Friday, August 5, 2011

On Faith and Floating, Pt. 2

In my last post, I gave a very simplified view of my problem with faith. Namely, my seeming inability to maintain it. I glossed over a few issues - church conflict, problem of evil, bad things happening to good people, etc. - that were not resolved by any theological formulation (none I had found, anyway). Orthodox, conservative, progressive, process, liberation ... name your subset of theology; nothing seemed to fix my problem. And I do claim ownership of this. Plenty of people the world over have come up with ideas and explanations that work perfectly well for them. They just don't for me.

So I continued my journey into Zen, loving every moment of it, while simultaneously grieving the loss of faith in the notion of a caring, compassionate, interventionist (involved) and, to some extent, determinist (there's a plan for your life) God. It's hard to let go of the old ideas, even though they've fallen apart in an logical sense. There always seems to be an emotional piece involved in beliefs, which is why we always get into the most heated of debates and conflicts over what seems, to outsiders, at least, to be the most trivial of issues. In my case, this meant that while I was intellectually ready to abandon the idea of a deity who was ready to help me out at the drop of a hat, who loved me and wanted nothing but the best for me, etc., I still found myself feeling emotions similar to the kind people face when dealing with acts of abandonment or betrayal.

Fortunately, some events occurred that helped me tremendously.

The first event was when a friend contacted me on Facebook's chat program and started asking questions about death and dying. She told me that her mother is dying of cancer, and spoke of the emotional strains on her family. I don't know how long I spent talking to her about grief and related issues, but I do know that I came away from the conversation feeling, I don't know, alive? In the zone, maybe. Like this type of work was where I excelled, where I belonged.

But still, even a feeling of belonging doesn't necessarily resolve theological dilemmas. Yes, I could listen, provide comfort and support, and even maybe offer insight as to what was being experienced. But talking to people who believe in a omnipresent, omniscient, all powerful God when I do not is still a major roadblock. Plus, having one positive experience that reminded me of some of my better chaplain moments does not resolution make.

The second major event came from, of all places, a podcast put out by the San Francisco Zen Center. I have been visiting their site for some time now, as finding and attending Buddhist centers here in TN has been problematic. I have found their dharma talks to be very thought provoking and challenging. In another world, another time, I might have even travelled there and done the whole monk thing. But reality is WAY different, and I seriously doubt that One Ring would appreciate me quitting my job and moving to California!

This particular podcast, entitled "The Spirit of Practice: Christianity and Zen," was particularly engaging. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine Monk, discussed 3 aspects of Christianity: Faith, Hope, and Love (mentioned prominently in 1 Corinthians 13) in a way that I had never considered. He said (you'd be better off listening to the podcast, but here's my take on it) that there are actually two types of hope and two types of faith. Hope with a capital H is what he termed, "Openness to Surprise." Little "h" hope is a desire for individual things or events. In Zen that would be defined as attachments, the principle cause of suffering. But living a life with Hope means that we are open to the unexpected, and take notice and pleasure in the multitude of experiences occurring all around us all the time.

In the same way, there are two types of faith. Faith with a capital "F" is trusting in life. He draws the illustration of Faith being like the water that holds a swimmer. The swimmer trusts the water, he or she knows that they will be buoyed while he or she moves about. When we have Faith, we trust ourselves to life, moving through it and not being troubled when life acts like, well, life.

Meanwhile, faith with the lower-case "f" is definied by Steindl-Rast as beliefs. This notion was what caused my "a-ha!" moment. My issue was not that I was having a crisis of faith, but that I was having a crisis of beliefs. Crises of beliefs are nothing new to me, nor should they be to anyone else. Beliefs change all the time, because we are getting new information all the time that challenges our beliefs. I was allowing, however, my crisis of faith to be a crisis of Faith, in that I found it difficult to trust myself to life when I could no longer be supported by my beliefs.

This a-ha moment then tied in with my issue of hope and Hope. Once I realized that I was grasping at specific things, anticipated outcomes, and desires, it became easier to step back and try to surrender to Hope. In other words, to stop trying to force the universe to my will, and be willing to be open to uncertainty (no easy task for me!) and surprise.

In case you're wondering, Steindl-Rast commented on the third aspect, love, as well. He defines it as "the yes to belonging with the whole of being." That will take a little longer to unpack, longer than the space appropriate for a blog post (and this one is already HUGE by my standards!). Suffice to say that if we have Hope, and if we have Faith, then we may find it easier to become involved with others. Community opens up when we ourselves are open to being a part of community. We belong when we allow ourselves to belong. We are loved when we love. So when we accept that we belong, that we are one with all of creation, there is a sense of love, of healthy relationship, present.

There's a lot more than that, of course, more than was discussed even in the podcast. Suffice to say, though, that it was enough to get me thinking that perhaps I was not as lost as I felt. Perhaps there was a way for me to work out my issues with spirituality, with faith, with all the aspects of life I dropped off when I ceased being a chaplain. And perhaps there is still a way out of this morass I've found myself in over the last several months.

If you've read this far, you're awesome. I appreciate your hanging on. I'll close this post here, and hopefully future writings will be more light-hearted, fun, and piratical!

No comments: