I talked to my mother the other day, to update her on what was going on in my life (Husband in the hospital and how he was doing) and Mom broached the subject of religion by first saying that she didn’t want to offend me, and then telling me that God stood at the door of my heart and knocked (and more along those lines). I listened with an open heart, thanked her for her concern and then said that perhaps this opened a dialogue…so she agreed. I spoke about my beliefs (eloquently, haha) and if there’s any summary of what I said, it boiled down to this: the words we use are insufficient to describe our spiritual paths, as is evidenced by this following email from her:
Read this with compassion and kindness, not anger or aggravation. I love you, and I’m deeply concerned for you.
I thought perhaps you should know what faith is. You’re living by it all the time. By faith, you and Paul went to the doctor, and by faith you listened to his diagnosis. By faith, you drove Paul to the hospital, and by faith you left him there for others to care for him. By faith, you both are doing what the doctors say, and by faith, Paul will take or not take the medications they say are right and stop the ones they want him to put aside. By faith, you drove your car, believing it would take you there and home again. And it did. By faith, you seek answers for your own health from the doctor, and by faith, you take what he says. By faith you trust the medicine will do the right thing, and by faith, you trust that the pharmacist has given you the right medications which were ordered. By even more faith than that, you trust that the company that made your medicine has used the correct chemicals for you.
That is only one little example of how faith plays such a big part in your life. You put your life in the hands of doctors and aides and nurses and others. You drive by faith, both in the effectiveness of your car and of all the other drivers on the road. You eat by faith, trusting that the foods you buy are safe and won’t kill you. Just getting out of bed in the morning is an act of faith. You told me that faith is believing in what you can’t see. You are very right. When you get up in the morning, you can’t see the whole day ahead of you, but you still get out of bed.
You cannot live without faith, whatever you trust and believe. Or you would be a basket case, unable to function and survive. Whenever you face a situation that you cannot personally control and settle to your own comfort and welfare, you must depend on faith. Whenever you hurt and are sick, you must either make yourself well again, or have faith in someone/something else. I kept Martha with me until she had used up all I was capable of, and then I sent her on to another place, where I had faith she would get the help she needed. If I had insisted on making her trust and depend on me, I could have been the cause of her suicide. Her sister knew she couldn’t give Martha the help necessary for her to get better, and in faith, she turned her over to a hospital and medications and experts.
It is as necessary to have faith and hope for living as it is to breathe. You really didn’t make Paul come to you and love you and marry you. You don’t have that kind of control over someone else. You made yourself available when you saw you two were so compatible. You are living on the horns of a dilemma, without any income, and if you don’t have faith and hope, you’re not going to make it. I have no idea what/who you can trust and believe in to overcome this time. Your body is deceiving you, failing in strength, lacking in energy. It takes a great deal of will power to overcome and control your body. I’m so sorry it has come on you at such an early age.
I continue to pray for you and Paul, many times a day. I pray for softening of your heart, openness to God’s power. Trust and obey used to be your favorite hymn. “When we walk with the LORD in the light of His Word…….” God standard is perfection. None of us can meet that, so He sent us the One Who could.
This was my reply:
I have read your email with compassion and kindness (as always) and would share this with you: faith and trust are not the same thing. I do not do things “by faith”, at least not as you have listed them. I have trust. Trust in my doctor, trust in medications, trust in the beneficial effects of having Paul in the hospital. We are not seeking healthcare from unlicensed, uneducated quacks; we actually question the reason for each medication or course of treatment and understand its use. We also do not buy our meds from unlicensed or uneducated places.
I maintain my car so I trust in its ability to get me from point A to point B. I do NOT trust the other drivers, so I drive with caution and defensively, expecting them to do the stupid thing (and am so seldom disappointed). I trust the regulations and legislation concerning food safety and purchase my food from places that are inspected and qualified to distribute food. If I receive food from a single person which is not commercially prepared, I generally know who this person is–and if I don’t, I observe the conditions for cleanliness and hygiene and make my choices accordingly. I also trust my body to deal with anything it ingests that is less than optimal, since our bodies have been doing so for millions of years. Or as the saying goes, “everyone eats a pound of dirt in their lifetime”.
Faith also implies a certain “forward looking”, an expectation of a series of events. This is contradictory to the path I follow. I try to practice Zen, which is living in the “now”. Taking each moment as it comes, not looking for the next moment until it arrives. Paying attention to the immediate present and living that, dealing with whatever it brings is a much calmer way of living for me. “Expectations are pre-meditated resentments” is a phrase I once heard and was struck by how true it is. We “expect” certain things and when they don’t happen, we’re angry or upset. We can’t foresee how things will occur and if we try, we’ll only be upset because nothing will come along exactly as we thought it should.
An integral part of living in the “now” is the loss of attachment to things. This is not just about getting rid of stuff that you don’t use any more, but the actual letting go emotionally and intellectually of things as well. Thinking the same thoughts, over and over, is not productive–especially if they are negative or harmful thoughts. Feeling the same feelings over and over, without the stimulus that caused them in the first place, is likewise useless.
It is perhaps possible that what you are describing as “faith”, I would describe as “the awareness and subsequent honoring of the sacred” within each person I meet. I believe that there is a Supreme Being, without gender, without form, so far beyond us that even the words “Supreme Being” are definitely limited and therefore do not express the concept adequately. I believe that every living thing is a part of that Being, comes from that Being and will return in due time to be united within that Being once again. Is there a purpose to life, a track-able movement from “here” to “there”? Very much so. Can we see it? No more than an ant, standing on the edge of a highway, can tell which city it came from and which city it will end at. And yet it exists. We do not need to see the river to feel the flow of it as we float on the surface, moving towards our destiny, our “final” destination. I prefer water allusions for trying to describe the movement of our life from birth to death to rebirth. The river flows, and we can see the part of the river we are riding (or swimming through); we can see where it splits into smaller channels of running water, or where it joins with another flow to become greater. And the rivers flow into the sea and the seas flow into the oceans–where the winds gather up water and carry it back inland, to fall on the earth and become rivers again. Can a drop of water know the grandeur of the ocean? Can a drop of water see the estuaries and creeks and runs and rivers and streams and know where they end? Can a single drop of water, within the billowing greatness of a thunderhead, understand the cycle of its own life, from water to mist to steam to ice to water? We are drops of water and even with our own intelligence cannot fathom the mysteries of the greater Life, the Being who is in control.
I think I have shared this parable with you before, but it is relevant here, so I repeat it: The family of the white clouds that float in the blue sky divides itself into two groups: on the one side is the large group of clouds whose goal is to get to the warm South. They suffer a lot, especially when the wind blows them north, west or east. On the other side there is a small group that has realized that it is their destination as clouds to be driven by the wind. They have no goal, or only one: to follow their path, their destination, the wind—and thus they are always in harmony with themselves and the goal.
But at the end of the day all the clouds are at the same place.
I told you when we spoke that I believe the difference in our spiritual paths is the language we use to describe them, the words we choose to share with others to explain what we believe in. Part of my goal in the non-attachment thing is to also let go of words and labels because they actually limit what we are trying to share. Your words describe a particular route to the Supreme Being, that also includes a particular need for certain rituals and sacraments and anyone else who does not follow that route or use that particular language is, by your own beliefs, not on the same road to the same destination. My beliefs use different words and have their own particular rituals/sacraments but does not exclude your road from also existing; in fact, I believe that there are, as I said, “many roads with one destination”.
We come back to faith versus trust. Faith is believing in what you cannot see. For you, faith is a wrought iron necessity because you do not acknowledge the sacredness of the world around you. It was made by God, but it is full of sin, based on the Christian teachings. This is a contradictory situation: made by God, full of sin. Made by God requires honor (worship) and is sacred. Full of sin…not sacred. Did you know that the Greek root of the word “sin” means “to miss the point”? How many people “miss the point” of all the sacredness that surrounds them? How many people fail to honor the sacred within their own lives?
As I have told you before, Christianity was too negative, too much denial of anything holy except this nebulous “He” out *there* that we get to see when we’re dead. Even Jesus’ teachings are difficult to follow if your mindset is that it’s all sin and bad, WE’re all sin and bad so we have to try really hard to be good. And hope that our faith in Christ will let us see the Big Guy when we die. It moves the responsibility for our own lives onto this belief in salvation through repentance and redemption. All we have to do is say some words and think about them, and just wait for our lives to be over to live in Paradise. What about our life here? I understand about being a steward of Christ, of doing good works and living a Christ-like life, to live like Christ. It’s what Christianity is supposed to be about.
Most Christians do not actually, in fact, live like Christ. And there is a certain inevitability of the idea, “why bother if it’s all bad?” that leads to a lack of real involvement in the life that they are actually living at this moment. My grandmother was a very holy woman, who recognized and responded to the sacredness in everyone she met. She LIVED her life honoring that sacredness and it is incidental that she was on the Christian path. She would have made a very good Buddhist. Although Buddhism is NOT a religion; it is a way of life. (You can be a Catholic Buddhist, or a Jewish Buddhist…and they do exist.) For me, it is a way that lets me frame my spiritual beliefs into something that I can find paltry but usable words to describe the path I walk. I find that I can follow Christ’s words in a more personal, more meaningful way now then I ever could within the framework of Christianity–whether Protestant OR Catholic.
It is my calling to both heal and to minister: I have people who call me their minister/pastor and I have people who come to me for healing. I do both as unconsciously as breathing, without thought about “how” to do them. I just do. It is my joyous duty to do this for others, as well as to actively seek out, recognize AND honor the sacred wherever I find it. To me, the world is a wonderful, sacred place. Bad stuff happens, evil exists–but it is NOT the predominant focus for my life. I believe that we will all be with the Supreme Being when this life is finished, but in the meantime…I need to live, to actively participate and be a part of this moment, this time of living, as each moment flows into the next, like that river flows down to the ocean. I am less concerned with the destination than I am with the journey, because once I am at the destination, the first question I expect to hear is “So, what did you do in your life?” and I need a better answer than, “waited to meet You”.
I appreciate the difficulty this makes for you and I am sorry for the pain you have because of it. But I would not ask you to change your beliefs and the path that you are walking to walk in step with me, without belief or understanding of this path. I would offer this thought: God is described as all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing. Then God should certainly be able to translate all of the words we use to describe our beliefs and the Supreme Being and God would understand the meanings within our hearts, even if our vocal expression of belief does not match up with other people’s expressions. If we are indeed “His children”, He will take all of us into His loving arms and welcome us ALL to His side, even if some of us say He, and some say She and some say Supreme Being or Deity…labels. Words. Poor excuses for the concept they are trying to express.
And words are all I have to try to explain things to you. I hope I have done it well enough to ease your worries, at least a little. Thank you for opening this dialogue, I do listen and hear your words as well. And I do love you, too.
I share this here because some of the words, while I am repeating common ideas, are new. I also share them in the hopes that if you, too, are in this situation and trying to live with a Christian family that does not understand your spiritual path, you might find something in here to help you interact with them and perhaps it can open up a dialogue of your own.