April 27th, 2009

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Letter to a friend

A couple of months ago a friend wrote me a heart-felt letter where she poured out her fears for her husband, who was facing a serious health problem, and asked me what I thought about faith. She wondered what was supposed to be the good of faith in God if bad things happened anyway. What was its purpose? How could she have faith if God allowed such bad things to happen to people? What good does prayer do? What role does Satan play in all of this?

These are all questions that sooner or later, no matter what our religious orientation (unless we have none), occur to us. The fact that there are no certain answers that we can prove with scientific accuracy, no God we can see under our microscope or discern with our telescope, no blazing letters in the sky letting us know that these words were not just written down by men with an agenda, but sent by God, all of this leads us to question the truth and value of our beliefs in times of trouble. Sometimes the answers of our particular tradition don't seem sufficient in the face of our uncertainty and pain.

Knowing that we come from different religious orientations (she was raised a Catholic and I joined her church for a time and was re-baptized and confirmed, with her mother becoming my godmother), I chose my words carefully. She acknowledged that I probably wasn't a Christian when she asked, so I knew she didn't expect me to answer only with her religion in mind.

Dear _____,

In your letter you asked a lot of weighty questions that I wanted to think about carefully before I answered.

First you mention faith in God and more or less ask" What is the good of it? Faith that He'll do what? What about suffering?"

These are of course timeless questions everyone asks when they are suffering or worried about the death of a loved one. If I had some sort of absolute proof of the right answer I could make a fortune!

These are some of the questions I was asking as a teenager trying to understand why all my praying, church-going, rosary-chanting and faith wasn't stopping my world from falling apart.

Over the years I have read many books, attended many classes, meditated for many hours, and followed more than a few who claimed to know the Truth with a capital T. :)

I have concluded that while mystics all over the world have received glimpses of the Divine, they then are left with their puny brain and mundane words to try to describe what is bigger than we are able to comprehend (at least until we are no longer bound by that puny brain).

Worse still, the rulemakers come along and read or hear the mystic's experience and start trying to quantify it.

Dramatization:...So you had fasted for 40 days from eating meat. OK, let's write that down. Where were you sitting when this happened? In an olive grove on Mount Vision. OK, olive groves must be sacred and if we can't pray ON Mt. Vision, we should face it and visualize it when we pray. Now, are you married? No? Well obviously one who wants to realize the Truth must avoid the company of women. [note: Mystic is too embarrassed to admit getting laid an hour before vision.]
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