ELIHU’S KEY – Mal Garvin : Preface to almost completed book

This book will reveal a force that is at work in all our lives. It is the subtle but barely visible influence of the human spirit, and is illuminating and active in every human soul. Bewilderingly, it is even more active amongst those who think they are neither religious nor spiritual, yet is largely missing from the consciousness of modern materialistic persons.

In this book I will not only reveal its subtle and all pervasive influence, but will also share the secret of how one becomes more consciously engaged with its life-affirming illumination.

We can see it at work in small children whose eyes light up with joy when they recognise someone they love, or when they are applauded for naming something accurately. Some of us can already recognise a certain aliveness within when something moves us deeply. There may be a mysterious internal uplift in response to a beautiful sunset, a child’s spontaneous delight, an act of kindness or sacrificial courage, or a moment of any kind that touches the heart with a release of joy.

Yes, we are also capable of experiencing the negative emotions of fear, threat and hopelessness, and we brace ourselves against them, but the best part of us knows hope and joy are to be found elsewhere within us. Our special capacity as human beings to be touched profoundly by love, beauty and truth, is a mark of our unique human hunger for the sublime and transcendent.

This book will show that our awareness of the underlying presence of the human spirit can and will, grow in much the same way as the awareness of cars the same model as the one we’ve recently acquired. Like some kind of revelation they seem to be everywhere. We’re surprised, not only by their number, but also by the sense of connection we now have with their owners.

Some things are so familiar we have difficulty recognising them.

For over 40 years I had a syndicated radio segment that covered all the major media markets in Australia which gave me the privilege of taking the pulse of a nation every day. Initially I was focused on producing good radio that would fit comfortably into the popular commercial radio format. In time however, I became fascinated by a consistent pattern of what the audience cared about.

There were times when, what I believed to be profound insights, would get a bored yawn by way of response. In contrast, on other occasions a simple throwaway line from me could get a deluge of mail. That’s when I decided to ask what the universal yearnings of my audience were. What hooked them?

At the same time, I was committed to entertain the audience – essential if I was to stay on air – but my goal was not only to engage and interest them, but if possible, to communicate at a more profound level. I might be able to entertain them but could I reach the deeper parts of their being? Could I, in a short highly produced radio segment, engage them, put a smile on their face and sometimes even move them to tears of joy? Was I expecting too much? My burning question: Was a nationally syndicated radio segment capable of being both personal and universal?

I was on more than 100 stations. What was the secret of making it so personal that listeners felt I had been reading their mail? What could I say that would be as relevant to listeners in Hobart in the south, Darwin in the extreme north, Sydney in the east, or Perth, the world’s most isolated capital city, in the far west of our big brown continent?

My great discovery

The search for answers to my questions engaged me deeply in a quest involving every aspect of my life’s work – from therapeutic work with schizophrenics, classroom work in high schools, right through to human resource training and consultancies with large public companies.

A significant phase of my journey of discovery came when I took the time for a fascinating global tour to study what was distinctive of various western cultures. It focused my question, “What is deeply personal, what is uniquely local and cultural, and what on the other hand, can travel because it is profoundly universal and transcendent.”

I had to leave home to see it with new eyes.

The journey took me to a Broadcasters’ Conference in Brownsville, Texas, where I had many fascinating conversations with seasoned broadcasters. From all over the U.S.A. I received invitations to visit. In Washington D.C. I saw the great monuments and asked why they mattered. In Nashville I sat in a recording session, and visited the Grand Ole Oppry, where I interviewed a number of country music stars. I had a most illuminating time with Johnny Cash’s late father who helped me grasp the southern psyche and what moved them to tears. Then I was off to converse with program directors of radio stations across rural America and in big industrial cities like Detroit and Chicago.

Many of them, fascinated by my quest, generously shared with me the Insights and instincts they’d relied on to get to the top. They explained to me the focus groups and the research techniques they used to arrive at their understanding of their audience. The focus of most was to pitch their unique selling proposition to prospective advertisers. It was all very impressive and interesting but it would be some time before the penny dropped for me, and understanding started to crystallise. Strangely enough, it happened while I was in the U.K..

We all laugh, but we don’t laugh at the same things.

Through a connection with a BBC executive, I found myself getting a behind the scenes look at the making of a British T.V. sitcom. It was there it dawned on me, that while all humans love a giggle it was clear that the Brits laugh at different times from the Americans. I was, of course, comparing them both with my fellow Aussies. We all like to think we are normal, but sometimes we have to leave home to catch a glimpse of the culture we’ve come from. It was a profound experience.

All individuals, groups and races are similar yet different.

I walked the back streets of London, and went north to Leeds to watch Aussies play the English in a game of rugby, where I heard the working class lads scream out “Kill the convicts.” Despite my country’s British roots I knew I was not English. This became even clearer as I went further north to the old town of York, still surrounded by Hadrian’s Wall built by the Romans in 122 A.D. I bought sweets from a shop originally built by the nephew of William the Conqueror. Before leaving Australia I had never seen any buildings more than 190 years old!

No matter where or when we live, there is a unique part of us that I now know to be the human spirit. It often rises spontaneously and can surprise us by breaking through our defences, rising from deep within. It triggers responses that make us want to laugh, cry, and go “Wow!”’ Exactly where and when we feel the permission to cry, laugh out loud and go “wow,” is shaped by our unique personality. The sense of self that filters the reality we tell ourselves about is usually unknown to us, and has been shaped by our personal and cultural history.

This unique process shapes our character. It is what makes us profoundly different, yet there still is an undergirding, shared humanity, and at the centre of that shared humanness there is the profound animating dynamic of our soul – the human spirit.

This shared spirit is nourished by hopeful and positive narratives, and the kind of leadership that can tell a unifying story that illuminates the path to a realistic and preferred future. In recent history we can see its catastrophic power. In the right hands however, it can unite, empower and positively transform people and whole societies.

Exploring these themes

It is these deeply felt narratives that have the capacity, if grasped and respected, to inspire in such a way as to call human beings out of their innate self-interest, and to lift and unite hearts. In doing so they can unite communities and nations and thus promote global peace. Sadly, too often, we also see the tragic results when that same human spirit is either lost to view, or abused.

Both sides of the equation: The mystery in view

The goal of this book is to explore both sides of the equation and in doing so to lift the veil on what is so often a huge and bewildering mystery for us. The Bible tells us of the two great mysteries, the mystery of iniquity and the mystery of godliness. Both will bewilder most of us however brilliant we might be, because they can’t be grasped by reason.

We brush up against them daily – the problem of evil – that man knows what good is but is still inclined to choose otherwise, and the strange phenomenon that we currently call our better angels – that profound sense of what good is, that surprises us and beckons us to another way. We can be quite surprised by the religious responses that surface in all of us from time to time, throwing light on our decisions and influencing our commitments if we take them seriously.

It may not be kosher to talk about these subjects but they creep up on us and confront us daily. There is always much more going on than reason alone is able to grasp or explain. In the words of Blaise Pascal, 17th century mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher who laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities: “There is more to knowing than knowing can ever know”.

There always is another reality gently knocking at the door of our consciousness. We may be haunted by it, yet we don’t quite know how to grasp and apprehend it. It is like an exquisite existential itch that is beyond our capacity to scratch and we dare not allow ourselves to become aware of it because we fear its capacity to claim us. There is a sense this lingering and ghostly finger that beckons us on to know beyond reason, that can no longer be denied, yet as 20th century French philosopher Henri Bergson said, “The forceps of the mind do violence to the things it tries to grasp.” Why? Because the mind itself, and our conventional way of knowing, is clouded by archaic emotion and is often distorted by ego needs.

We need another mode of engagement with this multidimensional realm of reality.

The human spirit not only gives a sense of hope and future but if developed, can give courage, patience and humility, to help us work complex issues through to an undistorted reality. It enables us not only to be moved by a beautiful sunset, to laugh spontaneously with a friend or respond empathically to their pain, but also enables us to grasp the eternal, to be sensitive, to be excited by a dawning truth, and at the same time discern distortion or spot a phony.

Over my years of satellite talk radio It became clear that while there is a part of us that wants to be entertained, there is also a part in each of us that, while suspicious of empty sentimentality, wants to encounter deep meaning. This part is where the best of who we are lives. It is the part that often responds to things that bring joy, and delights in encountering the beautiful and ineffable in everyday life.

Over many years the audience taught me where their hearts were.

The radio audience gave me the growing understanding that in every human heart there is a sensitivity to the ineffable – to something bigger than time and space. Tied to that sense of the transcendent, deep within all those who have even the most rudimentary awareness of people, there is the sense that we are on earth to do more than make a dollar. A part of us knows will never quite be at peace until we have found the reason we are here; the task, or assignment we are here to fulfil. In the words of Mark Twain “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why.”

We all need help to find our place in the eternal scheme of things. We have a dilemma though. Most of us find it almost impossible to separate the gentle promptings of the spirit that show us our vocation, from the more desperate attempt of the soul or ego to think well of itself.

What is our spirit, and does it weigh 21 grams?

The film 21 Grams starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts begins by declaring “They say we all lose twenty one grams at the exact moment of our death.”

The inference is that this is the weight of our human spirit. While I have no idea of the exact weight of the human spirit, when we die something leaves us that has been a profound and animating aspect of our personal existence. The award winning movie is a complex mosaic of people struggling to make sense of life. There is a criminal trying to go straight by finding faith, a man waiting desperately for a heart transplant and a woman wrestling with a drug problem. They are all brought together by an accident that looks meaningless. One wonders how meaning can come from this.

At the end of the movie the statement is there again: “At the moment of our death we lose 21 grams.” It begs the question, what has gone and what in fact is the secret of our mysterious life? What is this animating life dynamic that distinguishes us from the animals? What is it in our personal and collective consciousness that is able to ask, What is our life, and what can be its meaning?

What is it that also leaves with our last breath?

In the ancient book of Job, a clear eyed young man named Elihu embodied the spiritual sensitivities of my radio audience on their universal and profoundly human quest for meaning and community. It was Elihu who gave me the key to the understanding of the role of the human spirit in our existence. This young man gave me the key to understand, not only the highest yearnings our spirit, but also the ugly source of human destructiveness.

It was Elihu who opened my eyes to what has gone missing from our now diminished daily life, our education, our marriages, our economy, our therapy, our modern media and our politics. Those who in the past, enriched human existence, knew the secret. But we self-absorbed materialistic creatures have completely failed to recognise, let alone nourish, the treasure that is our human spirit. This, in spite of clear and powerful evidence that its yearnings for expression and validation are everywhere to be seen in the cultural history of mankind. Let’s see if this young man Elihu can help all of us see the unseen, and relocate this source of our highest and most beautiful yearnings;

Can Elihu help us, so that awareness of our spirit becomes clear and sharp to our consciousness

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