An attempt at further explanation as inspired by Philip and Linda



“Symbol Rock is on the divide between the McKenzie River and Fall Creek…It was used by the Indians for ceremonial vigils.” —from the 1,073 page compendium Oregon Geographic Names

Holy, sacred, numinous, immanent, spiritual, mystical, and transcendent, are words that few atheists use and that most hold in contempt because they are principally used to describe the supernatural. Because atheists deny the existence of the supernatural
—or anything else deserving of the word God—they regard such words as only descriptive of human experience, and, by refusing to use them, deny themselves the ability to express that experience, often holding that they are superior to it.

Just as oil and canvas are the vehicles of a Van Gogh painting rather than its essence, the essence of Symbol Rock is beyond
physics and chemistry. If I say that it is soaring, magnificent, breath-taking, and awe-inspiring, my words will be too tame, too generic, too low-flying. I prefer numinous, by which I mean that it GLOWS with a presence that rises immeasurably above my own in terms of beauty, grandeur, timelessness, and, sad to say, detachment. Sad, because I want Symbol Rock to care. I want Symbol Rock to need me, or to at least look forward to seeing me each year when the snows melt because then I might feel safe. But what am I to a 40-million year old basaltic intrusion (an intrusion is a subterranean body formed from magma and, where visible, later exposed by uplift or erosion)? Nothing, I should think, but I am comforted by my inability to know.

I recognize that my desire to believe that Symbol Rock cares about me is similar to my desire to have a dog reassure me that I
’m loveable and therefore worthy of survival. This is what people often seek from God. They imagine that if they pray enough, or help other people enough, or kill other people enough, God will love them and “…make all things work together for their good…” I too need a deity who cares, but I don’t have one. I do have Symbol Rock and its hundreds, if not thousands, of Cascade Mountain relatives. In most of the American states, any one of them would be a major tourist attraction, but because of Oregon’s abundant beauty and scant population, they are only visited by those few who are drawn to them in the same way that other people are drawn to cathedrals. I say, those few, but I’ve never seen anyone in such places. Once I rise higher than Oregon’s rivers, reservoirs, glacial lakes, volcanic lakes, and waterfalls, I seldom see or hear another person in the back country except on those unusual occasions when I visit the High Cascades. If there is heaven on earth, it exists in Oregon, but few people care enough to see it.
 
I would call Symbol Rock God, and I want my remains to rest upon it. But why God, why not Symbol Rock? Because only God seems adequate for it and for many other things—probably for all other things if my eyes were open to see it. If I were to think of it in lesser terms, I might as well call it Spot or Tippy. But isn
’t my species vastly superior to a mere rock by virtue of its intellect? Intellect is no more superior to Symbol Rock than a fart is to a typhoon. Intellect is but an evolutionary adaptation that’s inferior to many other adaptations, but Symbol Rock exists without fears, ends, or the possibility of loss. It represents Nirvana, a state in which there is no need for adaptation and no direction for evolution.

Even though we humans could use our intellects to grind Symbol Rock into gravel for our logging roads, this proves our deficiency rather than our supremacy. Like Bramha, Vishnu, and Shiva, Symbol Rock represents a universal power that creates, preserves, and destroys worlds. Like Jehovah, it represents the singular, the all-encompassing, the I AM THAT I AM. No less than the stars, it stands for pure being. Through it, I touch wonders beyond wonders, and I see my own fallenness, my own inability to rise above the low estate of being human. It tells me that the only way I can transcend myself is through death because this life is but a spark of temporal insignificance.

I often wonder if the American Indian blood that I inherited from my Granny makes a difference in how I see things. I just know I can be neither a good atheist nor a believer in the supernatural, yet to most people, there exists an obvious line between the two, and a person must stand on one side of that line or the other--or live in eternal doubt as an agnostic. I fit nowhere, but there is that within me which is like the pressure within a volcano, and I can no more deny its expression than I could plug Mt. St. Helens. It points to that which is greater than I, and while I can’t call it the supernatural, I must call it something.

22 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

You've created a Divine Comedy for and of yourself. Personally, I take comfort in the unknowable. Nature is the only god worth considering.

julie said...

Beautiful...

Elephant's Child said...

Like Symbol Rock, you are what you are. And no-one can do it better than you.
Like you, I am in awe at the majesty of rocks, mountains, trees... Unlike you, I have never wanted, or needed them to care about me. I am transient and insignificant and content with that. For which I am grateful.

PhilipH said...

This is far too deep for me to really comprehend. Probably my lack of higher education caused me to look up certain words in this post and thus ADD something to my limited vocabulary, so thanks for that Snowy.

To be honest this post troubles me somewhat. I wonder if you are too concerned with searching for something to believe in. I know that certain things are more wondrous to some than to others.

You mention cathedrals and these buildings certainly have an effect on ME. I have visited some beautiful cathedrals, Salisbury, Winchester, Liverpool, Canterbury, Chester et al and they all amaze me. How they were constructed all those years ago. How much they cost in times when dire poverty was the lot of millions. How many died in the building of these houses of 'god' in times when health and safety were unheard of.

There are also some smaller churches throughout the UK which are havens of peace and tranquility, especially when they are empty. My favourite poet, John Betjeman, was a true lover of churches as buildings.

A sentence of yours, ("It tells me that the only way I can transcend myself is through death because this life is but a spark of temporal insignificance.") is a little troubling. Whilst I agree it is a truism I also wonder if there is some deeper reason why you mention it. Are you struggling with depression as well as physical pain?

As I said earlier, this is rather beyond my ken and I'm probably reading between the lines instead of just the lines you write.

I wish you well Snowy. Try taking up a new hobby, such as making model aeroplanes thus giving you some respite from thinking of religion and sacred mountains, lovely though the latter be.

Best wishes, Phil

Charles Gramlich said...

That which is greater than us? All is greater than us. That numinous feeling is when we get a little glimpse of our standing in this amazing universe.

Snowbrush said...

“Unlike you, I have never wanted, or needed them to care about me.”

I feel a desire for connectedness that you, perhaps, either don’t experience or experience far less than I do.

“I am transient and insignificant and content with that. For which I am grateful.”

I live with the sense of having unrealized ability and therefore of failure. Against this is the knowledge that I’m a brief and minuscule manifestation of the energy that runs the universe, and that no matter what I accomplish, it won’t be of much importance to anyone but myself and Peggy. We’re all recycled parts, and we will soon get recycled again, and so on ad infinitum.

“This is far too deep for me to really comprehend.”

When something is unrelated to that which a person studies and dwells upon, it often appears more complicated than it is.

“Probably my lack of higher education caused me to look up certain words in this post and thus ADD something to my limited vocabulary.”

You’ve mentioned what you regard as your poor education before, so I assume that it’s been a source of bad feelings for you over the years. I have 19 years of formal education, but no advanced degrees, and only for the last two of those years did I seriously try to learn, and all of my schooling before that was at mediocre institutions. I often regret that I didn’t go to better schools, love learning when I was in school, and have people to encourage me in my studies and to help me have confidence in my ability to learn. Unfortunately, my parents were poorly educated and placed no value on learning except for the fact that they hoped it would enable me to rise above them, which translated into making more money. They spent their lives having to work awfully hard just to make enough to stay afloat despite the fact that they lived simply, and they wanted better than that for me, yet they had no idea how to help me when I proved to be such a poor student that I failed three years of the twelve years that here in America represents basic public education. Beyond that lies college, and I have no idea if I would have gone or not had I not wanted to avoid being drafted for the War in Vietnam. As it was, I could go cheap for various reasons, and going served to keep me out of the military and to enable me to avoid having to go out and get a job, although I worked most of the time I was in college because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had any money. Besides, I enjoyed the jobs I held at funeral homes, ambulance services, and as a stock clerk at F. W. Woolworths. (cont)

Snowbrush said...

I really believed that if I had to apply myself to something to learn it (or to accomplish), it meant that I was incapable of learning or accomplishing, so I might as well give-up at the outset. This led me to give-up on almost everything, and even those things I enjoyed and wanted to learn, I didn’t work at learning because of this belief that working implied inability. I never imagine that I’m well-educated, but then it seems to me that few people are, at least in anything that they didn’t first study and then make a career of. So, your belief that your poorly educated doesn’t set you apart from me, although you seem to imagine that I’m better educated. Besides, except for those last two years (in the late 90s), all of my schooling was a long time ago, so whatever I did learn has gone by the wayside. It’s only what I continue to learn that matters.

“A sentence of yours, ("It tells me that the only way I can transcend myself is through death because this life is but a spark of temporal insignificance.") is a little troubling. Whilst I agree it is a truism I also wonder if there is some deeper reason why you mention it. Are you struggling with depression as well as physical pain?”

I think that everyone who is in pain is depressed, at least from time to time. But am I suicidal? No, absolutely not, although I can go from being despondent one day to being ecstatic the next, and then back again. I’m not so far out there as to be manic-depressive, but I do lack steadiness in my moods.

“That which is greater than us? All is greater than us.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy about us being like a drop of water in the ocean, and therefore no better and no worse than any of the other drops. I think that’s true. Our human existence is just a temporary manifestation.

All Consuming said...

You've tapped into something here, this really speaks to me to explain why you pursue and look at from every angle, inside and out both atheism and God. And I absolutely understand it too. "I feel a desire for connectedness that you, perhaps, either don’t experience or experience far less than I do." There's a comfort to be found in reason, in sharing, and of course in being loved. You are loved, as you know, by some of us mortals, but what of beyond, and is there a beyond at all that eludes us?

I have always loved rocks as you know, I studied geology, and carry back a piece or pebble from anywhere I visit that is beyond the local boundaries of home, because a small part of me feels about some of them just as you do about Symbol Rock. The name alone begs a questions of 'a symbol for what'? I'd absolutely love to go there, feel it under my hands. It is partly due to the fact I am able to 'feel' age in objects that are very old. Sounds nuts. But I'm as sane as the next man as you know (the next man is Snow so they'll be coming with the straitjacket for her presently). I do believe everything is connected. And I do find some comfort in the fact. So far as being loved, having a reason for being here, living this life out, I take the majority of happiness from those I can see, read, feel, hear around me. Like magnets we draw certain people towards us. We are more than lucky if they turn out to be quite wonderful ones.
Sometimes, the rocks and the universe itself is listening. *nods and suspects she's made little sense, but hugs him all the same* x

Sparkling Red said...

Yes, numinous, transcendent, these are beautiful words for beautiful feelings. I believe that I know just what you mean: I am also neither a "good" person of faith nor a "good" atheist. I think it is natural and healthy to feel awe in the face of "the universe", i.e. our own small stature and short lifespan vs. the hugeness time and space. It takes a deep thinker to be properly humbled by the extent of all that humans cannot know or understand. I have decided that it's okay to take a both/and stance on faith vs. being wowed by science. We don't have a pick a side. We can hang out in the grey area and if someone has a problem with that, let it be their problem.

possum said...

Trying to catch up... your posts are so time consuming, I often start reading or answering, and I have to quit to deal with that other world out there!
This post brought many thoughts - one that my Native American ancestors often called places like this "sacred" - but with a slight twist in defining scared. What white folks translated as sacred, based on their god-concept, was really a mistranslation... their being no word that I can think of in English to express what they meant- or felt. So, for want of a better word, sacred stuck.
Places like this are today called holy - again not in the Christian sense of the word... damn... phone won't stop ringing. Try to get back

lotta joy said...

My dog reassures me constantly that I am loveable and therefore worthy of survival. To him, I AM god, and my heart hurts for his faith in me. I would do all in my power to protect him and he is not asked to love and fear me at the same time. And yet, I am impotent to prevent what time will drop on him.

Unlike a god, this bothers me.

I can stare in amazement at a rock, a tree, even a snail at my handmade pond. I don't need anything of great majesty to invoke a feeling that can only be explained as "spiritual" only because there is NO word embraced by humans to equal the implied emotions of a spiritual feeling.

Not your fault. Blame the populace for not being more creative in inventing words of equal value.

My dog and I breathe, hurt, feel joy, know fear, and experience all emotions but awe. I've never seen Beau in "awe" of anything.

As humans, SOME of us have that ability. But it does not mean there is ANY spirit in the sky who gives a crap. It is our awe of beauty that compels us to think: "surely there is something of greater power behind this", for we can't grasp the reality that anything so wondrous could just "be".

To a person who fears heights, and hates rock, they would only see an obstruction. To them, the advantage would be in blowing up what indians held sacred, and laying a highway. What you respond to with spiritual awe is nothing but an obstruction to his eyes.

Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder and OUR shivering moments of beauty are merely another person's eyesore.

Your ability to be amazed is the product of evolutionary growth, and some of our ancestors managed to survive while stopping to smell the roses while others fled a potential threat.

The fact we're here at all is good enough for now. I was not aware before I was born. I'm glad I won't be aware after I'm dead. I'm not that awe-inspiring to continue for any reason.

Snowbrush said...

Here’s an article on the earth’s oldest rocks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldest_dated_rocks There are rocks in Oregon that are many times older than Symbol Rock, but even it is far older than my species (40-million doesn’t sound like much until you work out just what it means in relative terms).

Two kinds of religion have come to me through my most recent forebears, Christianity and animism. The first I’ve struggled to believe; the second I’ve struggled to disbelieve. I had no doubts as a child that everything was alive and had feelings, but as an adult, I can find no evidence aside from inner conviction to support it, and my inner conviction could be delusional, could it not?

“I do believe everything is connected.”

If I die today, various humans and microorganisms will miss me. Other microorganisms will rejoice. What this means to me is that while, in the big picture, all things are connected by shared energy and matter, on the level of individual personality, I don’t mean squat. Given this, of what comfort is our ultimate connectedness, and of what does it consist for you?

“I studied geology, and carry back a piece or pebble from anywhere I visit that is beyond the local boundaries of home, because a small part of me feels about some of them just as you do about Symbol Rock.”

I’ve studied geology on my own so that I can understand at least a little of what I’m looking at. I have a 50-60 pound piece of Symbol Rock in my bedroom. It bothered me to bring it home because—consistent with the animism thing—what right do I have to take something from its natural environment; how do I know it wouldn’t prefer to have stayed where it was? I live with my theft (if it can be called that) of Symbol Rock by telling Peggy that, if I die first, she needs to see that it is returned (she can take it and me at the same time). If I were in an antique store and saw something from a church, I could buy it with good conscience, but bringing rocks home is another matter. It strikes me as a bit like collecting butterflies. I still do it, but I never feel the same innocence I once felt. The worst possible outcome of my modest rock collection would be if they ended up in the garbage someday. Short of getting rid of them, I’ll do everything to avoid that.

Snowbrush said...

“So far as being loved, having a reason for being here, living this life out, I take the majority of happiness from those I can see, read, feel, hear around me. Like magnets we draw certain people towards us. We are more than lucky if they turn out to be quite wonderful ones.”

Maybe you are better at judging people than I because the magnet analogy scares me because some of the people to whom I have been the most drawn proved to be the most unworthy, while people who I didn’t feel any attraction to later proved to be gems. I want badly to trust, but I know that I have to always and forever be prepared for anyone to go away, and we ALL eventually go away. To go away by death is sadder, but to go way through a betrayal of trust is usually more damaging, and right now, I am feeling betrayed. As you and others mentioned, the loss of a friend can be less hurtful than the feeling that one trusted stupidly. Well, in this instance, I did see the likelihood of betrayal, but since I can’t live in constant doubt, I found myself going along with appearances. My doubt did enable me to keep considerable emotional distance though, so at least there was that. If not for other people being hurt by my problems with this person, I doubt that i would make any effort to restore the friendship because if I didn’t trusted little before, I surely trust even less now, and that’s not likely to change, at least for years.

People teach us who they are and what they are going to do in our regard. This person told me years ago that she was unable to feel close to others, and I knew from it that she would never feel close to me, and that not feeling close meant being unwilling to put the effort into sustaining our friendship when the going got tough. What I didn’t do in this situation is something that I used to get hurt by doing, that is to imagine that my friend would change, or worse yet, that I could change him or her. On every occasion when I thought that someone was weak and that I could fix them, I was dead wrong.

“I think it is natural and healthy to feel awe in the face of "the universe”

I think that religion tends to diminish awe. It, for the most part, regards God as a friendly presence, our species as “his” supreme creation, and the universe as a proving ground for heaven that will someday be completely destroyed and replaced by something far better. “Christian environmentalism” is almost an oxymoron because Christians don’t regard the earth (or the universe itself if we were capable of destroying that too) as worthy of preservation, and if it’s unworthy of preserving, it’s incapable of inspiring awe.

“We can hang out in the grey area and if someone has a problem with that, let it be their problem.”

I consider it a great thing to let other people take possession of their problems rather than trying to remold ourselves so that they will like us.

Snowbrush said...

I don’t see our situation that way because I don’t consider a world without God less impressive than a world with God (in fact, to simply say that "God did it," when we don't know what God is or have the least idea how or why he did it, is pretty lame as answers go). No, for me, the desire to believe is directly connected to my desire for immortality. I’m sure there are atheists who feel as I do, yet all of the ones I've known insisted that they they didn’t fear death or desire mortality, and that anyone who does fear death or desire immortality is a weakling. Yet, if you put a gun against he skull of an atheist, I’ve no doubt but what he or she would be as terrified as any theist. It’s only when a person’s life is in—or about to be in—the toilet, that immediate and permanent annihilation is considered a blessing.

“What you respond to with spiritual awe is nothing but an obstruction to his eyes.”

It’s so often worse than that even—or at least sadder. In many places (Oregon being one of them), vandals seek out and destroy ancient Indian petroglyphs, and also disrupt Indian rituals where they can gain access to them. How do they gain access? Indians don’t typically worship indoors, and sacred outdoor locations that they have used for centuries for their ceremonies are often owned by the federal government which insists that hard drinking vandals have as much right to disrupt rituals as Indians have to hold them. Can you imagine trying to have a solemn coming of age ceremony for your daughter while while people in power boats scream profanities and moon her? These aren’t isolated incidents but in some cases events that the vandals look forward to and plan for with the blessing of the federal government, the same government that allows Christians to permanently erect crosses in national forests, crosses that the forest service then protects.

http://www.winnememwintu.us/journey-to-justice/puberty-ceremony/

Or how about if you go to the same spot for your vision quest that your ancestors have gone to over the centuries, only unlike them, you’re surrounded by white people who insult your clothes and your culture while taking pictures of you.

http://www.sacredland.org/in-the-light-of-reverence/

We have stolen Indian lands, including lands that we told them (in writing) no more than five years earlier that they could keep forever. We have destroyed entire tribes and eradicated entire cultures, and to think that we are such an evil people what we can’t even be content to leave the few surviving Indians a safe and quiet place for their ceremonies.

Elephant's Child said...

'...all of the ones I've known insisted that they they didn’t fear death or desire mortality, and that anyone who does fear death or desire immortality is a weakling'
You are not being accurate there. Not all of us. I don't want to live forever, the thought of immortality horrifies me BUT I DON'T THINK YOU ARE A WEAKLING. Different, but not weak.

julie said...


'' Can you imagine trying to have a solemn coming of age ceremony for your daughter '' I can't even imagine being an Indian in the United States of America...or anywhere else really. I carry shame that I don't speak louder on their behalf.
Spirituality...I sort of think of it as the path of the heart...

Snowbrush said...

“You are not being accurate there. Not all of us. I don't want to live forever, the thought of immortality horrifies me BUT I DON'T THINK YOU ARE A WEAKLING. Different, but not weak.”

I should have said most rather than all. I was thinking of the overwhelming contempt for religion and religious people that I see in atheist literature and that I’ve heard in atheist groups; and the contempt for the idea of an afterlife. As for being weak, we’re all weak, just in different ways. Likewise, we’re all strong. What this means to me is that such words have little objective meaning.

“ I can't even imagine being an Indian in the United States of America...or anywhere else really. I carry shame that I don't speak louder on their behalf. Spirituality...I sort of think of it as the path of the heart…”

I know so little about them. I got two books recently by two “medicine women,” and I couldn’t tell if they copied the New Age or if the New Age copied them, but I suspect that so much Indian culture was long ago destroyed that there might not be enough left that would enable me to tell much if anything about how they once were. I suppose the writings of early anthropologists might contain more original Indian religion than the actual religions of Indians today. If so, this would put modern Indian religion on the level of Wicca. If I could establish tribal membership, it would be a good thing in enabling me to learn more, but although I have far more Indian blood than many people who are in tribes, I can’t prove it. It wouldn’t help to establish tribal membership, but one thing I seriously think about doing is getting one of those blood tests that at least establish the parts of the world that your ancestors came from.

All Consuming said...

"Given this, of what comfort is our ultimate connectedness, and of what does it consist for you?" - It's a nice feeling, there's an element of being part of the elements, a drop in one vast ocean, but an important one, for the ocean would not be the ocean it is today without me. It would be lesser. I am quite sure of that.

The rocks - Rocks are natural sure, so am I, and rocks don't end up tortured by anything I do to them. I don't have them down as sentient beings, so i feel no guilt for having them and loving them. I don't collect rods for my back, which is what feeling guilty about rocks would be for me. If the area is one where its exhistence is being threatened by the amount of people taking pieces of it away - Ayers Rock for instance - then no, I'd leave it alone. But my rocks, those I pick up myself, are those all alone, most of which few would look at twice. I look twice. At everything. *smiles*.

Ginny said...

There is something about rocks and mountains that just make you feel small. I weirdly love it because it really reminds me how long the earth has been here. Much longer than us humans. It grounds me. I would love to see Symbol Rock in person. I can see why it was used for vigils.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Thanks for popping by my blog the other day, Snowbrush! I've read a few of your posts here and clearly you are a deep thinker. I've met many fine spiritual atheists over the years, usually at the Unitarian Universalist church, so I know that "spiritual atheist" is not a contradiction in terms. Personally, I am an agnostic but I don't regard that as living "in perpetual doubt" but rather, as being comfortable with the ultimate uncertainty and mystery of life.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snowy, I've often felt more spiritual, peaceful...at one with the Universe (whatever you want to name it) when out in nature. I love the mountain near my house. I love her beauty and being near and on it! And while I find it shame that so many drive by and barely notice...much less take the time to climb up it, I'm kinda glad they don't! I'm just a selfish human that way!

Macy is much better, btw!

Joe Todd said...

Hope to see Symbol Rock some day