Emilijia, at Bipolar and the City, had a post that included some discussion about the struggle to be spiritual and yet rational in today’s world. It got me thinking about my own work on my own beliefs and spirituality, and the conclusions I’ve come to. So I thought I’d share.
A little background. My mother’s an ordained minister, so I grew up going to (Protestant) church every Sunday. I became allergic to organized religion and the hypocrisy inherent in any human institution talking about, and falling short of, God’s plans for us. So now, I don’t go to church much– but at Easter and Christmastime, I need my hymns and a little bit of the stand-up-sit-down-fight-fight-fight ritual for it to feel “right.” When I do want to talk about God and think about God and the world and my place in it, I tend to go to Quaker meeting, but I haven’t been in a while, admittedly. The meetings I attend have a silent component, where the group sits together, silent, listening for the voice within, and meditating on whatever arises in their minds. After a time, someone may be moved to share something their meditations have caused them to discern, and they will stand and speak. Afterward, there may be more silence. Others may be moved to share their own thoughts, or their thoughts on things others have just shared. Someone may recite a poem, or a Bible passage, or sing a song or a hymn or share a Buddhist meditation. Most meetings I’ve attended have been pretty free-wheeling, and not insistent at all on Christocentric messages.
A little theology. Since I’m a minister’s kid and a nerd to boot, I know my Bible pretty well. I don’t read it all the time, but it’s at my bedside, along with some Buddhist books by Thich Naht Hanh and Jack Kornfield. I also have some of Rumi’s poems, and I practice yoga intermittently. Over time, I’ve come to think the following. I don’t know if God exists. I choose to think he does. I don’t know if there was a historical Jesus, but I choose to think so. I think Jesus rocks, because of what he stands for– the possibility that any mere human can do wonderful things. And I think that Jesus embodies the best of the human virtues– compassion, kindness, uncompromising honesty even in the face of authority and at the risk of death. I think that the fundamentalists who tout Leviticus and Deuteronomy and other parts of the Old Testament to justify sexism, racism, homophobia, and any other “us v. them” philosophy are dead wrong, and missing the central tenet of Jesus’ teachings, which is this– you should do your best to be a good person. Love your neighbors (and everyone is your neighbor), even if they’re pains in your ass or worse. If you can’t, or if you act in ways that are not loving, you will still be loved and forgiven if you regret your acts. That’s it.
A little more theology. I think that Jesus’ coming signaled the end of the interventionist God of the OT. What Jesus means is that we have to slog our way through our lives, doing the best that we can, and asking to be forgiven for the worst things that we’ve done, and for our failures to love. There’s no miracle to be handed down to save us from ourselves– just our own hard work, and possibly the work of others, heeding the admonition to love thy neighbor– who ever they are, whatever they do, because they are on the same journey. In this sense, I guess my view of Jesus becomes conflated with the concept in Buddhism that life is suffering, and that we should do all we can to minimize the suffering we inflict on others and ourselves. I also try to practice the Buddhist principle of nonattachment– in my own practice, this means deciding why I am bothered by, upset about, or attached to some thing, some one, some thought, some feeling, and then deciding whether it’s worth continuing to be bothered by/attached to. Most of the time, it’s not. This practicing letting go is HARD, but the continuous reminder about what really matters makes it easier for me to let go of more and more as I get older.
So in my everyday life, what do I do? I try to spend some time before bed thinking about the day, and what I could have done better, and what I am grateful for. Sometimes I journal about it. I intermittently keep a gratitude journal. I go for walks, because the miracle of air to breathe and trees to see and dogs and cats to pet never gets old. I try to smile at people. I try to keep my mouth shut on mean things directed right at the people I am dealing with. I try to tell the truth, and call people on it when they’re not. I try to love myself as much as I love my Better Half. And I try to act with love when I’m called upon, or have the opportunity to act.
All of this makes me sound like a goody-two-shoes. Believe me, I’m not. I don’t go around talking about Jesus and Buddha in my everyday life. I am bitchy, and snarky, and short-tempered. I am an asshole when I drive. I avoid unpleasant truths. I enjoy being right a little too much, and take vain and prideful pleasure in intellectual combat and proving someone else wrong. I am literally and frequently tempted to slap people (see short temper, supra). I think unkind thoughts about close friends and family and random strangers all the time. But I try not to. I’m working on it. And I feel badly when I fall short. In my personal theology, that’s enough.