An interview with Jacob Needleman
reflecting about his new book What Is God
? opens this edition of our newsletter [#14]. Part autobiography and part meditation, the book includes a key experience the author had as a child: "I don't understand it myself. This is 1943 in a suburb of Philadelphia. But what I saw-a million stars appeared
. You could hardly see a dark piece of the sky! I don't know how that happened. It was inexplicable. The sky was clear. It was dark. But suddenly I was seeing a million stars! I was just a nine-year old kid. My father was sitting next to me. ... I don't think he saw what I saw. But for some reason he happened to say, and I never had that kind of intimate emotional relationship with him; that was the first time. He said, 'That's God.
' And that was my God when I was a child."
In fact, this entire issue is full of powerful, first-hand experiences. In our second interview, Cardiologist Richard Lueker recounts a healing miracle
that saved his son's life. Having finished his residency, Lueker had gotten his first job out of medical school, which took him to Albuquerque. It's an amazing story. His son was apparently on a skid towards death- out of reach even of a diagnosis-when someone showed up on his doorstep. What do you do when a miracle happens? If you're Doctor Lueker, you ask what service you can perform in gratitude. And so this is also the story of how Albuquerque's New Heart cardiology clinic was founded.
Going through some of the artist interviews I've done in the past I felt my conversation with Los Angeles painter James Doolin
would be a fine complement to these two. Doolin was uneasy with religion and avoided the word. Even the word "spiritual" does not appear in the interview. And yet when I think of him, a clear open space appears inside that could only be called spiritual. He spent three very important years in the desert. Speaking about its clarity, he said, "I think one thing it feeds, and has fed all my life, is searching. I'm a searcher. I've searched all my life. I don't know. It's just wanting to confront the great things."
Adding beautifully to the material already mentioned is a short account
by Czech born artist Ladislav Hanka (and contributor: newsletter #12) of a turning point: "This moment was pivotal in my life, and set the stage for what I chose to become. I embraced solitude and contemplation, ardently, like a lover. Even the art that I make as my living, this cultural activity intended for an audience of others, is created in solitude. Years later I discovered that, like the Tibetan hermitages I was to later visit on the far-off shores of Lake Nam Tso, the Pictured Rocks, too, have an ancient spiritual tradition."
And finally, architectural illustrator, Peter Szasz, describes a careful meditative drawing practice
that he followed for two years. His aim was "always to express something that is essentially true-that is, true in essence, true of essence-and not to embellish. Embellishment so easily becomes a lie."
So the content in this issue covers a great range of experience from heaven to earth. Perhaps you will feel, as I do, that there is a deep inner relationship among all these stories even though the scale is different in each case. With each perhaps the question is not far off: What is God?