Here is a review I posted on Goodreads today for a book which I felt deserved a wider airing and has a place within the ethos of my own books and this blog: The God That Says I Am: A Scientist's Meditations on the Nature of Spiritual Experience by J.A.V. Simson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Do you know what you mean by words such as soul, spirit and spirituality? These words, as the author points out, are bandied about as if we all know with certainty and agree amongst ourselves as to their precise meanings. Of course their meanings can vary depending on translation and context. And we do not know, indeed cannot know all the answers.
As the subtitle declares, this is a collection of one scientist's meditations on the nature of spiritual experience, as reflected in religious practice and doctrine. The author confesses to being a life time seeker of truth and is well versed in most of the major world religions. Here in this book are her personal introspective essays written and reworked over 30 years or so, by this well travelled and well read biologist, as she draws on her own experiences, acquired knowledge and thoughts over 60 years or so.
What is meant, and what is experienced, by those of us who find spiritual experience significant in our lives? What is spiritual experience? She defines this as moments of intensity, wonder and awe. Her meditations, she says, set out to explore this notion from an experiential or existential point of view, although there is plenty of philosophy along the way.
The book sets the scene with the biblical Old Testament story of Moses and the burning bush, and a discussion of the meaning of "I Am," a reality that has been the subject of continuing debate over interpretation ever since.
Then in 9 fascinating chapters, she sets out to explore the nature of Reality, how it is experienced, the nature of human spiritual experience, how that relates to the concept of God, worship in relation to religion, the relationship of religion to morality, the difference between faith and belief, and the vexed question of the conflict between religion and science.
The real issue, she writes, is "whether there is a larger Reality to which we may be connected. And if so, are we willing to acknowledge and explore that?" In conclusion she writes: "All of the myths about gods and heroes and saints, all of the stories and books about God and religion, are simply human attempts to solidify that Reality, to make It more comprehensible to human minds and to provide rules for belief and behaviour that will make us feel more secure in the face of such an awesome unknown. It's not necessary to believe any of the stories, simply to have faith in the encompassing Reality, to treat the surrounding world and all beings in it with reverence and respect, and to be grateful for life."
Here is a very well reasoned and fascinating book for all those who struggle with the nature of Truth and Reality, who seek to further explore the big perennial questions, underlying the whole book: "What is actually meant when we talk about spirit, or soul, or God?" and "What happens to our soul or consciousness, our internal reality, when we die?"
I very much liked the author's own useful glossary of her suggested meanings of many religious terms, as used in her essays and which she encourages others to use to clarify their own terminologies. These in themselves offered plenty of food for further thought.
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My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden