The Conversion of Saul

What an incredible representation of a famous moment of spiritual awakening!  Karen Wilkin’s description of Caravaggio’s painting is breathtaking.

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Woods Walking #8

Farewell to Winter         Original Post  March 18, 2010

Ah, the Spring Equinox is at hand, we remembered to “spring forward” last weekend and our evening walks along the Ault Park trails are now in the waning light of day.

I will miss the winter asterisms; Orion awakening, reclined on the eastern horizon before once again taking up the relentless pursuit of Taurus across the night sky. Soon I will not be able to nest Pollux in the nook of trunk and branch – that proximal and deep juxtaposition obscured by the fresh emergence of tender spring foliage.  I am hopeful for one more moonlit walk in the bare woods with the reflected, silvery lunar light allowing me to easily make my way.

I notice, on those moonlit nights, that the illumination from the Sea of Tranquility pales to that of the direct, revealing sun of the day.  Though, that soft light brings wonder: does humanity reflect the Eternal Wisdom of the heavens as well as the moon reflects “Old Sól,” as the moon pours diffuse light on these dark trails?

Moonlit Trail

Image: Peter Wimberg

It is a symbol of the Holy Triune Communication, from the blinding brightness of God our Creator communicated through the nourishing Light of the Holy Spirit for those who aspire to the Risen Body of Christ. Does the Living Spirit shine from our faces nearly as well?

Tonight’s evening illumination and warm temperatures affirm the approach of spring and the imminent Easter Season. The renewal of life and spirit stir from within the dormant slumber of winter and our personal Lenten rites.

First Light of Spring

Copyright © 2010 Rudolph Siegel

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Woods Walking #7

The Contemplative Path    Original Post  January 20, 2010
(Installment Started December 11, 2009)

Radical Amazement seeks to foster the contemplative way, for that is what will save us, that is what will transform us.” ~ Judy Cannato, “Radical Amazement”

Trevor and I went out to walk tonight about an hour after sunset. It was a beautiful clear night and I decided to get out before the forecast low temperatures could hang icicles on my nose. Thankfully the bone-chilling winds of the last few nights had died down, saving me from the biting nip of the cold.

Both of us preferred a brisk pace to ward off the brisk temperatures. The moon had yet to peek over the eastern horizon in the early evening sky, so we didn’t venture onto the dark narrow paths in the woods. There is no better way to find stumps, roots and rocks than to walk a dark trail. Instead, we walked about half way down the wide Valley Trail, crunching along its crushed rock with each noisy step.

When we stopped to turn around, I was struck by the sudden quiet. There was no breeze winnowing through the trees, no creaking of branches. All we could hear in the anechoic woods was an occasional, muffled bark sifting down the valley. The silence penetrated to my core.

We stood still for a long moment taking in the scene. It was dark so the woods were only vague, muted shapes with black veins of trunks, branches and twigs curving their way up into the deep indigo sky. The stars of the early evening shone brightly, decorating the dark limbs with the twinkling lights of the early Christmas season. Trevor’s head snapped from point to point with his ears cocked upward, as though he was hearing something. But all was calm.

In quiet moments like these, the woods seem to have a hypnotic effect. An intuitive, timeless sense of beauty wells up from the many different faces of this living wood. The quiet is calming and assuring, with its sense of peace coursing through my body. After contemplating the creative breath of God blown into the cosmos, coalescing over eons into this specific, life-giving place, the active, working, conscious mind of the day turns to the serene reception of the quiet beauty of the woods and the expanded sense of my own belonging. Here and now.

It is a psychic massage awaiting the wade into the deeper waters of intuition and a fuller immersion in the enduring peace of this natural place. The Sacred Quiet touches me and settles in harmony with my intuitive self, much as a quiet snowfall blankets and smoothes a mottled field.

It was too cold to linger very long on this calming path but, as we headed back to the warmth of home and hearth, it inspired my reflection on these contemplative moments that I’ve described in Woods Walking.

In spite of being from a large, active family, I always seemed able to find quiet moments of solitude, whether at rest, or even, at times, in the midst of repetitive activities when mind becomes observant and reflective within a process. There has always been an inviting inner sense, a siren that stirred my curiosity–to be aware and to probe.

At times there seems to be a gnawing void of unknown, a perceived potential, an open space of unanswered questions that is sensed and yearns for attention and exploration. It is the logical lattice of natural law that unfolds before me. It is analogous to peering across an open body of water and wondering what the far shore might hold.

“The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.”
~Kahlil Gibran

There are both active and passive moments of depth of sense. Some are centered in thought or spirit — lifted mind, while some can extend to a physical sensation, like adrenaline coursing through the body.

Active Contemplation

Active contemplation or prayer over something awe-inspiring can lead to moments of deeper and deeper awareness. From letting my mind wander out amongst the stars on a clear night to seeking out grand vistas from hills, dunes, or even from the lofty perch of flight. And, instead of a quiet mind passively awaiting a fuller encounter, a very active pursuit of a logical, philosophical, theological or metaphysical trail can lead to a sudden, quiet realization. Almost like summiting a peak–the strenuous climb ends with that first, awe-inspiring look over a limitless vista.

Sometimes such active, contemplative paths yield a Sweet Affirmation, a sense that can only be described as external to self. One such event was concurrent with contemplation of my personal genealogy, where the specific memories of parents and relations were considered and enjoyed. But I pursued them back past those relations, beyond those I’d known, hidden behind the veil of time, yet necessarily present in a lineal history in my own literal line of contingency–the continuous line of life, living, loving and struggle. It is the ancestral continuum and passage from life to life. My own seeking that knows people were there and are there in the legacy of the Risen Body.

As I moved from specific memories to contemplation of those souls, I was met with a sudden Sweet Affirmation–a wispy chorus of “Yes” perceived at the core of my being. And there were many present in that brief touch across time; faces unseen yet presence felt.

Linda Hogan, Native American Writer

Linda Hogan, Native American Writer

I have used a phrase in Woods Walking #3, “innate, intentional communication” to describe such an encounter. Innate because the sense is so intimate, so personal, so real, so deep; intentional because there is a non-verbal sense of what is intended, through emotion or direction, yet its meaning is intuitive and clear.

Another method of active contemplation that I “happened into” during my years as a student of philosophy at Xavier is what W. Norris Clarke, S.J. refers to as an active “drilling down in detail” on any given thing. An example is the causal consideration given to the metaphysics of a fork, as described in Woods Walking #2.1  This endeavor ultimately leads to that most fundamental, personal encounter with the fact of “being,” the most fundamental observation about our forks that is shared with all other aspects of reality, physical or spiritual–that “it is.” With adequate consideration, this leads to an encounter, a quiet moment of intuitive possession of this core reality, a possession that is beyond words and transcendent.

At some point, one encounters the raw fact of existence versus non-existence, whether personal (had “I” not been conceived) or, more radically, the stark, absolute concept of being versus non-being. Thankfully, moments of “I am” confirm our unified fact of existence!

Of course, our very personal intention, our perception, of our personal existence leads to that moment of Descartian realization, “I think, therefore I am.” “Cogito ergo sum.” As Fr. Clarke’s interview, “A Taste of Existence” suggests, encountering our intimate fact of existence leads to an innate feeling of joy, of belonging and of participation in a greater whole. It defines us personally: that I am, and we are, the human flower of the Breath of God into the cosmos, intended for the Communion of the One Body.

For me, that encountered sense of “belonging” leads to the sublime sense of Peace that I’ve described on quiet evenings. Fr. Clarke described it in “A Taste of Existence” as “blown mind,” that is, an expansion of one’s awareness to embrace our unique personal place within Creation, and that all of this “is Gift for us,” as is the intent of our Creator.

There is an utter humility, a boundless joy and a profound gratefulness found in acknowledgment of the Grace of this Gift.

We know it, we experience it at specific times and specific places, yet that moment, that realization of “I am” is timeless in its sense of encounter of the enduring, unconditional Love and Belonging from and with our Creator.

“To deliver oneself up,
to hand oneself over,
entrust oneself completely to the silence
of a wide landscape of woods and hills,
or sea and desert; to sit still while
… the sun comes up over the land
and fills its silences with light.

…few are willing to belong completely
to such silence, to let it soak into their bones,
to breathe nothing but silence, to feed
on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life
into a living and vigilant silence.”

~ Thomas Merton
from Thoughts in Solitude

Passive Contemplation

Passive moments of contemplation and deep intuition can be described as a sweet surprise, moments when we sense something that is at once larger than and outside of ourselves and may be beyond words, yet there is a sense of truth and familiarity that is all consuming, even overwhelming. From the realization—the raw perception—that we are truly loved, to the sudden glimpse of a grand vista, such “rush” moments touch us to the core with an undeniable intuitive sense that points to our own intimate personal roots in our human family, the nature that surrounds and enables us, and even our roots within Being and its “Prime Mover.”

Quiet Lifted Mind

Passive moments of deep intuition can occur even within repetitive activities. What athletes refer to as “the zone,” can be experienced as a deep, consuming awareness of what one’s body is doing reflexively, from bicycle riding to distance running and even, for me, as the pilot of an airplane–when the connectedness of awareness to mind to body to machine melt into the instantaneous appreciation of the seamless process of control and direction and the consuming, immediate unity of the moment. Such moments are intimately self-aware, reflective, yet distinctly “out of time.” For me, it is as though my awareness suddenly reaches down to the tips of my fingers and toes, embracing the totality of the moment. It is “being in the moment” without external distraction. And this is a passive encounter that happens almost without warning, yet with quite a pleasant glow.

I will close this installment with an appropriate link to APOD, titled “The Known Universe.” It is a wonderful short video that draws on the original, insightful, empirical, illumination of Carl Sagan and can serve as an inspiring source of active spiritual contemplation.

I Corinthians 12: 4-11:

Copyright © 2010 Rudolph Siegel

1 WW#2:

Read more at Woods Walking #9:

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Woods Walking #6

The Star in the East      Original Post  December 27, 2009

At about 7:30 PM on Christmas night, Trevor needed his walk and I needed to walk off a little Christmas cheer.

It was in the mid-thirties and gusty outside, so I pulled on my ski cap, a fleece and a jacket and ventured out to take in the evening. After a somewhat gloomy day, the evening sky swirled with a constant train of broken stratus clouds in a headlong rush from the southwest to the northeast. On the satellite view before heading out, the stratus appeared like the long wispy arm of a spiral galaxy as they rotated around the strong low pressure system that was centered over the upper mid-west.

Once outside, the cloud tops and edges glowed with the light of a half-moon set in a crystalline sky speckled with stars. We followed the eastern track of the clouds in search of the “The Star in the East.” Gemini’s Pollux became my muse as I looked up when we turned right onto Observatory.

The Feathery Nightime Trees

We followed the eastern star down the Valley Trail and ventured about halfway to the trestle, stopping just past the bowed sapling on the creek side of the trail. The quiet of the woods was a welcome respite from the days-long holiday rush and the happy bustle and chatter of family gatherings: all the traditions that mark the celebration of this Blessed Day.

At first, the woods were bathed in a quiet, muted breeze drawing through the trees. But then legions of molecules began their charge in strong gusts; first from the right, then the left, then from behind. It was surprisingly easy to track each gust as they marched along the tree lines. The dark, veiny, feathery trees bowed to the gusts and swayed back into place as the wind passed in a graceful choreography of a corps de ballet. The south hills, the north and the western hills all danced on cue to their charges.

The moonlight threw clear shadows on the ground until it ducked behind passing clouds. Then, diffuse light illumined our path and the swaying woods.

As I took in the scene it was easy on this blessed night to yield to a deeper sense. From the initial aural and visuals to the chill on my nose and cheeks, to the lifted mind that listened — slowing time and drawing in the peace of the moment. The enduring, eternal beatitudes took their places among the stars as I gazed up through the swaying trees and let my prayerful mind reach out and drink in the true sense of Peace that was palpable in the moment.

It was easy to imagine a manger up on the hillside and a scattering of shepherds’ camps, goats and oxen, all attuned to the Gift that now resided there.

The glittering Beauty, the enduring Hope, the Grace of that evening’s “Good News” sank in as it has done for the saints who preceded us for two millennia, and will do so for the saints that follow us, living — and breathing the Word of the Lord.

The intuition of this Christmas evening yielded a kiss of Peace that poured down on me, filling me with an energy that ran from my head to my toes and lightened my spirit, connecting me intimately with all that was around me – the immediate, the timeless and The Good.

“Hark! the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the New Born King.”

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

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Woods Walking #5

The Now Naked Earth     Original Post  November 12, 2009

We got out to walk this evening just after sunset, the earliest walk in more than a week. Under the early dusk light the changes were striking. With the windy conditions of the last few days, virtually all of the leaves were down. The trees have gone from lush and colorful to naked and spare, revealing the jagged, flowing detail of their structure, from stout trunks to an almost feathery spray of twigs reaching up, beseeching the skies as the season gradually yields to winter.

Once into the woods the new nakedness unveiled the topography of the hills as we walked down the Ridge Trail and then left onto the Bur Oak Trail. It would have been a fine evening for a cartographer to confirm plots, mapped elevations and geographic features. Looking across the Valley Trail to the south ridge, the white to light grays of sycamore trees stood out among the blandness of the other trees in the valley. The sycamores seem to thrive in the moist ground by the creek bed where they line the valley floor.

The sycamores reminded me of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again In Indiana.”  “The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright,
Through the sycamores for me.”

The Naked Earth

The leaves were thick under foot on the trail and had already lost their colors, now just a lifeless, crackling gray to brown. And even dry, they were slippery to walk on. On the hills I found myself walking from the knee on flat feet so that I wouldn’t slip trying to thrust forward while rolling off of my toes.

Our feet shuffled through the dry leaves on the trail with that familiar rustling sound that echoed of the playing in piles of leaves as a kid; that carefree time to frolic between school and dinner, long, long ago.

Suddenly, I caught a flash of white moving quickly through the gray-brown brush toward the creek. It was a white tailed deer that heard our approaching rustle then broke to the east toward the train trestle at the far end of the trail.

Trevor and I stopped abruptly to watch and listen. Trevor strained against his leash as we heard the heavy, bounding, earthy, muffled steps of the deer. Then it stopped out of sight and we moved to the end of the trail where we turned right, under the shadow of the trestle toward the creek. As we began our descent, the deer broke to the top of the hill, cleverly using brush and swales to conceal itself as much as possible. We caught a brief, full glimpse of a large, mature, eight-point buck before his hind quarters disappeared with a last flash of white down toward the creek on the north side of the Bur Oak Trail.

To this point of the walk, we were strolling easily downhill in the cool of the evening. For the first time this fall I felt the chill creeping under the buttoned sleeves of my maize chamois shirt. My arms bristled trying to hold warmth and the back of my thumbs actually felt cold as they swung to the pace of my gait.

But then we crossed the low creek under the trestle and began our long climb up to the far southeastern corner of the Forest Loop Trail. In the trudging climb my breath deepened and quickened. Half way up I unzipped my vest, then rolled back my sleeves two folds. I could feel the first sweat under the brim of my hat and around the back of my collar under the plies of t-shirt, shirt and vest. Trevor still eagerly pulled at the leash as I finished the folds of my sleeves.

My thumbs were now warmed with the rushing pulse of exertion.

We stopped a few times on the leveling grade to enjoy the waning light and the dimming, blurring roll of the hills and valleys, noting the random patterns of the old, fallen wood.

As we walked across some old fallen bricks at the southeastern-most point of the Forest Loop, where the trail starts its turn west, I regained the sense of history in these woods. From these bricks of the Ault family vineyard nearly a hundred years before, to the whisper of quiet footsteps from the Miami and Shawnee tribes of centuries past, I listened for the quiet echo that might issue from the legacy of the soil. From the old leaves that knew the step and rustle of these former people; our ancestors in the body of humanity.

I looked up through the now dark, current stand of trees toward the waning pale blue of the horizon and upward to a darkening indigo sky. The bright sphere of Jupiter winked in and out from behind the trees as we made our way off of the trails. We finished the walk under inky skies, that vast stage just beginning to bring up the lights of the brightest stars, Vega, Deneb and Altair.

At the close of this evening, I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, giving thanks for the wonder and glory of life.

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

The Dusk Wood

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Woods Walking #4

Fall Colors        Original Post October 24, 2009

During my walks this week, I have been treated to a riot of color. As you know from my first installment, this is still my first year of regular evening walks on the trails of Ault Park. It’s been a delight to watch the gradual deepening of colors as fall displays its natural changes.

Earlier this week I turned down the last Observatory hill from under an immediate canopy of leaves to see a grand pallet of colors; reds, yellows, oranges and even hints of maroon edging into purple. The park’s weeping cherry trees put on a daily, almost balletic performance, changing from green to reds and orange, before falling from their branches with an orange-yellow hue. The colors are vibrant, bright and beautiful. The trails were carpeted with all these dappled colors, as the leaves spend their last hours before beginning their decay into the arboreal legacy of the forest floor.

Tonight, after a full day of drenching rain, the leaves became like a waxed floor. Suddenly, my dog Trevor took off after a squirrel and I began to skate along the Ridge Trail, being pulled by his leash until I could get a firm footing against a root to halt his nose-down pursuit. “T-dog” will dream of it tonight and the squirrel will sleep soundly after loudly defending his lofty winter perch, staring down at us with its own bark and a few defiant flicks of its tail.

The immediate signs of the annual autumnal cycle of life played out before me and put me in mind of the analogy to our own human cycle. The woods offer up a quick study of this natural cycle, from the fresh, frail seedlings that gird for their first winter to the adolescent saplings that yearn for space and light to the mature giants that shout with color before yielding yet another crop of leaves to the deepening soil.

And there is dying and death. The beauty of the foliage precedes the leaves’ final bow before they fall to the forest floor and seemingly melt into the rich, lush soil that will produce yet another and another spring and summer of leaves. And the giant, fallen trunks that lie on the floor of the woods, from the freshly fallen to the now rotting, disintegrating piles that snake through the woods, yielding to the earth.

The Natural Cycle of Life

The leaves, the trees and all the plants of the woods are a natural product of the “stuff” of Mother Earth, arising from the “substantial lineage” of Creation. As mentioned in Woods Walking #2, the potency of the common substance that we share in being, upon which our very existence depends, is playing out its current display from a long continuum of coming to be. From the raw, primal elements of the Big Bang – hydrogen, helium and lithium – through the pressure of stellar furnaces that yielded all the elements that we know today — this “stuff” now is highly organized in a physical, chemical matrix that yields life in all its joys and sorrows, in all its newness, youth, aging and dying.

And I, amidst this play of life, am of an age to have seen the birth of my own daughter and the death of my own parents. Yet I see here in these woods that the yielding of life is to yet another generation, and generations to come after these. The plants and trees write their legacy in the soil under foot, while we reflect on what we see before us, communicate it and pass our own legacies on to our family, friends and offspring. Ours is a legacy of the Word and of knowledge, of life and love. These are our soil.

And we express our joy and gratitude back to God our Creator and to the Communion of Saints within the Body of Christ, the living legacy of our second birth through death into that Eternal Communion, as we realize – and live – the potential of this “stuff” of Creation from which all life springs. We, as the human offspring of God’s Creation, witness the beauty and glory of our very existence and opportunity to share in it and reflect our wonder and joy over it to our loved ones and back to our Creator.

I stop on the trail for a moment and revel in my own “I am.” I reflect on the long continuum of time that has led to my personal coming to be and this current moment, here on this 23rd day of October in the year 2009 A.D./C.E., at the colorful dusk of another day. I trace my genealogy that yields to the forest floor, to the stuff of being and the “substantial lineage” back to the moment of creation. This reflection yields to an instantaneous Presence within which, in spirit, I lay prostrate in humility and thankfulness for this wondrous, ineffable Gift of Life. Tonight, there is no infused contemplation, just a personal upwelling of joy and gladness; from me to You.

Then Trevor pulls at the leash, I come back to self. Time, and the evening — and we — march on.

During outdoor walking practice – in order to connect more deeply with all of the healing elements within and around you – you may want to stop walking from time to time and simply breathe ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

The Colors of Fall

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Woods Walking #3

A Spiritual Overcast    Original Post October 8, 2009

Here we are two weeks past the autumnal equinox and my evening walks are now mostly after dark. And tonight we are under heavily laden skies blocking my view of the bright evening stars, as the familiar Fall and Winter asterisms move over us while Mother Earth arcs its way around the sun once again.

But for the last few days, I have also been under a spiritual overcast. Lifted, prayerful mind finds a dark, lonely stratus, as though a loved one is away for a time. I am missing that quiet, innate intentional communication. Is it me Lord? Have I drawn a cocoon around myself? Or is it You leading ahead out of sight so that I must run to catch up – to see and feel again that familiar Presence and Warmth of Your Spirit, whether from the Communion of Saints or Your own Holy Spirit?

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” ~ Hafiz

Like ancient mariners who relied solely on the stars to find their way, I know that the overcast will yield, even if partially. Soon I will see glimpses of the stars of Orion – Rigel stunningly bright after days of absence, peeking crisply around wispy edges. The mariner will get a fix on that one known star and plot the ship’s progress over uncertain waters.

I have made passage of these same dark waters before. Yet the darkness is a gift of its own. It puts me in mind of Your wondrous Presence when You are there. Inside this period of darkness, this period of lonely heart and restless soul, there is still a glimmer of light knowing that You have been there, and You will be once again.

Just as I know the stars shine above this evening’s dark overcast, I know that You are there as well with the familiar Communion of Saints. Whether waiting, or calling.

Patience and hope will bring once again the unbridled joy of clear skies, the steady deck of calm waters, a glad heart and the Peace of intimate presence with You again.

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

The Clearing Sky

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Woods Walking #2

The Metaphysics of a Fork   Original Post:  September 9, 2009

One evening, a good friend and I, a friend who had spent some time in Tibet after some tough turns in life, were talking about Zen Buddhism.  I mentioned one of my favorite books, “God, Zen and the Intuition of Being” by James Arraj.  In it, Arraj explores the similarities between Eastern and Western traditions of mysticism and Catholic metaphysics; specifically the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas.  The discussion turned toward a specific example of metaphysics and we used a common kitchen fork as our subject of analysis.  Let’s revisit that analysis here to drill down through the details of a fork to arrive at the most fundamental aspect of “being.”

I’ll start this installment with a snippet from the introduction to Part One of Arraj’s wonderful book.  He quotes the experience of a friend, thus:

“Early one morning when I was busy making breakfast the sun came over the horizon and its first rays streamed through a window and struck a red cup sitting on the kitchen table. I had seen that cup hundreds of times before. I had washed it, put it away, drunk from it, and let my fingers get warm around it, but until that morning I had never truly seen it. The sun seemed to illuminate the cup from within. It was no longer a simple kitchen utensil, but sat there in the middle of the table aglow with being. I felt, ‘This isn’t just a cup. It is!’ And the radiance of this “is” took my breath away.”


With “Metaphysics of a Fork,” I want to “look behind the curtain” of intuitive feelings such as this one and the many others that were blogged about on Shared Reflections. (ref:

I’ll start with a similar experience that happened during my sophomore year at Xavier. It was the Spring of 1976 in a Philosophy of Science class taught by Prof. Alvin “Rocky” Marrero. My experience that day was more of an academic epiphany of a theoretical nature, whose foundation was my then-current class load including University Physics, Rocky’s class and Dr. Walter Clark’s class, History and Systems of Mysticism.

In the midst of the lecture that day, I realized that scientists and mystics were likely describing the same “ultimate reality,” yet from their respective, unique perspectives. One of empirical pursuit, one of deep faithful listening. It was a personal “Summa” moment, where something had been stirring in my subconscious; a million-piece puzzle coming together from the corners and edges, working inward toward an evolving, complete picture. It was the red cup on the table screaming out its unique existence, awaiting my comprehension.

I took this eureka moment to Prof. Marrero at the end of class and we looked at each other with a shared “wow.” We both knew that there was not then (nor still) an applicable scientific method that made such a theory testable. So it quietly became part of my philosophical “self appropriation,” as advocated by then Philosophy department head Dr. Bernard Gendreau in his personal philosophical systematic.

Quantum theory is a form of mysticism. A rational mysticism. Vice versa: Mysticism: an ancient method for exploring the world. ~ Lothar Schafer, Infinite Potential

Scientists, specifically the high energy physicist, astrophysicist and cosmologist, work tirelessly to study and understand the ultimate “stuff” of reality. The Large Hadron Collider is just such an effort: science looking for the so-called “god particle.” It’s a quest that goes back to ancient thinkers in the earliest recorded history regarding the identification of fundamental elements of existence, e.g., earth, air, fire and water. By 1976, scientists had Einstein’s General Relativity, and more recently solutions such as the Friedmann Equations, now confirmed by recent observation and measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background. The Friedmann Equations estimate the total amount of “stuff” in the entire universe. Wow, how far we’ve come! (ref:

The mystic, on the other hand, regardless of cultural or religious tradition, is seeking out and encountering the pure experience of raw perception, of life, of our very being found in a disciplined, ascetic quietude. In a sense, it can be thought of as a person “tuning in their natural, cosmic radio,” sometimes referred to as an extra sense, or lifted mind or the wound of love. (ref:

Both Catholic metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas and today’s cosmology describe a fundamental unity that permeates and connects all things. That which forms the most fundamental core “being,” or primal substance, upon which a diverse reality is built and presents itself to our senses, both physical and transcendent. (ref:

St. Thomas Aquinas

My personal summary comes in the simple word, “participation,” a sense I had developed and a word confirmed in my reading of the W. Norris Clarke, SJ interview, linked to in Woods Walking #1. It is what we experience and expressed on Shared Reflections. These are intuitive moments, a deep sense of instantaneous participation and belonging as expressed so well by Raissa Maritain early in the Twentieth Century: “At the sight of something or other, a soul will know in an instant that these things do not exist through themselves and that God is.” Yet, as Fr. Clarke suggests in his interview, “A Taste of Existence,” we can “drill down” into these intuitive feelings and come to appreciate why they are so dear to us.

“A synthesis embracing both rational understanding and the mystical experience of unity is the mythos, spoken or unspoken, of our present day and age.” ~Wolfgang Ernst Pauli

So, let’s partake in Fr. Clarke’s analysis by looking at the metaphysics of a fork, wherein we will drill down in detail concerning a specific thing. In this case something handy and familiar, much like the red cup. Borrowing from the toolbox of Thomistic metaphysics, we’ll look at a fork on the order of causality – that which makes it “to be.”

The order of causality includes:
Intrinsic Causes: Material Cause and Formal Cause, i.e., the substance and form of a fork; and
Extrinsic Causes: Efficient Cause and Final Cause, i.e., the how and why of a fork.

With your fork in hand, consider in as much detail as you care these causes.

Intrinsic Causes:

Formal Cause: The formal cause is the design, or concept of the fork. With its long narrow tines it is meant to provide a firm grip on food with a stabbing motion while both cutting and carrying the cut piece to the mouth. Imagine eating meat using a spoon instead of a fork. On the other hand, we eat peas with a fork when a spoon would be better suited to the job of scooping and shoveling. But that’s convention and convenience. Now consider the form of your everyday fork versus fine silverware; one inexpensive, plain and sturdy, the other ornate, cherished and reserved for special occasions. The “form” of our forks runs from drive-through plastic designs to Corelle and Oneida.

Material Cause: What is your fork made of, what is the “stuff” giving the form or design considered above its material? Sterling silver, stainless steel, tin, plastic, wood, or we can go back in the history of cutlery to ivory or bone. Consider the “stuff” of your fork in as much detail as you care even down to the chemistry and molecular structure of the plastic, or the coefficient of expansion of the metal, or its bending modulus. Even the heat conductivity – if you hold a sterling silver fork in a hot bowl of stew, you will readily feel the heat of the food conducted into the handle. It’s a rare property that contributes to the perceived value of silver tableware. Meanwhile, at Fermi Labs, or at the Large Hadron Collider, the particle physicist is searching for the smallest possible building blocks that compose the stuff of your fork. Perhaps they are bosons, fermions or even the aforementioned “god particle.” And these will be amazingly simple. Consider what a child can build with Legos, or a computer programmer can achieve with binary ones and zeroes…

Material and formal causes are essential to the being of your fork. Without material, the fork is merely a concept or drawing. Without form, your fork is chunks of raw metal or plastic pellets, or a block of unhewn wood or a piece of bone.

Extrinsic Causes:

Efficient Cause: This is the “efficient agent” that acts on the substance to give it form. Who makes the form “to be”? Who gives shape to the ivory, bone, wood, stainless steel, plastic or silver? From a caveman with a sharp-edged stone to today’s silversmith working with metal in a foundry, or injection molding of plastics–these are the people who give shape to the stuff of your fork. Without someone acting on the material, your fork would never come to be as it is in your hand. Even once the fork is made, it has to be distributed to a store or shipped direct to your door. Digging even deeper in the instance of a metal fork, someone had to mine the raw metal oxide. A plastic fork requires crude oil that was drawn from a well, refined and processed to create the plastic pellets used in the molding process. The efficient cause acts on the material to realize the form envisioned.

Final Cause: You can impress–or confound–your friends with this statement: “The Final Cause is the first cause in the order of causes.” The final cause is the why, the intent or the will behind the creation of your fork. It begins with a need or a desire. In the case of your fork, an efficient means to handle food that protects the consumer from the heat of the cooked food, and/or keeps the hands of the preparers off of the meat you are about to enjoy and hold the food firmly in place as it is cut and consumed. The final cause is the “prime mover,” or the first cause in the process of making your fork come to be. From the caveman who wanted to stop burning his hands on the cooked bison to the chief designer at Oneida, there is some one person with a vision or a need that conceives the form based on the founding intent.

The extrinsic causes are external to your fork, nonetheless they are as essential to its coming to be, from the desire to have a fork, the final cause, to the external action taken to make the fork–to impart the form in the material–the efficient cause.

There, we have engaged in the metaphysics of your fork! In this process of analysis, one also begins to sense the contingencies necessary to create your fork, from the miners and refiners, to the designers and marketers, there is a long continuum of causality that literally brought your fork to the table.

As with the red cup at the beginning of this installment, your fork “is.” As Fr. Clarke says, that is the most fundamental aspect of your fork, that it is–that it exists. The real magic begins, as Clarke further describes in his interview, when we’ve drilled down in detail on any one thing and arrive at its unique fact of existence, and then begin to go out horizontally and apply this realization to all things, even to the entire universe. As Clarke suggests, then our mind is “blown” as we begin to appreciate our own “being” and our participation in a greater whole. What was your cause?

Finally, one of the most awe-inspiring aspects realized in this metaphysical consideration is the role of intelligence as the final cause: the role of a sentient, reflective being who conceives and acts to create something of value. This eventually evolves into a discussion in the specific area of philosophy of God and theology, and the “why” of our creation. What is the intent of the Prime Mover “On the first day,” or prior to the Big Bang? Fr. Clarke offers a perspective on this question: to “communicate” the wonder, glory and joy of Being with His creation.

Perhaps that is why beauty touches us at such a deep, intuitive level: it is Gift from our Creator.  And from an ecstatic perspective, it is gift with our Creator.

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

The Wooded Cathedral


For further contemplation, I want to provide a couple of compelling links as a followup to Woods Walking #2 and “The Metaphysics of a Fork.” It would seem that two critical contingencies for the making of any “thing” are intelligence and the substance, “stuff” or material cause of that “thing.”

From a human perspective, intelligence and its personal coming to be is contingent upon a person coming to be–the substance of parents contributing to new life, a new soul and the miracle of a new person.

So I’ve been “drilling down” into the source of our “stuff,” rolling back through anatomy, organic chemistry and physics to cosmology and the Big Bang. Disregarding the science versus religion, and Creation versus evolution controversies for the moment, let’s look at how science views the evolution of “stuff,” i.e., where did the elements of the periodic table come from?

Here is a revealing article from The Wall Street Journal titled “The Making of the First Star,” that looks at the profound, recently published work of Japanese and American cosmologists.…

Here is a crucial statement from the article concerning the work of these cosmologists:

“Through succeeding generations of stars, these stellar furnaces forged hydrogen, helium and lithium into *all of the other elements of the periodic table*, including the star stuff of which we all are formed.”

So hydrogen, helium and lithium could be considered the “primordial soup” from the Big Bang, that within the environment of “stellar furnaces,” created the stuff of which our sun, solar system and ourselves are made–from which temporal life arose.

To envision this “stellar furnace” process, here’s a link to today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, a.k.a., APOD:

It is an image of the Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888. It is a fascinating picture of a dying star as it yields the contents of its “furnace,” including the blue-green oxygen prominent at the boundaries of the nebula.

Now, if we roll back the cosmological clock to a point 400,000 years before the formation of this theoretical “proto star,” we arrive at the Big Bang. This is where science stops since the Big Bang is the beginning of SpaceTime, to put it in relativistic terms. At this point of consideration, a statement by the Fifth Century BCE philosopher Parmenides comes to mind, “ex nihilo nihil fit,” nothing comes from nothing…

If we were in an imaginative time machine, and we could force the controls back past zero, Who or what is there? The logic of the moment, allowing for either theological faith or philosophical projection, suggests a *transformation* of the “Stuff of God,” or a primal, underlying substance in a Creative Moment that yielded inflation and these primordial building blocks of all that is in our known, temporal universe.

Logically, it establishes a “substantial lineage”, i.e., “of stuff.” This implies literally that we are indeed the Children of God, the Creator, formed not only in His image and likeness, but out of a traceable continuum to His very “stuff” of Being. It is consistent, on the order of causality, as we considered in the metaphysics of your fork.

Intelligence and substance are prime contingencies.

All of this yields a prayer for me: “Oh Lord God, truly we are of You, and truly we are for You. Amen.”

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Woods Walking #1

Original Post: August 18, 2009

First, thanks to Elaine Seuss for setting up the original Bellarmine Chapel page, “Shared Reflections.” I found it to be an opportunity to be gift to one another, perhaps on a deeper, more personal level: an electronic ficelle that can encourage a deeper personal exploration that can sometimes be difficult to convey in person.

I have set up Woods Walking to explore Humanity, Spirit and God and to dive into the deeply personal, intimate experience of our participation in this temporal reality into which we all were born and awaken to everyday. While honoring our rich human history of faith traditions, this blog page and these posts will explore the “organic” experience of living and explore the synthesis of our faith traditions with the astounding empirical learning of the past five hundred years.

As humanity expands its vision of the reality in which we participate and live, from geocentric and heliocentric to flat earth perspectives and the very recent comprehension of the vastness of our universe, these posts will explore the synthesis of this new knowledge with the faith traditions experienced and celebrated since the beginning of recorded history.

The “organic” experience of our being is the immediate environment before us and in these posts I want to “smell the roses” and communicate the depth of meaning that can be gleaned from our physical senses, our reflective knowledge and our innate, transcendent, spiritual sensibility.

So, Woods Walking.

My evening dog walks through Ault Park have become a rather peripatetic exercise. My wife Barb and I have lived near Ault Park for 27 years, and only this year — this Spring — have I begun to take advantage of the wonderful trails through the woods in the park.

Park Trails

Of course, after giving thought to the events of the day, I let the quiet of the woods take over. Then the contemplative philosopher in me percolates to the surface. I am disposed, thanks to my Jesuit teachers, to consider things through the metaphysical lens cut and polished by St. Thomas Aquinas, “The Angelic Doctor.”

One of the key tools for contemplation of “things” is “the analogy of being.” Given that all things share the raw act of existence — to be– how do things before me express themselves, communicate themselves through their being? From the sameness of the shared core “act of existence,” how do things differentiate themselves? From the rocks and soil under foot, to the plants and animals. And of course, the other people taking in the evening — with or without pets.

As I add to this over time, I’ll link or refer to influential writers and thinkers who have been important to me in the course of my journey. The first link for this installment is W. Norris Clarke, S.J. I didn’t personally study under Fr. Clarke, but I studied at Xavier (BA Philosophy, 1978) under contemporaries of his; men educated early in the 20th Century, some of whom barely escaped WWII as they left their studies in France ahead of the rapidly advancing German blitzkrieg. The late Robert Schmidt, S.J. directed my Philosophy Senior Comprehensive Review in preparation for our comprehensive oral and written exams. Like Clarke, Fr. Schmidt was classically trained.

The first link is to an interview with Fr. Clarke by James Arraj, publisher of  I leave it in my Internet trail as “my” website linked on message boards, etc.  Appropriately, it is titled “A Taste of Existence.” To me, this interview is sort of the Cliffs Notes to “the meaning of life.” Well, at least from a Thomistic perspective. It is a wonderful distillation of Fr. Clarke’s faith, thinking and experience of God.

In these notes, we will “taste existence” and roll it around in our mouths, so to speak, like a fine wine noting its hints and nuances. In keeping with the original intent of  Shared Reflections, the most important nuances are those of faith, spirituality and the immediate, intimate experience of the transcendent.

I hope you enjoy these reflections. I look forward to your observations, perspectives — and personal experiences.

Walk along:

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

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Woods Walking — Welcome

Welcome to Woods Walking, where we explore the mysteries of Humanity, Spirit and God. Through this blog, I share my personal journey in spirituality and the immediate, human experience of our personal sentient self within our natural world.  It is an experience, a journey, that ultimately connects us through quiet listening to the Greater Glory of Being.

We will follow the path of my recent awakening to the meaning of spiritual experiences that I had earlier in my life.  I will describe the intimate process of understanding the personal meaning behind these significant spiritual experiences; one at a very young age1, and another while in college2.

This is also an exploration of our shared human spiritual capacity in relation to what has traditionally been known as the Supreme Being3 through simple prayer, contemplation, mystical encounter, and even near-death experiences.  We will look at the common roots of such encounters, regardless of one’s religious or spiritual tradition.

The Word of God is simple, and seeks out as its companion a heart that listens. … Neither the clergy nor ecclesiastical law can substitute for the inner life of the human person.  — Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

Posting under the blog title “Woods Walking,” I will start with the everyday immediate experience of nature and beauty and look behind the curtains of deepening levels of understanding to arrive at accessible, useful and real meaning.

And in the face of today’s expansive cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics, we will explore the intersection of science and spirituality.  As human understanding reaches beyond the limits of our known universe, we’ll expand our vision within this emerging, new Copernican moment in history and open ourselves to a newly perceived relationship with the Supreme Being and how humanity’s relationship to God may be seen in a new light.

It is a vision where a radically connected empirical reality encounters similar concepts of fundamental unity as expressed by human traditions  for thousands of years in theology, mysticism and metaphysics.

With my personal background as a Roman Catholic, I will refer to the Supreme Being as God.  As a Catholic, I embrace other historical spiritual traditions, since, as a human family, we share a common innate spiritual capacity and our literal, traceable roots in nature–in Being.

The “mission” of this blog is not one of conversion.  Rather it is one of ecumenism, an ecumenism inspired by deep spiritual encounter and the profound unity found there in the roots of our very being.  It is a oneness based on our shared source in nature, in the substance of being, as well as the latent spiritual capacity in all men and women that is so easily overlooked in our daily lives.

In that way, Woods Walking is a call back to our inner selves and our true, natural capacity for quiet spiritual encounter.  Spirituality has been overlooked as so many have revolted against the surface trappings of dogma, injustice or the inflexible nature of existing religious institutions.  Meanwhile, many institutions have hidden the empowering aspects of spirituality in the deep recesses of monasticism–deliberate or not.  This separation from our inner selves creates a shepard/sheep duality that serves the institution and veils the individual from their own true capacity for encounter, an encounter that leads to an authentic individual life within community.

It is important to note that this blog should not become a wedge between one’s own faith traditions and an awakened presence to spirit.  Rather, it should enrich any one tradition, much as the earliest spiritual encounters of humanity inspired establishment of religions.  Just as important, the diversity of religious expression should not serve to invalidate any one tradition.  Diversity of religious expression is reflected in nature itself through the awe-inspiring differentiation among genus and species.

“I love you my brother whoever you are whether you worship in your Church, kneel in your Temple, or pray in your Mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the diverse paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of one Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, eager to receive all.”
~Kahlil Gibran

Meanwhile, it is far too easy to allow the “noise” of our five physical senses to drown out our personal, quiet spiritual sense, whether seen as a receptive intuition or even as a communicative capacity for a transcendent encounter.  The busy-ness of work, the noise of media and and the absorption of family and social activity offer easy distraction from the quiet of the inner self.

Woods Walking listens for that spiritual breeze through the synapses of our mind and our soul.  This blog starts at the personal roots of such experience, that seed of deeper personal awareness.

How might your seed grow?

I have titled each entry “Woods Walking,” as they are inspired, in part, by the immediate observations of nature encountered during my nightly walks, originally with my now-deceased Irish Setter, “Trevor.”  In these entries I explore the synthesis of the immediate, sentient and real that is present before us and directly accessible–via empirical, even scientific analysis, with the experiential tradition of spiritual encounter and revelation, i.e., faith and religion.  I explore the encountered unity between these often dialectically opposed camps.  From time-to-time, I will use philosophical tools of exposition that have evolved over the centuries.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

~ Henry David Thoreau

On the Path

I dedicate this blog to my parents who served as a constant example of faith through their living, intimate awareness of a real spiritual presence. Based on their faith-life example, I was called at an early age — while fidgeting during Sunday mass at about 7 or 8 years old — to follow their path. As I’ve matured, I’ve learned–experienced–in a very personal, intuitive way that there is an intimate, Spiritual Presence that is myself in relationship with Someone that is loving and available when sought out.

I have made myself open to our sixth spiritual sense that, at times, has made itself present to me, sometimes quietly, and sometimes in an overwhelming rush of sensibility–at times in waking moments and at others while asleep.  I have also found that spirituality is not necessarily an immediately present sense like those of touch or taste, but rather it is something that develops, much like one’s sexual self — a latent force that gradually develops in proportion to the amount of attention one permits.

Personal spirituality is also a discipline, much like playing music or mastering a new language or playing a sport.  Like these other disciplines, one can be graced with a natural disposition for such a sense.  I know by my own experience that I am blessed to be among those with such an innate disposition.

Again, welcome, and I look forward to sharing our mutual experiences of spirit, faith and humanity in relation to God and our real, intimate communication. God Bless! Rudy

Five Mile Beach

Copyright © 2010 Rudolph Siegel

1 Woods Walking #10: The First Encounter
2 Woods Walking #9: Three Nights of Affirmation
3 Brother David Steindl-Rast on our relationship to God:

A footnote on January 8, 2013:  Recently I came across references to Fr. Thomas Keating, a leader in the Centering Prayer movement and founder of the ecumenically important Snowmass Inter-Religious Conferences.  Below is a link to a video featuring Fr. Keating discussing “Oneness” and addressing a broad range of ways in which we encounter God in our lives and through contemplation.  I have found this video very affirming of my own experiences recounted here in “Woods Walking.”  Keating’s insights, combined with his personal humor, humility and accessibility, are marvelous.  He is inspired.  He “is the Other”!

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