Saturday, July 20, 2013

My thoughts on faith, science, and death & dying

Damh the Bard presents Druidcast, episode 76


As so often happens, I love this month's Druidcast. As per usual, Dave puts together an excellent intermixing of music and pagan lecture in the monthly podcast, but this month's lecture really got to me in particular. Kristoffer Hughes is a speaker that I dearly love listening to whenever he is featured on Druidcast, and this was no exception. The topic - pagan ways of handling death and dying - was a heavy one, to be sure. But some of the things Kris says through the talk really got to me on more than just a mystical woo-woo level. He managed to put into words the connection I feel between my scientific mind and my spiritual heart.

For example, one of the points he brings up late in the talk is the fact that carbon is formed in the heart of a dying star, and that we are all made up of a load of it. And what magic that is, to know that what our bodies are made of was made by the universe.

We live on a planet that revolves around a burning nuclear fusion. Every single carbon molecule in your body is a product of death. It came from the belly of a dying star, and it's finite. There is only a finite amount of carbon in our universe, and a load of it is in your body right now. Magic. Pure, utter magic. And I love the fact that we're surrounded by - whatever we see, wherever we look - it's magic. And you're a product of that. And when we embrace that, I would challenge you: burn brighter. Bring more color into this world, because you come with a huge, whopping responsibility: the ability to respond to the fact that you, every single one of you, is the universe singing in praise of itself.

It reminds me very much of one of my favorite Carl Sagan quotes,

Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

This is a great illustration of what I try to explain to people when they express surprise that I am both very scientifically-oriented, and also intensely religious: just because I can explain something in scientific terms and both understand and believe the explanation to be true, it does not follow that I cannot nor need not find a deep spiritual truth - and yes, magic - in the same experience. Faith and magic are not ways to fill in the gaps that exist in current scientific explanation - they are an adjunct way of understanding, existing at the same time, and with the same value to me.

When my mother died, coming up on 10 years ago now, I side-stepped my grief for a year. I didn't have time to grieve, after the initial week and change I had off from work, because I knew it would incapacitate me. I was a nurse, I knew what death was, why things had happened as they did, and I was the one to make the call about not engaging in 'heroic measures' at the end. I should be able to deal with it rationally, shouldn't I? Only I couldn't. When I finally let my grief out, finally honored the relationship as Kris says in the talk, it wasn't with my rational nurse-brain self, it was with my intensely spiritual self. I cried, I prayed, I sang, I screamed. When I dealt with death, it was as a pagan. That's what I needed then. The scientific brain did not offer me the comfort I so desperately needed to come to terms with my mother's passing, but my spiritual, pagan heart did.

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