Thursday, April 24, 2014

Believing in "Nothing"

"Wondrous Mystery"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I drove by a local church yesterday. There was a sign out front advertising the preacher's sermon for this coming Sunday:  "The Gift of Faith."

I used to think I knew what those words meant. I 'm not so sure any more.

I was always taught to pray for the "gift of faith," which really meant that I was supposed to do my best to hold onto strong beliefs in the doctrine and dogma taught by the church- teachings about  God, Jesus, sin, and salvation. The older I get, these teachings have come to hold little meaning for me,  and in fact I no longer believe that this kind of strong "faith" is even a gift at all. 

I have been re-reading some of the writings of the famous 16th century Spanish monk and mystic, St. John of the Cross. In his "Dark Night of the Soul," John talks about a period in his life where he "lost his faith." He came to a point where he could no longer accept or believe anything he had ever been taught about God - all his theology, all the doctrine,  all the rituals that had once been at the focal point of his life as a priest and monk no longer held any meaning for him.

He was left with "nothing, "not-ness," ("nada" in Spanish). And herein was the gift.

In his dark night of "nada," John came to experience the Holy Presence as he had never before been able. He entered into a love affair with "God." -a passionate encounter with a mystical unnamable Abiding Presence that could never be explained by theologies. In fact,  he referred to all his past beliefs as, "substitutes for God"- feeble attempts of the intellect to capture and control an elusive mystery that can never be contained or explained.  

I have also been reading Barbara Brown Taylor's newly published book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. She had been a priest for many years, a famous preacher and celebrated teacher.  She has now has moved to the fringes of the institution and to the edges of formalized religion. She  lives on a farm with her husband.

As I read a passage in her book,  I felt as if Barbara had been reading my mind as she described the point to which she has come in her own spiritual journey:

After so many years of trying to cobble together a way of thinking about God that makes sense 
so that I can safely settle down with it,
it all turns to 'nothing.'
There is no permanent safe place to settle.
I will always be at sea, steering  by stars.
Yet as dark as this sounds, it provides great relief
because it now sounds truer than anything that came before.

In my later years of life I also have moved to the fringes of formalized religion. Living out here in the desert,  I also have received the gift of "nothing" at this stage in my journey. 

Over my many years of studying and teaching, preaching and praying, I had indeed "cobbled together" a nice, neat, safe and understandable way of thinking about "God" - an orderly set of beliefs for explaining and even controlling the great and elusive mystery.

But that's all gone now. The words I used to use no longer make sense to me. I've lost the kind of faith I once possessed and gained a new kind of faith.

I now have faith in "nothing"- belief  in "nada"  It's not so much that I doubt all the things I had previously believed - it goes beyond doubt.  I have been set free from all my answers- such a "great relief." 

All I can now do is be present to the wondrous mystery -  new every morning.

1 comment:

  1. Totally with you on that.
    This is the actual revelation.
    _ I have been set free from all my answers- such a "great relief_ ." 
    That is in my humble view ,the True Gift of Faith