Regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, a religious person, a spiritual person, an atheist or an agnostic, you pretty much can't escape the sights and sounds of Christmas at this time of year. Yesterday as I walked though a very crowded mega-mall, the sounds of "O Come All Ye Faithful" wafted through the air as shoppers rushed from store to store.
I thought to myself, "certainly these hordes of people aren't all Christians celebrating the birth of Christ -maybe most aren't, and they probably aren't paying all that much attention to that traditional carol blaring through the speakers. Yet somehow I was struck by the idea that all these people were, in fact, "faithful." As I see it, to be human is to be faithful - "O Come All Ye Faithful."
This morning's New York Times featured a very interesting pre-Christmas Op-Ed piece exploring the question of faith in contemporary society, asking the question:
When I hear people say they have no religious impulses whatsoever, I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some ways inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond yourself, some wordless mystery straining to reach you? Never?
Most people have had these magical moments of wonder and clearest consciousness, which suggested a dimension of existence beyond the everyday. Maybe it happened during childbirth, with music, in nature, in love or pain, or during a moment of overwhelming gratitude and exaltation.
These moments arouse a longing within the human heart to integrate that glimpsed eternal goodness into our practical everyday living.
Faith is this longing of the human heart.
I say that all human beings are faithful because from time to time we are all struck by the transcendent- each of us in some way or other has been pulled beyond our own separated isolation into the experience of something greater, something "beyond," and that experience does indeed leave us "longing for more."
"Faith" is a "longing of the human heart" - a longing for transcendence that is innate in us, endemic to our nature.
The question that remains is: "What do we do with that "longing?"
Some people become believers - they affiliate with a religion as a way of feeding the desires of the longing heart. They attend a church, or go to a temple or a mosque, say prayers, sing hymns, walk a "moral" path of everyday living that is informed by the experience of "God."
Others choose to keep away from an organized religion, choosing instead to feed the longing of the heart by following a spiritual path of daily meditation, living a life of compassion and kindness.
There are also others (maybe many others) who very specifically identify themselves as non-believers - atheists and agnostics who do not affirm the existence of a Divine Being. Yet even non-believers are "faithful," because they are human beings - all human beings have longing hearts even if they don't have beliefs.
I've been thinking about those hordes of shoppers making their way through the crowds in that madly chaotic mall yesterday. Perhaps that mall is a perfect icon for the madly chaotic life of the 21st century. And yet, even in the midst of all the chaos, a common thread unites us all and we all can sing the same hymn because all of us are "faithful."
O Come All Ye Faithful!