|Photo Credit: Morguefile by imelenchon|
On the subject of religion, words mostly fail to join us in understanding; these words we speak that begin with "I believe."
I don't feel you. I don't get it. I can't make head nor tail of what you say.
And soon everyone gets angry or gets their feelings hurt—most especially the ones who think they really know.
I'm tired of this surety.
Aggressive atheism is like gathering up all the poetry books and burning them because you can't understand the metaphors.
Hard-nosed religiosity is like insisting on the singular, provable existence of only vanilla ice cream; it's like spitting on every other flavor in the freezer bin, threatening them all with a fiery, melty, imaginary doom.
This is how we fail to know each other.
Watch carefully. It's happening all over again. We fail to understand.
It's not that this overly made-up woman with the cross around her neck has never sat in the dark of a tornado cellar and asked herself whether God was in the wind. It's not, as we've thought, that she is feckless, stupid; unable to plumb the depths. It's that she's thought about this already and she knows that God is not in the wind but in the firemen who came for her, in the embrace of her neighbor, in the moment when her dog was found alive underneath the rubble of her whole world, and she felt gratitude.
She knows graces when she sees it. Do we?
It's not that this stuffy man is a fundamentalist, a naysayer, a bigot when he says no thank you to the idea of God. He is a seeker of wisdom, a kind of monk of the secular world. He is the one who will not enter the door of the temple while the beggars still have to stand outside. We think he's an ass, but he values reason, because he knows how easily we are swayed by the idolatry of passing thoughts. Even in great turmoil, he sets aside easy comfort and holds the line; he waits for evidence.
He knows courage when he's called to it. Do we?
It's not that this woman is trying to be difficult, even if she's furry, bra-less, and wears a pentacle around her neck. She is the sister of all things living; she is the spirit of the wild. It's not like we thought: that she believes in a Goddess sitting astride the Heavens; a superhuman hippie queen who rules the world. It's that she has learned, with practice, to see the divinity in every single rock, lichen, and ant that she observes. She calls this "Goddess." She closes her eyes to chant and everything alive is joined with her.
She knows beauty when she sees it. Do we?
We cannot have the sacredness of Nature, the compassion of a loving God. We cannot have the peace of the dharma. We cannot have the courage to live without succumbing to short-cuts, to easy explanations of the unknowable world.
We cannot have these things. Not at the same time.
All the time, day after day, prayers are being prayed that will never leave our lips. Moments of transcendence are visited on the weary, on the sick. Faith is being shattered, threatened, changed, and born in the hearts of people we will never know.
Every day this happens. Spiritual lives are lit up like great torches or snuffed out; souls are trembling in the storm.
And still we think, in some small way, that we know God, or know what God is not.
We think we know this, without the inconvenience of praying five times a day or of keeping the Sabbath, or of daily meditation, and without cultivating the discipline of groundlessness. We know, we think, without the disciplined intention of spellcraft, or the utter trust required to sit, breathing stifled, and pray through a sweat lodge.
We don't really want to know. I don't. Because if we sat in the sweat lodge and let the smoke fill up our lungs, if we gave ourselves up to the practice of the yogas, if we fell to our knees and prayed to Jesus Christ to save us, and meant this with the truth of our entire hearts—we would be changed from what we are.
We would no longer know ourselves. Because we would have gone to a place where we were quite sure there was no God and found that God was there. Even in the abnegation of God's existence, we would recognize the beating heart of awe, of faith, of devotion to humanity and the world.
We would find that God is the same in all moments of rapture,
—and that we never ever knew what anyone else meant when they uttered the word: God.
We do not do this. And we cannot do this. We simply cannot live inside the skin of another person's soul.
But I wonder if we might just ask ourselves how much truth we are missing, all the God we cannot see; I wonder if we can ponder how much wealth is always concealed from us by our own inevitably narrow human minds.
And so it is that I think that some of us might instead place faith where we have prior substituted small truths.
Faith is better; it lasts longer. Feet sunk deep in the unknowable, arms reaching for the trust we need to live our lives; faith is indeed precious, wise.
Aggressive truth, by contrast, is destructive, and, what's more—it's never true.
The truth is unknowable, unfathomable. The ineffable, refracted light of the sacred filters through us and shines its indescribable colors, gorgeous to our eyes.
Perhaps to have faith is to look each time at that light, as it passes through another, as it passes through our egos, landing splendid on the world;
and each time find something in it that is holy, that is new.
“Faith is believing that the outcome will be what it should be, no matter what it is.”