Meditations: An Inquiry Into God, Nature, Religion
An Inquiry Into God, Nature, And Religion
One of the most difficult questions for me as a contemplative is this: Can the gap between nature-loving religiosity and church-going faith be bridged?
It’s a hot Sunday morning. After a fine walk along the paths in the park, and a pleasant talk with two women on horseback, I stop to sit at picnic site. The conundrum between religions and religiosity is about to reach a fever pitch.
As I am enjoying the water, shade, and sight of people going by across the creek, a middle-aged man walks up with his dog. He says nothing as he unleashes the big canine and starts throwing sticks for the animal to chase in the water. One expects some noise and intrusion, but this is too much.
I calmly tell him that I am taking a meditation, and ask if he would mind finding another place to play with his dog. I hope that the simple request would suffice, but of course the very inconsiderateness that cause him to ignore a man sitting there silently also compel him to reject the appeal.
Like so many Americans these days, his desires are all the matters, and he arrogantly informs me that there is plenty of room here, and his dog wants to swim. He adds the snide comment, “if you want to meditate, go to church.” At that point I reply, rather angrily I must admit, “Churches my ass, please leave.”
A person’s relationship with nature is the cornerstone of relationship with people and the world. After all, a great cathedral evokes the same feeling, imitatively and intentionally, that a mountaintop or a magnificent vista induces. That raises the question: Does the problem with religions begin with putting the symbol before the actuality?
Of course the symbol is an internal construct before it is an external building and behavior. The word ‘God’ is not God; but for most believers, the word is the thing. From this confusion it’s a short step to believing the Bible or the Koran is “the word of God.”
A paradox, which usually becomes a trap, is that inspiring religious works are written by inspired people to convey insights and actualities that lie beyond words. The things that a religious writer worth his or her salt only mean to point toward thus become symbols and words that divide people. In this way, the idea that God can be captured in a word or a book blasphemes the actuality, and grows into the encrusted idiocies that people kill and die for.
For some, the enthrallment of millions with the symbols of religion produces a counter-reaction, denying the reality of anything beyond the symbol. It’s the ultimate case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Truly, belief is one side of the coin, and atheism is the other.
But is there really a sacredness beyond thought? Obviously that question cannot be answered with either a definite yes or a no, since as soon as one answers it, one’s inquiry into it is finished. To my mind and heart, there is a sacredness beyond thought, an all-pervasive awareness that is within and beyond the universe. However when I’m not actually in contact with it, I feel it doesn’t exist for me. My faith is that despite my flaws and confusions, I can feel it anew.
I think that keeps me honest, because what we call God is present only in the present, when thought is essentially quiet. Each contact with the actuality of wholeness (which has the same basic meaning and root as the word holiness) is new and completely distinct from past experiences. Indeed, the remembrance of past experiences prevents awareness of the infinite in the present.
In short, it’s easy to say what God is not (a deity or supreme being, a spirit or creator), but it’s impossible to say what it is.
It must be possible however for contemplatives to deeply dialogue with church-goers, without seeing them as self-deceiving idolaters, or church-goers seeing natural contemplatives as nature-worshippers. Since the majority of people who go to church or mosque are genuinely pious, such a dialogue is essential, and would enhance understanding on all sides.
Even so, I may never understand how people can believe that God can primarily be found in a building or a book. It’s hard enough to observe the mind into stillness in the mirror of nature, and hear the nameless in the whisper of the wind through the leaves.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.