Tag Archives: What does religion do for people?

Elvis Presley and “The Prophet,” Khalil Gibran

The Divine Mother and Elvis Presley

Elvis at Graceland

Elvis at Graceland

The Prophet was a popular book read by young people in the 1960’s in the United States. I remember reading it twice because it was short and simple to read. Now reading it fifty years later, I realize that I adopted some of the points of view in the book. Khalil’s popularity grew among what was termed the Counter Culture and the New Age movement in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Born into a Christian/Catholic family that followed a specific rite or ritual called Maronite in (Mount) Lebanon, yet also speaking and writing Arabic, Gibran became an artist and writer who never married. He died early, at the age of 48. He studied Islam, the Bahai’s,  and found comfort in the words of the mystical Sufis.

Many people in the middle of the twentieth century were drawn to Khalil’s work. Elvis, in looking for answers to his own struggles with Christianity, would have enjoyed reading this book. In a way, The Prophet, argues for the same type of morality that Elvis lived.  He was open, and honest, and did not subscribe to a rigid morality. For instance Gibran writes, “Love one another, but make not a bond of love.” (15) This describes Elvis’ life completely. He never wanted to capture anyone, nor did he want to be captured after Priscilla divorced him. In an explanation on giving, Gibran writes, “It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” (19) Elvis gave of himself and his belongings until there was virtually nothing left.

Gibran’s The Prophet is a synthesis of several universalistic and pantheistic thoughts wrapped in

The Prophet

The Prophet

a monotheistic point of view. He offers a point of view of life that is for everyone, and discovers the Divine in everything. While he uses the word God, he also used the term God-Self (39). He deliberately and indirectly attempts to discredit formal or classical religions, which teach rigid dogma and ethical guidelines.

While The Prophet is not categorized as sacred literature, I think the writer intended it to be interpreted that way. Throughout the book Gibran’s goal is to pull people away from dualistic thinking; that there is only a left or right or a good or a bad in life. He pushes them to the middle of an argument, but does answer the questions for them. He speaks in riddles and reminds me of a Zen Master who offers Koans to his followers. Here is a cute one entitled, “Dreamland.”

 Our school master used to take a nap every afternoon, related a disciple of Soyen Shaku. We children asked him why he did it and he told us: I go to  dreamland to meet the old sages just as Confucius did. When Confucius slept, he would dream of ancient sages and later tell his followers about them.

It was extremely hot one day so some of us took a nap. Our school master scolded us. We went to dreamland to meet the ancient sages the same as Confucius did, we explained. What was the message from those sages? our school master demanded. One of us replied: We went to dreamland and met the sages and asked them if our schoolmaster came there every afternoon, but they said they had never seen any such fellow. (Zen Koans.

Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran

The person who speaks/writes in The Prophet, is one who is alone, who is lonely most of the time, and lives in the forests or away from the people. He is about to leave on a ship and wants to bid farewell to the people and leave important messages for them. Did Khalil want to portray himself as an Ascended Master? Or was he portraying himself as a wise sannyasin found within Hinduism.  Similar to the way that the Law Code of Manu, an ancient Hindu sacred text, is written, villagers ask the prophet questions and he answers them.

Gibran offers an alternative to organized/rigid religion when he argues  that simply eating and drinking is an act of worship. (23-24)  Gibran speaks of a mansion in the sky, a mansion that is not attached to the earth. This is a home that has no roots. The writer/prophet has no roots.  And while Elvis did own property, he did not choose to stay in one place for very long. He liked Las Vegas, and spent the last nine years of his life on tour with brief stays at Graceland. So he was a nomad, sort of ….

“For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion in the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and silences of night.” (34)

There is a struggle within many religious traditions between people who think they have the Truth with a capital “T,” and those who understand that there are many truths.   The  TRUTH People believe that there is only one Truth, and many Christian traditions fall into this category. Elvis explored many truths, and I do not know whether he would label any of the religions he studied as Truth. Certainly he loved his musical heritage and experiences he had within many different types of Christian organizations, and those memories sustained him. I think he would have gravitated toward the following quotes,

“Say not, ‘I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”  Say not, ‘I have found the path of the soul.”‘ Say rather, ‘I have met the soul walking upon my path. For the soul walks upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a  lotus of countless petals.” (55)

And again he writes, “And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn. Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.”

When the prophet begins to leave the people he looks at the ship in which he will sail and says,

“I am ready. The stream has reached the sea, and once more the Great Mother holds her son against her breast.”

This last statement may have been written by Gibran as his own epitaph.

Elvis would have loved the above phrase because it would make him think of his mother who left him when he was so young. Throughout all of the book Gibran refers to the Divine as God, but here we have a reference to the Divine being a female. I think that reading The Prophet would have supported the kind of life, ethics, and lifestyle that Elvis had chosen. It differed with his past, but also in a way, it allowed his past to comfort him.

Complete copy of The Prophet.

Quotations are from:  Khalil Gibran, The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Kopf, 1923.

As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge

Elvis searched for Happiness, and so do We!

The Search for Happiness

Searching for Happiness

Searching for Happiness

The search for happiness often ends up at the door to organized religions.

Why do people think that a religion will bring them happiness? What is happiness, anyway? Everyone defines that term in a different way. Some people think that they must “feel” happy to be happy. Others think that by doing something or accomplishing something, that would bring happiness. Some say that it is a healthy state of being. Some think that money will buy happiness yet others think that giving money away brings happiness. Every person must define the word “happiness” for himself or herself.

Religion can provide a community and identity for people. I have always envied people who could go anywhere in the world and find a religious community in which they were comfortable. (Of course, I am being idealistic here, because being a member of a community automatically means that there would be different points of view.) I hired an electrician once who told me that I should join a church. He said that he belonged to two and it was good for business. Religious communities can be a real source of practical and emotional support. Many people are lonely and a religious community serves that interpersonal need of communication with others.

People wear clothing or jewelry or employ symbols so that you know with whom they are associated. They are really shouting “I am a Jew, a Muslim, of the Amish, or Wiccan.” Or some religions refrain from wearing makeup, or cutting their hair, so that they make a statement about who they are and their beliefs. Most people need to be a part of “something,” — to have an identity.

Elvis Collectibles

Elvis Collectibles

Religions answer the basic questions in life that are sometimes unanswerable, such as; what is the meaning of life? Who am I? Is there a God/Divine? What is God or the Gods like? How should I live my life? How did humans find their way to earth? Is the Divine in my life now, or in history, or on vacation most of the time? Can the Divine help me?  Will the Divine make me rich or give me advantage over my friends?

Sometimes people think that if they can obtain help from the Divine, their careers and fortunes will be better. Some religious leaders preach that if you are a member of their group, the Divine will shine on you with dollar bills.

Like Elvis, many people want to change their lives, but seem incapable of doing it on their own. They search out a religious community to support them in their change. Others hope for a measure of security in their lives. They want to be protected and cared for and they find it in a community.

Some believe they are perfect and look for a religious community who is perfect so that they can fashion a life of perfectness together. These people often create dogmatic and legalistic rules which they impose upon those around them. For them achieving perfection is following the rules without exception. And following those rules– being perfect– is the ultimate happiness.

Others seek out religions in their quests for social justice or equality at home and around the globe. Large organizations foster peace movements and feed and clothe the world. They bring medical help to those in need and many want to be a part of this life-saving effort.

There is research that suggests that belonging to certain religious communities produces both physical and mental health and a sense of well-being. But there are also studies that suggest that religions encase and imprison people and lead to violence and injustice as well as oppression.

Importance of Religion

Elvis Teddy Bears

Elvis Teddy Bears

In my many years as a professor, I found that other academics often wanted to downplay the influence of religions in our lives. (This was certainly the case with those that surrounded Elvis too.) They wanted to ignore it or place it on a back burner. They were intelligent beings and intelligent beings did not have anything to do with superstitions. It was difficult for them to confront the reality that religions influence us almost every day of our lives, whether we are within or outside of a religious tradition or community. Then there were other academics that argued that the only religion that should be taught on campus was their religion. Those responses to discussing religion(s) are typical. People don’t know what to do with the topic of religions, because they don’t know enough about it to discuss it intelligently.

Religion could be the single most important influence in a person’s or a nation’s life. You might be a Roman Catholic or a closet Atheist, and you might deny the effects of Religion, but all the same, it is always there. You can’t pick up a newspaper or a book or a magazine without finding evidence of the influence of religion on our lives.


As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge