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A WGREN Meditation for the Week of August 31, 2008
There are some dreams that must be pursued at speed and can only be achieved if we are willing to throw ourselves, body and soul, into the chase. Shaken and exhausted by the effort, our endurance and tenacity are challenged. However, other dreams can be realized only when we abandon the hunt and consent to wait patiently. I probably don't need to tell you that I've had historic difficulties distinguishing the members of these classes.
For weeks now, I've been playing hide and seek with a mating pair of great horned owls. I've sought them high and low, frustrated by the inadequacy of my sourcing of sounds. I imagine these two playing a game: "confuse the human." Saying to each other, "Look, you fly over that way. I'll go this way. I bet we can drag her around this wood for a good hour or more. The one who actually runs her into a tree as she's looking up, wins." However this is unhelpful anthropomorphization. The owls are just being. I'm the one with the problem.
This evening, the rich, full cry of the great horned owls did not precipitate a hot pursuit. I suddenly thought: why do I need to see the owls? After all, they are offering me their song. So, I walked my accustomed way and paid deep attention to their voices. They have a baritone call which seems to carry its own echoes. Its reverberation through the trees reminds me of the undertones of the surf at night. As I stood still, lost in wondrous beauty, I saw barred wings above me. "You've got to be kidding," I thought. First, the female flying a lazy arc around me. Then the male, who gave me a spectacular view as he flew directly above me and made a full circle, settling in a nearby tree. I watched him for a quarter hour and he showed me some of the tricks he'd used previously to evade me. Pulling his upper chest down to the tree bough, dropping his back, he dramatically changed his profile. What a clever bird!
Laughing at myself, I moved through the wood with greater care. How many times have I failed to even recognize remarkable beauty because I was in obsessive pursuit of something I deemed a higher good? I should hesitate to proffer my comparative scale of value. Humbled, but also refreshed, I turned my steps towards home. The parting gift of the woods was a glimpse of the trees burnished in the evening sun. Brown bark running like molten metals--gold, copper and bronze--in the last light of the day. The only reply I could offer was a deep bow from the heart.Kathleen M. Dixon
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of August 24, 2008
"An angel is more valuable than a stone. It does not follow, however, that two angels are more valuable than one angel and one stone." Thus stated Thomas Aquinas in Summa contra Gentiles, III. While contemporary readers may not subscribe to the premise of St. Thomas' argument, they have good reason to follow its logic, as in the following updated version: "A human being is more valuable than a chimpanzee. It does not follow, however, that 6,000,130,000 human beings and no chimpanzees are more valuable than 6,000,000,000 human beings and 130,000 chimpanzees." Thomas' argument suggests that "ontological diversity" has intrinsic value; the contemporary, narrower version makes an analogous case for biological diversity.
Klaus Nehring and Clemens Puppe
A Theory of Diversity
Econometrica, May, 2002
Nehring and Puppe chose the number 130,000 since in 1995 the number of chimpanzees on the planet was less than that of a population of a small city. They make the argument that a world without chimpanzees is a world with less value than our present one. The linking of value and diversity by both Aquinas and Nehring and Puppe is striking. This bond seems to be two-fold. Diversity itself, it is argued, should have intrinsic value for us. But the diversity advocated is in turn based on a system of values: ontological values for Aquinas, biological values for the contemporary authors. The first type of value leads to questions of ethics, while the second is more akin to the concept of utility that permeates current discussions of ecological restoration and management. Our authors conflate these two associations, and I suggest, so do we. When we say that something has value we often imply that it should be preserved; as when we say, "Human life has value." Yet we also talk about the value of our favorite soccer player to his team. In the first case transcendental value is meant; in the second, utility. And it is this distinction between transcendental value and utility that we usually blur over. Here are some questions that we can use in the next week during our quiet times of reflection:Are there beings on our planet that I consider having intrinsic value?Bill Fuller
(For example, most people say that they themselves have intrinsic value.)
Is there a source of this intrinsic value? (Is the intrinsic value transcendental?)
Are there beings that only have value in their utility for others?
Do I treat the two classes of beings differently? How so?
Where do other animals fit into my classes?
Where do plants fit in?
Do I need to make some changes?
Department of Mathematics
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of August 17, 2008
Mid-summer is upon us, so it seems an appropriate time to pause and meditate upon Nature's magnificence.
[To see larger versions click on an image].
Artist and Curator
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of August 10, 2008
Yesterday, I considered an act of sabotage. How ironic. Plotting the trajectory of my wooden shoe, hoping to lodge it at a critical point in the mechanism of illusory improvement and needless change. For the choice at hand was whether to remove the hazard yellow bands that marked some beautiful trees for destruction. All I needed was a pair of scissors or a knife. What, I wondered, would the rangers think the next time they drove through the woods in their four wheeler, pulling behind them the trailer with the chainsaws? "You told me you marked those trees last week. Well, where are they?" What then if the following day the ranger's station was itself garlanded in yellow plastic? Could I make a daisy chain long enough if I gathered all the pieces together? I pondered these matters while walking.
I also considered the source and nature of my resistance. For it has offered me ample opportunity for self study over the years. From what I understand, the rangers' plan is to create an oak opening. However, this is an educational or stylistic mission rather than an act of restoration. At its heart, then my resistance stems from our unwillingness to accept ordinary beauty. Continually craving more or the new, we reject the loveliness at hand as inadequate, condemning the object rather than the narrowness of our own view. We don't need to move the trees, spacing them differently. We need to look at them with new eyes and a heart that is not consumed by its own momentary urges. I write, of course, as one of the so afflicted.
Would you think it is billions or perhaps even trillions of dollars that we waste each year in the pursuit of trivial changes? How much suffering is cultivated when we continually reject ourselves and each other, imagining flaws upon the eradication of which we can lavish time and attention? This confuses me because there is no shortage of real and serious flaws. Inadequacies of thought, spiritual poverty, and constricted empathy seem to afflict us more profoundly than the cosmetic 'problems' whose 'improvement' we habitually pursue. What energies might be released if we were to make these more serious woes the objects of our resolutions?Kathleen M. Dixon
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of August 3, 2008
In this American political season some say we need to reduce dependence on "foreign oil". It's a power (political) statement about power (hydrocarbon). I thought about the phrase "foreign oil". In this context it means a power or energy source whose supply we may not control. It is a power source for transportation, building, warming, and other 'use-full' activities that we may pay a great deal for, or fight to have available.
But think for a minute why the phrase, 'foreign oil', is so readily accepted, so politically pithy. There is another context in which the phrase sounds very, very strange.
Oil is a commonly used substance in the major religions of the world. It is used for rituals of healing and blessing in a way we call anointing. The oil is frequently olive oil, and tiny amounts on the fingers of one person are touched to the body of another. Often the touching of anointing is done in the shape of a religious symbol, such as a cross for Christians. In a way, it provides the same things as 'foreign' oil - transportation (from one state to another), building (of courage, wisdom), and warming (of emotion). But it does this in spiritual, not physical, terms. These activities of anointing might be seen to be more 'use-less' by some, than 'use-full'.
To call the oil of anointing 'foreign' is foreign in itself. It is a way to use oil to unite persons - to make life, its experiences and people, less foreign. It would be easy to enter into some perjorative political posturing at this point. But, for a working group on Religion, Ethics, and Nature, let me offer some reflective directions:- If oil is of nature, what makes it "foreign"? Is there anything in nature to make anything of nature "foreign"?
- What, of anything in nature, anoints you? Is there anything about its being of or from nature that makes something more anointing?
- What other words do you use the word "foreign" to modify?
- Is there any not-of-nature substance of thing you would use for anointing?
Wayne Albertson, Pastor
Ada First United Methodist Church