On a recent trip to Galveston Island, I found my thoughts drifting to a few ideas to which I was exposed this summer.  Professor Tony Pinn has suggested that we expand our definition of text to include the texts of our bodies, the flesh and blood reality upon which our lived experience is incribed; he further invites us to consider other texts beyond the traditional sacred books (e.g. music, visual arts, film).  Pinn’s work is deeply engaging, and I hear in it the invitation to examine all of my life experiences theologically.

In a complementary way, Professor Ann Taves’ recent work in the philosophy of religion moves from the traditional academic conception of “religious experience” to the broader category of “experiences deemed religious.”  Taves argues that experiences deemed religious are the building blocks of the more complex systems of religion and spirituality that we form.  Taves balances the subjectivity inherent in experience with an academically critical approach that encompasses the natural and social sciences as it advances a broad view of what might constitute the religious.

I suppose it’s a peril of the trade, but these are the thoughts that swirled in my mind as we boarded the Port Bolivar ferry.  It was an especially windy day as the boat set out, providing strong currents upon which the seabirds wheeled and dove.  As we crossed the bay, pods of dolphins rose and sank to the “Oohs” and “Ahhs” of the passengers.  The smell of the saltwater was strong and refreshing; we leaned against the side of the ferry looking out.  Slowing as we reached Port Bolivar, a host of brown pelicans glided in at the boat’s side and bobbed there in the swell.  We waited for the ferry to unload and load again, then we rode back toward Galveston, enjoying the show a second time.

I couldn’t help but think that to read that scene was to read a great sacred story.  I saw and experienced it in the dolphins, the birds, the breeze, and the bay.  I felt it in my own body, too, as I breathed island air much cleaner than the Houston smog, thick with ozone and particulate matter.  Our ride on the ferry was an experience that I would deem religious, by which I mean that that moment in my story brought the realization of a much larger story.  As I stepped off the ferry, I felt once again in love with the Gulf Coast ecosystem of which I am a part.  And I felt obligated to relate to it, to care for it, to be ever mindful of it.

I wonder, then, how you relate to the book of the world?  To what texts do you currently turn for wisdom:  sacred stories, music, visual arts, film, your own body?  And what experiences would you deem religious:  a church service, a morning walk, a good meal, or something else?  I invite you to tell a story or share an example.  I can’t wait to read your thoughts.

With aloha,

J

*see Tony Pinn’s The End of God-Talk (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) and Ann Taves’ Religious Experience Reconsidered (Princeton University Press, 2009)

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