Check in here occasionally for new fragments, whole essays, progress reports
What is reimagining?: A long while back, in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, I began to move, again, away from my childhood faith, a Midwest Methodism caught not taught. I began to wonder about a new way of thinking about, experiencing faith. In particular I wanted to explore a faith that engaged directly with creating a sustainable human presence on this earth. Thomas Berry calls this our civilization’s great work. And I believe it is just that.
Reimagining Faith is my working title and it reflects my dream of a Way, a path of faith, that leads us or locates us or holds us in a direct and unmediated relationship with the universe which created and sustains us. Our most immediate linkage to the universe is this planet which has birthed us, so a reimagined faith will, by necessity, have a substantial focus on how we live with and on it.
I have some general themes that keep surfacing as I’ve thought about this: emergence, complexity, becoming native to this place, direct revelation, the Great Wheel, shinrin-yoku, gardening, an ur-faith, hunter-gatherer lifeways. But how to knit them together, how to find the other ideas that are needed, that’s the work ahead.
This year I’m going to devote considerable time to this project. It has become more urgent for me as I’ve gotten older. And, it fits with a personal commitment to do work only I can do.
Reimagining Faith: a work in progress
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
Reimagine Faith. There is a turn I sense, one from the abstract and transcendent, to the particular and the incarnational, the natural. I believe we can align ourselves not with the words of ancient texts, but with the rhythms of this world. The great work, creating a sustainable human presence on the earth, will benefit directly if we can put the same energy now devoted to religious institutions based on interpretation of the history of others into an affectional and intellectual embrace of mother earth.
the start of an introduction:
In the world of new atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris there is no need for faith, only an unflinching acceptance of the essential flatness of our world, a world beyond which nothing lies. And, they could be right.
However, as the aphorism has it, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Their flat no metaphysics world is too bright, lit up by reason functioning as a flood lamp that obscures rather than reveals. Dazzled by Nietzschean skepticism and the hot flames of empiricism they have concluded that the long human experiment in imagining a world beyond this one is bankrupt, a series of constructs with no ontology. And, they are probably right.
The dizzying variety of sacred worlds from Osiris in pieces to bodhisattvas delaying nirvana, the Otherworld to jinn, makes it clear that they can’t all be right. So, why bother with any of them? A very good question.
Even so, the same diversity represented by say, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching, the Diamond Sutra and the New Testament reveals the deep, universal hunger for some sort of knowledge, esoteric or mundane, that can explain this mystery that is life and the abyss that death seems to be. Must we abandon this vast poetic attempt to understand our species and its ultimate fate, an attempt evidenced in the red ochre of even Neanderthal burials, just because Wittgenstein said “Whereof we cannot speak, we must be silent.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the introduction to his essay, “Nature,” says: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” This book will bracket the beholding of God as an instance of a particular religious tradition and therefore outside its scope. We will however try to understand what it might mean to behold nature face to face, how we might do it, and, further, whether such an intimate relation might yield a new faith, a reimagining of the very meaning of faith.
No, neither pantheism nor panentheism. This is not an attempt to put new wine into old wine skins. We have no interest in bursting old wine skins. This will be an attempt to do what Emerson proposed, to discover an original relation to the universe, one appropriate to our time, new wine for wine skins being made now.
Why even attempt to reimagine faith? The old understandings of faith aren’t working too well for many of us. The sectarian struggles of the Middle East are paradigmatic of this point, but hardly exhaust it. The U.S. has the Christian right, devoted to its One Way version of that faith tradition. The Hindu Nationalists in India want to swat down other faiths and impose their own version of religious truth on a vast nation. Even Marxist influenced struggles like the FARC in Colombia, the Shining Path in Peru, and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua can be seen as secularist attempts to impose a dogmatic view of reality, in this case materialist, on a people. The point here is not yes or no to any religious conflicts, but to ask the question, is there another way, another perspective that even such diverse groups might find compelling and congenial?
If we are successful here, we will ask no one to displace their current beliefs, we will only ask them to consider another sort of faith, one that might bind us all, all Earth’s peoples, together. This reimagined faith will be a sort of ur-faith, a grounded faith, literally grounded in the soil of our mutual mother, the earth herself.
Each of us has our own pilgrimage story, how we started with what we found at home, then leavened that with experiences as young adults, some times in college, some times in the work place or in a new family. Many of us have found that the version of metaphysics we learned at home seemed off somehow, perhaps too narrow, perhaps too permissive, but definitely no longer useful for the journey on which we found ourselves.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
—Attributed to Francis of Assisi, Quoted in “A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom,” edited by Whitall N. Perry (Simon & Schuster, 1971)
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently… As if it is the axis on which the earth revolves. Slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.
When you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything. When you touch one moment with deep awareness, you touch all moments.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh~
Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest
I have reimagined faith. At least for me. Didn’t realize I’d done it until I began work on answering my friend’s question about joy in being. (see post for Aug. 2). And did it long ago. It was my philosophical/theological bent that kept me from seeing it. Ironic, eh?
Awe is a key component. Awakening awe. Awe not confined to the Grand Canyon or birth or pretty flowers or innocence. Awe seen in the magic of decay, decomposition. Awe for the water coming from the shower, pumped up from fractured granite beneath our land. Awe for the skills of the snow plow drivers who keep Black Mountain Drive clear. Awe for the gradual changing of seasons, of plant life’s reaction to the subtle changes, of animals dancing to the rhythm of the change. Awe for the years of intimacy and love with Kate, with Joseph, with SeoAh, with Ruth and Gabe, with Jon. Awe for friends who reach across cyberspace. Awe for inventors of concrete. For stonemasons. For quilting. For the CyberKnife. For the kindness of strangers.
Why is awe critical? Because it answers the implicit question in this line from Emerson’s introduction to his essay, Nature: “Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us?” Yes. Yes. Yes. But. How do we find revelation? Do we need gold tablets like Joseph Smith? Do we need special access to “G-d?” Do we need an angel whispering in our ear?
No. And we never have. Awe is the answer. It peels back the mundane layer from things simple and complex. When we experience awe, we see into the world and our part in it. This peeling back removes the false accretions our hurry and our anxiety and our fear have laid over the sacred in the ordinary. We can see the universe emerging through that compost pile, in that child’s laugh, in that gas flame on our stove.
Awe leads us to the altar of gratitude where we kneel in thanks for all these, our many gifts. Gratitude is a prayer lifted up when our hearts find the soul in the other. Namaste. Awe opens the door. Gratitude shows we have walked through the door to what the Celts called The Otherworld.
The Otherworld is not far away. It is not in a hoped for future or a golden past. It is now, here. Right there. Look at your hand. Touch thumb to fingers. Awe. Evolution of the prehensile thumb. Breathe. Awe. We can take oxygen from the air to fuel our bodies. Eat. Awe. We can transform, transubstantiate, carrots and lettuce and a rib eye and a potato and watermelon and popcorn into a human. Walk. Awe. Sleep. Awe.
Do we need to write a new bible to let others know? No. Our reimagining responds to Emerson again: “…why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe?”
Awe and gratitude. Revelation and grace here and now.