Posts Tagged ‘Krista Tippett’
The Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is a beacon for this book, and especially in my reflections on hope. In life, he joined intellectual rigor, scientific discovery, and an adventurous, expansive view of the human spirit. “An interpretation of the universe,” he wrote, “remains unsatisfying unless it covers the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter.” While he was excavating the primitive “Peking man” fossil in China, he imagined future humanity excavating the modern human psyche and spirit — and seeing it revealed as primitive. He foresaw that we would overlay the biosphere with the noosphere — the realm of human intelligence, information, and action. He predicted, that is, something like the Internet. He believed that the noosphere would drive the next stage of evolution — an evolution of spirit and consciousness. This is a grand and exciting vision for imagining the long-term stakes of what we might be fermenting now.
But Teilhard thought in slow, deep, geologic time, and so must we. A long view of time can replenish our sense of ourselves and the world. We are in the adolescence of our species, not by any measure in full possession of our powers. The twenty-first-century globe resembles the understanding we now have of the teenage brain: dramatically uneven; immensely powerful and creative at times and in places, reckless and destructive in others.
In America, many features of national public life are also better suited to adolescence than to adulthood. We don’t do things adults learn to do, like calm ourselves, and become less narcissistic. Much of politics and media sends us in the opposite, infantilizing direction. We reduce great questions of meaning and morality to “issues” and simplify them to two sides, allowing pundits and partisans to frame them in irreconcilable extremes. But most of us don’t see the world this way, and it’s not the way the world actually works. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as the cultural “center,” or that it’s very interesting if it exists. But left of center and right of center, in the expansive middle and heart of our life together, most of us have some questions left alongside our answers, some curiosity alongside our convictions. This book is for people who want to take up the great questions of our time with imagination and courage, to nurture new realities in the spaces we inhabit, and to do so expectantly and with joy.
I have yet to meet a wise person who doesn’t know how to find some joy even in the midst of what is hard, and to smile and laugh easily, including at oneself. A sense of humor is high on my list of virtues, in interplay with humility and compassion and a capacity to change when that is the right thing to do. It’s one of those virtues that softens us for all the others. Desmond Tutu, whom I found impossible to doubt, says that God has a sense of humor. There is science helping us to see a sense of humor in the brain as an expression of creativity, making unlikely connections and leaning into them with joy. So I hope and trust that a smile in the voice may sometimes rise from these pages. And I do bring many voices along with me here, snatches of conversation completing and informing my thoughts, as they do all the time in my life and work.
I’m not surprised by the fact that inexplicable and terrible things happen in a cosmos as complicated as ours, with sentient beings like us running the show. But I am emboldened by the fact that surprise is the only constant. We are never really running the show, never really in control, and nothing will go quite as we imagined it. Our highest ambitions will be off, but so will our worst prognostications. I am emboldened by the puzzling, redemptive truth to which each and every one of my conversations has added nuance, that we are made by what would break us. Birth itself is a triumph through a bloody, treacherous process. We only learn to walk when we risk falling down, and this equation holds — with commensurately more complex dynamics — our whole lives long. I have heard endless variations on this theme — the battle with illness that saves the life that follows; the childhood pain that leads to vocation; the disability that opens into wholeness and a presence to the hidden wholeness of others. You have your own stories, the dramatic and more ordinary moments where what has gone wrong becomes an opening to more of yourself and part of your gift to the world. This is the beginning of wisdom.
And what is true for individuals is true for peoples. Our problems are not more harrowing than the ravaging depressions and wars of a century ago. But our economic, demographic, and ecological challenges are in fact existential. I think we sense this in our bones, though it’s not a story with commonly agreed-upon contours. Our global crises, the magnitude of the stakes for which we are playing, could signal the end of civilization as we’ve known it. Or they might be precisely the impetus human beings perversely need to do the real work at hand: to directly and wisely address the human condition and begin to grow it up.
–Krista Tippett, from her book “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living”
For the most part yesterday I spent the day reading, because of a 10-hour brownout. I read Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters – And How To Talk About It. Krista Tippett is the award-winning host of my favorite internet podcast On Being.
The book is full of gems of wisdom. These are some of the passages in the book that resonated with me:
We miss the essence of great religious figures…if we imagine them sitting, uttering a list of doctrines. And our theology… should be like poetry.
If we wait for clean heroes and clear choices and evidence on our side to act, we will wait forever, and my radio conversations teach me that people who bring light into the world wrench it out of darkness, and contend openly with darkness all of their days.
Healing, like faith, …is most effective when it incorporates what is broken rather than denying or curing it.
The way we deal with the losses of our lives, large and small, may be what most determines our capacity to be present to the whole of our lives.
Religious traditions give me language and ideas to hold on to ambiguity—the pleasure and pain of human experience that complicate and enliven each other.
A rabbi, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, gave me the best illustration I know of the difference between spirituality and religion. On Mount Sinai, she says, something extraordinary happened to Moses. He had a direct encounter with God. This was a spiritual experience. The Ten Commandments were the container for that experience. They are religion.
We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.
The book is for people who want to make sense of what religion is all about and how to practice it in our modern, contemporary, 21st century society. It is also for those who have been wounded by the negative, unhealthy and life-denying aspects of religion. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love:
Her intelligence is like a salve for all thinking people who have felt wounded or marginalized by The God Wars.
Speaking of Faith is a book I will cherish and reread over and over again…
Krista Tippett is the host of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast On Being (formerly known as Speaking of Faith). In 2014, she was also awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Growing up in the 60s in a religiously conservative family, she was deeply influenced by his grandfather, the Reverend C. T. Perkins. She later traces her attraction to religion to him.
My later fascination with religion had surely to do with his singular integrity among all the members of my family. Here I use that word integrity strictly; he had it all together, for better or worse. He discerned certain truths about the nature of the universe, and he lived by them. They both clarified and constrained his range of vision and movement.
Though he had only a third-grade education, he was a highly intelligent man.
…though, he only had a third-grade education, my grandfather possessed a strange prodigious intelligence. He could perform complex mathematical feats in his head. After his death, I inherited the bibles he studied and preached by — mighty leather-bound King James versions with feather-thin pages — and found page after page marked with notes, annotations, cross-references, every margin full of observations that speak to a love for the life of the mind. From an early age I sensed this in myself, an unlearned pleasure I could take in ideas, the written word, and the thoughts in my head, their powers of making sense.
However, some family members thought he was a tyrant, but she thought otherwise.
I could never buy in to the popular idea in our family that he was a tyrant. He was funny. He told jokes. He laughed easily. He bought a farm after he retired from evangelizing, planted a vegetable garden, and lovingly built wooden birdhouses. Even as he preached hellfire and brimstone, he had a sense of play. He was a man of God with a sense of humor — and to this day, that is a combination I admire and seek out.
He taught me to trust in an overriding sense behind the universe. I learned from him to look for grace and for truths that reveal themselves, at times, baldly, but just as often, between the cracks in my ability to see and hear what is important. Above all, he imparted me with a sense of belovedness woven into the very fabric of life.
But as she moved away from Oklahoma, where she grew up, religion ceased to make sense to her. For most of the 80s, for most of her 20s she lived in Germany.
Starting out as a freelance journalist (writing and reporting for The New York Times, Newsweek, the BBC, the International Herald Tribune, and Die Zeit), she ended up working as a diplomat for the Reagan administration. First, as a special political assistant to the senior diplomat in West Berlin; and, after a year, as the chief aide in Berlin to the U.S. ambassador to West Germany.
During those times, however, she began to ponder the moral questions arising from her experience of being close to the powers-that-be. This led her again to explore religion and spirituality.
One of the religious thinkers that influenced her during this period of her life was the original memoirist of the Holocaust, Eli Weisel. Eli Wiesel was visiting Berlin for the first time since the Holocaust when she heard him speak before a group of young Germans. She was struck when he said:
I had never before considered that it could be as painful to be a child of those who ran the camps as a child of those who died in them.
Deeply moved by what she heard, she writes:
I was astonished that Wiesel, a victim of German genocide, was open to seeing the tragedy and the resilience of the human spirit on every side of it. His words unsettled and moved me. They stirred conclusions I was struggling to articulate in that country with a tortured past and present. I was thoroughly caught up in the enduring strategic, geopolitical consequences of Germany’s descent into Nazi terror. Yet through Elie Wiesel’s eyes, goals like human redemption and healing — and not just retribution, economic rebuilding, and balances of power — also appeared urgent. I felt that Wiesel’s words belonged on the front pages of newspapers, that they should be shouted to the world. But I believe this had nothing to do with God. Wiesel’s faith, as he wrote in Night, had been consumed forever by the flames of the ovens at Auschwitz. Two decades would pass before I could speak with him again, and be surprised again by his words.
Burnt-out, she resigned from her job as a diplomat in Berlin, and spent some time on the Spanish island of Mallorca. She describes this period of her life in this manner:
Quiet and submission born of fatigue were the beginnings of wisdom for me after Berlin. Fresh air and the sun’s warmth, almond and apricot and lemon trees, fresh bread and strong Spanish coffee, the ocean in late afternoon — these were its elements. I handed my resignation to the ambassador and his wife, believing I was headed for Washington in a matter of months. But first I decided to go back to one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited — Deia, a village ringed by mountains on the Spanish island of Mallorca. I put my furniture into storage and packed two suitcases, out of which I would live, as it turned out, for the next two years.
Alone in Deia, I began to realize how tired and confused I was. I felt this physically, before I could turn it into ideas and words. This was salutary for me. I had made my way through the world up to now — and this is still my greatest virtue and vice rolled together — by my wits alone, headfirst. I forced myself out of bed at daybreak every day and rushed a silly, shallow novel about Berlin into being. I thought this was my purpose for being there and the accomplishment I would have to show for it. But in moments I thought were not productive, I looked out the tiny window by my desk. I saw a mountain, sky, and air that dwarfed nuclear weapons and the life and death they seemed to threaten. I breathed deeply. The world began to realign itself more generously, or rather my vision did. None of this was logical, none of it made sense.
Early, quite early, I put away most of the books I brought along. I read Rilke, whom I had loved for years and whose gorgeous iconoclastic language felt right in this place. I reread his advice to a young poet: ‘to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’
She eventually went back to the U.S., and studied theology for most of the early 90s at Yale Divinity School. The idea for a public radio show came to her while serving as a consultant to the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Saint John’s Abbey and University of Collegeville, Minnesota. She wanted to conduct a conversation about faith, religion and spirituality in a way “that doesn’t proselytize, exclude, anger, or offend.”
Starting out as an occasional feature in 2000, it evolved, starting in 2003, as a weekly program. Since then she has interviewed theologians, scientists, educators, physicians, social activists, poets, and even atheists and agnostics.
…the words ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ are narrowing boxes in our culture as well. Spiritual questions don’t go away, nor does a sense of wonder and mystery cease, in the absence of a belief in God. Non-religious people are some of the most fervent seekers of our age, energetically crafting lives of meaning.
In 2007, she wrote the book Speaking of Faith. Part memoir, part reflections on the issues of the day – it is also a record of the insights she gained from her weekly interviews of her conversation partners.
To watch her read excerpts from her book to a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, click this link:
One thing that I and Fr. James Martin have in common is our love for Thomas Merton.
Armed with a prestigious Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from one of the best business and Ivy League schools, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he was on his way to corporate success.
One day, however, after having a bad day at the office, he decided to watch TV. After flipping channels, his attention was grabbed by a PBS documentary on the life of Thomas Merton. It was a turning point in his life.
The documentary spoke to him in a way that made him decide to be a Jesuit priest.
He’s been a Jesuit priest for 26 years and has become one of the most popular spiritual writers today.
On a personal note, Fr. James Martin is one of my and Jojang’s favorite authors. He writes most of the time about his personal experiences; that’s probably why most people could relate to him.
His simple, direct, and practical way of presenting spiritual truths is what makes his books relevant for our time.
Just recently he was interviewed in a podcast entitled Finding God in All Things. Krista Tippett, the host of the podcast, introduces him with these words:
Before Pope Francis, Fr. James Martin was perhaps the best known and loved Jesuit writing in American life. He’s followed the calling of the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to “find God in all things” – and in 21st century forms, as editor of America magazine, but also as a wise and witty presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Stephen Colbert has proclaimed him the chaplain of “the Colbert Nation.” To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the spiritual exercises St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. These underpinned the Jesuit way of “contemplation in action” and are now shaping the Vatican in a new age.
To listen to the podcast, click on the link below:
We’re putting our show about depression on the air again this week. It’s been over two years since it has been broadcast, and, as always with rebroadcasts, we went in and refined and hopefully made it better. But this is essentially the show we created six years ago, which people discover all the time online.
Some have told us it has helped keep them alive. This kind of effect of our work is humbling and amazing beyond words. But in every way this show is unusual. It is more personally revealing for me than anything else we’ve done. I feel vulnerable knowing it will be out there in the ether again in coming days.
In my journal this week, as in the program script, I “disclose” that when we first created this program I took the making of it as an occasion to walk with some trepidation back through the spiritual territory of despair. I have a bit of the same sense now, airing it again, because that dark place seems a bit closer to me this February than I’m happy to admit. It’s a long, cold, depressing month in a frankly depressing moment in time, and I’m very tired.
As I prepared for those interviews years ago, and conducted them, I worried that peering down into that abyss again — even in memory, or vicariously through conversation with others — might send me into it. It did not. It was a clarifying, strengthening experience; one that made me grateful to be at a remove where I could in fact learn from depression rather than be enveloped by it. But I will stress here — as much for myself as for anyone reading — that we are not in a place to find spiritual enlightenment when we are in the throes of this illness.
Just in recent weeks, I had a new conversation with Parker Palmer, in which we both found wisdom on economic depression in some of the ways he had talked to me about clinical depression all those years ago. But hearing this show again right now, I’m personally most held and strangely comforted by Andrew Solomon and especially Anita Barrows’ insistence that emerging from depression — “healing” if you will — doesn’t mean leaving darkness behind. It means being aware and whole enough to accept dark months and dark times as expressions of human vitality.
Those of us who have struggled with depression live imprinted with its reality — and the terrifying possibility of its recurrence — ever after. It is a gift, albeit an uncomfortable one, to live on this side of health where I can accept darkness as a companion, not a teacher when it is as close as this, yet an essential thread of the life that is mine.
— Krista Tippett
Rosanne Cash surprised me right from the start, by calling her father Johnny Cash “a mystic,” and revealing herself as one too. As much as any person I’ve interviewed, she leaned in close. She was ready to meet me on the adventure a real conversation can be — one full of revelation and beauty.
Language and music, in that order, were the early mediums of her spiritual sensibility. She describes herself growing up as something of a geek. She remains perpetually and intellectually restless. It took her awhile to find her own voice, indeed to imagine that a life of making and performing music could be desirable. She’d grown up experiencing the performer’s life — incarnate in her famous, beloved father — as hard on those one loves. As she found her own voice, she found her own delight in joining her energy to an audience. In that exchange, she also discovered all the elements of religion that she desired: truth, beauty, mystery, creativity, and a sense of the divine.
We’ve put the word “time travel” in the title of the show we’ve created from my magical hour with Rosanne Cash. It’s a phrase that comes up again and again — especially when we talk about the music that emerged from her grief a few years ago when she lost her father, her mother, and her stepmother June Carter Cash within a span of 18 months. From this period, the Black Cadillac album emerged with gorgeous songs and poetry about love before life and beyond life. Past, present, and future are often linked in the songs she writes, though they often begin, as she describes it, with a single phrase or image.
There are echoes of Einstein here. Our ordinary sense of past, present, and future as distinct compartments moving forward like an arrow, he said, is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” As it turns out, Rosanne Cash has long been aware of these echoes too, signing up for physics classes when her children were young, constantly in conversation with scientists now. She talks about songs in some of the same ways scientists talk about mathematics — as discoveries, waiting to be caught, as much as inventions. For Rosanne Cash, songs are embedded in the fabric of the universe; this image alone is a gift from my time with her.
I am left with a sense of a woman who has seen a lot of life and turned that into wisdom. She is raising five children, lost her voice for several years, and underwent brain surgery four years ago. She continues to work with these raw materials of experience and wrest purpose and joy from them.
Several people have told us that watching the video of this conversation moved them to tears. One emotional moment for her — better experienced on the video than by audio alone — comes when she tells me about performing at Folsom Prison in March of last year. There, her father created one of his most famous performances and an iconic album. While touring the prison, Rosanne Cash met a prisoner who served at San Quentin Prison when her father also played there in 1969, and was now spending the rest of his life in Folsom. Her eyes fill with tears as she describes her dialogue with these men about freedom, outer and inner, and the confusing human struggle to gain the latter, whatever our lives have brought.
There were clearly other stories here to be mined. But Rosanne Cash’s openness, and her music, unlock stories of our own. We end our conversation with music, with her song titled “The World Unseen.” It somewhat magically brings together the elements of Rosanne Cash’s life and all of our lives — of poetry and mystery, of loss and love, of time travel. Here are the song’s opening verses:
I’m the sparrow on the roof
I’m the list of everyone I have to lose
I’m the rainbow in the dirt
I am who I was and how much I can hurt
So I will look for you
In stories of the kings—
Westward leading, still proceeding
To the world unseen
~ Krista Tippett
Albert Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, remains difficult for me to grasp fully. But I feel I have come to understand something of the man — his expansive spirit, his relentless curiosity, and his reverence for the beauty and order of nature and thought. I was daunted as I began, but delving into Einstein was a delight.
And there is a logic of sorts to that, as humor was an aspect of Einstein’s genius. Freeman Dyson suggests that his ability to make light and to laugh, even at himself, was one key to the magnitude of his scientific accomplishment. Science is often about failure. Einstein himself proposed that he made so many discoveries because he was not afraid to be proven wrong, repeatedly, on his way to all of them. But Einstein also employed humor to philosophical and ethical effect, weighing in trenchantly on mankind’s foibles.
Einstein held a deep and nuanced, if not a traditional, faith. I did not assume this at the outset. I’ve always been suspicious of the way Einstein’s famous line, “God does not play dice with the universe,” gets quoted for vastly different purposes. I wanted to understand what Einstein meant as a physicist when he said that. As it turns out, that particular quip had more to do with physics than with God, as Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies illuminate.
Einstein did, however, leave behind a rich body of reflection on the “mind” and the “superior spirit” behind the cosmos that has never made its way into popular consciousness. He didn’t believe in a personal God who would interfere with the laws of physics. But he was fascinated with the ingenuity of those laws and expressed awe at the very fact of their existence. Throughout his life, he thrilled to all he could not yet understand. He was more than content with what he called a “cosmic religious sense” — animated by “inklings” and “wondering,” rather than by answers and conclusions. Here is a passage that comes close, I think, to a concise description by Einstein of his quintessential “faith”:
“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves … Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”
With Paul Davies, I was able to pursue how Einstein changed our view of space and especially time, a subject that has always intrigued me. Before Einstein, as Davies describes it, human beings thought of space and time as fixed and immutable, the backdrop to the great show of life. But we now know they are elastic and intertwined, part of the show themselves. Einstein described our perception of time as an arrow — traversing linear and compartmentalized past, present, and future — as a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” Such language is evocative from a religious standpoint. As Davies discusses, it echoes insights that run throughout Eastern and Western religions and ancient indigenous cultures. Davies finds an affinity between Einstein’s view of time and the religious notion of a reality “beyond time,” and of “the eternal.” And because he speaks as a person conversant in current advancements of Einstein’s science — cosmology and the Big Bang, black holes, even the search for life beyond this galaxy — his insights carry for me a special weight of authority and, yes, wonder.
I came across many wise and touching pieces of writing by the spiritual Einstein while preparing for these conversations. Einstein was a passionate letter writer. He wrote to fellow scientists, friends, and strangers. He loved responding to the letters of schoolchildren. One of his correspondents for a time was Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. He had struck up a warm friendship with her and her husband, King Albert, just before World War II. In one tragic season in the midst of already tumultuous political times, her husband died suddenly, as did her daughter-in-law. Einstein wrote to her:
“Mrs. Barjansky wrote to me how gravely living in itself causes you suffering and how numbed you are by the indescribably painful blows that have befallen you. And yet we should not grieve for those who have gone from us in the primes of their lives after happy and fruitful years of activity, and who have been privileged to accomplish in full measure their task in life.
Something there is that can refresh and revivify older people: joy in the activities of the younger generation — a joy, to be sure, that is clouded by dark forebodings in these unsettled times. And yet, as always, the springtime sun brings forth new life, and we may rejoice because of this new life and contribute to its unfolding; and Mozart remains as beautiful and tender as he always was and always will be. There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond the hand of fate and of all human delusions. And such eternals lie closer to an older person than to a younger one oscillating between fear and hope. For us, there remains the privilege of experiencing beauty and truth in their purest forms.”
I emerged from these discussions with a new sense of Albert Einstein — not just as a great mind, but as a wise man. He was fully human and flawed, certainly in his intimate relationships. But he was undeniably an original, and not just as a scientist. If past, present, and future are an illusion, as he said, none of us ever really disappear. We all leave our imprint on what is now. I have a profound sense of Einstein’s imprint, and it comforts me. I suspect that if he heard he was the subject of a program called Speaking of Faith more than 50 years after his death, he would make a funny, kindly, self-deprecating joke. But if he could listen with twenty-first-century ears, he might be intrigued by how his generous, questioning, “cosmic” religious sense is deeply kindred with the religious and spiritual yearnings of our age.
~ Krista Tippett