The highest human purpose is always to reinvent and celebrate the sacred.
It’s been a while since my last post; school and job hunting have kept me dashing to and fro, and lengthy, library-scented sessions devoted to writing essays and researching term papers have been scattered here and there.
And in the midst of it all I’ve found a few opportunities to reflect . . .
Last Thursday, philosopher and author A. J. Jacobs visited our campus as part of the Omnibus Lecture Series. And while his talk was indeed entertaining, much more fun for me was the chance to interview him in my Religion & Popular Culture class.
Besides a couple of professors in attendance, I had the privilege of being the only one in the room to have read his fantastic book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. And since he dedicated much of his time with us to answering questions, I jumped right in. I knew he was coming and I was ready. Interviews were always my favorite thing to do when I worked in radio, so I was in my element. Mr. Jacobs is a very soft-spoken, humble guy, and we had a great conversation about the book and his experiences during his year of taking fundamentalism to the extreme. If you’ve visited me on Facebook, you know that, under Religions Views, I consider myself “Reverently Agnostic”. Here’s why . . .
Do I believe in a traditional biblical God? Well, not in the sense that the ancient Israelites believed in Him. I could never make the full leap to accepting a God who rolls up His sleeves and fiddles with our lives like a novelist does his characters. I’m still agnostic. But in the words of [spiritual advisor] Elton Richards, I’m now a reverent agnostic. Which isn’t an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there’s a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It’s possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn’t take away from its power or importance.
I come away from this year with my own cafeteria religion. I’ll be doing things differently than I did thirteen months ago, things both big (resting on the Sabbath) and small (wearing more white clothes). And I’ll keep on saying my prayers of thanksgiving. I’m not sure whom I’m thanking, but I’ve become addicted to the act.
I did the addicted thing for a season; the version of Christianity I lived, like any physical substance, kept me flying high, and I lapped it up with self-righteous vigor. Then I found the will to cast it aside, and for several years now I’ve lived outside the tent. I have basked in the freedom of living without any reverence – any sacredness – at all.
And it has left me feeling a bit empty.
So a couple weeks ago I started going to church again, this time on my own terms, among a people willing to consider the importance of reinventing what is sacred. My daughter has been coming with me, doing yoga and learning about kindness. And I’ve had my mind stretched by the words of an excommunicated Greek . . .
A vehement Eros runs through the Universe. It is harder than steel, softer than air. It cuts through and passes beyond all things, it flees and it escapes. It is a Militant Eros. Behind the shoulders of its beloved it perceives mankind surging and roaring like the waves, it perceives animals and plants uniting and dying, it perceives the Universe imperiled and shouting to it: “Save me!” Eros? What other name may we give that impetus which becomes enchanted as soon as it casts its glance on matter and then longs to impress its features upon it? It longs to merge with the other erotic cry, to become one ’til both may become deathless. It approaches the soul and wishes to merge with it so that “you” and “I” may no longer exist. It smashes the duality of mind and body, to merge all breaths into one Divine Monad. In moments of crisis this Erotic Love swoops down on human beings and binds them together. It is a breath superior to all of them, independent of their desires and deeds. It is the Spirit, the breathing on the earth of what human beings call God. And it comes in whatever form it wishes – as dance, as Eros, as hunger, as religion, as art, and does not ask our permission.
On Sunday, I lit a candle for my dear friends fighting to hold back a swelling river running through their city, and it felt right. Were I there I’d grab a sandbag or two . . . lend a hand and a smile. But I’m here. And though we are separated by miles, both physical and ideological, I know we each long to let the sacred pounce upon us, to see it in the faces of our families and friends and total strangers, and embrace it, even as it slips through our fingers, unwilling to be pigeonholed or packed away in tidy compartments.
My journey is getting interesting, and I’m enjoying the walk . . .