Monday, June 3, 2013

All the God We Cannot See

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 don't.

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.”
~Colette Baron-Reid


8 comments:

  1. It's like you *get* me, but are much better at expressing me. And then you teach me, too. I wish I could offer an intelligent comment to further a conversation. Instead I'll just say thank you and stew on this a bit.

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    1. Thanks, Margi. There are lots of writers that are like that for me. It's like my brain lives at least partially outside my head and I can only fully appreciate my own undefined thoughts when I hear them articulated by someone else. I think doing this for one another is what's so great about the writing/blogging worlds.

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  2. Terrific! While you probably have a more ecstatically spiritual and mystical bent than I do, you state things similarly to how I feel. My Mythmaker precept No. 10: The Right Way is universal; the Truth is parochial and divisive - your statements somewhat mirror this: "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." My Right Way is what you call faith - different for each person, growing out of yourself, but recognizable. Truth in my Precept is the absolute dogma of established religions.
    And I love your statements:
    "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."
    Great stuff, Tara!

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    1. I find, once again, that your Mythmakers and I have a lot in common. :)

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  3. I am moved. I really am. I will be back to give this another read. I want to soak it in, to let it filter down to my core. thank you....

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    1. Thanks, Tamara. High praise indeed.

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  4. This is really fantastic.

    There's a part of me that wants to believe in something strongly, if only to see what it is like. Sure, they are all metaphors, but they are metaphors that get results, you know?

    There's a Buddhist writer named Jack Kornfield who writes about a concept calling "sitting in the one-seat." He compares spiritual work to digging wells: If you dig a bunch of shallow wells, you're never going to strike water.

    I'll always be just a spiritual dilettante myself...

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    1. I can relate to this series of thoughts a lot. I do often wish I could go full-bore into some belief system and give myself to it, just for the comfort of doing so. And yet I tend to think that, while I may never know what it is to be fully invested in the core beliefs that others have, that I have a spirituality that is also deep and narrow (narrow as in requiring hard work and integrity). I can't know if it's better or worse than what others have, but, then again, they cannot know that either with regard to themselves.

      I've also decided I can have some spiritual practices without all of the attendant beliefs. And that I can engage with the spiritual without leaving my skepticism at the door. I think it works. At least, it's the only way I know of at the moment to live my life.

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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License