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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Belief

I was once asked to state a belief that will not change. 

Only one came to mind, that the only permanence is change, that our beliefs must grow as we do, evolve as we do. But this isn't the sort of belief I was asked to write about. The belief had to be solid, cohesive, perhaps grandiose, mainstream, connected to a movement and rooted deep in popular culture. It had to have a documented history. But all I had was a concept, a way of seeing. It wouldn't answer prayers or grant immortality, so what good was it?

Countercultural ideas are threatening. Just ask Jesus.

So many of my beliefs have been challenged in the past two decades -- that love conquers all, that my children are protected by the crazy intensity of my immense love, that God will protect me because I'm as special to Him-with-a-capital-H as my children are to me, that there's a super cool heaven after death, that we each have one ultimate soul mate. But I grew up and away from all that is safe and soft. After that, there wasn't much left to cuddle up to, hold tight. The old beliefs, like the comforting plush toys I slept with as a child, fell apart, from their button eyes to the thin stitched mouths. These comforts were replaced with reason in a process both painful and freeing.

I do believe in love, but don't believe it conquers all. It can't conquer addiction or infidelity, mental or physical illness. But it helps. For me, love is like the idea of God (or whatever you prefer to call your higher power). Love, like a higher power, can only ease the pain. We can love the addicted, love the unfaithful, love those suffering with illnesses of the body or mind, but we can't love the wrong away. God doesn't "cure" people. God is an energy field of possibility, similar to those plastic toy mazes that little bb's roll around in, the sort you get in a Cracker Jacks box. The choices made tilt the maze in various directions, rolling our unstable bb's toward various outcomes, toward fate. 

Sometimes circumstances beyond our control roll us toward hell. And no, it's not fair. But we can't blame God anymore than we can blame gravity. If we didn't have to wrestle with gravity and imperfection, if our wills had wings, we could float fate wherever we wanted it to go.

But we're not in control. Prayer doesn't work like a letter to your congressman. It isn't a red order button at Sonic. It's not a wants/needs vending machine. Prayer is a meditation, a listening inward. We often have an answer we're looking for, but not the courage to face it, the quiet to hear it, nor faith in our own wisdom. When we pray to get centered, to pause our movement within the maze, we usually feel better. We think better. We empty our vessels of thought junk, the lies we tell ourselves, unnecessary barbs of fear. Prayer is good, but it's not a way to win a lover back, cure someone's cancer, or win a game for your favorite basketball team.

Belief. I don't believe in much. In a way, that's freeing. But for a long time it made me feel like less, like when all the candy is gone and the Waterford dish is empty.

I once loved the occult, all that convoluted mystery scented with nag-champa incense and patchouli candles, full of bright crystals and gypsy palm readings, bejeweled psychics and handmade dreamcatchers. I believed that supernatural influences were behind everything, working on our behalf. I believed that our fate was known in some far away heaven, our destinies written by a divine author in flowing white robes, that our soul mates followed us across lifetimes. Life was beautiful in an incandescent way, an emotional stimulant and kaleidoscope of everything I most needed to be true, and like the high of any addictive drug, it became more and more difficult to sustain.

Nowadays life has more realistic hues, still beautiful without the shades of Unicorn White or Psychedelic Silver. Life isn't what I wanted for Christmas, and Santa is just a fat man, maybe even a pedophile. But there’s power in learning to accept reality. It builds serenity, courage, and wisdom. And reason makes you sound like less of an idiot.

We don't have to give up beauty or meaning. The universe is exquisite just the way it is, adorned only by nature's laws and the evolved ethics of love. The real world provides real furry creatures to love and hold (and feed and walk and clean up after). There's plenty to believe in without embellishment. The universe doesn't need a grandfatherly persona to win popularity or respect, nor does it need to love us per se, though in a way it does. The universe wants us around, not because of any sentient wizard behind it all, but because life's instinct is to create, to preserve itself.  Life seeks life, not obedient minions.

That is enough for me, even without the promise of an afterlife; especially without the promise of a forever ME. I came from star matter. Stars die. But life's finitude is essential to its worth. 

And now that I think about it, reason does not make us less in the metaphor of the crystal dish sans all the addictive sugar; there’s clarity when the vessel is clean, an unobstructed view of the light. And the cool thing about light? It's constant.


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