— journal page, Cat Charissage, 2014
Join me today, on my Depth Dimension Day, in writing a bit about your own relationship with faith, God, and the religion you were born into (or if not born into one, about that).
In my last post I told you about going on retreat. You may have noticed that I didn’t say anything about “God”. Well, let me tell you a little about that. . .
It is my life’s greatest irony that as far as “God” is concerned, I “knew” a lot more about God 35 years ago than I do now! As most of you know, I was raised in the Catholic church, and was deeply religious; I was in the convent for 4 years (ages 19-23), and have my B.A. and 4 years of grad work in theology. So I was VERY into that way of looking at life, and I clearly remember what it felt like to have a strong faith. What happened is that as I learned more about the evils and suffering in the world, I fell into doubt and questioned how a good God could allow this to occur. I’ve read all the reasons that humans have come up with about that problem, and, well, there is no clear answer to it. Many have addressed this in their writing, but ultimately, we just don’t know why there is such suffering. Or, at least, what reasons there are out there are not satisfying to me.
I also have a very scientific, rational, atheistic voice in my head that can belittle the language that people use to talk about spiritual ideas. It has come from my desire to be as accurate, fair, and clear thinking as I’m capable of, as well as the desire to not deceive myself about difficult things. I’ve heard more than my share of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (some of the “new atheists”), and can give a rational, psychological “explanation” for just about any religious experience. I wonder at times if prayer is just talking to ourselves, or worse yet, to an imaginary friend. I don’t, I can’t, believe in God as I was originally taught, nor as how God is described in most religions.
Yet, . . . yet. The very ground of my life is working with its mysteries, with the “deep and real” things we human beings are always about. I have consistent spiritual practices that allow me to find and create great meaning in life. I’ve spent all of my adult life reading from the wisdom traditions of the world, and I feel my life’s vocation whenever I can help others live a little more deeply, a little more authentically —- a little more soulfully. But the combination of knowing deeply some of the world’s injustices and my deconstructive, rationalist voice renders me almost silenced when it comes to talking about this area of life.
Well, it helps to keep me humble. I guess.
It’s so frustrating and so ironic that it’s funny! The ultimate trickster-ish nature of reality!
I look for other ways to talk about this area of life, other definitions of God. I like Anne Lamott’s explanation of her use of the word “God” that she talks about in her book Stitches: as “shorthand for the Good, for the animating energy of love; for Life, for the light that radiates from within people and from above; in the energies of nature, even in our rough, messy selves.” I use words like “D&R” (deep and real), “Depth Dimension”, “Great Mystery”, “the Holy, the Sacred”, “what/who you meet in your innermost self”, “that which is greater — the Magnitude”, “Presence”, but I’m not sure if I’m talking about a noun or a verb, or . . . . anything. If anything, I’m referring to the ultimate ground of reality, the energy underlying all that is. I hope that it’s personal, and loving — but as I said, I see things falling apart as well as coming together in this world.
Where I’ve come to is that science and the spiritual are different languages that speak about different human experiences, and we can’t expect them to be interchangeable; nor can we expect scientific language to be able to fully explain religious experience as much as it tries. Mostly, I tell that scientific voice in my head to be quiet or go work on a problem it can solve (similar to the way we deal with the critical voice in creativity), and get on with my everyday dealing with the D&R.
I don’t have the faith that I had before, but I do know there is SOMETHING that we’re trying to describe when we talk about spiritual matters. Whether that’s human or divine, or both at once, I think that religious language is metaphor for something real. I call that soul. Our world has had many descriptions of this, and many, many stories about it. At their best, these stories invite us to be compassion incarnate, soul enfleshed, flesh ensouled.
And THAT is what I want to be about.
Now, you: what do you say about these things? Of course you don’t have to comment, but it would be no waste of time to think and write about these things for yourself.