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Life Arts    H4'ed 6/25/15

The existence of God and the purpose of life

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In one conversation with fellow classmates at my high school in the days that passed, it was suggested that I write down what I was talking about. I answered that the book had already been written. I had never seen such a book, but I was somehow quite certain that someone had already written the book, and it would be unnecessary for me to write it; I was certain enough of this to stubbornly reject my friend's suggestion.

As a few years passed, I tried to develop this understanding into a philosophy. The primary motivation of human beings was to reinforce a sense of their own existence through the things and people around them. Thus, people seek the company of others because the presence of others, being like themselves, reinforces the awareness of their own existence. So-called inanimate objects, sharing the structure of humanity in their atoms and molecules, also resemble people in that way and remind them of themselves. Ugliness was the opposite, that which does not reinforce the awareness of our existence. I had trouble understanding exactly why the existence of God fits into this equation, but it did. The awareness of love and beauty was accompanied by an intense awareness of the presence and love of God. I also pondered why the opposite sex generally appeals to the great bulk of humanity as more attractive than the same sex, as it would seem that, that which is like us should affirm our existence more than that which is different. So these matters I was unable to work out.

During this encounter, there was no mention of Jesus. This was not a Bible-based exchange, although that does not preempt an understanding of it that embraces what one finds in the Bible. I thought of God as a daring entity who had risked himself boldly to reveal himself to me in a time of great need, without my asking.

I had once been a great admirer of Henry David Thoreau. But after the encounter with God described above, I could no longer hold him in the same esteem, because I understood the purpose of the universe. Thoreau, my ideal in the past, paled in comparison to the universal truths and their profound reality that had been revealed to me. This is not meant to be a criticism of Thoreau. I am only recounting my thoughts and feelings about it at the time.


A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of researching some correspondence addressed to Edward C. Caswell, an early 20th Century illustrator of books and magazines. Caswell was a beloved individual who, in the later part of his life, took up residence in the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street in New York and was instrumental in establishing the outdoor art shows in Greenwich Village. Through his work, which consisted of both illustration and teaching, Caswell came to befriend some of the famous people who lived in his neighborhood. Among the pieces of the above-mentioned correspondence were two letters addressed to Caswell from the actress Dorothy Stickney. Few remember her name today, but she co-starred with her husband, Howard Lindsey in the play "Life With Father," which was for many years the longest running show on Broadway. Howard Lindsey, interestingly enough, went on to write, with Russell Crouse, the "book" for the play, "Sound of Music," which became, and remains, one of the most popular theatrical and cinematic productions. In an effort to find out more about Ms. Stickney, I obtained a copy of the actress's autobiography, "Openings and Closings." [4] Interestingly enough, Ms. Stickney writes of an encounter with God. This is what she had to say:

In February (1938?) the amazing thing happened. I am going to try to record it. It has grown dim now, but it will never be lost to me as long as I can hold close even the memory of its brilliance. I know of no words in the human language that are adequate to describe it, but I will try.

On that morning I had reached the very bottom of despair. I realized that there was no outside help for me anywhere, and that if I survived, the help would have to come from within. But after the repeated failures I was empty of hope. Empty of everything. I simply stopped struggling and let go. I got out of bed and stood looking out the window at the poplar tree. Then--the incredible thing started happening. The thing that set that period of my life apart from all the rest of it.

It was like a door gradually opening--like a light, dim at first and then growing brighter and brighter until my whole being was illuminated. The door opened full and I saw the complete view. It was no longer believing in God. It was KNOWING. I knew with absolute certainty. It was a shining realization that I was of the same essence--an actual expression of all the good, the strength, the power, the love that is God. It was absolute assurance of infinity, or perhaps I should say eternity. Not eternity to come but eternity NOW, and I was at the center of it. I was no longer afraid. I was secure and safe. The fact that I was sick simply didn't matter. The bad things had no importance, no reality. All was good. There was no such thing as sin. Mistakes--and mistakes didn't matter either--but never sin. Perhaps mistakes had a place in the scheme of things and were necessary for the working out of a plan. I was one with the universe and everything in it--with people and animals and trees and inanimate objects, and I loved it all passionately. The whole world was indescribably beautiful. All pressures were gone. I felt unhurried, perhaps for the first time in my life, and yet there was tremendous excitement and glory. It was as though I possessed a new sense--beyond any of the human senses I had known before. It was an illumination that one could no more encompass in words than one could describe color to the blind or sound to the deaf. It was like being in love--only more wonderful. It gave a color, a shine to everything, as love does. This radiance and rapture lasted over a few weeks--three or four perhaps, not continuously (I doubt that one could have lived continuously at that pitch of ecstasy) but intermittently and after that at longer intervals. I would wake in the mornings--not slowly but suddenly--bright awake with such joy growing and expanding inside me that I would hardly contain it. A smile would start deep down before it came to the surface of my face. I sang as I dressed. When the radiance was brightest inside it must have shown through because sometimes I would notice in the mirror that I actually looked different. Smooth skin and bright eyes and all look of strain gone.

One night, riding alone to the theatre in a taxi, I had a vivid realization of the kinship of all human beings--the taxi driver, the other actors the people walking on the streets--that I was one with them and that we were all part of the same great idea and that I loved them all. We passed an old drunken derelict and I longed to stop the cab and tell him that I loved him.

I was sick, but the strange thing was that it didn't matter. There was the assured feeling that I would be well sometime, but above and beyond that it didn't even matter if I wasn't, or even if other misfortunes came. Nothing could destroy me inside if I could only keep the gates open to this wonderful awareness, and keep in touch as long as I could with this new source of supply.


Susan Lindauer is a political activist, author and radio talk show host [5] who has suffered confinement for her convictions and actions on behalf of her causes. I was happy to obtain a signed copy of her book, "Extreme Prejudice" [6], detailing her travails with the U.S. government, which sought to have her incarcerated and drugged to stop her activism. Ms. Lindauer also had an encounter with God, which she describes in her book [7] as follows:

There's a true story that you can choose to believe, or not.

The weekend before my arrest, I had no idea that my life was about to capsize irrevocably, almost immediately. I awoke one morning and experienced a genuine state of grace. It lasted for hours. It's the kind of thing that you hope for if you have any kind of spiritual life. It's sort of a nirvana thing, if you're Buddhist. It's an epiphany, if you're Christian. The Arabs call it "seeing with an open heart." It's a mystery, if you appreciate mysticism, as I do. When it came upon me, I felt a deep sense of connectedness to that greater force of creation and beauty in the world, a synchronicity that comes from active mindfulness. It was remarkable and distinctive. I would describe it as a gentle and pervasive force that washed over me, with the purest cleansing love.

Before my troubles started, it gave me redemption. And wholeness. And love.

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Born in New York, March 14, 1949. Staff writer for the New York City Tribune, Economic Growth Report, Register-Star. Presently publish on OpEd News. Mr. Duveen heads up a project known as "The Museum of Brooklyn Art and Culture,' which explores (more...)

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