I just read this lovely thing that Alan Watts said, Faith is a state of openness or trust.
Faith as a state of being and not as something to have or not have.
I think that some people have trouble believing in any kind of God because they can't see God. Like there is this idea that God is a man wearing a white robe. That God has a long beard and a walking stick. God is probably barefoot and maybe floating a little above the ground.
So, unless you're on hallucinogens, yes, there probably is little chance you're going to run into that God on your daily trek.
I think I had that vision of God when I was a kid. Because of the whole Catholic thing and how it played out in my head and in my heart. It was all quite worrisome, the big, dark churches, all the standing, sitting, kneeling. The confessional. Yeeks! Imagine being a kid and having to go into a dark booth with the priest sitting on the other side. The two of you are separated by a metal screen and curtains. You have to go in there as a little kid and kneel down and tell the priest the bad things you did. I said a curse word, I was mean to my brother, I stole some candy. I mean, what a racket, given the things we found out later that the priests were doing.
It was a punitive God that we seemed to have worshipped back then. An angry God who, not unlike Santa Claus, was keeping track of who was naughty and who was nice, with a full accounting to be brought forth at the hour of our death when we were hoping to gain entrance to a magical puffy-cloud place called Heaven.
Indeed, it all was pretty weird. The things Religion will do in the name of self-preservation!
I feel I get the last laugh, though, as a person of the cloth, if you will. I don't actually have any cloth, unless you count the outfits I wear when I stand at the pulpit each week. Sometimes it's a vintage dress with Converse sneakers. Sometimes it's a classic shift and black pumps. But I don't have the robes or the scepter or the things you hang around your neck. I don't have the collar or the pointy hat.
Here is what I do have: openness and trust, thank you very much, Alan Watts, for articulating that for me.
I trust that, in spite of lots of evidence to the contrary, this world is a good place and that most people like being here. I trust that, even in the face of people doing horrible things to other people, most people seek to use their life in a good way. I trust that, in the end, everything will be OK. I trust that our hearts do, indeed, motivate us toward a greater good.
And I am open to the great mystery of it all. I choose to keep my heart open and my life open, to be ready for the pass, even the Hail Mary, if it ever comes. I am not afraid of having to pull up my tent and move on. It's a pain in the ass, for sure, but I'm open to the possibility that my life might be of use somewhere else. I like what Herman Hesse said: And let no sentiments of home detain us. The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us, but lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
That sneaky Cosmic Spirit, always nudging us along, trying to get us to grow up.
Also, I am willing to stand before a congregation of people of faith and tell them that I don't have any answers, that I, too, am a seeker, and that I am grateful to have them as companions on our journey through this wilderness.
Faith is not a fortress. You don't walk inside and pull up the gangplank. There is no certainty. Run like hell when you meet someone who thinks he or she has The Answer. It doesn't exist. Faith is a conversation; you are an explorer, a research scientist a listener and an artist when you are seeking God. You have to have at it with the heart of a child, full of wonder and possibility, unafraid to push buttons to see what happens, undaunted by the size of the stack of pancakes, unfazed by the color of anyone else's skin. A state of openness.
I want to tell you where I found God yesterday.
I drove down a long dirt road in a town in Vermont where I had never been. There were very tall pine trees covered with snow. It was all new to me, very beautiful and it filled my heart with awe. The house where I went was small and when I got there there were several people and a cat and a dog taking up almost all of the space in the kitchen.
There was a lot of frantic energy, probably because one of the people had recently been admitted into hospice care and everyone was responding differently to that.
The hospice person was unable to talk, this was a new development, so he communicated by writing in a notebook. When we started our visit I spoke and he wrote, and it was frustrating for both of us, so then I started writing, too. Pretty soon there was no speaking, just writing back and forth with a pencil. Are you worried? What did you love doing when you were young? What do you love about this place? Have you ever been to Alaska?
Like that, we wrote to each other while the other people skittered about all around us. The two of us created a little pocket of love, me tired from everything and sad from saying good-bye to my sister and nephews, him uncomfortable and frustrated and sad, too. We found a way to reach each other and it made both of us laugh: I wrote my good-bye first and he responded I outwrote you! I howled, he made gestures of joy and then we hugged.
I had only just met him and he wouldn't let me leave without a hug. He was one of those Vermonters, you know, proud of his home and his life, the work he had done, his family. Everything all twisted around now with his sickness. The two of us, strangers, sat in his sunny kitchen on a cold day in near-silence, telling our stories to each other with pencil and paper.
That would be God. God was in a kitchen in a little house way back on a dirt road in a small town in Vermont yesterday.
Amen and God bless.