish proverb

El saber es el mejor compañero de viaje

Creativity and Inner Conflict

August 29, 2012 - 10:03 am 24 Comments

Beauty Least Expected by Lawrence H. Staples

Only in retrospect can we experience “sins” and flaws as something of real value. It is like finding something beautiful among the detritus of the psychic attic. It is like finding a Picasso and thinking initially that it was just a piece of old canvas. It is hard to dispute that there actually is a way of looking at flaws and sins that could make us grateful for them. Seeing that our flaws and sins are valuable is actually a fortunate insight and a numinous moment. It is an insight that comes from a prismatic view that reveals the full spectrum of our being in all of its varied colorations, both light and dark.

We cannot become whole until we perceive the value in the unacceptable opposites sufficiently to take them in our sinful embrace. Creativity helps us accomplish this embrace, as it demands some kind of intercourse of the archetypally masculine and feminine opposites. The opposites are always aspects of a single, deeper unity.

In this life we are never free of the conflict of opposites and the inner tension generated by attraction and repulsion. The conflict of opposites is the biggest problem we confront. We can diminish the natural conflict between the opposites, but we cannot eliminate it. In fact, to be entirely liberated from this conflict is to be dead; it is the dynamic tension between the opposites that generates consciousness and the inner electrical energy that we call life. This tension brings life and its difficulties at the same time. The tension that brings us life, which we want, also brings us stress, which we do not want. As in most things human, to repeat Freud’s oft-used phrase, we wish to have our cake and eat it, too. We wish to surrender our life’s difficulties without surrendering our life. And as if it were not enough to know that we must suffer if we are to live, we eventually learn that increased consciousness also brings increased tension. The more aware we become of previously unconscious opposites, the more tension we must bear.

The safest place is a point between the opposites. There lies a sanctuary, a temporary place of refuge. Creative production helps us find that place because the process of creating leads us to the place where creativity dwells. Drugs and alcohol, money, power and other external stimulants are poor substitutes for finding that place. The advantage of creative production is that we need not go elsewhere. We do not need to leave the house to find a church or a sacred place or a drink or a fix. Our safe haven lies between our ears and within our hearts, in our own creativity.

Lawrence Staples has a Ph.D. in psychology; his special areas of interest are the problems of midlife, guilt, and creativity. Dr. Staples is a diplomate of the C.G. Jung Institute, Zürich, Switzerland, holds AB and MBA degrees from Harvard, and is the author of the popular Guilt with a Twist and The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest for Wholeness.

Symbols & Ciphers: Towards a Theology… of Math?

August 20, 2012 - 8:27 pm 15 Comments

Symbols and Ciphers: Toward a Theology of …Math?


The universe and the scientific laws that govern its meaning and all the various movements and motions within it can be seen as one interrelated whole. For the mystic, this is also true, but the language differs as they are more likely to express this truth in words like “the universe is governed by holy laws, divine principles, and cosmic connections that can supersede mere logic or commonly held scientific theories.”

However one chooses to express or describe it, these rules and laws that govern the universe teach us about the universe that exists as an interconnected unity, covering mind expanding distances, and linked to incredible elegant designs. As the frontiers of science have become settled(?), and what was once too mysterious becomes more mundane, we can readily approach the conclusion, at least in the areas of cosmology, that it appears as if science and mysticism seem to agree: That a series of definitive rules that are emerging, and Nature and the Cosmos correspond to concise, even harmonic patterns.

Everything that has a natural origin, can be observed and will eventually reveal that it has a relationship or a connection to other life forms, energy events, or participates in some sort of chain action and reaction. Each blade of grass, each drop of rain, every bird and every child, is a part of the Cosmos, the Greek word that means holy order or grand design. As a rainbow is connected to its colors, all of life can be seen as connected to the eternal laws of order, balance, harmony, beauty and form.

In short, there is an all-inclusive syntony, an empathetic yet expansive correspondence that governs all the worlds of life. Today, I will begin to explore these unifying laws by examining how there can be theological connections and implications derived from a deeper study of mathematics.



Before I begin, a little disclaimer… I realize that some of you already know many of these interconnecting principles. No doubt that you have been blessed with a fine, discriminating, and logical mind that easily grasps and perceives these designs.

Please consider what I say to be a helpful review. But for the new, uncharted explorers like myself, who could be known

as a desperate refugee from math anxiety, someone who assiduously avoids those cute but exasperating geometric coffee table puzzles, allow me to calm your fears, and join me in explore new connections.

First, let me explain that I always hated math! (My apologies to all you scientists and mathematical pros… I just never got it!) I do not remember getting over a C in 24 years of school.

I can even remember my high school guidance counselor…  Poor fellow! After getting my SAT scores back, I went into his office all excited and full of positive anticipation. He was faced with the task of letting me down gently. I went over my good scores in English and advanced biology and everything seemed to be great… then I expressed my happiness over getting 300 on my math score, exclaiming that I never thought I could do so well!

Looking at me compassionately as he could, in an almost

inaudible voice, he said,” Peter… (wondering how he could tell me this… “they give you 200 for just signing your name” AHHHHH! The truth be told, I was asked to leave Algebra II, and geometry, well, it was all so hopeless! From my junior year on, anything that smacked of being parabolic, was to me simply diabolic!

Actually, its only been the last twenty years or so,

that I have been able to have a truce or make any connections to the world of mathematics. What moved me toward a respectful appreciation was, ironically enough, my study of theology…


Particularly, philosophy and metaphysics, and how fascinating esoteric principles related to certain mathematical truths.

I guess you could say that for me, the study of mysticism was the back door to understanding math’s hidden treasures. Just think of it, through knowing about the great mystic Pythagoras, now even geometry makes more sense! (My geometry teacher was a UU-When I was ordained, he sent me an irenic and amusing note saying how glad he was for me, that math’s loss was surely ministry’s gain)

When I look back on how I was introduced to math, I can readily understand why it did not appeal to me, and as it got more complex, it baffled me more and more. It was presented to me in a drab, cut and dry manner- almost devoid of any creative application or expressiveness. There was little reference to how math reveals the beauty of the natural world, the harmonies of music, art, and the rhythms of life.

It was always “how many apples did it take… or a

train is going through a tunnel… remember those? They

were problems all right, ones I just could not get interested in, much less develop the desire to solve! When I look back, I can only wonder if it were explained differently, maybe the Harmony of the Spheres, the mystical values and esoteric meaning of numbers, or that all of life corresponds to divine proportions … I am sure I would have responded better. (well, chances are, with my dismal record, I could not have done much worse!)

Classically, mathematics was one of the training

disciplines for the development of reason and greater awareness. However, when the “hard science” outlook began to dominate, scientific reductionism, or a more objective, exclusive results oriented approach were ensconced, math was pulled away from its more philosophical and mystical origins. Then, it took on more of a formal, abstract and exacting approach that only accepted scientific proofs and formulas as applied to rational questions


and worldly concerns. People who did not have such a logical mind or a gift for abstract reasoning, were made to feel inferior, as science and math began to define excellence in our Western academic awards and our educational esteem.

This partial understanding of math was made to be colorless and lifeless- shorn of its natural elegance and beauty, math no longer was a tool for developing spiritual awareness, maturity and insight.

As an example, how many of you were told about the

Pythagorean Theorem? Most likely all of you. No, I won’t

ask you to repeat it, so don’t panic! Now, how many of you

were also informed that Pythagoras was considered a great

spiritual teacher, a mystical adept, and founder of mystery schools in Italy and Asia Minor? That he educated his students to carefully observe the mathematical and spiritual connections in our Cosmos, especially between music and math, or that his theorems were also alchemical equations and demonstrated occult mysteries from Egypt, India and beyond? I would venture that very few of us ever received the whole story behind all those angles, bases, and hypotenuses!

Another example, Were you ever told that what is taught in math class corresponds to what the mystics call Holy Law, Divine Order, God’s Will, or what the Chinese call the Tao? Most likely those chapters were skipped, if they were ever written in any textbook. By the way, the same is true for the other sciences as well: Astronomy, Medicine, Physics, all suffer from a lack of complete understanding of how knowledge can become wisdom, and how science and spirituality are both close encounters with

the same truth, approached from different paths.

Pythagoras taught some 500 years BCE or before the Christian Era. He believed that all that exists conforms or belongs to certain definite and distinct rations and proportions…


The chief among these ratios was the golden ratio or the Divine Proportion of 1:1.6 which he called Phi. These ratios form the basis for all the great buildings in the ancient world. He also stated that music and its harmonies are truly celestial; all the planets, stars in the heavens combine in a chorus to sing and orchestrate “the Harmony of the Spheres.”

In our greater Judeo-Christian heritage, the Holy Bible contains many symbolic references to numbers and formulas that mystics in the Western world have utilized as teaching tools for personal and spiritual transformation. Numbers such as 1,3,7,9,12,24,40 when employed as teaching symbols by a Jewish tzaddick, a Sufi sheik or Christian master, they are transformed to become patterns and metaphors that describe ideals such as unity, balance, testing, completion. Numbers are also used to chart the human psyche, and discern the “face of God” in mystical disciplines such as numerology, astrology, tarot, and the Kabbala. Freemasonry has carried on these symbols, they are a part of our American heritage as well, right down to the design of our dollar bill!

One of the most intriguing and enlightening discoveries that I found was the connection between natural design and mathematical sequences as formulated by the famous Leonardo Fibbonaci of Pisa. Who was he? (a long lost relative? During coffee hour, his books will be on the back table for only $5.95!)  Seriously, Fibbonaci was famous for two things; one which is quite obvious, one quite hidden from ordinary knowledge.

The obvious contribution to Western culture and the advancement of science and math was that he was the one responsible for adopting the Arabic numbers, 0-9, into Western culture replacing the awkward Roman numerals for everyday use. The second discovery was the Fibbonaci series- a postulate that links numbers to what proceeded them in a logical and orderly sequence. His theorem


states that from a sequence of numbers where you add the preceding number to the previous sum, you arrive at a totally consistent answer… a sequence that also parallels Nature in its creative designs. Examples of this are: 2+3=5; 3+5=8; 5+8=13; 8+13=21 and so on… But so what??? This ratio, along with Pythagoras and his gold proportion, are the mathematical clues to many of the greatest works of music and art, and the most wondrous designs in nature. We find this ratio or design within the masterpieces of architecture such as the Great Pyramid, and the Parthenon, paintings such as Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Raphael’s “The School of Athens”.

In the natural world, we find this same series and design in the hydrogen atom, the spiral of DNA, which are the essentials for all organic life. Those of you who are into gardening and natural design can note this: Beans and peas grow upward along the same ratio; all the petals of every round flower, from asters to zinnias; pineapples (8-13) and pine cones (5-8) sea shells and nautilus all develop by adhering to this formula or design in their growth cycle called Phylotaxis.

So, in math as in many things, what precedes the present also prepares us for the future. In math as in everyday existence, both can be seen as building for expansion based on continued balance and cohesion. In this way, the progression of numbers becomes the slide rule for life. The past determines the present, the present shapes the future … What we are now is a result of what we were, and where we are now, will shape the future and  our possibilities. (growth of a church or a spiritual community?)

All of you who are creative, (and I feel that everyone

is whether they are aware of it or even if believe it or not) are the potential makers or designers of such beauty in your lives. Your successes are as certain as the great artists, builders and composers IF you align yourselves to these golden ratios and


these same divine proportions, or holy laws of balance and harmony, elegance and equilibrium.

Every creative concept, every creative act corresponds to a mathematical beauty in line, form, or symmetry, which then can be seen as a principle that corresponds to timeless truth in heart and soul. Believe it or not, there is a sensuous elegance to be found in studying math, for more than the dull and dry academic precision of notes and numbers, it can reveal the sheer ecstasy of life!

Regardless if your attention is on honeycombs or snowflakes, both perfect, harmonious hexagons by the way, or how the endless spirals of a seashell’s shape carries with it a deeper meaning, a cosmic purpose behind and within it, we can come to know that each equation of life has a beauty of its own. And it is with this wider view, that merges the spiritual with the scientific, we can appreciate more of the everyday miracles of life.

My hope is that if any of you were like me, either fearing or disdaining math, that you can benefit from this more right brain, inclusive approach to numbers. Maybe someday, you can join Johannes Kepler, famous mathematician and mystic when he declared,” The study of mathematics, as in music, art, and in all creation is the process whereby we, as humans, can begin to think God’s thoughts [and by following Divine reasoning, come to a greater appreciation of the grace and beauty found in our world.]

May you walk and act in proportion to this beauty…. So Be It!


The famous anthropologist, Jacob Bronowski looked at the beauty of nature and the beauty of science in this way:

[“When the poet Coleridge tried to define beauty, he returned always to one deep thought: Beauty, he said was unity in variety! Science is nothing else than the search to discover unity in the wild variety of nature, and mathematics is a way to express the laws and proportions of that beautiful variety.”]


From the physicist and philosopher Paul Dirac:

It is more important to have beauty in our life’s equations than for them to simply fit the problems. Stick with any theory only as long as it remains beautiful.

Benediction: From the poet Wordsworth:

Sweet is the lore that Nature brings- we murder when

we dissect. Enough of dry Science and arid Art- Close up

those barren leaves.

Come forth and bring with you a heart that watches and receives. AMEN

Selected Readings:  Collected thoughts on Mathematics

from The Divine Proportion

Thomas Hardy once wrote these reflections on math and the

need for beautiful patterns:

” A mathematician, like a painter, or a poet, is a

maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than

theirs, it is because they are made with ideas… The

mathematical patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s

must be beautiful; the ideas like the colours or the

words, must fit together in a harmonious way…”

” Perhaps the best reason for regarding mathematics as

an art is not so much that it affords an outlet for

creative activity as that it provides spiritual values. It

puts a [person] in touch with the highest aspirations and

loftiest goals. it offers intellectual delight and the

exaltation of resolving the mysteries of the universe”

Morris Kline

Pastoral Reflections: On Wordsworth and Nature

(“Lines written Above Tintern Abbey”)

… that Nature never did betray the heart that loved

her; tis her privilege through all the years of this our

life, to lead From joy to joy : for she can so inform the

mind that is within us, so impress with quietness and

beauty, and so feed with lofty thoughts that neither evil

tongues, rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,

… could disturb our cheerful faith, that all which we

behold is full of blessings.”

In my teenage years and early adulthood, I used to

feel separate or alienated from Nature- removed from the

Earth, animals and plants. Being outside meant one of two

things: work or play, but never that I was a part of a

greater life, that I participated in larger world that was

blessed and beautiful. Consequently, I became “lost in my

head” because maturity meant, I had to lose my childlike,

playful connection to snow, wind, water, and dirt. I had lost my intuitive regard for beauty, harmony, and balance that Nature daily displays and blesses us with each day.

What broke the spell was learning about spiritual approaches to gardening and metaphysical ideas of connections and cycles, through Rudoph Steiner, the Waldorf Schools, and Bio-Dynamics-

They teach how life grows and is infused with spiritual principles. If any of you are more like me, less than logical, or more “right brain” maybe looking spiritually at the whole of Nature will give you a greater appreciation of its parts.

David Spangler on The Olympics

August 6, 2012 - 7:20 pm 6 Comments

It doesn’t take much these days to command headlines and garner attention. A good celebrity divorce will do it, or much worse, a killing spree such as occurred in Colorado earlier in July, or much, much worse, massacres and civil war as is happening in Syria. It doesn’t take much to pull a trigger and kill people.

But consider the Olympians. Here are young men and women from around the world who have been training for years, putting blood, sweat, tears, pain, and effort into showing all of us what a human being is capable of doing. We know that we’re capable of killing each other; we see proof of that every day on the news. But every two years, summer and winter, dedicated and disciplined men and women show us what else we can do, what else it means to be human. If anyone deserves headlines, they do…and right now they are rightfully getting them.

Growing up, on occasion I would eat Wheaties. I actually didn’t like the cereal that much; my favorite was Cheerios. But I was seduced by the phrase “The Breakfast of Champions” and the image on every cereal box of some great athlete. Becoming a champion seemed like a worthy goal, and if eating Wheaties would do it, well then….

Of course, much more is required, and in my case, physical issues made sports not an avenue for me to follow. But championship, I have discovered, can take many forms, and most of them don’t have to be Olympian in nature. A parent foregoing a good night’s sleep to nourish and care for her or his child is a champion in my book. The athletes competing in London this month put forth Herculean efforts for a few minutes, breaking world records, winning gold medals. The mother or father, on the other hand, may be getting up for hours night after night, foregoing a good night’s sleep sometimes for months and even years—now that’s Olympian behavior! Or the person going day after day, year after year, to a job that he or she doesn’t like and that pays poorly but which is the price this individual pays to support his or her family. That can be pretty Olympian, too!

There are all kinds of Olympics going on around us all the time: Olympics of kindness, of compassion, of goodwill, of forgiveness. An ordinary person may suddenly find himself or herself acting like—no, becoming—a champion.

Championship isn’t necessarily the product of extraordinary skills and efforts, but it is always the product of discipline. For the Olympic athlete, it’s the discipline of the gym or the pool, the ski slope or the playing field. But for the rest of us, it’s the discipline of the heart and mind that refuses to act from the lowest denominator of our natures. It’s the discipline to say no to the hasty and unkind word. It’s the discipline to keep still and not jump to conclusions until more facts are apparent. It’s the discipline to see beyond appearances, to rise above our tiredness, to keep our mind from wandering when another seeks our attention. It’s the discipline to stand for what we believe in, the discipline to maintain integrity. It’s the discipline to love even when fear and hatred sweep through the world. It’s the discipline to take a moment to put ourselves in the shoes of another and see the world through his or her eyes. It’s the discipline to act with compassion.

A champion need not run the fastest, jump the highest, or endure the longest. A champion, though, does put forth that extra effort to embody the angels of his or her better nature rather than give in to the demons of the world’s lowest expectations of humanity.

The Olympics and the young people who compete in them remind us that champions are made. A bowl of Wheaties is not enough. Work is required. But in their exuberant display of the best of human skill and physical prowess, they remind us that the work is worth it and that being a champion is possible.

If I swim in a pool once or go to a gym once, if I hurl a javelin once or run once around a track, I will not make it to the Olympics. Once isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for life, either. Being kind once, honoring another once, loving once….that will not turn you into a champion. The mother or father doesn’t get up with the baby only one night and then sleep through all the other nights however much the child cries. Parents do this night after night after night for as long as it takes. And no one gives them a gold medal, though they deserve one many times over.

So it is with loving, forgiving, being compassionate, being skillful in our relationships with others, and all the other capacities that are important and necessary to building wholeness. We don’t do them once. We do them over and over and over, and in the process, we hone our skills, develop our muscles of spirit, and liberate the champion that’s within us.

There would be no Olympics if no one were willing to do what it takes to be an Olympic athlete. There may be no good future for us if there is no one willing to do what it takes to be a champion on behalf of the world.

The good news is that any of us can do this. Any of us can be a champion of wholeness, and it doesn’t matter what kind of cereal we eat.