Tuesday, April 12, 2016

From Inner Core to Looking Out and Back

That undeniable level of experience, which we often tag with the word "emotional" - depriving it at some other level of seriousness - is, I think, the level on which our faith is truly constructed. Typically the emotions that propel us toward's that deepest reality - God - are the following:

Awe: being overwhelmed by the beauty and order of nature - the stars at night, the rising and setting sun, the landscapes we see every day, the stunning variety of life forms, and our capacity to ponder it all.

Cries for help: trying to cope with the heart-wrenching tragedies that life brings, the neediness we have for help in finding a way forward, the need for a touch of love much deeper and more constant that the love anyone simply human can show us.

Thankfulness: the sense of happiness and peace we feel when critical needs are met, when love and assistance seems to flow from the well of blessings that also seem to come our way.

While these are the main experiences that open us to the "divine," there are others that had played a major role in my life: guilt was one, the guilt I had as a child for creating a world of lies when I was about 8 years old that made it impossible for me to invite friends into my life. I did not "confess" these lies to those who had heard them from my lips, but when given a new opportunity to start things over in a new place, I made a promise to an inner presence I called God, what I would now call a "covenant," to live life differently, to live it based on telling the truth.

But while these deep impulses, "motions," or "commitments" are foundational for all of us, we tend to minimize their centrality in how we shape our lives and turn either to an established set of explanations that the people around us use to articulate "truths" - usually the religious or ideological "landscape" we happen to grow up in, or, if we're not rooted in any particular tradition, to more intellectual, word-based, idea-based grounds for discussing who we are, what we believe and what Truth is, the philosophical notions we become introduced to as we go through school.

As a person who was not really born into a religious family and did not spend early childhood going to church or synagogue or mosque, I still knew even when I was ten, that a lot of people built their beliefs on a book called the Bible. I remember at that age having a conversation with a friend about what book we'd take with us onto an island if we could only have one thing to read for the rest of our lives.  I chose the Bible, and I explained why - because it probably had been important to more people throughout history than any other book. I think it was shortly after this that my grandfather took me to a Macy's store at the Cross-County Shopping Center and got me a beautiful King James Version of the Bible. And because my grandmother had died a little while before this - an event that caused an aunt of mine to step in, have me baptized into the Episcopal Church so I could go with her and my cousins to church and feel part of it - I started reading that book. I read it from the beginning up to somewhere around the psalms and then put it down. It wasn't a "sacred" book to me; it was just a book. I didn't realize at the time how important it would become to me.

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