Samain and the Gratitude Moon
Saturday gratefuls: Tony’s Market. And, for all the animal lives represented there. For the wonder of our gastro-intestinal system, all the various foods it will process. A Jewish prayer of gratitude includes those openings in our body that open and close. “Blessed… who has formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor, that if even one of them would be opened, or one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible [to survive and] to stand before You.”
On that note. While watching and watching and watching and, still watching, Resurrection: Ertugrul, (I’m on episode 250 or so), an Allah saturated drama, and while keeping my inner lens clear in the house of Judah, I’ve begun to think again about God.
Nope. Still gone from my belief system in any form, yet with both Judaism and Islam prominent in my life right now, I’m wondering what I saw in the idea to begin with.
The notion of divine beings, either one or many, monotheism or polytheism, has occurred over and over again, in culture after culture. The early Mongols and Turks, for example, followed Tengrism: “Tengrists view their existence as sustained by the eternal blue sky (Tengri), the fertile mother-earth spirit (Eje) and a ruler regarded as the holy spirit of the sky. Heaven, earth, spirits of nature and ancestors provide for every need and protect all humans. By living an upright, respectful life, a human will keep his world in balance and perfect his personal Wind Horse, or spirit.” Wiki
My introduction to this human need for something beyond us came in the form of United Methodism, a branch of the Protestant reform movement over against Roman Catholicism. The Christians, of course, got their monotheism from the Jews and both were subjected to the firmest flattery, imitation, when Mohamed discovered Allah and the Q’uran.
Since I was in 1950’s America, in small town 1950’s America, in Midwestern 1950’s small town America, and since I was below the age of reason, I fell in with Yahweh, or El, or Elohim, or Hashem, or Adonai. And, because this was the Christian version, his son. Confusingly, too, like the Tengrists, there was a holy spirit: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Holy Ghost. Wow.
As I recall, God was sort of the back up band for Jesus in Methodist belief. Sure, he (and He was a he) was the metaphysical underwriter for all things Christian, but belief focused on his boy, his frontman, Jesus. When I prayed, though, my prayers went to an amorphous, cloud of unknowing sort of God, perhaps one more like Brahma than anything else. Distant, important, yet soothing. That there would be such a, what?, being, process, wonder, that would listen to me was, well, wow.
But the question I’m wrestling with here is what need to that fulfill for me? Why go once a week, often as many as three times a week, to a funny looking building, and learn songs, texts, folktales (like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, for example)? What was I getting out of it? My parents? That guy in the robe up front?
No question faith was precious to many, many people I knew. If, however, as I now believe, there is no metaphysical underwriter, no need for a frontman, what purpose does believing there is one have? I’m no neo-atheist wondering about everybody’s imaginary friend and how they could be so duped, that’s arrogant and naive at the same time. It’s obvious that faith fulfills an important psychic role for many, though that faith gets directed toward Odin, or Hecate, or Yahweh, or the sky-father and the earth-mother, toward the Great Spirit, or the plethora of Hindu avatars.
The notion of faith, of giving up psychic freedom to an external influence, one to be either propitiated or submitted to, or both, and the attendant notion of following a path of sorts, an ancientrail if you will, laid out by stories from an oral tradition, or immediately ossified in so-call sacred scriptures, is so common as to almost be a universal in human life. I say almost only because I’m not familiar with all cultures. My suspicion is that it is at least a possibility in all cultures and lives.
In one sense faith means that, somehow, the psychic resources you can muster on your own are inadequate. But, inadequate for what? For developing a Self? For being sure of the world? For understanding how to treat other humans? Or, the natural world? For a sense of safety and security? For personal validation?
Whatever the reasons, and they are pluriform, the answers get called into question by global reality. Is it Brahma or Yahweh? Allah or the Tao? Is it sky-father or Thor? Each of these entities claim total subjection of the believer. It may feel less heavy than that most of the time, but when metaphysical push comes to shove, often around death and the afterlife, the Hindu couldn’t imagine relying on Yahweh. Or, a Muslim relying on the Tengrist’s Sky-Father.
But, when you have a totalizing claim, whether monotheist or polytheist, it cannot be breached by another totalizing claim. Otherwise, how could it have the meaning ascribed? And, since there are many totalizing claims, somebody’s wrong. Without question. Let’s call this the bedrock algorithm for questioning religion. If your faith claims are true, then mine aren’t.
Reconstructionist Judaism has hit on a clever response to this algorithm. We’re going to back off the universal claims, but own the unique culture the Jewish answers created. There’s a strong and tribal tradition that dates back thousands of years. It’s one way of living within this human existence, but very far from the only way.
Reconstructionist’s, for example, eschew the notion of the Chosen People, for exactly the reasons I’m proposing here. Many, probably most, set to the side the metaphysical claims, but listen carefully to ritual, to “sacred” text and its multiple interpretations, to the history of the Jewish people, to the current lived reality.
This is a different solution than the U.U.’s. The U.U.’s have the same algorithmic questions, but toward all faiths. U.U.’s have a curriculum which gives away their fundamental stance: Creating your own theology.
Which is, of course, different from the atheist or agnostic, the pagan or the simply don’t care at all. But, and I’ll stop here for today, if faith is such an important component of human life, what happens when it gets watered down or dismissed entirely. What if you can’t create your own theology?