Thursday, July 10, 2008
So difficult yet so simple---
"I found some astonishing things in the course of my study that had never occurred to me. Frankly, in the days that when I thought I’d had it with religion, I just found the whole thing absolutely incredible. These doctrines seemed unproven, abstract, and, to my astonishment, when I began seriously studying other traditions, I began to realize that belief, which we make such a fuss about today, is only a very recent religious enthusiasm. It surfaced only in the West, in about the 17th century. The word ‘belief’ itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear. In the 17th century it narrowed its focus, for reasons that I’m exploring in a book I’m writing at the moment, to mean an intellectual ascent to a set of propositions — a credo. ‘I believe’ did not mean ‘I accept certain creedal articles of faith.’ It meant, ‘I commit myself. I engage myself.’ Indeed, some of the world traditions think very little of religious orthodoxy. In the Qur’an, religious opinion — religious orthodoxy — is dismissed as zanna — self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can be certain of one way or the other but which makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian.
So, if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I’ve found is that, across the board, religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice." Karen Armstrong
A few years ago when I first read Karen Armstrong’s autobiography The Spiral Staircase I found that there was so much in her life that paralleled mine. In her work I found a soul-sister, a woman who had tried to follow God in the only way she thought a woman could—by being a nun. In those days, women could only aspire to marriage or the convent. I knew I was not called to marriage, to raise children to the glory of God. Ergo…
And while I respect highly the lives of the sisters with whom I lived, my calling was not to be second class citizens in a patriarchy which did not practice what it preached. What Karen Armstrong found impossible and what I still find impossible is to see that faith is a matter of beliefs. And now even as an Episcopalian, and even working for the Lutherans, I can not boil faith down to a body of dogma or confession to which I assent.
Faith is a relationship, pure and simple. It is the on-going, ever-widening familiarization with the God of all creation. Unlike Bishop Spong, I know God as person. I am impressed with those who can relate to that which is not person. But frankly I can only really relate to God who is beyond, yet within, who is person and personable. Call me anthropomophic and I will agree--it is how God interacts wtih me.
I am not saying that doctrines aren’t important—they certainly help me talk about God—they give me a way to discuss the ineffible. But the doctines do not hold the truth of the Divine—they merely catagorize it. What holds the truth of the Divine is the relationship, that intimate encounter that Moses knew that made him radient on Sinai—that Samuel knew that emboldened him to speak to Eli—that Paul knew on the road to Damascus--and countless others have embraced over the past 4,000 years.
Scripture is an important part of our relationship with God. It tells us stories of those who too have had relationships with the God of all creation. It has given us ways to journey with God but its law is merely road sign. It is the way that we live out the journey that is important.
It is how we live that is important. It is the practice of being totally human while being embraced by the Divine that makes us faithful. That is what it seems to me what Jesus is saying in the Gospels. Do my actions reveal the God that loves me? Is God incarnate in me by the way I live? Arggggg! It is so difficult! And yet at the same time, it is so simple.