Posts Tagged ‘Religion’
I don’t know why I was born with this belief
in something deeper and larger than we can see.
But it’s always called.
Even as a boy, I knew that trees and light and sky
all point to some timeless center out of view.
I have spent my life listening to that center
and filtering it through my heart.
This listening and filtering is the music of my soul,
of all souls.
After sixty years, I’ve run out of ways to name this.
Even now, my heart won’t stand still.
In a moment of seeing, it takes the shape of my eye.
In a moment of speaking, the shape of my tongue.
In a moment of silence, it slips back into the lake of center.
When you kiss me, it takes the shape of your lip.
When our dog sleeps with us, it takes the shape of her curl.
When the hummingbird feeds her baby, it takes the shape of her beak
carefully dropping food into our throats.
There is within us–in even the blithest, most light hearted among us—a fundamental dis-ease. It acts like an unquenchable fire that renders the vast majority of us incapable in this life of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies in the marrow of our bones and the deep regions of our souls.
All great literature, poetry, art, philosophy, psychology, and religion tries to name and analyze this longing. We are seldom in direct touch with it, and indeed the modern world seems set on preventing us from getting in touch with it by covering it with an unending phantasmagoria of entertainments, obsessions, addictions, and distractions of every sort. But the longing is there, built into us like a jack-in-the-box that presses for release.
Two great paintings suggest this longing in their titles—Gauguin’s “Who Are We? Where Did We Come From? Where Are We Going?” and de Chirico’s “Nostalgia for the Infinite”—but I must work with words. Whether we realize it or not, simply to be human is to long for release from mundane existence, with its confining walls of finitude and mortality.
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men… The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions… [to] recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
–Nostra Aetate, Official Document of the Catholic Church
For the most part yesterday I spent the day reading, because of a 10-hour brownout. I read Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters – And How To Talk About It. Krista Tippett is the award-winning host of my favorite internet podcast On Being.
The book is full of gems of wisdom. These are some of the passages in the book that resonated with me:
We miss the essence of great religious figures…if we imagine them sitting, uttering a list of doctrines. And our theology… should be like poetry.
If we wait for clean heroes and clear choices and evidence on our side to act, we will wait forever, and my radio conversations teach me that people who bring light into the world wrench it out of darkness, and contend openly with darkness all of their days.
Healing, like faith, …is most effective when it incorporates what is broken rather than denying or curing it.
The way we deal with the losses of our lives, large and small, may be what most determines our capacity to be present to the whole of our lives.
Religious traditions give me language and ideas to hold on to ambiguity—the pleasure and pain of human experience that complicate and enliven each other.
A rabbi, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, gave me the best illustration I know of the difference between spirituality and religion. On Mount Sinai, she says, something extraordinary happened to Moses. He had a direct encounter with God. This was a spiritual experience. The Ten Commandments were the container for that experience. They are religion.
We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.
The book is for people who want to make sense of what religion is all about and how to practice it in our modern, contemporary, 21st century society. It is also for those who have been wounded by the negative, unhealthy and life-denying aspects of religion. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love:
Her intelligence is like a salve for all thinking people who have felt wounded or marginalized by The God Wars.
Speaking of Faith is a book I will cherish and reread over and over again…
Krista Tippett is the host of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast On Being (formerly known as Speaking of Faith). In 2014, she was also awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Growing up in the 60s in a religiously conservative family, she was deeply influenced by his grandfather, the Reverend C. T. Perkins. She later traces her attraction to religion to him.
My later fascination with religion had surely to do with his singular integrity among all the members of my family. Here I use that word integrity strictly; he had it all together, for better or worse. He discerned certain truths about the nature of the universe, and he lived by them. They both clarified and constrained his range of vision and movement.
Though he had only a third-grade education, he was a highly intelligent man.
…though, he only had a third-grade education, my grandfather possessed a strange prodigious intelligence. He could perform complex mathematical feats in his head. After his death, I inherited the bibles he studied and preached by — mighty leather-bound King James versions with feather-thin pages — and found page after page marked with notes, annotations, cross-references, every margin full of observations that speak to a love for the life of the mind. From an early age I sensed this in myself, an unlearned pleasure I could take in ideas, the written word, and the thoughts in my head, their powers of making sense.
However, some family members thought he was a tyrant, but she thought otherwise.
I could never buy in to the popular idea in our family that he was a tyrant. He was funny. He told jokes. He laughed easily. He bought a farm after he retired from evangelizing, planted a vegetable garden, and lovingly built wooden birdhouses. Even as he preached hellfire and brimstone, he had a sense of play. He was a man of God with a sense of humor — and to this day, that is a combination I admire and seek out.
He taught me to trust in an overriding sense behind the universe. I learned from him to look for grace and for truths that reveal themselves, at times, baldly, but just as often, between the cracks in my ability to see and hear what is important. Above all, he imparted me with a sense of belovedness woven into the very fabric of life.
But as she moved away from Oklahoma, where she grew up, religion ceased to make sense to her. For most of the 80s, for most of her 20s she lived in Germany.
Starting out as a freelance journalist (writing and reporting for The New York Times, Newsweek, the BBC, the International Herald Tribune, and Die Zeit), she ended up working as a diplomat for the Reagan administration. First, as a special political assistant to the senior diplomat in West Berlin; and, after a year, as the chief aide in Berlin to the U.S. ambassador to West Germany.
During those times, however, she began to ponder the moral questions arising from her experience of being close to the powers-that-be. This led her again to explore religion and spirituality.
One of the religious thinkers that influenced her during this period of her life was the original memoirist of the Holocaust, Eli Weisel. Eli Wiesel was visiting Berlin for the first time since the Holocaust when she heard him speak before a group of young Germans. She was struck when he said:
I had never before considered that it could be as painful to be a child of those who ran the camps as a child of those who died in them.
Deeply moved by what she heard, she writes:
I was astonished that Wiesel, a victim of German genocide, was open to seeing the tragedy and the resilience of the human spirit on every side of it. His words unsettled and moved me. They stirred conclusions I was struggling to articulate in that country with a tortured past and present. I was thoroughly caught up in the enduring strategic, geopolitical consequences of Germany’s descent into Nazi terror. Yet through Elie Wiesel’s eyes, goals like human redemption and healing — and not just retribution, economic rebuilding, and balances of power — also appeared urgent. I felt that Wiesel’s words belonged on the front pages of newspapers, that they should be shouted to the world. But I believe this had nothing to do with God. Wiesel’s faith, as he wrote in Night, had been consumed forever by the flames of the ovens at Auschwitz. Two decades would pass before I could speak with him again, and be surprised again by his words.
Burnt-out, she resigned from her job as a diplomat in Berlin, and spent some time on the Spanish island of Mallorca. She describes this period of her life in this manner:
Quiet and submission born of fatigue were the beginnings of wisdom for me after Berlin. Fresh air and the sun’s warmth, almond and apricot and lemon trees, fresh bread and strong Spanish coffee, the ocean in late afternoon — these were its elements. I handed my resignation to the ambassador and his wife, believing I was headed for Washington in a matter of months. But first I decided to go back to one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited — Deia, a village ringed by mountains on the Spanish island of Mallorca. I put my furniture into storage and packed two suitcases, out of which I would live, as it turned out, for the next two years.
Alone in Deia, I began to realize how tired and confused I was. I felt this physically, before I could turn it into ideas and words. This was salutary for me. I had made my way through the world up to now — and this is still my greatest virtue and vice rolled together — by my wits alone, headfirst. I forced myself out of bed at daybreak every day and rushed a silly, shallow novel about Berlin into being. I thought this was my purpose for being there and the accomplishment I would have to show for it. But in moments I thought were not productive, I looked out the tiny window by my desk. I saw a mountain, sky, and air that dwarfed nuclear weapons and the life and death they seemed to threaten. I breathed deeply. The world began to realign itself more generously, or rather my vision did. None of this was logical, none of it made sense.
Early, quite early, I put away most of the books I brought along. I read Rilke, whom I had loved for years and whose gorgeous iconoclastic language felt right in this place. I reread his advice to a young poet: ‘to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’
She eventually went back to the U.S., and studied theology for most of the early 90s at Yale Divinity School. The idea for a public radio show came to her while serving as a consultant to the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Saint John’s Abbey and University of Collegeville, Minnesota. She wanted to conduct a conversation about faith, religion and spirituality in a way “that doesn’t proselytize, exclude, anger, or offend.”
Starting out as an occasional feature in 2000, it evolved, starting in 2003, as a weekly program. Since then she has interviewed theologians, scientists, educators, physicians, social activists, poets, and even atheists and agnostics.
…the words ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ are narrowing boxes in our culture as well. Spiritual questions don’t go away, nor does a sense of wonder and mystery cease, in the absence of a belief in God. Non-religious people are some of the most fervent seekers of our age, energetically crafting lives of meaning.
In 2007, she wrote the book Speaking of Faith. Part memoir, part reflections on the issues of the day – it is also a record of the insights she gained from her weekly interviews of her conversation partners.
To watch her read excerpts from her book to a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, click this link:
An invitation to attend a Zen retreat 16 years ago from Sr. Perla, an ICM nun. Attended the 6-day retreat, and it changed my life. An account of what happened to me during that retreat is found in this blog post: