Faith (Part II)
A consideration of these things depends on an understanding, a knowledge or belief that there is life beyond this life, that there is continuity even if we don’t know the details. A poet friend of mine, David Kherdian, said : « The evidence is everywhere », which it is for the believers.
Paul, who was formally Saul, a hunter of the followers of Jesus, put it this way in his letter to the Romans, « …ever since the creation of the world, the invisible existence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind’s understanding of created things ».
In these current days, it should be easier to see than ever before since our understanding of the magnitude of the universe has expanded exponentially in the last few years and it keeps expanding, becoming more complex, vaster beyond the mind’s capacity to grasp, adding other dimensions, throwing into doubt everything we know of time, cause and effect, logic. Even the fundamental accepted notion of a « big-bang » is under reconsideration, a new idea being that there never was a beginning and there never will be an end. It is in sync with a prayer in the Catholic Liturgy : « Glory be to the father, to the son, and to the holy spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen ». « Now and ever shall be, world without end ».
Instinctively, to me that seems right that we manifest for reasons we cannot know ; we play our part and move on when it is time to do so. The eastern view is that we keep coming back to this life until we « get it right » have come to completion. Then we don’t have to incarnate any more, at least not here.
Most spiritual thinkers I have studied consider our inchoate longings, our alienation, just a desire to return to unity with LOGOS, the assumption being that, at some point, we knew that state and miss it deeply. We were in the garden of delight and then out of it, a perfect metaphor for how we feel. The farther we are from « the garden » the more painful it is.
Perhaps « playing our part » well in life allows us to « move on » to a situation that gets us closer to that ultimate completion we seek. This is a satisfying way to think and suggests logical assumptions about the fates of saints and criminals beyond this life.
Spiritual progress does not depend on faith. In more than one place in the Bible it is stated that « if someone does his best according to whatever understanding he has, he is justified ». And that also makes sense. I have known many people, including atheists and agnostics, who did very well in spiritual terms according to their understanding. Faith is pleasure, like icing on the cake, a comfort but not a necessity to living a great and generous life.
Louise Wade was black and from South Carolina. Her grandmother was a slave. Louise ironed shirts and underwear and pants for rich white people in the town where I was raised. Her son had died, been killed somehow back in the South. All her hair had fallen out. That is all we knew. She only wanted to iron down in the basement by the washing machine and the furnace, an unfinished basement. She would never enter through the front door of the house. She sang hymns softly while she did her perfect work.
I had a lot of questions about a lot of things and still do, and somehow I thought she might have some answers. Instinctively I was drawn to her despite the fact that she talked very little. As I remember, we listened to the sounds of the washing machine, the furnace, and the hiss of the iron on clothes for long stretches and then I would get up quietly and go back upstairs. It was peaceful where she was and peaceful who she was.
At one point, at age twenty-eight, I had an epiphany, direct experience of the spirit. The way I put it at the time was that I went from believing to knowing. I think I described it that way to Louise and she said gently, smiling, « Isn’t it nice ». Only that.
I knew her for many years until she died and the small amount we said to each other was significant. Her humble condition in the world, I came to understand, camouflaged the great spiritual condition she had achieved within herself.
If you can accept the notion that the life we lead is a work in progress, and a work with purpose, and that life is everlasting, then there can be a time when have done a much as we can in this iteration of existence here on earth. If we were unable to attain the material rewards of this world ; money, power, fame, honor, and glory but still crave them, crave that confirmation from the world that we are « successful », then we might have to keep trying in the « good new life to come » as an old timer I knew put it. On the other hand, we might finally feel that « enough’s enough already » and be content with our effort, that we have done as much as we can or want to do. If that happens and becomes the condition of our inner core, we have truly become « realized ». That is my point.
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