existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Tag: faith

There are things that I would like to write. I would like to write about the way the hawk wheels on his wings, and his shadow scatters the birds. I would like to write about the way the evening settles in, with its blanket of lilac and makes the beer sweat. I would like to write about the desert. Most of all, I would like to write about religion, but this is the thing that I know the least about. To be clear: I know all about religions. Not as much as some, but enough. I know about the ascendancy of myth, about the liturgical dramas of word and ritual that arose to tell those myths. I know about the crosses that people bow down to. I know about the gods and goddesses and about God and Godde.

But I do not know about religion, which is what the hymn-writer wants who wrote “give me that old time religion.” I know about having a faith, but not about having faith. Someone once said, “God, I do not love thee. I do not want to love thee. But I want to want to love thee.” Thrice-removed faith.

Does this seem somewhat bloated? Perhaps it is a little, or more than a little. What does faith matter? Faith may not be something which can be seized or held on to. I have always thought that faith is like the docking station between the human and the divine. “Faith is being certain of what is unseen,” which is taken to mean, “Believe in this thing which you do not have evidence to believe in,” or “Have a feeling when you whisper to yourself the name ‘God,’ and then call that feeling God.”

Did Jesus always have constant consciousness of the presence of God? It says that he was “like us in every way, tho was without sin.” If there is no experience of doubt, how could he be like us? But it also says that “we shall be like him,” and that he is the “first fruit.” Perhaps then it is not that Jesus did not doubt, but that he did not despair in doubt; though he slogged through this human swamp he was not mired in non-being as we are. He suffered the same confusions that we all experience as we move through the phases of childhood, adolescence and adulthood, but unlike us he was not confused about his confusion. He bore it honestly and authentically, without apology and without pretension. I think that I let my doubt sit in my stomach like a stone, it distracts my attention, I stumble over it. There may be a time when faith is like a pen writing words across the page of our mind – we look, and there it is. There may be times when faith is like a fire, far away, which we can see but there is no warmth.

Canoe to nowhere

Coreander: Have you ever been Captain Nemo, trapped inside your submarine while the giant squid was attacking you?

Bastien: Yes.

Coreander: Weren’t you afraid you couldn’t escape?

Bastien: But it’s only a story.

Coreander: That’s what I’m talking about. The ones you read are safe.

Bastien: And that one isn’t?

It was Descartes, I believe, who said “As much as you are able, once in your life, you should doubt everything.” He’s right. Faith worth having can survive any assail of doubt, if the doubt is honest (insincere doubt has got to be the worst thing in the world; it turns people into sickly, self-admiring, cynical creatures).

I would add to Descartes’ advice: as much as you are able, once in your life, you should risk everything. Again, if the risk is sincere–if it has in mind a pearl which is worth the price being paid. Doubt is risky, if we have put all our money on the belief that is being doubted. It is a cognitive type of risk  It is different from the risk of, say, moving to Philadelphia to pursue an art career, a move that carries more uncertainty than certainty, and may not come to pass. Whatever dream is worthy of investing everything to attain.

Certainty of death… small chance of success… what are we waiting for?

Risk is, well, risky. There are 90 feet of space between first and second base, 90 feet of liminal space where we aren’t here and we aren’t there, and we have a good chance of being caught in a run-down. Our arrival is not guaranteed. It’s no wonder that most of us prefer to stay put on first base. If someone is able to coax us to second with a slap single than that is fine, but to take it upon our own shoulders to get there (because they may very well not hit the ball) is something else altogether. But we’ll get back to the dugout somehow. Either we stand on first until our chances are all gone, we go for it and get caught, or by the grace of God we go for it and we make it home.

Risk makes us vulnerable. We are exposed. Our safety net is pulled away. We are in danger of physical or psychological harm, maybe even annihilation. Our evolutionary heritage has left us both cautious of danger and quick to face it. We have a sense that good things, like elephant meat, require risk. And those that survived those risks left us with a penchant for leaps of faith and lucky strikes.

And what about the lonesome hominid staring out in the vast expanse of an ocean who in a fit of holy insanity outfitted a canoe for a long voyage to nowhere and ended up hands and knees on a Polynesian shore? Now we are talking about a real leap of faith. Now we are talking about the treasure hidden in the field for which the man sells all that he has to buy; now we are talking about the one lost sheep, for which the man will leave his 99 and go to look for it; now we are talking about the kernel of wheat which, to bear fruit, must first fall to the ground and die. And now we are talking also about the rich young ruler who went away sad, because the price of the kingdom of God was too steep. Count the cost.

The liminal space, the passage way, the wilderness. Certainty and understanding are stripped away. Here is a place of thieves and snakes. Here you meet God, but not the God that you knew; here God appears as a monstrosity, unfamiliar, unknown, and disturbing. If you return, you will be changed. The end can not be seen from the beginning; this is why it is risk. And who you are in the end will not be who you are in the beginning. But when the shaking ceases, that which is unessential falls away; that which is permanent remains.