A Solitary Walk

I have three small groups of friends. These are close friends, dear to my heart, but ask any one of them what faith means, and their answers will be distinctly different.

The first group sees miracles, God’s hand, in everyday things. He reveals Himself in a hibiscus flower grown into the shape of the cross. Shadows on ancient stone floors become faces of the dead. They get shivers or a deep sense of peace. It is a comforting and heartening belief.

Another group sees rules: fasting on Holy Days, confession before communion. They go to church every week, some of them every day, and urge their children to set examples, to express dismay if their friends stray. They believe this is their duty.

The third group of friends have either lost their faith or are drifting in that direction. They are disillusioned with organized religion and perhaps this is why their beliefs are fluid. They see each situation as unique: what’s wrong in one case may be right in another. They have accepted their children’s decision to live with a significant other because love and commitment are their bottom line. They believe in live and let live.

We all search through the same questions, but no matter how tightly we hold to our convictions, it is impossible for any of us to really know the answers. All we can do is take our best guess. But as disparate as my friends’ beliefs are, it seems to me they must all, in some elemental way, be correct. Because they have all found their truth, their meaning, their way. They are each, unequivocally, moral. None would pass by a person in need. They are all capable of sacrifice. Some of their beliefs cause them great pain but they never waver, believing theirs to be the moral, and therefore only, stance.

It is our nature to want a clear and definitive answer, but sometimes the truth doesn’t lie in the black or the white, it is found confusingly, irksomely, in the gray. And though we may debate and wonder and shout at each other, our spiritual journey is, in the end, a solitary walk. We must find our own way through the haze.

As for me, I believe that tolerance and reason, courage and integrity, sacrifice and hard work keep us on the right track. But most of all I believe in love – unselfish, spontaneous, and open-armed. The kind of love that leads you through the haze and confusion and leaves you standing in open air, holding someone’s hand, even if the only thing you can agree upon is that you care.

  • http://slowdancejournal.wordpress.com February 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I don’t know either.

    I believe there is a greater consciousness than ours and that it is kind, and I believe there is a something-next that follows our lives on earth, but am not certain.

    Even if it turns out that I am the product of the imagination of God and not the other way around, there is no guarantee that God has built me to be immortal. But whether my existence is finite or infinite I feel a deep gratitude.

    The days and years of my life have been such a gift that I embrace them even if they are limited in number, and do not lead me to another kind of life.

    Since this life is the only one I have for sure I try to make the most of it. While I’m here I will love hard, be kind and appreciate every minute.

    Adrian Fogelin

    • Leigh Muller February 22, 2011 at 10:06 am

      I apologize for not responding sooner. My internet connection is giving me fits.

      “There is no guarantee that God has built me to be immortal.”

      What an interesting thought. Most of us tend to think in absolutes: if God exists, then we are immortal. If He doesn’t, then this life is our only existence. There are all kinds of other options, but being human, we make it about us.

  • tgumster February 19, 2011 at 7:58 am

    I believe in keeping my heart open, in leaving my past where it is, in knowing kindness is strong stuff any time, any place. That’s my “best guess” at spirituality, and I second the motion of “I don’t know either.”

    I do know that life, religiously organized or not, is a gift, and each day that we have is another chance to love better.

    • http://slowdancejournal.wordpress.com February 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      Amen Karen!

    • Leigh Muller February 22, 2011 at 10:22 am

      Your suggestions are good guidelines for us all, tgumster. The most cardinal tenet of religion is kindness and compassion, and that is the point I was trying to make with this post. Middle age is an interesting time. Our parents and siblings are still hashing out their clashing opinions, while our children declare their independence and live their lives as they choose, which is often not as we would hope.

      Perhaps this has always been an age of transition, but today’s more open culture seems to up the challenge. Children don’t sneak around for the occasional romp in the back seat of a car any more, they move in together and don’t care who knows. Gays and lesbians live openly, daughters marry unambitious sons, sons marry older women, or inter-racially — the unacceptable list for some goes on and on. No matter how one feels about any of this, what breaks my heart is seeing the intolerance of family members wreck havoc in what should be their closest relationships. These people love each other; the pain is on both sides. Unfortunately, each feels strongly that their way is the only moral choice. They refuse to give ground because they believe to do so would be to give up not only their own soul, but the soul of someone they love more than life. It is heartbreaking, and it is tearing families apart.

      • tgumster February 22, 2011 at 7:11 pm

        I know your pain, Leigh, but I don’t know that our culture is more open. What I do know is that we are more immediate than we have ever been. We close millions of miles in nanoseconds, literally. There is no time to process and way too much time to react to the moment. We dig in for all we hold sacred, which is fine, but unless we live with open hearts, we will never love without fear.

        Your point is very clear, Leigh, and so poignant. You live your words, which is all you can do.

        Catch you next time at the roadhouse.

  • leigh February 22, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    We live with an open heart or we live alone, even in a houseful of people.

    Looking forward to the next time, tgumster.

  • Julia February 23, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    I just had a chance to read this posting… I’m one of the disillusioned. I stopped attending Mass not long after my mother died. I realized the only reason I was going was because of her. That is no reason. I’m also unhappy with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church but that is for another time. One thing: I have not lost my faith. That is deeply rooted and and cannot be easily pulled up. That brings my to my favorite thing to throw at people… Faith is belief and religion is a way to practice a faith. You can have one without the other. I think that religion without faith is sad. At any rate, I truly believe that God wants us to love ALL of his children, unconditionally. That is the most difficult thing to do as we are human, we have our definitions and we want everyone to be the way WE want them, not the way God made them. My monetary contribution of small amount.

  • leigh February 24, 2011 at 8:50 am

    As someone who spent her high school mornings attending 5am mass at the Carmelite monastery with the intent of becoming a nun, I drew great joy from raising our children in the Catholic faith and community. Then I was asked to help with a fundraiser that turned into more of a shakedown, and I began to question the church’s true motivation. When I realized it was to fund lawsuits against pedophile priests, I was stung as deeply as I had once believed. It shook my faith not only in the church, but in God himself.

    The one thing I have never lost faith in is compassion, the core of most religions.

    Attending church doesn’t make you a good person. The most moral man I know is agnostic. He never fails to make the moral choice — not because he is afraid of going to hell, but because it is simply the right thing to do. He is consistently altruistic; he acts with no hope of gain.

    In contrast, some of the least spiritual people on earth are running churches.

    A church’s banner doesn’t make any action or belief right or wrong. Their rules are written by people; they foster some of man’s best ideals and encompass every human frailty.

    Your contribution was anything but small, Julia. You touched on several points that give most of us a struggle.

    • Julia February 25, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      I used to love Mass at Carmelite. I always felt more spiritual there than any place else. Guess it was because the nuns ‘got it’. Church is about a moment with God. True, He should be with you at all times but that hour or so should be His completely. I felt that way when I was doing music for Mass. Then I got ‘fired.’ Not my fault that no one wanted to be part of the ‘contemporary’ choir but fired nonetheless. I tried the regular choir but never once was ‘sing for God’ mentioned. I’m thinking my vocal training embedded in me that notion of, think what the song is about, why are you singing it and, yes somewhat trite, sing it like you mean it. I have to watch myself at work when I listen to some of my Gospel albums. Some songs truly touch me and that is how I touch God. I think some churches (and Catholics aren’t the only guilty ones) miss the reason for gathering. People are going out of obligation, not purpose. The celebrant is going through the motions, not sharing. Well, that’s unfair, some celebrations ‘get it’, just like those Masses of long ago. I may go back someday but right now, I don’t feel the need. I still think I would be a great hermit.

  • Tgumster February 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Below is a quote that a friend of mine posted on Face Book this morning; immediately, Leigh’s blog and our discussions came to mind.

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid” (Marcus Aurelius).

    • Julia February 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm

      I have often thought that regardless of the ‘next world’, living a good life should always be the goal. Thanks for the quote.

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