meaning & belief

I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit with this project these last few weeks. Lots of other things on my plate — I’m getting married at the end of the month; I spent a weekend recently in Portland celebrating my five-year college reunion; there’s just a few days left in the school year at the school I work at and I’m working extra hours and all the kids are abuzz with summer; and I’ve had a nasty head cold this past week. But I want to at least get some thoughts down, even though I completely missed Trinity Sunday (I didn’t even know it was a thing) and the best I can do as far as that goes is point you towards the blog entries of a couple folks who do have their acts together, and move on to something else. Here: Some thoughts on the Holy Trinity & Can We Understand the Holy Trinity by Contemplating Our Own Humanity?

A week or so ago, I was listening to a public radio podcast — I can’t remember which one, now — in which a theoretical physicist was being interviewed who had recently published a book for popular consumption about something-or-other. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I really cannot remember the particular topic. What I do remember is that the physicist and his work were connected and/or connected themselves with the New Atheist movement, e.g. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and so on. The interviewer asked him about that, and the physicist talked a bit about how there’s no intrinsic meaning in the world and how we have to make our own meaning if we want our lives to be meaningful.

Existentialism. I can dig it. I mean, that answer to the question of the meaning of life (blah, blah, blah) is the only one that’s ever made complete sense to me. But it’s a partial answer. The next part of the question is: “what meaning will you make or choose?” I am baffled by the insistence of these folks that existentialism and religious faith are mutually exclusive. I choose to work towards being a part of a multi-generational church community eager to hear my story and share my joys and pains; I choose to celebrate the beauty and utter incomprehensibility of being alive by joining my voice with others in song on Sunday morning; I choose to explore my humanity and connect with my fellow humans by studying the world’s religions in this way. These things all add meaning to my life.

I have no idea if my relationship with (that-for-which-I-use-the-shorthand-)God is the same as anyone else’s. Whatever words I could use to describe it wouldn’t paint an accurate picture, not really — and not because it’s so sweeping or epic as to be “indescribable” like things are “indescribably beautiful.” I want to draw a comparison between my relationship with God and another important relationship in my life: that with my partner. I’m not completely sure that the comparison is appropriate, because my partner’s and my relationship is unknowable to others because of the intimacy we share, and my relationship with God is not so much intimate as personal. But I want to extend the metaphor anyway — something like this:

When I was a kid, I had this idea that someday I would meet someone who was totally perfect for me, and we’d get married and live happily ever after. When I met my first love, I devoted myself to her completely and lost my own identity in our relationship, which of course collapsed. I tried that again a few more times before figuring out how to maintain my own identity, resolve conflicts, take responsibility for my own emotions and the effects that my actions have on those with whom I am in relationship, et cetera. Not that I’m perfect at any of it, of course. The corollary to the soulmate thing, I guess, is the idea of God as a Perfect Person, the way the kids at my school sometimes speak of him. (I’m always sort of surprised when they do. God is a taboo subject among adults in a professional environment, and most other environments too.) They believe in him the way even younger kids believe in Santa Claus — and that too I think is a corollary worth examining. Kids stop “believing” in Santa Claus when it becomes clear that Santa Claus is their parents, but I know when I was a kid my family still did the Santa Claus rituals, so to speak, for many years after I knew my parents were the ones really filling my and my brother’s stockings on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus existed for a long time as my parents. Why is God different? I guess, to me, He isn’t. I grew up in a nonreligious household, and so I stopped “believing” in God at a very young age (if I ever did). But all around me, people and non-human life forms make God for me, the way my parents made Santa Claus long after I knew him to be “not real.”

I create my relationship with my partner not strictly by being “in love” with him as my soulmate, but by acting love and care and partnership towards him. I would like to create my relationship with God not by “believing” in Him, but by my actions.

Working on figuring out what that means.

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