Recently I got into a non-debate with my daughter, “S”. I say it was a “non-debate” because she was wanting to engage me in one while I was rather engrossed in The War (the documentary by Ken Burns that’s been running on public broadcasting this past week). Anyway, she wanted to talk because she had a paper to write in her “Arguments” class on the topic of why our society views “faith” as a good thing. This is a tough topic for me. Let me tell you why.
For many people who are believers – or so it seems to me – they’ve made this basic decision. Maybe that decision happened as an end result of numerous experiences or internal debates. Maybe it was a flash of insight that changed their minds forever. Maybe it’s the faith of their youth from which they never departed. Whichever it was, many come to that place at some point. Then whatever internal dialogue they have, whatever discussions they have with others tend to assume a core belief.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that for a lot of us, myself included, the very existence of God, the very core of who and what we are can be shaken. Severely shaken. But we still start from a point of reference as one who at least at one time believed. For us, the angel is there to wrestle with even if for the moment we are just standing in the dark and whistling.
With my kids, I sometimes wonder if that was ever the case. Perhaps my lack of faith in them ever believing anything comes from their very strong stances – one after the other – with regards to religion and faith in general. So my response has been NOT to react negatively, but to simply ask that they remain open to the possibility. Sometimes that registers with them. Sometimes not. Some would tell me I am playing roulette with their souls. I think to attempt to force them to my way of thinking would definitely be that. (AS IF!!!)
The thesis of S’s paper was that faith should not be something we extol in others. Hope is OK; hope keeps us focusing on possibilities for change, but faith is something else again. She uses the recent debate among politicians and posits that one’s faith should be irrelevant to whether they do a good job. And I agree with her in principle. I do not agree that faith per se is the equivalent of moral stupidity or emotional laziness, although I’ve known times when I have reprehensibly hidden behind what I called faith to avoid examining the real issues in my life. But we know that is not real faith.
We didn’t have this debate, but it has stayed with me. I started thinking that maybe it wouldn’t hurt for her to read the works of far better minds than mine – the logic of George MacDonald, for instance? Or perhaps William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience?
Although to a well read, definitely 21st Century college student like S might laugh at what James attempted to do in this book, I still think there are a lot of interesting concepts to consider. Especially the part about the hallmarks of a religious experience, only some of which I remember – such as numinosity? Sense of “other”? Awe? (read TERROR for me).
And then I remember two times in my life when I felt that I was having a brush with what I think of as the Raw Divine. As opposed to those times when one feels so close to God – as when you hold your baby in your arms for the first time, when you fall in love, when you catch a glimpse of the awesomeness of nature, when you experience the beauty of being in a caring community. One “Raw Divine” experience was kind and gentle. The other not so much. The first occurred when I was fourteen years old. It was late at night. I was supposed to be asleep, but was so depressed I couldn’t sleep. I remember just wanting to give up and asking God “if you’re there” to just let me die before morning (I was too chicken to kill myself!). Through my sadness, I felt a caring presence with me. A little factoid to file away for future puzzlement.
Two years later, I was on a school trip to Germany (we could do that a lot more cheaply back then). I was having a wonderful time. It was about 6:00 in the evening in the springtime. I was in Berlin, staying with a very nice family for a few days of our trip. I was to meet up with my classmates at the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtniskirche and was the first to arrive. If you’ve ever seen this evangelical church in Berlin, you will first notice that half of the church – that part that I think probably contained a bell tower and (I think) an altar area – had been bombed out during the last days of the war. In the rebuilding of Berlin, it was somehow agreed that the main portion of the church would be rebuilt, but this bombed-out part of the church would remain as a silent reminder of the war. The bombed out part has a lot of statuary in it, including a statue of Christ crucified, with the words on it saying, (if I recall correctly) “Es ist vollbracht. ” or “It is finished (brought to fruition).”
The sun was beginning to set. Shadows were being cast around me. Suddenly, in the middle of downtown Berlin, I remember silence. No one around. Just me looking into the eyes of this statue of Christ and seeing, experiencing utter darkness and loneliness and in the midst of this, the Presence of the Other. It scared the crap out of me. It felt more real than real. And I will never forget it.
It is possible that I just happened upon this group of statuary at a particularly unusual time of day. It may be that in my sadness and grief at fourteen, I was hoping against hope that I wasn’t truly alone. Of course as to the first experience. But with the second, believe me, it was NOT wishful thinking. I wanted to shake that experience off as soon as possible. I still don’t have any idea of what it meant, except that now as I think about it, I was viewing a statue that represented the absolute depths of Jesus’ sense of abandonment by God the Father – probably the most frightening thing in the universe!
I am NOT even trying to tell anyone what to believe here. These are my thoughts, informed by my experiences. Your spiritual path may be different – and it is equally important.
On the knitting front, I’ve been working on S’s endpaper mitts and today used my laundry time (we have a great setup – tv and couch in basement, knit while the wash goes – whoo hoo!) to work on a jacket pattern from Knitter’s – very simple, called JaspeRed – but I’m making it in a navy/yellow/lighter blue/green variegated Caron yarn called Shadows. It’s knitting up quite nicely. I really like this (acrylic!) yarn. Also started (for the third time) the “Moby Dick” to my “Ahab” of patterns: The Backyard Leaves scarf done for Scarf Style by Annie Modesitt. I took it slowly, and after one false start, have completed one pattern repeat. This scarf will be a Christmas gift for one of my kids. Pictures will not be shown for this until after Christmas:) for obvious reasons. Also cast on an Elann shawl/wide scarf in my first real laceweight yarn. I am so excited – it’s a nice, simple pattern called the Voyager Lace Stole. I’ll probably finish it some time in 2009, LOL!
When I’m done with this posting, I’ll probably do a little more work on the Cables and Os sweater – still in sleeve Slough of Despond…. but will post some pics soon – promise!
So, it looks like a bunch of summer projects will be hibernating as I switch back to my warmer winter and Christmas projects. Ah I love the seasons! And I so love this time of year. I guess it goes back to childhood and the wonderful fun holidays from Halloween to New Years Eve that bring us together:)
As for what’s gone on in life lately, I really enjoyed choir practice, and hopefully this cough will go away by tomorrow, so I can actually sing. All is busy and therefore relatively quiet. I’ve got a few busy weeks up ahead and am grateful for employment:) John and I are ships that pass in the night, but we do have an anniversary coming up next week – our 31st. Got word from a dear friend whose husband died three years ago that she’s been dating this wonderful guy whom her grandchildren love (an excellent recommendation:)! One of my dearest friends in the world is enjoying a weekend with her husband, son and new daughter-in-law and it makes my heart smile to think of them having a good time together -last night out to dinner and a show and today hiking in the woods. And the cherry on the sundae of life – I get to sing tomorrow!
And if I’m really lucky, my wonderful family will be together again for Sunday dinner. And if they’re lucky, my cooking will be OK:)
Good night, Angels!+