How to Make Sense of God
Home DVD Study Guide
Part One, MYSTERY
The ingredients in this course have been carefully designed. Please, take a few minutes to study the method at the beginning of this Guide. It will explain to you how the Course Book and the Video complement each other in giving you the material you need to work with. You are, obviously, entirely free to structure the course in your own way. To make the best use of the material we sent you, however, I strongly recommend that you read the suggestions made for each week.
Method of the Course pp. 2 - 3
FIRST WEEK. Religions are human pp. 4 - 7
SECOND WEEK. Science does not displace religion pp. 8-11
THIRD WEEK. Rediscovering Mystery pp. 12 - 15
The Method of the Course
To understand how this course has been composed, think of it as various elements which together achieve the intended result.
The Course Book How to Make Sense of God provides you with reading matter. It functions as the intellectual source for the course. As you get more familiar with it, you will come to appreciate the information it contains, the arguments, the ideas, the historical background.
The advantage of the book is that you can read it at any time, for instance when travelling to or from work. You can also re-read passages afterwards when you discover connections, or see a topic in a new light.
The Course Book is not an infallible guide or a fountain of absolute truth. It was never intended to be. You may well disagree with some, or all, of its views and conclusions. Its purpose is simply to present you with a coherent set of data, so that you can make up your own mind on a wide range of issues.
The Video Journey to tfae Centre of Love plays a different role. Yes, here too logical arguments are presented, but they have now been set in the context of a story, of actual life.
Perhaps, you would have expected someone talking to you from the screen. Many video courses employ such 'talking heads'. We have purposely avoided this approach. For the 'moving image' of film, TV and video is capable of so much more. It can make us enter other people's lives. It can portray life as it is, with all its traumas, worries, emotions. And our search for God is ultimately not just an intellectual exercise. It involves us as complete persons.
The Video presents a story. Note, however, that it is not an ordinary story. It has been scripted to be seen more than once. Because of the entertainment character of most TV programmes, you may have become used to writing off a programme once you have seen it. This story is different. It has been purposely made to achieve its highest benefit during a second and third viewing (and even more), each time seen with more insight and from a new perspective. This will become clearer to you as you progress in the course.
Then there is something else. All visual media present images. This instructional video gives the fullest possible scope to this dimension. Layers upon layers of images have been planned and 'planted' as seeds in the story. Once you become aware of them, your own imagination can take over. For images are open-ended. They can become vehicles for your own thought in quite unique and unexpected ways.
Do not be afraid of working with images in such a way. All human thought ultimately rests on image, model, metaphor. Even physics, mathematics, economics and any other form of reasoning employs images. So all the more we need images to fathom and express the deepest realities of life.
The information in the Course Book and the images on the Video will stimulate you to produce what we call your own activity. Much of this will go on, obviously, almost imperceptibly. When you are reading a chapter or watching the story, something is going on in your mind. It is important to turn this into a more conscious and directed activity.
To help you find the way, we will suggest certain exercises that have proved beneficial to other people.
It is a good idea to make your own notes. They preserve your insights. They clarify your thought. They make it easier to detect connections and strands.
a We will suggest that, instead of just theorising, you engage yourself in simple forms of meditation.
a We offer you the opportunity to correspond with your tutor, to express your personal doubts and queries.
n You may fill in test papers on some central questions, if you want to do so. Their purpose is to demonstrate your ability to write intelligently about the subject. On the successful completion of the test papers you will be given a certificate.
a We will suggest other activities as the course progresses.
FIRST WEEK. Religions are Human.
COURSE BOOK. This week's theme.
During the first week, read chapters 1- 4 of HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF GOD.
* Before we can talk about God, we have to acknowledge that spirituality, faith, religion (or whatever we call the aspect of our relationship to God) is human.
* Religion is utterly human because we are human. Our images are human. The way in which we express our faith or perform our worship is human. Even if God makes contact with us (more about which in Part Four), we can only relate to God through human words, human actions and human symbols.
*The consequences of this fact are truly enormous.
*View the first half of Journey to the Centre of Love, MYSTERY. You will know you have completed the first half when you reach the pause screen. There is no harm in seeing the whole video through, but concentrate on the trend of thought and the arguments found in the first half.
YOUR OWN ACTIVITY
Meditation. Reflecting on the wonder of our universe.
We are not human if we do not, on occasion, experience a sense of wonder.
Nature can overwhelm us by its beauty, its power, by its intricate complexity.
In this meditation I invite you to reflect on the mysterious nature of the universe in which we live.
Allow me to give you a personal example.
1 was fortunate enough once to chance upon a spider as it was weaving its
web. I looked at it with fascination: how it fixed a few cross-wires by swinging from one side of the bush to the other; how it established a hub and spokes
in all directions; how it laid down its concentric circles, one at a time, till the full orb was woven.
I was even more surprised when I read up on spiders and found that some spiders spin six different kinds of silk for various uses, like strong ones for support and sticky ones for catching the insect, and that each thread may be twined from 600 tiny strands! I also remember how, years later, in a dense forest in Uganda I watched black bird spiders, as large as my hand, sitting all over a giant web that rose as a curtain between two trees.
Now, I accept evolution and I am aware of the mechanism by which the struggle for survival leads to ever more ingenious and specialised forms of living. Yet, it does not rob me of my sense of wonder. The intricacy, the beauty, the intensity of life's energy still fascinate me.
My wonder at a particular object makes way for a wider cause of wonder: how is it that anything exists? That spider, for example? I myself? The rest of the world around me? What are we here for? Why is there a world at all? Instead of taking existence for granted - as we usually do, I may suddenly become aware of the tremendous mystery surrounding existence itself.
A better scientific understanding of causality within the universe does not, in the least, diminish my sense of wonder. As Steven Weinberg, who shared the 1979 Nobel prize for physics, points out, science has unearthed even greater mysteries.
For intelligent life to be able to emerge, for instance, the constants of nature had to be fine-tuned to an astonishing degree. The capture of a helium nucleus by the unstable beryllium-8 resulting in carbon-12, is a crucial step in the formation of the heavier elements. The resonance required in this capturing process could not happen if the physical values differed by just the tiniest degree. Also, the vacuum energy, or cosmological constant, "requires an incredible fine-tuning of various contributions that cancel each other out in a figure accurate to about 120 decimal places!"
Now I do not need to understand the mathematics involved. The point Weinberg makes is that even at such scientific levels mystery and wonder remain.
Weinberg observes: "My sense of beauty and wonder does not become atrophied through the work of science. The night sky is as beautiful as ever, to astronomers as well as poets. And as we understand more and more about nature, the scientist's sense of wonder has not diminished but has rather become sharper, more narrowly focused." (S.WEINBERG, 'Life in the Universe', Scientific American 271 (1994) pp. 22-27.)
In 1932, in an address to the German League of Human Rights, Albert Einstein said:
"The most beautiful and deepest experience anyone can have, is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. Whoever has never had this experience seems to me if not dead, then at least blind.
I now invite you to continue this reflection on your own. Take some ten- or fifteen-minute periods during the week to do this. If it helps you, walk in your garden, or in a park, or look up at the stars in the night sky.
What aspects of nature fill you with a sense of wonder?
a What does it tell you about our universe?
It is a good idea to write down any thoughts and questions as they strike you. This will greatly help you to develop your own line of thinking and to make your new insights more permanent. Some pages in this guide are left blank specifically for this purpose.
YOUR NOTES. First week. Religions are human.
Thoughts. Observations. Questions.SECOND WEEK. Science does not displace religion.
COURSE BOOK. Second week's theme.
Read chapters 4-8 in HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF GOD.
* We owe a lot to science and technology. They help us transform our world - mainly for the better. But it is wrong to imagine that science could ever take the place of religion (or faith, spirituality or whatever you call the dimension of our relating to Mystery).
*We need religion because science cannot answer the ultimate question of life. Science cannot determine the values we base our decisions on. Next to science we still need religion
Please, view the whole video you have received: Journey to t(?e Centre of Love, part one MYSTERY.
* Notice how the issues discussed in the first half (before the pause screen) also touch on the relationship between religion and science.
* Pay particular attention to the argumentation expressed in the second half (from the pause screen to the end of the video). YOUR OWN ACTIVITY
Meditation. Reflecting on the wonder of our own self.
During the previous week I reflected on the mysteries of nature. The questions deepen as I consider myself. I feel in me the urge to be free, to be myself, to develop my full potential. But what do I owe my freedom to? Why am I an individual who can think my own thoughts and plan my own course of action? Sure, I am not almighty. I depend on some good luck and on the help of family and friends. But at the same time, a lot depends on me; on what I make of my life.
Where did I get that freedom? Who gave me the options? My parents conceived me, my mother gave birth to me, my family bred me, my teachers taught me; none of them either designed me or gave me the right to be what I am.
Why do I have duties to other people?
Talking about other people increases the ultimate questions. I am not alone. I have to share life with others. I know that I owe other human beings respect and love. From where do my responsibilities towards them derive? Does their origin just lie in an inborn sense of loyalty; like the solidarity of a pack of wolves?
Can animal cohesion explain my defence of 'useless' people, like the handicapped, those who are mentally ill, the old? If respect for others is no more than animal instinct, were the Nazis not right to weed out the weak and the burdensome?
If the source of morality arises from no more than my feelings, could I not liberate myself and do as I like? Does true human dignity not rise beyond this, in some unspeakable manner, precisely because human consciousness and freedom demand respect for their own sake, never mind my preferences?
Does suffering have meaning?
But if human dignity carries so much value, is there any meaning in suffering? Is suffering to be avoided at all costs? Or are there things it is worth to suffer and even die for? Do we not praise the person who lays down his or her life to save a child, or to defend home and country?
If so, how can that be if everything finishes at death?
Or is there a meaning that transcends death? And if death is truly the end, why do we honour the memory of the dead? Is it only for our sake, or because we somehow believe they are not completely gone and still worthy of our affection and love?
The topic of time brings on another range of questions. If we are strictly confined to a life span of a few decades, how is it that our consciousness seems to point to a reality beyond time?
Do we not, in moments of raised awareness, become acutely conscious of being in touch with 'timelessness', a reality not subject to the flux of the here and now? Are such experiences no more than an illusion?
With regard to all these puzzles that surround us, the purpose of our meditation is not to find an answer, but to recognise the questions. We need especially to identify the issues and problems that affect us personally.
I suggest that you take some time off to consider the wonder of yourself asking yourself:
Are any of these fundamental questions my own questions? Which of them are particularly important to me? What other questions preoccupy me? What does it tell me about my Self? YOUR NOTES.
As before, blank pages have been left to help you record your observations, impressions, searchings and doubts.THIRD WEEK. Re-discovering mystery.
COURSE BOOK. Third week's theme.
During this week, read chapters 8 - 11 in the course book.
During the first two weeks we focused mainly on rational arguments. Now we deliberately widen our approach by taking stock of images and feelings.
* The images we use are incredibly important in all we think, say and do. Their key roll is acknowledged in education, science, the media and every aspect of life. Usually we are not aware of them.
*During this week we begin the process of recognising the fundamental images we use in our religious (or philosophical) view of the world. This use is unique to every person.
* Reflect again on images you met in the earlier chapters (chapters 1-8). They included representations of God (Egyptian in ch..l; Chinese, African, Maya in ch.4; also the Super-Manager God,' the Father Christmas God, the Tyrant God). What if any, is your image of God?
Please, see the whole video again from point of view of the images it presents.
All visual media present images, but our instructional videos have been especially designed to give the fullest possible scope to this dimension.
* You will easily recognise the images we planned, for instance the image of God as 'the Sun'. But this does not exhaust the full potential of the film. Images are open-ended by their very nature. All of us tend to absorb our own images, and internalise them in a uniquely personal way. Somehow we see our own experience reflected in a person, a representation, an event in the story.
*It is very useful to reflect on such images, to analyse their hold over us, to refine them, if necessary.
YOUR OWN ACTIVITY Meditation. Withdraw yourself in silence.
During this week I recommend strongly that you make time for some reflection in silence. Please, read about this in chapter 60 of HON TO MAKE SENSE OP GOD.
Ft is useful to note that there is no need to follow complicated rules and procedures to incorporate silence into our lives. The practice can be extremely simple. It consists in no more than taking some time off for facing up to things all by oneself. This is what some famous people say about it:
' 'In the evening before sunset I walk along the seashore. I am all by myself. I have the custom of passing some hours there every day This I do to become myself once more by being alone. It rids my mind of the noise of my daily work. "
Gregory of Nazianze (330-390 AD)
"Silence has now become both a physical and a spiritual necessity for me. Originally, it was taken to relieve the sense of pressure. Then I wanted time for writing. After, however, I had practised it for some time, I saw the spiritual value of it. It suddenly flashed across my mind that that was the time when I could best hold communion with God. And now I feel as though I was naturally built for silence. .. I have often sought silence for communion even during my noisiest time. I have had recourse to sea voyages for the purpose, though, of course, the radio has now robbed even a sea voyage of the privilege of silence one used to enjoy on the boat. But silent prayer is not a monologue, and God speaks to us only when we are silently ready to listen to him. "
To make our withdrawal in silence a success, very little is needed: a little leisure and a place where we can be ourselves. We should feel free and relaxed and under no compulsion of any sort. Disregarding our every-day worries we give ourselves time to experience the great truths of existence. As we get the
taste of it, we will enjoy it and prize these moments as the most meaningful ones of our life.
'If you love truth, be a lover of silence... In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent; but then there is something born that draws us to silence. May God give you experience of this 'something ' that is born of silence.
Isaac of Niniveh
"You should also take a liking to real, physical solitude. I don't mean that you need to go into the desert as the old hermits did. . . It will be enough to stay in your room or walk in the garden or remain in any other place where you find it easy to recollect yourself There you should withdraw your mind within your own heart and refresh yourself with some solid reflection, some holy thoughts and some useful reading."
St Francis of Sales
What images struck you most?
How does, what you have seen so far, tie in with your own experiences in life?
Did you find your skirmish with silence, helpful, strange.....?
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Jesus referred to this when he said: 'What does a man gain if he wins the whole world, but loses his own self?" (Matthew 16,26)
Next Part of the course
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