Tuesday, June 24, 2008


To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

Robert Herrick, 1648

Screw you, Robert Herrick. Like I don't have enough to worry about already.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Faith, Part Three

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts, the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the learned astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman, 1865

I had convinced myself, through science and logic, that faith was nothing but a game humans played on themselves and that the enlightened ones had no need of it. And I viewed all religions with a faint scorn, all right for those who needed such a crutch, but I was not such a person. I had the figures and charts, and I could see that it was a sham.

But still, in all my certitude of the non-existence of the divine, I had flashes of it. I remember clearly, one half hour late at night, when I was at work, alone, in winter and the first snowfall of the season came down. And I had a longing to believe again, a yearning for Jesus as the Son, and I let it in. For a full half hour, I was a believer again, just as sure as when I was a child, and comforted in the faith. And just as suddenly, it left me, without warning and without me pushing it away. One moment I believed, and the next moment I was atheist again, utterly incapable of that belief.

And I was sometimes envious of the faithful. A woman I know lost two teenage sons a year apart, a terrible tragedy that would have sunk many. But a simple and unwavering faith saved her, leant her strength, and I wished to have such a source of support. But wishing did not make it so. I experimented, told myself that all I needed to do was allow myself to believe. But that scientific, coldly logical side prevented me every time, told me that I could not believe what I did not believe.

It was at this point of my life that I began seriously to observe nature. While I had camped and hiked all my life as a family activity, now I began to go out into the woods and fields alone. And what started as simple walks began instead to be meditations. My scientific side was satisfied with learning the birds and the flowers and the trees and the constellations, but my spiritual side was busy soaking in the beauty and the majesty and the perfection of nature.

The Beauty of nature, the Truth of the universe all around me began to be proof enough of something Divine. Whether it is a Being or a Force, I do not know, I do not believe I can know while I live, but I believe it exists. It is the mechanism through which flowers reflect light in broken prisms of color, it is the power of the water eroding the canyon, it is the push and pull of the stars which keep all in balance. It has taken me into account from my beginning, and it marks my footsteps upon the earth, for I am part of the whole; I cannot separate myself from the universe. The Divine knows all things past, present and future, for it encompasses it all, and if it does not direct all things, it at least knows the potential of all. It is the spark within me, as it is within all things, and it is what defines the essence of all things. It connects us all to each other, living, dead, inanimate, perhaps even intangible. I hope--I cannot say I believe--that when I die, I will enter the consciousness of the Divine, and know all things, be all things. It is perhaps more likely that I will simply drift into oblivion in a million pieces, to be reassembled and used again as the Divine sees fit. That would be all right, too.

Faith, Part Two


"Faith" is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see --
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

Emily Dickinson, 1860

I suppose I am not the only one to go off to college and come out the other side without her faith. It was a combination of heavy emphasis on the science aspect, exposure to people of other, non-Christian religions which my small hometown was conspicuously lacking, and a certain sense of glamor to becoming a non-believer.

I took Physics classes that explored different theories of the beginning of the Universe. I took Biology classes that postulated theories for the beginning of life. I took Psychology classes that studied the formation of cults. I took Sociology classes that described the human need for religion.

I took all these into account, and I thought to myself that if I had been born in India, I would no doubt be a Hindu. If I had been born in Saudi Arabia, I would have been a Muslim. If I had been born in Greece four thousand years ago, I would be a worshipper of Zeus and Athena and Ares. It seemed to me that religion was almost wholy dependent upon what family in which culture you are born in. And it also seemed to me that all those people practicing all those other faiths believed in them just as strongly as the Catholics I grew up with. And what right did I have to decide that one is more true than the other?

Faced with the idea that all these religions could be the one true religion, I rejected them all as being equally false. Well, not necessarily false, but manufactured. Created by humans to fill a societal, psychological, emotional role. Religion helped people live together in harmony, provided shelter from the thought of death, gave people hope and inspiration. It was good enough for those who needed it, but for those who didn't, who could see through all the hocus-pocus, it was unnecessary.

And so I entered into my atheist stage.

to be continued

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Faith, Part One


I never saw a Moor --
I never saw the Sea --
Yet know I how the Heather looks
And what a Billow be.

I never spoke with God
Nor visited in Heaven --
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the Checks were given--

Emily Dickinson, 1865

As a child, I was raised in the Catholic faith, and I was a fervent believer. I drank it in, I believed it all, I revered the Church. The mysteries of Mass, the poetry of the Bible, the grouped voices singing the hymns, the solemn look of those who received the Eucharist all enthralled me. I had no doubt that all the teachings of the Church were true, were absolute Truth.

Then, my parents' marriage fell apart, or rather, my mother decided to stop trying to hold it together. And the Church, once a refuge and a place of belonging, suddenly became a source of condemnation and rejection. I began to see it was, at its root, a collection of people, led by an old-fashioned, strict priest who did not approve of my mother's divorce, and seeing how they withheld support for her at a time when she needed it most, I began to wonder if the Church was all that I had believed.

At first, I questioned only our church, and the people who ran it. But soon I started delving more into the history of the Catholic Church. And the history is filled with injustices and corruption and despicable acts and very few apologies or attempts to amend. And then I began to question some of the basic tenets of the Church. In particular, the degrading of women stuck in my Child of the 70's throat. By the time I reached high school, I no longer considered myself a Catholic.

But that did not mean I did not believe. I rejected all the proofs and shackles of the Catholic Church, but the underpinnings, God, the Bible, the Holy Trinity, I was as assured of as ever. I just didn't want to go through priests--those wrinkled, dried-up old men of my childhood, what did they know of life?--to get to it all.

And for a while, a good while, I was content. I had my faith, and it was strong and unquestioned, and I did not need pointless rules to get in the way. Until I went down a different path.

to be continued