Sunday, January 09, 2011

SPIRALS of Life; Spirals of Love

SPIRALS ~ Rev. Cynthia Cain

Thanks to everyone who came to church & did the spiral dance! These images and others were part of the meditation. I may have said the wrong name of the artist on the paintings.. correct artists and a few other IDs below! Also, several folks spoke to me about spirals after church with much to add: a physician said that all life begins from spirals since the male sperm travels in a spiral pattern.. another member offered that he loves spiral food, especially soft serve ice cream! Here is the original text & some of the images.


Many years ago, I gave a sermon based upon the poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes called The Chambered Nautilus. I suppose you could say that poem was about spirals, as it documents the slow evolution of the nautilus toward freedom. It is a great metaphor crafted by the Unitarian-educated and Calvinist-raised Holmes for the nineteenth century early precursors of Humanism, with its refrain: “Build thee more stately mansions, oh, my soul, as the swift seasons roll…”

As the first Humanist Manifesto promised: the progress of mankind onward and upward forever.

I am not sure I could even find that old sermon, but if I could I think I would offer it very differently. Human “progress” has not all been positive.

Spirals in human development, as the chambers of the nautilus are meant to suggest, go down as well as up.

Dante's Inferno by Bottecelli

It is fascinating to me that spirals, which are one of if not the earliest form of human created “art,” having been carved as long as 50,000 years ago, are found in virtually every religion and culture. Jung felt that spirals were the most universal archetype, instinctively “known” by the human psyche.

Some believe that humans first incorporated spirals into spiritual activities when they evolved enough to have cognition of mortality; that the turning and returning of spirals represented regeneration, eternity, even rebirth. Further, spirals have been used to suggest community, celebration, and meditative states, as in the spiral dance, the labyrinth walk, and the pre-Christian arts.

Indeed it is almost exclusively the Christian tradition which carries a strong connotation of evil with spirals. (tower of Babel, snake of Eve, Dante’s Inferno)

Tower of Babel by Brueghel

Certainly, in our culture, we have integrated the idea that things and people can spiral downward as well as up. In fact we are more likely to hear of someone spiraling out of control, having a downward spiral, or spiraling toward Hell than we are to hear of the upward version!

But the angels on Jacob’s ladder, depicted as a spiral staircase by William Blake, are going up as well as down. Not everything is headed for the pits.

Why a spiral? Mathematically and geometrically, a spiral represents the way that one circular motion causes and continues a similar and larger or smaller motion. There are innumerable examples of spontaneous spiral formation in biology, astronomy and most sciences. We now know that chaos can be reordered into patterns, including spirals, with outside interference. Indeed this knowledgeis the basis of Appreciative Inquiry, aka the new science of leadership.

Spiral patterns formed by collision of particles in a bubble chamber

The spiral of silence is a phenomenon that was first suggested by a German researcher who wanted to understand the reluctance of the masses to speak out during the Holocaust. Still a new theory, it bears mentioning not because it has been irrefutably proven but because it rings true. The Spiral of Silence is the tendency of humans to refrain from speaking out about injustice and evil because they FEAR ISOLATION. I believe we have witnessed the spiral of silence in our own country many times, but perhaps never so destructively as in the past decade. So few people are telling the truth now about war, terrorism, health care, immigration, civil rights, addiction, prisons, drugs, politics, sexual identity, pollution, food, education, and even religion that those who do speak truth are usually excoriated and punished with isolation if not death. It is very hard to find anyone, even a so-called liberal, who is unafraid to speak the truth.

I believe we shall see that the spiral of silence, in which each of us is complicit if only to a small degree, helped contributed to the unchallenged rhetoric that may have spurred the murders in AZ.

There is an alternative spiral forming slowly but surely. Because of the relative anonymity of the Internet, the near-universal accessibility of information by almost everyone, and the democratic nature of the web, truth can not be hidden or confined so easily. I believe this is a part of what has been called The Great Turning, the shift in consciousness from what Joanna Macy calls the Industrial Growth Society to the Life-sustaining society.

In this ascending spiral, love will replace fear as the motivating force, and will lead to greater acts of courage, truth telling, and love.

Everything we know of is spinning.

Everything is changing.

Spirals are everywhere and we are a part of them.

African Dwelling showing fractal layout with spiral path.

We are a part of this magnificent, terrifying, and inevitable dance. How it changes and whether it will be for survival or destruction is actually dependent in part upon each one of us.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.