"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home

Dogs cannot know when their owners are coming home. Or can they? If you havn’t come across Rupert Sheldrake, and his book Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home: and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, I would suggest you look it up now. Sheldrake is one of that rare band of scientists who are not answerable to any fund provider; he is beholden to no one, he can speak his own mind untrammelled by any monetary influence. (James Lovelock is another).

He can therefore think and speak “outside the box” without fear of comeback, and he does! I have heard him speak before – at a regional meeting of the Scientific and Medical Network, where he told us of his theories of morphic fields and morphic resonance, amusingly illustrated with plenty of experimental evidence from pigeons – and dogs! I was therefore looking forward to hearing him talk at the Resurgence conference last Saturday (see my 5th November post) and I was not disappointed. Pilgrimages are part of a basic human need, he told us. He was himself inspired in his youth by Indian pilgrimages when he lived on that continent in the 1960’s and 70’s, and he urged us to be open to the sense of sacred in the world around us. There is a paradigm shift happening around us, he told us, and the mechanistic view of nature is breaking down, although many scientists are not yet recognising this, indeed refusing to entertain the idea since it is so “unconventional.” Sheldrake is viewed as a maverick by many in scientific circles, but I have yet to see a more convincing maverick scientist.

I have no doubt in my own mind that one can sense the spirit of prayer from centuries past in ancient places of worship – our own parish church dating back in part to Saxon times, is certainly one such place. And great cathedrals also give an air of sacred space for those who are willing to feel it. I therefore could readily empathise with Rupert when he told us how he makes pilgrimages with his children to cathedrals, walking outside around the building before entering, to maximise the spiritual experience. Tourism, he reminded us, is crowding out the spiritual pilgrimage, and we need to have a balance in our lives, taking every opportunity to incorporate a sacred pilgrimage into all our journeys. One aspect of his talk I could not agree with. He seemed to imply that the great cathedrals of our land have miniscule congregations. That may be so for some of the weekday evensongs for example, but I have yet to experience a Sunday morning Eucharist in an English cathedral where the congregation does not fill the nave, and I have attended many up and down the country. It is I believe a fact that cathedral congregations are generally growing, a response to this increasing sense of need for the spiritual or something “other,” some meaning in our lives.

Sheldrake left us with a great idea – why, he said, do cathedrals hand out leaflets when you pay your entrance fee. Why not in return for the money give the visitor, the “pilgrim,” a candle to light as a sign that something sacred is with us in our visit. Why not indeed!

(The photo is of the Priory Ruins in Walsingham, earlier this year).

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