The Ground of Faith

Exploring Science Mysticism and Experience together

The Ground of Faith


A complex web of relationship

1. a complex web of relationship
2. Victor MacGill:  Archetypes
3. Hymns by Bill Wallace
4. Poems by Goethe
5. by William Blake
6. by Vergil 

Read these letters to the Editors

  • <>Dr Chris Creswell and the Rev. Rob MacKay comment on the Anatomy of Joy.Patrick Furlong,
  • James Gasson challenges some of the ideas behind The Anatomy of Joy

  • Dr Bruce Nicholls: writes about a Science and Faith Forum of 7-8 university professors and scientists and the same number of theologians. "Our distinctive is that we claim the be evangelical, upholding the historic orthodox faith. We have founded a publishing company, Telos Books."

Our God experiences involve a complex web of relationship between spiritual and physical :-

Probably all of us from time to time become aware of one of the strangest of coincidences. We can hardly believe it has happened. Yet it seems very meaningful. It has come at an important moment in our life. We have the feeling that it is saying something to us, but what precisely, is not clear. We are at an absolute loss to know how it happened. It can’t be chance we think, but how on earth....?

Carl Jung said such meaningful coincidences are "acausal", not caused by something in the everyday world. But they can be caused from the spiritual plane. Others might say they were caused by the hand of God, of Providence, or speak of guidance by the Holy Spirit. Whatever the language, such coincidences are deeply meaningful, and seem inexplicable and no smart talk about the statistical likelihood of strange happenings will dissuade us from seeing the meaning, the utter appropriateness of the event. We cannot dismiss such events.

This personal story seems "non-religious". Or does it give insight into possibilities in our relationships with God, within the Communion of Saints?

September 1, 1975.

  I had lunch with C., and she remarked that the previous evening, three stainless steel pot lids had simultaneously dropped off a ledge on which they had been balanced, with their lips resting on a thin flange of wood along the edge of the shelf that prevented them from slipping.   They had dropped off this into a wash tub.   The lids were displayed in this manner because they were part of a large set of stainless steel ware which had been bequeathed to her by her father, and she was very proud of it.

  We wondered how the lids could possibly have been toppled simultaneously. The window was shut, so they could not have been blown down.   The flange prevented slipping.   There had been no earthquake; passing cars do not produce sufficient vibration. I put the lids back in their former places. I had to give a proper push to move one. There was no question of their being balanced delicately in position.
And C., dusting a miniature of her father, in another room, had heard them when they fell.

  I speculated that it might be a discarnate entity communicating with her. Was it her late husband?   I prayed for an intuited book reference...."A book by Thomas Hardy, with the syllable "ill" in the title, page 13, lines 4 to 10."

  Finding such a book was a problem, because C. has many books. But finally we found Tess of the Durber- vILLes and the passage indicated, read:

A difficulty in arranging their lips in crude exposure to public scrutiny, and an ability to balance their heads…was apparent in them, and showed that they were genuine country girls unaccustomed to many eyes.   And as each and all of them were warmed without by the sun, so each had a private little sun for her soul to bask in.... They came round by the Pure Drop Inn and were turning out of the High road to pass through the wicket gate into the meadow, when one of the women said "Lord-a-Lord! Why Tess Durberville! If there isn't thy Father riding home in a Carriage!”

  About those words, we might well feel dubious. We are dealing with pot lids not country girls.. and so forth.   But we can note the "lips" of both country girls and pot lids, and "Pure Drop Inn" could be seen as a pun on what happened to the pot lids and the washtub. And there was a link between C. and the country, in that she had studied in an agricultural college.

  But as events unfolded, the passage seemed increasingly meaningful, and definitely part of a dream-like event..

  I had guessed that it was her late husband causing what resembled poltergeist phenomena. But the passage speaks of a father. And as stated it was her father who bequeathed the pot lids to her. He had been a leading member of the Sheffield steel firm called Firth. The firm had pioneered in the development of stainless steel, and these pot lids had been made at the order of this firm, as an experiment, in Belgium. The first ever made.   Highly significant pot lids.

  To add to this, a few days later, C. phoned me to say that she had been awakened during the night by a crash in the kitchen. Not properly awake she grabbed a torch rather than turning on the light, and went to investigate. There face down on a cake tin on the bench, were two pictures that had both fallen off the wall, one on top of the other, one of them seemingly having fallen slantingly on to the other. Then C. went into the dining room, where she saw three pictures in front of her, and straightway the middle picture fell. It was a picture of herself.

  Some time later, I was telling someone at my home about these events. I then went to bed, and immediately a picture fell off the wall on to my bed.


  I have been reading The Other Side by Episcopal bishop, James A. Pike. There, he describes how his "dead" son communicated with him by moving books, and other physical objects.   Just, I think, as C's father was communicating, with the pot lids, with C's two episodes with pictures, and with the picture that fell on my head! C. said that to do so, would be thoroughly in character with her father, who liked to play practical jokes.

  And as for the book itself, well, it was the only book amongst hundreds in the house, which had been given to her by her father. At her request, he had given it to her after she had gone off to boarding school. She had treasured it ever since. And, no, I was not aware that C. had any books by Thomas Hardy.

  Three days later, C. was listening to Radio New Zealand, and was astonished to hear announced the first episode of "Tess of the Durbervilles" arranged as a radio serial. And she was even more astonished that the first words spoken were "Lord-a-Lord! Why Tess Durberville! If there isn't thy father riding home in a carriage!"

  Bishop Pike's "dead" son James appeared to convey messages by planting thoughts in his father's mind. So I speculate that C's father planted the book reference in my mind also.

  But how did he know about the radio drama shortly to be transmitted? Even if he had been able to read The Listener he would not have known the first words to be spoken. At least from our point of view.  Yet the "dead" are in the eternal present, so perhaps he could have heard the words before he signalled his presence.

  The Communion of Saints is being experienced playfully, jokingly even, but loving communion all the same.

  But we can look at such events from another point of view.

  In 1982 as I was going over my notes on the above, the dream-like events resumed. My  notes read:  "It is true that I did receive a letter this morning from C. and that it was the first for a year.  But I was busy at the time and didn't read it. I was re-examining my record of the Pot lids, and cogitating about their meaning. But late in the afternoon, I lay down for a rest.  I picked up a book and read about an old English sheep dog who had saved the life of its master lying injured in the snow.

  It was after that, that I read these words from C's letter:

“On January 15th last, after six months of correspondence between self and the provost of Sheffield cathedral, Frank C. and old Sheffield friends and relations, my brother G. and his wife, and E., my youngest sister, met with five friends to hear the Provost dedicate a plaque in memory of our father, G E Wolstenholme, beside a solid stainless steel door, the first apparently ever made, and given in 1940 by our father, with nothing to show that he had given it!  A., my other sister, could not join us, as she was recovering from near drowning in the River Stour in Suffolk, beside her house, in icy water in January, trying to rescue a dog belonging to her son.”

Comment: I am re-reading my notes about C's father, and the coincidences relating to Steel, and C's letter arrives mentioning her father, and the steel door in Sheffield cathedral. I am reading an account of how a dog saves a person in the snow, and C's letter relates how her sister was nearly drowned while saving a dog in an icy cold canal. The events come together very meaningfully, but we cannot suggest any measurable cause for this coming together. But they do come together.

  Some physicists and mystics would agree with C G Jung, that this world is the "dream of a greater and to us unknowable consciousness". Others would prefer to say it were a facet of what it can mean to be one in Christ.

Disclaimer: No, I do not for one moment think that events such as I have been describing, should have high priority in our thinking about the Divine. Love of God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and love of Neighbour is the thing, without a doubt.   With my background as an Anglican, I have no urge to go and seek out the spirits. But if Christ sends me experiences, I do not reject them.


Victor MacGill


We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by experiences, but we only have a limited supply of mental energy available to us to make sense of those experiences
and make decisions about how we will react to what happens to us.

One of the key strategies we use to maximise our use of the mental energy is to use patterns. If we notice a pattern in what we experience, it is easier to understand, which needs less mind energy. For example, it is much easier to remember  the telephone number 1234567 than 2546371.

The weather forecaster looks for patterns to predict tomorrow’s weather, a train timetable describes the pattern of train arrivals and departures so we can turn up to get on the train just before it arrives rather than waiting all day for it to come.

We are naturally attracted to repeating patterns. We learned this from our early ancestors who significantly increased their ability to survive by recognising the patterns about them. If they noticed that a sabre tooth tiger always goes to drink water at the river in the early afternoon, then they would live longer than a creature that didn't notice the same pattern.

We are attracted to shapes with symmetrical patterns because they are easier to understand. If we recognise one side of a person’s face, then we already have a good understanding of the whole face. We are attracted to dancing, where people move in unison forming patterns with their bodies, or to pictures that are symmetrical and patterned. We also drawn to music with regular patterns and rhyming words in poetry.

The down side of being attracted to patterns is that sometimes the pattern does not continue as we might expect from what we have already experienced. One day the sabre tooth tiger might come early, the train is late, or the weather forecaster gets it wrong.

Somewhere in our minds we hold the patterns we have recognised in the world about us. All of these patterns fit together to form a mental network, which we use to interpert the world about us. The patterns link together to create an internally consistent map of how we see and understand the word about us. This map is our worldview.

So, whenever we experience an event, a message gets sent in our brain to compare that event with the existing patterns within our worldview.

We use our memories in this way to help us formulate a plan of action as to how we will respond. Sometimes what we experience is not consistent with our existing worldmap. Then we have five possible responses. We can:

· Ignore the new experience and stick with the map we have already created
· Distort our perception of the experience to make it fit our existing map
· Find the event so devastating that our map collapses, or more positively..
· Accept the challenge it makes to our map and change it to accomodate the new experience · or, even be inspired by the event to make a quantum leap to another level of understanding.

We can see from this that our map, our worldview, is not fixed but changes and evolves throughout our life. Particularly when we are young, we make assumptions about the world, and the patterns we think we are seeing. Some assumptions will be right and help us to achieve our goals, while others will be incorrect and lead us away from our goals and would be better changed

We also tend to want to stick with the map we have rather than take on changes requiring alterations to our map. We are creatures of habit and resist taking on the unknown. Changing our world view feels like a loss of identity because the map and the patterns in it are central in the formation of our identity and our sense of who we are.

Some of the patterns we hold in our mind are personal patterns, while others are shared patterns. Our personal preference for food, music, art, tv programmes, cothing etc. all part of our personal map. It may be influenced by others but we control our personal patterns. Other patterns are shared, like driving on the left hand side of the road, stopping at a red traffic light, paying taxes, or waiting in a queue. We choose to accept these patterns because they help us get on with others, and help us to attain our personal goals.

Agreeing to stick to these particular patterns of behaviour reduces the level of conflict and allows the best co-operation. We have also developed roles in our society, so other people know what to expect of us. Some of us are schoolteachers, some of us are policemen, some of us are academics, and some of us are traffic wardens. We all know what it means when the warden appears on their little scooter and we haven't put money in the meter.

A part of our worldview is our cultural world view, formed by patterns which have special relevance to a particular group of people. In the Maori world tapu is important, so a person will always wash their hands after visiting a cemetery, lest the tapu be taken back amongst the living where it can cause harm. From a European perspective there is not the same need to wash our hands because tapu is not a cuturally significant concept.

Carl Jung created the idea of archetypes. These are shared mind patterns which have evolved in our collective minds from all our accumulated experiences of our social roles. He named the king, warrior, magician, and lover as four fundamental archetypes within the shared human mind that he called the collective unconscious.

Jung said that archetypes are universal, so they are a part of all of us, but they are expressed differently according to each particular culture. So, while a Maori person may talk of the four core archetypes as the rangatira, the wahine tapairu, the tohunga and the toa and experience them in their own way, they remain as universal forms of mental energy.

Because archetypes evolved over time, the social roles that have been with us the longest are the strongest ones in our psyche. The computer programmer and the jet engine mechanic have their archetypes, but they are not at all well formed in our joint psyche when compared to the king, warrior, magician, and lover, which all earlier societies knew.

What I discovered when I examined Jung's four archetypes was that each archetype corresponded to a crucial quality we need as humans. The king holds our sense of authority, the lover our compassion, the magician our wisdom, and the warrior our courage. Because the warrior, for example, exists as a collection of mental patterns within our mind, we can access our inner warrior to build our courage. And because the archetypes are shared we can access our archetypes as a group, for example as a church, to tap our inner reserves of courage through our shared warrior.

If any one of the archetypes is weak, all four will be affected. If we have courage, compassion and authority, but no wisdom, we will have a poor understanding of the situations we must make decisions about. If we lack compassion, we do not consider the effects of our actions on others and ourselves. If we lack authority, we will not make clear strong decisions, and if we lack courage we will not have the strength to carry out the decisions we have made.

Ken Wilber points out that there are other spiritual entities, which are often confused with archetypes. These are beings such as the mother goddess and higher spiritual beings. These come from universal spirit and are not socially created mental energy forms. They operated differently and are not perceived differently by other cultures.

The archetypes within us are at once ephemeral or ghostlike as well as being very real forces within our lives. We cannot put our finger on them, but they exert a major influence on our lives. They work on us individually and societally. We keep them alive in our stories, especially our myths. The more we understand and work with them positively and strongly, the more we have a powerful tool for understanding ourselves and for living full enriched lives.


§Must we forever judge all views
As either right or wrong
Or are there diverse ways to sing
The pilgrim's wistful song?

If we but look inside our depths
We find a complex world
Where multitudes of shadows dance
And images unfold.

Beyond this space of many forms
Your Mystery, God, we meet
A flame seen in a darkened glass,
A light for travellers' feet.

O Wisdom far beyond the known
Your heart is tender grace.
The grace which helps us use glimpse with love,
Your presence in each face.

Behind the world of images.

§Behind the world of images
There's nothing I can see
Behind the realm of sound and word,
Nothing I can prove,
Behind the space of touch and taste
Nothing flesh can feel.

Yet in that nothing, God exists
Beyond perceptions' path
Beyond our human ways of thought
Dwells the mystery of God,
A mystery each of us can trust,
Source and goal of faith,
A journey in the now, to sense
God, the great I AM.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

§Divine power is spread everywhere . . . A bird and its young had been captured, and Eckermann was amazed to see that it went on feeding its young inside his house.
`If you believed in God, you would not be surprised. If God did not inspire the bird with this powerful instinct towards its young, and if the same did not pervade every living thing in nature, the world would not be able to exist! But divine power is spread everywhere and eternal love is active everywhere. [Conversations with Eckermann, 29 May 1831]

What kind of God would push only from outside, letting the cosmos circle round his finger? He likes to drive the world from inside, harbours the world in Himself, Himself in the world, so all that lives and weaves and is in Him never wants for his power or his spirit. Gedichte I 357.

  § If the eye were not sun-like,
  how could it ever spy the sun?
  If God's own power lay not inside us,
  how could divinity delight us?
     Gedichte I 367

  § If through infinity the same
  thing flows, eternally repeating,
  if an arch, though manifold, can mightily
  hold itself together,
  If all things pour out lust for life,
  the smallest and the biggest stars,
  Yet all this striving, all this struggle
  Is eternal peace in God the Lord.
     Gedichte I 367

  § Eternal, living action works
  to recreate the created
  so it never rigidifies.
  What was not, it must become:
  bright suns, coloured worlds,
  never can it rest.
     Eins und Alles, Gedichte I 369

  William Blake (1757-1827)
  § To see a World in a Grain of Sand
  And Heaven in a Wild Flower,
  Infinity in the palm of your hand
  And Eternity in an hour.

Vergil Auguries of Innocence
  Heaven and earth, the watered plains, the moon's shining globe, the sun and stars are all strengthened by Spirit working within them, and mind stirs this great mass, infused through all its limbs and mixed in with its body. [Aeneid vi.724-727

From CHRIS CRESSWELL, Christchurch
[MB, ChB, MRNZCGP, Member of Scientific and Medical Network. -Ed.]

        Just a few thoughts on the refreshing The Anatomy of Joy by Donald Stowell.
      I was worried as I read that he was escaping into rapture and minimising the importance of earthly suffering.  This approach (which I believe Marx interpreted as "religion is the opium of the masses") leaves the world to be destroyed at the hands of the greedy.  I am glad Stowell wrote
  "He has understood the purpose of life as an adventure into Love which causes him to find ways of furthering the work of Christ on earth to mitigate the mighty miseries which man inflicts upon man, and help his fellow men to perceive the Kingdom of God."
        I am not a theologian but I doubt that Christianity can be described as The only fundamentally joyous religion.

My understanding is that at least Sufism, younger and perhaps further up the evolutionary tree than Christianity, is a very joyful faith, with ecstasy being central to its practice.
       I also question Stowell's belief in an end point in the evolution of humanity (similar to Teilhard's Omega Point).  I believe it is more likely that God and humanity will continue to evolve together forever (if we can solve the threats to our existance).  Why consider God static and finite?
Chris Cresswell
From Rob McKay [Methodist minister]

Dear Sir,
I read with interest the article, "The Anatomy of Joy", by Donald Stowell, and would like to add another little gem on the subject of 'joy' from The Book of Mormon:
"Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy"
2 Nephi 2:25
Naku noa
Rob McKay

See Letters from Patrick Furlong and Bruce Cresswell below.
Patrick Furlong Assistant Producer,  Optomen Television  "Neurotheology"

I'm currently making a television program in the UK linking ideas of religious experience and science. I was very interested in discovering your website and wondered whether you'd be at all interested in our ideas. You'll be aware that scientists have already discovered that certain parts of the brain appear to be activated during religious experiences - the temporal lobes being particularly important. Such observations have now spawned a whole new scientific discipline of neurotheology which attempts to look at spiritual and neurological matters together.
In our programme we are going to examine the neurological processes inside the brain during a more intense religious experience such as a deliverance or exorcism rite. Such an experiment will also allow us to compare religiousand scientific approaches to psychotherapy.
I wonder if these are areas you are at all interested in. Having read your website I think they may well be. 
Kind Regards
Patrick Furlong

From: Dr Bruce Nicholls

Here in Auckland  for the past year we have sponsored a Science and Faith Forum of 7-8 university  professors and scientists and the same number  of theologians. Our distinctive is that we claim  the be evangelical, upholding the historic orthodox faith. We have founded a publishing company, Telos Books. So far we have published 4 monographs; I am sending you one for your interest.
This year our Forum is focussing on Creation Theology and the care of Creation. We are sponsoring a conference in Auckland Univeristy February 16-19, 2005 on this theme.
I leave this Thursday for Europe and the Middle East on writing and editing assignments and return on October 31st. Our Telos address is inside the monograph, God's Books,Genetics and Genesis by Dr Graeme Finlay.
With warm greetings,
(Dr) Bruce Nicholls

The article 'The Anatomy of Joy', I think to be an example of poor thinking. I comment on some quotes below (quotes are in no particular order).

Essentially, I think that the author has failed to make a case for his views. Readers may agree with some of the author's views,
but they are unlikely to be convinced by anything they don't agree with, so are unlikely to to find new insight.

 The Bill of Human Rights has been adopted  by every member of the United Nations (excepting South Africa) and this thing has never happened before. History does not repeat itself. Never before have so many nations   decided to work together for mutual benefit  or contributed towards a corporate effort to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick.This is the work of Jesus Christ and it is a matter for great joy.

The Bill of Human Rights includes a number of documents,
notably the Universal Decleration of Human Rights. These are the first 2 articles:

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,
national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of
the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

The first article, in brief, outlines a view on the origin of morality.
Morality is the synergy of reason and conscience. Religion isn't required. Further, the second article specifically states there is an entitlement to rights regardless of (among other things) a person's religion. Nowhere does Christianity warrent a specific mention. It seems to me decidedly odd to claim this document in the name of Christianity.
 I quote Aldous Huxley again, this time from Ape and Essence:
"Joy? But joy was murdered long ago. All that survives is the laughter of demons about the whipping posts, the howling of the possessed as they couple in the darkness. Joy is only for those whose life accords with the given Order of the World.
For you there, the clever ones, who think you can improve upon that order,  for you, the angry ones, the disobedient, joy is fast becoming a stranger. Those who are doomed to reap the consequences of your fantastic tricks will never so much as suspect its existence.

This idea is a common thread running through the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
Morality excludes the possiblity of reason or conscience.
True morality is based solely on blind faith in 'the given Order'.
It's quite opposed to the message in the Declaration.
The Declaration, surely, in this view, is a product of 'the clever ones'.

Christian Joy is a very mysterious thing to non-believers :-
 “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and hate you and cast out your name as evil on account of the Son of Man!
 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.”(Luke 6.23).

I think this more worrying than mysterious.What could be the good of finding joy in hate?

  A case can certainly be made out that Christianity “is the only fundamentally joyous religion”

I suspect this is prodominatly a Christian view.

 The thinkers, prophets and priests did their best according to their mental and spiritual equipment, but none of it was complete and much of it was bungled. For example, it was thought that God wanted human sacrifice, and later on that he would enjoy animal burnt offerings  and would enjoy the smell of roast meat.

The author seems again to claim that a moral person is one who does God's will.  But then he seems to assume that anything he personally disapproved of couldn't be God's will.
If the author does assume this, then God's will could be of no practical value to him, as he is going to place his own views first in every case.

 Wanting to prove that God exists is as absurd as to assert that he does not; our assertions and our proofs will not create him,
 nor will they suppress him.

In the same manner, wanting to prove anything could be said absurd, as no proof changes what it asserts. Essentially, the author encourages us to form a belief without reason, but this is a perilous occupation.
Anyone in the habit of believing what they are told without question, surely risks forming false, and possibly dangerous beliefs. And, in fact, the author has suggested as much himself.

People who use the word “God” should be able to say what they mean by it. There are many who use the word and do not mean anything by it  because they have rejected the archaic meaning which they have been taught.

Too often in the religions of the world it has been attempted to account for creation as the work of a greatly enlarged human being  who is a spirit who is somewhere “above” and in a place called “Heaven”.

(The author seems to be describing Christianity specifically,
rather than "the religions of the world" generally, as he suggests.)

  Yet we can still say that God is Love - if by love we mean that energy which draws together things which otherwise would be separated.

The author has talked in favour of clear arguments.
Also, he is annoyed at people using the word "God" in the orthodox sense.  Much as I disagree with the orthodox concept of God, however, I wouldn't argue with the use of the word "God" in the orthodox sense. Surely orthodox Christians had the word "God" first. If by "God" the author means energy,
and if the author had wanted to clarify his views, he might have, for instance, refered to his concept as "God-energy";
and his views as "neo-Christian", or simply have refered to his interpretations of "the teachings of Jesus" (I think this would have been far more sensible, placing importance in the teachings of Jesus does not make you Christian, Muslims place importance in the teachings of Jesus, and Jesus himself was Jewish).  In any case, something is needed to clarify the discussion, as it is, the author used the words "God" and "Christian" both in the orthodox senses, and for his own meaning, with the result that it is often difficult to tell which he is referring to.



Jun. '03: One and the Many
Aug. '03: The Holy Spirit
Oct. '03: Meaningful Coincidence
Dec. '03: After Damascus
Feb. '04: The Afterlife
Apr. '04: What's so Amazing about Grace?
Jun. '04: Thin Ice?
Aug. '04: The Anatomy of Joy
Oct. '04: Scepticism


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