Oversoul, the Force and Chi (oh, my!)

Oversoul, the Force and Chi (oh, my!)
Rev. Douglas Taylor
February 1, 2015

Back in 2001 a phenomenon developed during the population censuses in various countries. In Scotland, over 14,000 people stated that Jedi was their current religion. The Jedi are part of a fictitious world. In Australia more than 70,000 people declared themselves members of the Jedi order. 640 Serbians identified as Jedi. Over 53,000 people listed themselves as Jedi in New Zealand. 21,000 Canadians put down their religion as Jedi Knight. England and Wales however have them all beat; in 2001 nearly 400,000 stated their religion as Jedi. Ten years later in England, “the number of Jedi had fallen to 176,632, placing it in seventh place, having been overtaken by Judaism and Buddhism, but still comfortably outnumbering any other alternative or mock religions.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedi_census_phenomenon

Jedi is the title used in George Lucas’ Star Wars for the warriors who use the Force and wield light sabers. In this fantasy world, the Force is a mystical power that unifies every living thing. The wise old mentor character in the story, Obi-Wan Kenobi, says this about the Force: “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together”

Lucas, the author of the Star Wars universe, claimed that in part, his goal was to “…instill in children a belief in a supreme being – not a religious god, but a universal deity that he named the Force, a cosmic energy source that incorporates and consumes all living things.” (Pollock, Dale Skywalking: the Life and Films of George Lucas, p 139)

Lucas was aiming to instill both a sense of personal responsibility and ethic as well as a mystical interconnectedness without relying on a traditional concept of deity. One analysis boils it down to Eastern mysticism and Judeo-Christian ethic.

The Force is articulated by Obi-Wan Kenobi as “an energy field created by all living things that binds the universe together.” (Ibid, p140) Another Jedi teacher in the movie, Yoda, guides the hero of the tale, Luke Skywalker, to see how the Force interacts not just with living things but with all things.

“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” Yoda says, “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”

I suspect the census phenomenon was more than just a protest and playful mockery of government structures. I suspect people wrote Jedi in for their religion partly out of a hunger for the kind of spirituality and ethic found in the movies. In fact, there is a real community that call themselves the Temple of the Jedi Order. On their website, http://www.templeofthejediorder.org/, the first thing they say is

We are not a community of Star Wars roleplayers, but a church of a genuine religion, Jediism. Star Wars Jedi are fictional characters that exist within a literary and cinematic universe.

The Jedi discussed within this website refer to real people within this world that live or lived their lives according to the principles of Jediism, the real Jedi religion.

They go on to discuss the interconnectedness of all things and the ethics of building a good community founded on peace and personal responsibility. If anything, the real-life Jedi focus more on the ethic and less on the mysticism – at least that is what I saw by what they had on that website.

What caught my interest is the way George Lucas’ movies captured not only deep archetypes of characters but a deep version of a non-theistic spirituality. People are clearly hungering for this sort of spirituality around the world. Of course, Star Wars is not the only place one can look to for a non-traditional theology of spirit and dynamic interconnectedness. Unitarian Universalism has its own sage in the form of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Some of the concepts found in George Lucas’s fantasy mysticism from the 1970’s aligns with ideas and concepts of the Emerson and other Transcendentalists from the 1830’s and 40’s.  Emerson spoke of an Oversoul, an all-pervasive divine spirit that encompasses all souls. Just as every human personality has a soul – an essence or essential wholeness in which all the parts are unified – all of existence has an Oversoul that is the wholeness of all that is. Emerson refers to

“that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart” (The Oversoul, 1841)

There is no thread of connection between Emerson and Lucas. No suggestion that George Lucas was attempting to talk about the Oversoul. I am not suggesting a connection beyond a similarity is some of the ideas.

The Force is an all-pervading energy that binds the universe together. The Oversoul likewise is an all-pervading and unifying power in the universe.  Emerson insisted that the Oversoul is everywhere and in all things, not merely living things.  “What is there of the divine in a load of bricks?” he wrote in his journal at one point. “What is there of the divine in a barber shop? Much. All.” (Journals, 1834)

Emerson intuited that the world is an outgrowth of the Oversoul. This is the direct opposite of Obi-Wan Kanobi’s statement about the Force as “an energy field created by all living things that binds the universe together.” For Emerson, the mind of God exists first and from that comes the world. In this way, we are literally a part of God. “I exist[] directly from God, and am, as it were, God’s organ.” (Journal)

Emerson more readily named it God, something Lucas only did as a footnote. “I am constrained every moment to acknowledge a higher origin for events than the will I call mine.” (The Oversoul, 1841) For Emerson, God was not a personality, but was definitely an intelligence and a will. He said we can know God through science, through art and nature, through the lives of the greatest of men and women throughout history. But the truest way was to know God directly from within “When we have broken from our God of tradition, and we have ceased from our God of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence.” (The Oversoul, 1841)

In some ways the categorical term Transcendentalist applied to Emerson and others in his circle is misleading. His perspective is that God is imminent, not transcendent; God is found most truly in one’s heart.  But the Transcendentalists take their name rather from the notion that there exists a moral law, an absolute, and that the source of this moral law is God. How that law is known is by the inner searching. In his great essay Self-Reliance, Emerson admonishes, “Trust yourself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” By our intuition we run straight to the heart of God and thus to the heart of the moral law. 

And this, because the heart in thee is the heart of all; not a valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in nature, but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation through all men, as the water of the globe is all one sea, and, truly seen, its tide is one.  Let man, then, learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely: that the Highest dwells with him.  (The Oversoul)

The implication of such a connection is not only do we find no wall between us and the Divine, but in this same way we can know what is true and right and just.

We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity.  When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams.  (Self-Reliance)

Thus, according to Emerson, there is a Divine moral law inscribe in the heart and conscience of every person.  You recognize truth when you see it because you ‘lie in the lap’ of the source of truth – if you will but quiet the outer noise and open your eyes. We do not invent the principles and values that are most important, they come from God. But we must go to God directly, according to Emerson, to truly know these laws.

I get a little carried away whenever I talk about Emerson. Let me shift topics a little to point out that the two essential aspects of the Force, its mystical omnipresence and its moral code of personal integrity, are, as I have shown, found within the central tenets of Emerson’s Transcendentalism. He named the Oversoul as “The soul of the whole, the wise silence, the universal beauty to which every part and particle is equally related.” 

The Navajo are credited in our hymnal with the poem that reads:

Beauty is before me, and
Beauty behind me,
above me and below me
hovers the beautiful.
I am surrounded by it,
I am immersed in it,
In my youth, I am aware of it,
and, in old age,
I shall walk quietly the beautiful trail.
In beauty it is begun.
In beauty, it is ended.

This poem speaks to the omnipresence of beauty in the same way one could refer to the Force or the Oversoul; or, as I will now add, the way one would speak of Chi.

In traditional Chinese culture, chi (or qi) is an active principle of any living thing. In the T’ai Chi Classics (translated by Wayson Liao, 1990) Chi is defined as “intrinsic energy.” (p18) Chi is frequently translated as “natural energy”, “life force”, or “energy flow”. The literal translation of chi is “breath”, “air”, or “gas”.

Everyone is born with Chi. There is no way to lose your chi except through death at which time your chi is dispersed back to the universe. Chi is ultimately found in all living things. It is “The ultimate [and eternal] power that moves the universe.” (Ibid, p17) Chi arises from the dynamic balancing of Yin and Yang; it is the ceaseless movement in balance between positive and negative, constructive and destructive forces in the universe. Everything derives its existence from the dynamic conflict and balance between Yin and Yang. Thus it is not only living things, but all things – even “unfilled space” is part of the dynamic interplay of Yin and Yang.

Taoism is ‘the way’ or ‘a person traveling the way.’ The dynamic energy of chi is in there. In Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching it says

Tao gives birth to One. One gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three. Three gives birth to everything. Everything carries on its back Yin and holds Yang. It creates harmony with the middle energy.

As we heard in the one of the creation stories from last week, the one of Pangu and the Cosmic Egg: First there was the unity – the egg. This led to a duality – the two halves of the egg, heavy and light, earth and sky, yin and yang. In this 42nd chapter of the Tao Te Ching, a third thing arises and from that there is the Ten Thousand Things. Noting what I have said earlier – the third thing is chi, the intrinsic energy or life force which arises out of the dynamic conflict and balance of yin and yang. “It creates harmony with the middle energy;” middle energy is another way of saying chi.

Okay, all that is very esoteric. But the implications are not all that farfetched. As with the Force and the Oversoul, chi is omnipresent. It is not a deity with a personality, instead it is energy that pervades everything and moves through us. We can tap into it.

For example, one teaching in a meditative art of the Tao is the “integration of sky and human.” In other words, if you remain yourself, you are cutting out the whole of the universe. But if you can give up your ego, you become truly a part of the universe or at least erase the boundary line between self and universe that are falsely inscribed. When you place a cup of water into a lake, the water in the cup will become lake water only if the cup submerges. But truly, it is all water anyway, so why not just pour it in and forget the cup.

Perhaps you are seeking a spirituality and an understanding of divinity that is not caught up in the classic western formula of a deity or personality. God need not be a being. Perhaps you were intrigued by the idea of the Force when you saw the movies. It may be that you are looking again at the thought and theology of Emerson. Or perhaps your spirit has an Eastern bent. Each of these three offers a slightly different perspective. None of them are connected to the other – they are not talking about the same concepts and one is not derived from the other.

Perhaps they all link back to the Hindu concept of Prana as articulated in the Vedas. Prana is the Sanskrit word for ‘life force.’ Emerson was certainly reading the Vedas as he developed the idea of the Oversoul. The influence of Hinduism from India into China is also well documented. Most of the Chinese religious traditions share in the root concepts of Hinduism. I thought at one point I had seen a bit about George Lucas citing Eastern spirituality or Hindu mysticism as a source for his concept of the Force but I could find no such statement or link while looking recently.

Really, my point is not about the history or lineage of these ideas. My point is that your spirit need not be shackled to only one version of divinity. There are far more options than you perhaps thought there would be of divinity beyond traditional theism. What concepts resonate with your spirit? Which concepts call out to you or ring true from your experiences. We lie in the lap of an immense dynamic energy that flows through all things, calling us to abide in a higher moral law. Tell me more about how the energy of all life flows through all things and even through you.

In a world without end
May it be so