Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On believing ... (dated November 29, 1997)

Realized while away that one of the things that I found hardest to deal with was the assumption on the part of friends that I had become a "non-believer" because I'd not yet "found God," or that I'd simply not yet discovered their system of belief. I find that equally as frustrating whether it comes from the religious right (the fundamentalists) or from the religious left (New Age).

Many of the pseudo-religious-spiritual cliches I see here in these discussions have been familiar concepts for many years. Having survived catechism classes under the strong hand of Sr. Richard Marie as a child; Tibetan Buddhism (ten years -- by osmosis through marriage) and a warm and close friendship with Lama Wangdor; Zen Buddhism with occasional weekends at Tassajara in the Santa Cruz Mountains; Esalan with Gregory Bateson, lectures by Joseph Campbell of his work in masks and myths, etc. Add to that study in the world of the Graduate Theological Union where I have the privilege (as a Trustee) of participating in seminars with graduate students who are working hard to hammer out understandings worthy of passing on to others; plus the chance to sit at the feet of ever-searching Jesuits in conversations about life in the post-Christian world (yes!). Listening to Fr. Matthew Fox lecture on almost anything stirs the imagination "beyond belief" (and I mean that to be en quotes). After all of that, what I've ended up with is a more and more complex jungle of possibilities to find my way through, far fewer answers, and the firm sense that the only human response possible in this time of exploding theorem in astrophysics is to wait and withhold judgement until the confusion clears.

That I've arrived at this age in a state of wonder seems just fine to me. That I have by now a very critical mind that demands logic even while standing in awe of the miraculous is equally so. In the process of maturing, I've lost the need to "make sense" of the countless possibilities and live now quite comfortably with conflicting truths, contradictions, and paradoxes, and the need to rule out anything becomes less important as I continue to grow and learn. I've remained open to new thought, and have a hardest time when I find myself trodding old ground long ago explored and exhausted. But sometimes I find new truths in a fresh understanding of old themes -- and I never know when that will happen so I find myself staying "tuned in," just in case.

I suspect that I will leave this life still reaching ... .

Maybe the word humanist best describes where I find myself at the moment, but even that's subject to change in the light of new revelations.

In the words of my (at that time) 13 year-old son, Bob, when questioned about his beliefs by the parent of a young friend, "I don't think that I'm an atheist -- because there's nobody up there not to believe in."

I suppose that says it for me, too.

Photo: Young cousin, Ralston Brown, only son of Doritha Charbonnet Brown and her husband Louis. He was 7 when this picture was taken at his First Holy Communion ceremony. Dorita was Dad's youngest sister. Ralston is a jazz drummer who plays in and around the Santa Cruz area and has for many years.

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