Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Brief Rant on Materialism

            Many people believe Americans to be lost in crass materialism, but I believe this is a misguided accusation.

Our fantasies of being a materialistic culture may be a defense against a true love of the material. In a culture that worships at the altar of Science; rationalism, empiricism, logical positivism, head over heart, thinking superior to feeling, we are more likely idealistic abstractionists, not materialists.

We are a consumer society in love with the idea of material and not material itself. How else can one explain fast food promoted via wonderfully sensuous and gustatory imagery yet leaving much to be desired in the actual eating? We eat the menu images in our head before we consume the food for our bellies.

How else do we account for plastics and synthetics disguised as real wood furniture and hardwood floors?

What about polyesters that mimic linen and silk, manufacturing clothing with so much more ease of care and disposability?

And what about faux stone masquerading as real rock on so many of our buildings?

This is all smoke and mirrors, fire and air, style without substance, appearance sans the material.

A true materialist loves the material world, cherishing the things of the world, repairing not despairing, recognizing that the world is not a simple commodity for our consumption but rather an animated, ensouled being of which we are an intimate expression.

When our dreams and fantasies no longer promise paradise in the ever after but rather plant us firmly in the present, and immerse us fully in the moment, then our lives, in tune now with the rhythms of soil and sea, sun and sky will truly blossom.

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The Astrological Birth Chart

The primary tool an astrologer uses is the natal or birth chart which is literally a stylized map of the solar system as seen from the particular place and time of a person’s birth. It has several features; the planets, the zodiac signs, the houses, and the aspects or angles of relationship between the planets. More imaginatively however, it is an image of psyche or soul, a mapping of the topography of our inner landscape. As a map it can be used for purposes of orientation, helping us fathom where we are in life, sounding out our centers, and getting our bearings. We can imagine life as a turning wheel of dynamic process with the nascent springtime of our youth, the summer fruition of our efforts, our inevitable fall and decline and finally, our demise into winter’s inactivity and dormancy.

            The birth chart provides a framework for imagining a profound intimacy between ourselves and our world. We hear this deep intimacy echoed in the words of early Church Father, Origen who wrote, “Know that you are another world in miniature and have in you Sun and Moon and even stars.”

But for our charts to say anything to us, astrology must of necessity hinge on the fantasy that our world is a living being capable of speaking to those who have the ears to hear and the eyes to see. Historically we find this in the Old Testament in psalm 19….

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”

What is this psalm but a faith statement about the world’s capacity to speak, to communicate with us, whether it’s the birds singing their message, the wind in the trees, the clouds on the horizon conveying the weather, the days becoming shorter, or the dance of the planets, the world affords us the opportunity to understand our situations. The world discloses itself to us and also reveals us to ourselves.

Emerson once wrote…

“The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?... Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put.”

This “solution in hieroglyphic” sounds very much like the image of our birth map. If the universe is sacred as many traditions hold, then astrology is a form of living, sacred text.
There is no Muslim moon or Catholic sun, no Buddhist season or sign, the heavens do not play favorites. The sky is all inclusive, it speaks to everyone. It’s the perfect container for a global spirituality for it is something under which we all gather and share in common. So it would seem that the astrology chart is a hieroglyph; a sacred symbol reflective of the sky. It is a world infused with sacredness.

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An Astrological Spirituality

An astrological spirituality means living with a keen awareness of the differences within time and space. In our everyday mind, time and space are viewed as profane, homogenous, mundane, of no special merit. Typically they have little or no qualitative difference. Is it possible that the way we in the West consider space and time contributes to a sense of malaise and boredom which seems a permanent feature of American life?  Each day is fairly much the same as the next. The once set apart holy day of Sunday now affords me the same ease as any other day of the week for shopping, purchasing alcohol, and even working. Holidays (holy days) such as Memorial Day can be celebrated anywhere from the 25th to the 31st of May. Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, and Labor Day float on the convenience of Mondays. Thanksgiving is the 4th Thursday in November. These are not cosmically determined like the solstices, equinoxes, and cross quarter days. These cultural observances do not connect us to a living cosmos.

            Astrological time however is very different. We can’t just move time around capriciously, changing holidays and birthdays willy-nilly to fit our daily schedules. Time is so important that depending on when a person is born is a fundamental key to understanding that life. Time is qualitative in that each moment is unique from any other, more propitious for certain kinds of activities and less so for others. Time is viewed liturgically, similar to the ritualized days and months of the church year. In other words, time expresses meaning.

            An astrological spirituality confers an appreciation for the daily round. Time is imagined as overlapping, interpenetrating shorter and lengthier cycles of change. To recognize the repetitiveness of time is to accept endings, gain the capacity to start over, to be born again, to face living with trust in the eternal returning. I’m not speaking here of simply spinning your wheels or going in circles, though that may be necessary at times, but rather the possibility of ever widening spirals of experience weaving more inclusiveness into life as we spin the fabric of our destinies.

            What about space? Modern life holds space and place with the near same indifference as time. Now of course, we can speak of beautiful or decaying spaces in America but overall, space is generally viewed as homogenous. If I am eating at McDonalds in San Francisco or NYC my experience of eating there has little qualitative difference. My experience of Walmart in Denver is fairly identical to the one in Cleveland. It used to be that traveling held great surprises in place but now we seek the shelter of Ramada Inns, Hyatts, and Hiltons guaranteeing that our experience in new cities is familiar. For the majority of Americans, modern America has no sacred space. Americans esteem no sacred rivers or trees, pilgrimage to no sacred mountains, pray at no sacred wells.

The astrological life however carries the fantasy that place matters, whether in relocational charts or in natal charts.  My birth place reflects the nature of my inner being. Sacred space and sacred time add depth, difference, and color, enriching what it means to be alive. The astrological view sees the classical transcendence of divinity translated to the immanence of  the Sacred in every place and in each moment. We live a sacred life and the birth chart is a sacred image.

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