The author of Passion for Wisdom has plenty to say about passion, wisdom, reason, and much else. He was a great advocate of gratitude, a gifted teacher, and (not least) a lover of fine natural spirits. His approach is reminiscent of Dewey’s “natural piety.” But the centerpiece of today’s reading in Spirituality for the Skeptic, for me, is the concept of “cosmic trust.”
Bob Solomon trusted a universe that, indifferently of course and without personal malice, swept him away at an age most of us think of as before anyone’s “time.” He collapsed in a Zurich airport in December 2007, a youthful sixty-something. That untimely end makes so much of what he writes in this book tug poignantly at the heartstrings.
Trust, with passion and love, forms the tripod of Solomon’s version of naturalized spirituality. It entails risk and a certain lack of control, it cultivates as much of Nietzsche’s “amor fati” as seems reasonable but, Solomon wisely acknowledges, we cannot accept everything. Open-eyed affirmation is not the same as Panglossian stupidity, but it is a form of optimism. The world is not the best possible, but we must all still do what we can to push it along in that direction. Pessimism doesn’t push hard enough. Metaphysical optimism doesn’t really push at all, trusting too much. The affirmation Solomon advises looks more like James’s meliorism, with no guarantees of smooth sailing and the ever-looming threat of shipwreck. And so we sail on, as Mr. Fitzgerald said, boats against the current scanning for the green light of home (and the promise of an “orgiastic future”).
Cosmic trust inevitably conjures Carl Sagan and his quest for the feeling of being “at home in the universe.” It’s an “ontological security” in one’s own existence and confidence in one’s place in the world.” We’re all entitled to that, though Solomon rightly rejects feelings of exclusive personal entitlement. This “at home-ness” is our common birthright, as children of the cosmos. We’re not strangers in a strange land here at all, there’s no place else we need to get to. Maybe we could borrow Jennifer Hecht‘s sign?
Or Crash Davis’s line: “It’s a long season, you gotta trust it.” Life, that is. We must live as though we knew it to be a long season. Tomorrow’s another day, right up until it isn’t. Stay within yourself. Give 110%. [Bull Durham: cliches…”I believe“…William Blake]
We should secretly admit otherwise, to ourselves, as we go about the daily busy-ness of our lives, and then file that admission away for future use. It’s really much too short to end at any age, but it can feel long and it will, when we slide safely and trustingly into home. Remember: home is not elsewhere, it’s where we begin and where we end. It closes the circuit. Touch ’em all.
(Here is where I should acknowledge Solomon’s ambivalence towards sports and sports metaphors. Who could blame him, a transplant deep in the heart of Texas, where rabid Longhorns– like rabid partisans everywhere– seem constantly on the verge of madness? I’m ambivalent about it too, and there’s no question the “us versus them” mentality it models is one of the scourges of our species. But darn it, it’s just fun to have a home team to root for. And rooted.)
Spirituality is about moving on, forgiving the world for the misfortunes it (inevitably) inflicts upon us. Thus spirituality is also called wisdom. Setting sail after hitting hard shoals is a forgiving form of spiritual wisdom, too.
Cosmic trust is also about cosmic responsibility, which we must accept if we’re ever going to survive and flourish. Mostly, for now, it seems many of us are still stuck in what K. Antony Appiah calls the pre-cosmopolitan “if you don’t want to be my brother, I’ll bash your skull in” phase of our evolution.