Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Cosmology of Oysters

The Rev. Robert Farrar Capon (a man who has successfully combined the vocations of Episcopalian priest, cooking teacher, author, and food writer into his diverse background) once commented that when people try to describe God, it's like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. If there was ever a pronouncement that summarized my spiritual beliefs, that one is it. There is no way that a human being can know God (Goddess, Creation, the Universe, whatever you want to call The Thing(s) Beyond All Things aka Divinity) as a Ding an sich. Our concept is always going to be mitigated by perception and perspective. No matter how many times I read the Bible, Baghavad Ghita, the Koran, the Talmud, or copies of The Watchtower left by our friendly neighborhood Jehovah's Witnesses, there's is always going to be a gap between what I think I know about God and what God is.

In an attempt to pinpoint what it is that I believe, I have been doing a lot of reading and questioning these past few weeks. I've been to Beltaine celebrations, Buddhist festivals, meditations and church. I've read Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis, the Dalai Lama, and The Red Book. I've questioned, thought, written, then questioned some more, kicking The Spiritual Education of Martina into high gear.

It all started after completing the Companions class, which I had taken as 1) a way in which to read some of the Bible things I'd never read before; 2) to see if reading and discussing them made me any more certain about what it is that I believe. While coming upon the idea that I am really just a seeker made me feel less of a fraud in church, I did not leave the class (pro)claiming any stronger religious affiliation than I had before taking it.

If I am going to be honest, there were times when I found myself getting annoyed at the text we used. Because the authors were coming at their theology from a Christian perspective (which was, of course, to be expected and not at all inherently bad in itself) they sometimes made pronouncements equating spiritual maturity with an ability to see past conflicting philosophies to the Truth (aka Christianity). Though, of course, they didn't always boldly call it that, you know that's what they meant.

This is one of the areas that would consistently piss me off as I was doing the week's reading, because it always felt like a written assault on my personal values. What they called lack of discernment, I call open mindedness. I prize open mindedness. You see, even though I'm not quite sure what it is that I believe (or at least I'm not sure of a way of describing it so it comes out neatly boxed and gift-wrapped with some nice label calling me a Buddhist or Christian or Hindu), there is one thing of which I am relatively sure: There is no "right" religion. At best, religion is a human construct that attempts to reflect what we think God wants, but I can't believe that there is only one right way to worship creation any more than I can believe that there is a single right poem or right way to enjoy a sunset or cook a meal.

Furthermore, there is a part of me that sees saying I am an "X" and refuse to listen to the idea that anything else has value as robbing oneself of the opportunity to learn from other faiths. There are beautiful stories in other traditions. Why miss them? It's like proclaiming that you are forever more going to dine on hot dogs and only hot dogs, because ground beaks and hooves are the one true and good food. Then you go through life missing out on all the good things your palate can experience via eggplant caponata, brie, Banzai burgers, artichoke dip and chocolate cake.

I have to think that the various religions are but different meals, different paths up the same mountain. As a humble little oyster, I cannot definitively say what God is let alone everything s/he wants me to believe, and I certainly can't say that someone else is wrong for holding a different belief. Frankly, I can't believe that God is out there looking at some guy saying, "Man, are you screwed! I know you were born in an area where Christianity (Islam, Shoemaism, Whateverism) isn't really practiced, so you latched on to what your father and your father's father's father said about me, but the thing is that they were wrong, so when you died you're going to fritter and fry in Hell with the rest of the infidels. It's just how it is, so stop whining. I don't have time for this. I'm trying to watch The Simpsons. Don't make me come down there and smite you! One...two..."

In my mind, religion is a social construct that meets the spiritual needs of a culture. It's like a cosmic spiritual learning style. What works for someone who is very visual might not work as well for someone who is more idea oriented. Ideally, if it's doing what it's supposed to religion (and probably even moreso faith, which seems to me far more important than dogma, just as orthopraxis appeals to me far more than orthodoxy) make the world better, creating a kinder, gentler, more humane society. As long as it does that, what difference is it which stories are told to teach and inspire goodness, which names we use for God? Was my grandmother any less my grandmother, because I called her "Oma" instead of "Grandma" or "Granny"? Is your grandmother any less loved (or lov-ing) because you call her "Nana"? Do you really think it's any different with God? I don't.

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