Peace Talks Radio host Paul Ingles talks with Will Keepin, author of Belonging To God:
Science, Spirituality and a Universal Path of Divine Love.
PI: You mentioned the current crisis over Islamophobia. If you had a couple of minutes with a room full of those most fearful and misunderstanding of the Islamic faith in recent years, what would you offer to begin to close that gap of knowledge?
WK: I think I would begin by asking them how many of you have ever been inspired by the great mystic poet Rumi. Many people now have found this Islamic poet, Jelaluddin Rumi very inspiring.
He’s probably the most translated poet of divine love really ever in history.
If a number of hands went up, which they do in most of my audiences, then I would explain; “You may not be aware of it, but if you love Rumi, you actually already love the sacred wisdom of the Islamic tradition because everything he wrote and all of his incredible wisdom came directly out of the Quran and the prophetic tradition, the Hadith from Islam.”
Rumi is very clear about that. He says very specifically if anyone who repudiates the Quran repudiates my teachings because I am the slave of the Quran while I still have life. I am dust on the path of Muhammad, the chosen one. That’s very interesting for people to realize; this profoundly inspiring wisdom that moves so many actually comes directly from the tradition that many are very afraid of.
PI: There’s something about language though that really represents obstacles or speed bumps, even when you were quoting that and used the word in scripture that said, “slave to the Quran.” I think some people flinch at that.
PI: That gets back to my previous question about the single-minded devotion to God where a conversation can drift with folks in that category that can’t get to the common-sense level. It ends pretty quickly with a reference to scripture or “Making Jesus Christ my Lord and savior” or “I’m a slave to the Quran.”
PI: Help us nudge past those objections or concerns.
WK: Well, it’s a very subtle issue here because Teresa of Ávila says the same thing at one point to her nuns. She’s one of the greatest Christian mystics and she said, “Do you know what it really means to be spiritual?” She said, “It means to be the slave of God.” She articulates what that means and what that means is that she has given herself over to, in her case, to Jesus that she allows Jesus’ will to take over her will and thereby she becomes an instrument of the will of Jesus and Teresa’s will is out the window.
That may sound strange, but that’s exactly the process that Jesus himself went through in the Garden of Gethsemane for example, when he said, “Father, if it’s possible, take this cup from my lips,” but then he immediately says, “But not as I would have it, but as thou wilt.”
That’s a release of ego and part of the reason this is important is, particularly in challenging situations where one is in a conflict situation where one is in a conflict situation, sometimes one is asked from within to do something that’s not directly in one’s personal interest. It was not in Jesus’ personal interest to go through what was coming after the Garden.
Martin Luther King talks about this too in that movie Selma that you may have seen. At one point, he acknowledges; “My personal interest, yes, I would like to live a long life.”
PI: I may not get there with you.
WK: That’s right. My focus can’t be right now on my personal interests. There is an impulse within me to do something that takes courage and I have to take a stand and I have to recognize it could be harmful. There are times when we have to take those risks. That, I think, is what is meant by this, not that you become some kind of disempowered functionary in some kingdom and you’ve lost your true authority, not at all. You’ve actually emptied yourself of yourself and then become an instrument for a larger power and wisdom to move through you. I think that’s the meaning of this.
PI: We’re talking with Will Keepin. He’s the author of Belonging to God.
I know relatives of mine and others who shortcut their explanations of their fears over religious violence simply by compartmentalizing their explanation that terrorists that are threatening and performing violent acts just come from a small, misguided, fractured group of a faith tradition. I think they say, “What can we do but be at war with them, kill them before they kill other innocence for kill us in some random violent act?”
What other option related to your area of study might offer frightened citizens or diplomats a path or even just, as we said earlier, people who are struggling with this in a room in a lecture hall that you might address?
WK: Well, what I would like to say is that first of all, we need to recognize that the tainting of Islam as a religion of evil is basically a kind of propaganda that is very similar to what happened with Judaism in Germany in the 1930s. Judaism was part of the fabric of German society through the ‘20s and it is again now, but it had this period where it was identified as the evil within and then completely demonized.
This is very easy to do, particularly with a religion that one knows nothing about. Americans and Westerners know very little about Islam, so it’s easy to pick out a problematic verse from the scripture and then put it together with some heinous acts and dismiss the entire religion as evil.
One could do the same with Christianity for example. One could choose a couple, especially with a population that knows nothing about Christianity, you could pick a couple versus from Jesus’ sayings, one of them he says at one point; “I come not to bring peace, but a sword, to set father at conflict with son and mother with daughter.” He’s bringing this sword.
Then you would look at the crusades and the Holocaust, which was perpetrated by Christian nations and perhaps apartheid, which was justified by Christianity and say clearly it is a religion of evil.
Jesus said he was bringing a sword and look how it has been manifested in Christian religions and then stop there and your case it closed, but of course we know, you and I know, that it’s far more profound than that. It’s far more detailed than that. Even the meaning of that verse gets twisted.
That can be done with any scripture and any people. The scripture could be text twisted really to justify any position.
So, the first thing that I want to help people understand is that this is part of a campaign of a political challenge that’s now happening between Islam and Western countries.
The second thing that I would try to help people understand is somewhat of the extent to which the West has imposed its values on other cultures. This has created a lot of pressure and pushback really from many nations across the globe. Part of what our role is now is to learn how to be a nation among nations rather than a nation that is essentially trying to rule the world culturally. I think that’s an important place that we are still in the process of learning.
PI: This is a tall order, this question I’m going to pose now, so I offer it with respect. When you watch the news of the day and you see the trends that have developed, (that’s why I mentioned “what would you tell a diplomat,”) is there anything specific that you would tell people that would be charged to engage in solutions to ISIS, to the threat of terrorism that any way differ from your overall message of having to understand deeply all of this before we charge in to try to fix it?
WK: As you said, it’s a tall order and it’s not my area of expertise.
PI: You’ve written this book, you speak about this all the time, then you flip on the news or read the paper or whatever, there must be some sort of visceral feeling that you have about “If we could only just …”
PI: How does that feel day to day and is there anything else that you find yourself wishing for example, “I wish that they would take this path because I think it would be better”?
WK: I started working on this book and the work in the book over three decades ago, so my passion and reason for writing this book predates even the Twin Towers, much less this whole conflict with Islam.
My reason for writing this book was to really articulate what I think is the highest and most noble of human endeavors and that is the spiritual or mystical journey to unite and become one with God as it is described in the Western traditions.
If I were to give a wish, I wish that more people would enter truly and fully onto that spiritual journey which transforms the human being from an ordinary egoic consciousness, as you mentioned earlier, into an instrument of love and wisdom. That’s extremely rare now as it was in Jesus’ time. It’s not much more common now than it was then, but that, to me, is the ultimate solution to the human dilemma. That’s the real reason that I wrote the book.
Then, in the last ten or fifteen years, this Islamophobia has emerged and Islam has been targeted as seemingly the enemy of the West in some way. but I think this is largely created by political and economic forces and then the religion has become a kind of battlefield that is coopted. That’s my personal feeling.
It would be similar to, for example, science. You could also show that science is evil if you simply said that physics gave us nuclear weapons, chemistry gave us the gas chamber, biology gave us anthrax and germ warfare, therefore science is evil. It’s that shallow, I think, the current discourse. We have to look at the full picture because clearly, science has given profound gifts.
I don’t have an answer to the current situation with ISIS. I’m not politically informed or sophisticated enough to know exactly what’s going on. The one thing I do feel is that if we allow ourselves to be persuaded by the anti-Islamic rhetoric, then we’re falling inadvertently and unwittingly right into ISIS’ hands because it is a small handful of Muslims and they can’t do that much unless they leverage their hatred by engaging millions into believing some of this anti-Islamic rhetoric.
If we start to believe that, rather than look into the truth about this religion, then we are actually inadvertently an instrument for their campaign because ISIS also hates ordinary Muslims. They’re very much against ordinary Muslims, peace-loving Muslims because they don’t share their agenda and they regard such Muslims as apostates as basically traitors. It’s very important for us to recognize that we must not allow ourselves to play into that game and become inadvertent supporters of ISIS’ agenda by buying into this anti-Islamic propaganda, anti-Muslim propaganda.
PI: I grew up in a Catholic tradition. I disconnected from that while in college, probably held onto and prayed to a lord god for another ten years, but eventually landing in what’s probably more accurately described as a bit of an agnostic camp. It seems like any concept of creation and universal force or God is plausible to me, but knowing firmly that anyone could be right seems a bit futile. So, I guess I focus on trying to live from the heart space that seems supported by most religions. I think when you fill out those guides on the internet that say, “spiritual but not religious,” a lot of people listening fall under those camps I think.
Speak to the agnostic in me or in our audience or even the atheists to suggest what’s the point of this deep study of how religious texts describe their god and humans’ ideal relation to god.
WK: Thank you for that question. I think it’s true; there’s been a lot of critique of religion in the last ten or fifteen years.
There’s a new atheism that’s arising that’s rooted in science.
Part of the reason I wrote this book is because I feel like that’s a false association. There is nothing scientific about atheism particularly. As I see it, science and spirituality address completely different domains. Science addresses the world of matter and energy and their interaction in the physical universe and spirituality addresses the more intangible questions of life; “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “Where are we headed?” “What’s our purpose?” Part of the reason I wrote this book is because I see a grand synthesis of science and spirituality trying to emerge.
What I would say about the atheist question is that I was also trained as a scientist, so with that came an automatic atheism. It’s kind of in the curriculum without being made explicit, let’s put it that way. It’s not made explicit.
My spiritual journey then evolved on my own inwardly and then I found that I needed to understand what is it that the religions are really trying to teach and what is it they have in common. What I came to was a very remarkable parallel between Einstein’s Relativity Theory and the Universal Path of Love across the religions.
About 100 years ago, there was this major revolution in physics. One branch of it was the Relativity Theory in which Einstein basically developed his theory based on two postulates. One is that the laws of physics should be the same in all frames of reference. They shouldn’t vary depending on where you are or how fast you’re moving basically. The second one was that light, the speed of light is the same in all frames of reference. The speed of light is universal. Out of that came his whole revolutionary idea of Relativity Theory.
This showed that space and time are not absolutes. What seemingly are unchanging eternal absolutes such as time and its rate of passage and space, which we think of as empty and permanent and unchanging, it turned out that that’s not the case. They are not as it appears.
I applied this same idea to religions borrowing those two postulates and saying that the laws of spirituality should be the same in all religions. What’s ultimately spiritually true, should hold true in different religions.
Secondly, light, in this case, divine light, whatever that spiritual light is, should have to function the same way in different religions. It turns out that if you explore the scriptures and the mystics of the different traditions, indeed, that appears to be the case; the process of the light. Jesus, for example, in the Christian religion said, “I am the light of the world,” but he also said, “You are the light of the world,” and the whole spiritual journey in the Christian context is that transformation of the individual soul from being a separate, separated ego like self to actually becoming a living part of the divine light that Jesus was.
In that same way, we see a similar transformation in other religions where the human being becomes an instrument for the divine light. They used different metaphors in different religions, but that process of being transformed from, essentially human darkness into an instrument of divine light is there across all the traditions.
When I saw that, I thought; this closely parallels what Einstein was speaking about and it seemed to me then that there could be a similar awakening within spirituality that there is a universality across the religions. That is the whole point of religions in the first place; this transformation of the human unconsciousness into a being of conscious light. That is the same across the different religions. That was very inspiring to me and led me to begin really contemplating how science could shed light on this universal truth across the religions.
Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with artist Paul Ré,
author of Art, Peace, and Transcendence
SK: Talk about the kinds of art you do and what they have to do with peace.
PR: My works are all derived from closed curves and these closed curves represent the interconnectedness of everything in creation from the scale of the complete universe down to the subatomic. They symbolize the peaceful interaction of human beings, the interconnectedness of everything in ecology and those closed curves are just telling us that everything in existence is so entwined. When we do something here in our own space, it affects everything else and vice versa. That intertwining of everything, that feeling connected to all of nature and all of the universe is what my artwork is symbolizing.
It’s like a mantra, a visual mantra or a mandala, which is a visualization of the whole universe and used as an aid in meditation. There are many people who do use my artwork as visual mantras. Many people start their day studying the artworks. The very subtle symmetries and the soothing qualities of them and they use them for the basis for their morning meditation.
I’ve had some very, very moving letters from people in different states, different countries and that feels very, very good to me. When I do my own meditation, I’m sending out good thoughts to everyone else. It’s this great feeling of interconnectedness to everything.
In fact, scientifically, there is much foundation for that since the whole universe emerged from the Big Bang. If you do astronomical observations, we find that galaxies are moving away from us and the further away that they are from us, the fast they are moving and if you reverse that in time, you come to the conclusion that the whole universe emerged from a point singularity. That should be something that everyone can just remember; we all came from a single point. That’s an incredibly beautiful scientific and mathematical thing. It’s also a very spiritual thing. When people are behaving in ways that we would say are not ideal, if we can remember they too came from the Big Bang and we’re all children of the Big Bang, that unites us all. That helps us all to try to get along.
There is just a beautiful, beautiful interconnectedness of everything and if we could just focus on that great beauty and that great harmony, life could be the joyful experience that spirit really wants us to have.
SK: When I looked at your book, there were prints in art piece transcendence that made me think of two things. One was they often looked to me like it was inside the body, almost like inside of a vein or an artery or a body, but the other thing was they seemed very erotic.
PR: Well, I don’t know what to say to that.
SK: I thought you were going to say that people see whatever they want.
PR: I would say that because they go back to the Big Bang, and the Big Bang because that was the original conception of the universe. You might, I suppose, think that was an erotic thing, but it’s geometry, it’s just very beautiful flowing grace. Whatever one sees in that, if that moves them, that’s fine.
SK: There is a quote in your book Art, Peace, and Transcendence. I’d like you to explain. It goes like this; “When we thoroughly integrate peace into our thoughts and actions, our lives become works of art.”
PR: Yes, art is not just something you do on paper or on a canvas. Art is everything we do in life, when we do it with grace, when we do it with harmony, when we do it with a feeling of kindness and forgiveness if necessary, whatever is required by the situation.
SK: Does that mean that this interview can be a work of art?
PR: Oh yes, certainly! Absolutely everything! Everything we do is a work of art, yes, yes, yes. Everything we do, even the things that seem like terrible chores, if we can see them as an opportunity to communicate with the universe and to really enjoy it because we’re supposed to enjoy everything, we really are.
I keep going back to that feeling I had as a very young child just that feeling of joy and when I’m walking down the sidewalk, my feet almost don’t reach the ground and yet, I’ve been through my share of trials and tribulations certainly, but still I know that it’s that joy that really endures. That is what life is really all about, what we’re all seeking; something we can really live for that we can be part of that we can feel that we are creating with it.
SK: If I flipped this quote and said, “If we don’t thoroughly integrate peace into our thoughts and actions, our lives do not become works of art,” how have you seen that to be true?
PR: Well, unfortunately, I have seen it quite often I think when people are forgetting their connection to the infinite. I think the whole problem in life comes from forgetfulness really. We need to remember who we are. We’re children of the Big Bang, we’re children of spirit and if that’s true, then how should we behave.
If it’s also true, it means that we have all of that spirit behind us helping us and we can draw on it. It will flow through us. Joy is a River That Wants to Flow Through Us, is one of my poems. It goes with one of my works Rocking Horse and I think that’s what I would really love to communicate with my work, that there is just so much joy and light in it and I want people to feel this and I want people to be happy and at peace and life wants people to enjoy life. That’s what we’re here for; we’re supposed to enjoy it and so, let’s do it!
SK: Paul, you’ve made touchable art for people who are not sighted. What is your connection to people who are blind?
PR: Another little story from when I was young. I think I was six or seven. I went barefoot a lot and I would blindfold myself and I would walk around the house and just from what my feet were touching, figure out where I was and then I would go outside and I would walk all around outside blindfolded and it was really quite an experience. I can tell you about it, but you really have to experience it. Try it. Try it. It’s really quite fun and just see what you can figure out about the world just through your feet.
I had read right around that time, Helen Keller’s book. I think it was called The World I Live In. It moved me very greatly and in doing that little experiment, I thought; well, maybe someday I’ll work with the blind in some way.
And so it turns about in about 1980, I was looking at a sheet of basic shapes from an article I had written for Leonardo which is an international archival art [inaudible] which bridges art, science and technology and that sheet of basic shapes showed the internal contours of 60 drawings and paintings of mine all derived from closed curves.
I had the feeling that those line drawings could be translated into embossing’s that would be meaningful to the blind. I then set about figuring out how to do that technically, ended up doing it vacuum and pressure thermal forming on a mold that I had made partly out of Masonite and wires of various thicknesses and various other materials to give textures.
Then I sent it around to various blind persons around the country and found quite a number of quite excellent testers, particularly right here in New Mexico and they gave me some very good feedback and I felt that indeed there was a call for this. There would be a place for it.
So, I made a traveling exhibit of these and the first showing of it was actually at Cal Tech and then that has been all around the country and into Canada 18 times and was very, very moving, the response that I received from both blind and sighted.
We would have sighted persons be blindfolded and then go and feel it and then come back and try to draw the works. We also did that with blind persons. It was a great learning exercise.
I did many different kinds of workshops with it and really a fascinating adventure in my own life because the blind have so much to offer us. This is such a scattering world and if you have to get by in this world without being able to see, you can imagine what it’s like and the focus that it takes. We can learn much from the blind. The sighted can help the blind and everyone works together and it’s really a very, very beautiful bridging between the blind and sighted.
SK: Paul, read your poem Bridging to Peace.
PR: Very good. Bridging to Peace. My life has been a journey / of bridging art and science / East and West / The world of the blind and sighted / humankind with nature / and most basically / a bridging to the serenity / deep within me / continuing this journey / May my heart help others / to nurture their tranquil center / and may they then build bridges / spreading outward / from their inner harmony/ to a global peace.
SK: Does everybody have a tranquil center?
PR: Yes, I believe everyone does, although many are very, very obscured and covered up. I believe it’s there within everyone, but we have to remove the baggage of our lives and ages and all the bad habits and so forth and, in doing that, it reveals that center which is in everyone and which connects us all, let’s say back to the Big Bang. It’s there in everyone. Some people may have a lot more challenge in finding it, but it is there and I think affirming it for ourselves and affirming it for others is a very positive and growth affirming way of approaching life.
SK: Are you saying it’s positive for other people to see us allow it?
PR: Both ways; it’s positive for us to envision other people that way, it’s positive for them. It’s just positive all the way around because it’s all connected and if we get things flowing much better portion, it’s going to flow better in all the portions.
Basically, if we can just see that incredible oneness that pervades everything, if we can keep trying to nurture it and even in directions where it seems like there is very little hope, just keep sending it there and eventually, when we are least expecting it, there can be some very beautiful little elements of surprise and hope.