The question stopped me cold, blindsiding me and sending me deep into my self. “So, how does it work for you, Charlie, this God stuff?”
I wanted to reply, “Just fine,” and add, “How ’bout those Cubs!” but I knew that was not what he was looking for. Silence worked for a long moment, then I said, “Not the way it used to.”
He looked surprised when I admitted there was so much I just didn’t know. “So, what works for you now?” he asked.
I said, “It was simple when I had all the answers and shared them with others as ‘the only truth.'”
I smiled at that and went on: “Now, all I have are questions and what is called faith and not-knowing. And a strong relationship with a loving God.”
He shrugged. A lifted eyebrow had me continue. “For me these days, God is the unifying energy of all of creation. I believe in the Oneness of that but also in the unique relationship each of us has with God, however we name it, and with one another.”
“Is that all there is, my friend?” he asked, humming the tune.
“Not the way I see it. This is just a part of a journey home.”
“Home? What’s that mean?”
“I believe the God particle in all of us and in all creation – the energy we share – is eternal, like the Universe itself, without beginning, without end. What works for me is the idea, not my own, that ‘we are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ Think about that. I have, for years, and find comfort in it.”
“What about the Uncaused Cause? The Big Bang?”
“I honestly don’t know, though both concepts fascinate and puzzle me. They are evidence of our human need to solve mysteries, our needing to know; just one reality of our journey toward home.”
“Home, again. Do you mean heaven?”
“I mean wholeness and a new, inconceivable dimension of being. A spiritual fulfillment, completeness, connectedness with the energy we call God. Heaven is not some place ‘up there.’ It is within and among and all around – timeless, spaceless, eternal. Don’t ask me to paint a picture or explain how that works. I believe no one wrapped in time can ever know or even imagine how. But that doesn’t mean we should cease trying to figure it out.”
‘What about religion?’
“OK … I guess. Much to ponder,” my friend said. “But what about religion? What’s your take on that?”
“What about religion?”
I believe the human experience happens on and within three levels – body, mind and spirit. Religions try to explain and explore the origins and meaning of creation; science does likewise, and pure reason as well.
Religion, I’ve come to believe, chronicles our search to unravel the mystery of being and its beginnings, like history tracks events, and science explores the material makeup of the Universe.
My religion has been consistently Christ-centered. I was born and raised a penny-catechism Catholic, taking on my parents’ beliefs that connected me with a sense of God that still persists. From the beginning I was taught and believed that Catholicism was the “one, true Faith” and was told to shun all others. In parochial schools and as altar boys my twin and I solidified that belief.
In seventh grade, a missionary priest (a “fisher of men”) hooked me and I entered a minor seminary at age 13. (Years later I discovered I was running away from home.)
The following years were intensely religious, rich on many levels, ultra-conservative, in a very enclosed and controlled environment. My education was short on science and early on emphasized languages, writing, speaking and dry-cleaned church history. Later, the focus shifted to philosophy, sacred scripture, spiritual and moral theology, and pastoral ministry.
Outside the classroom there were sports, stage productions, choir/glee club/band, in-house literary magazines and assigned chores. Our secular media was limited to U.S. News & World Report, The Sporting News, occasional TV (mostly sports) and weekly movies (censored by faculty). In retrospect it is difficult to believe we were so malleable.
My faith was pure and simple during those years and into early priesthood. I had few, if any, questions about what I had learned and memorized. I was too busy, too focused to be lonely even while struggling with my sexuality. But two major factors shattered my complacency – the Vatican Council (Vat II) and the wider world of Northwestern University.
The evolution of my faith
Before both Vat II and Northwestern, I barely knew my own mind. I latched onto and memorized the truth of others, believing what I was told and taught to believe. Vat II and, earlier, The Law of Christ: Moral Theology for Priests and Laity by Bernard Haring jolted me into thinking for myself. At NU, Martin Maloney, a professor in Mass Media, told me not “to give me what I want but give me your own mind.” That said, I could no longer avoid a far wider world.
My ingrained answers became questions. My thinking, no longer focused on doctrine and fear but an evolving faith based on love, the humanity and message of Jesus, and much later a resignation to not-knowing, became more spiritual than religious.
In the process I came to realize there are as many religions as individuals seeking God. Churches, synagogues, mosques were communities of like-minded believers, each on their own journey and quest for a meaningful life.
In my own searching, evolution, creationism, the Big Bang theory and even the Hubble and Webb telescopes wrapped my mind in a tangle of curiosity and restlessness. As a seeker, a journeyman looking for wholeness, I experienced my religious beliefs beginning to shift.
I was drawn to Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Küng, Henri Nouwen and Matthew Fox. Secular writers such as Kenneth Burke (The Rhetoric of Religion) and Joseph Campbell’s insights on religion and mythology validated and underlined my questions and not-knowing. I was seeking answers but constantly finding more questions.
Once I left religious life I felt de-institutionalized. I felt like an everyman rather than a man apart. I feel the same when I write. I claim a little expertise in theology, psychology and less in science or history. I live in wonder and wondering – about life, self, the world’s and humanity’s Oneness and the meaning of … everything.
Spirituality rather than religion has become the focus of my faith, indelibly Catholic and based primarily on the teachings of Jesus. I believe all religions are searching for or claim to worship the same God. That they are so divisive is unfortunate but so … human.
True spirituality is neither righteous nor set apart. It honors and nurtures the God particle in all of creation. Responsibility for self presumes respect, support and love for all others since spirituality is what bonds us. Religion complicates; spirituality simplifies.
The need for religion however, is clear. The various and differing communities of believers – synogogues, churches, mosques, temples, etc. – seem to be one in working for a better world, contributing so generously on many levels. There is no measure for their love and giving. But they are human entities as well, vulnerable to evil and the abuse of power.
I believe that one’s search for God is a personal and ultimately a spiritual quest, that all religions seek the same answers, the same God, and that faith is all about not-knowing. Religions offer histories of uncertain certainties and create communities in which to learn about, explore and share one’s faith.
I treasure my Christian values and believe the teachings of Jesus in their simplicity and challenges can lead to wholeness and holiness. Jesus embodies the God I was taught to believe in; a God who has become more complex but remains at the heart of my faith and not-knowing.
At this point I believe the Universe is eternal, its energy encompassing all of creation. Eternal? Without beginning, without end. I believe that the same energy unites us all which, for want of an inexpressible word, I call God … or love. Every particle of the Universe contains and reflects that energy which never dies.
Believing (not-knowing) this lets me find comfort in the statement, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” But even that concept is almost beyond comprehension. Like poetry, it has the feel of truth. When considering the age of Earth one has to realize how young the most ancient of religions on it are and how even younger the Bible and other ancient texts are. The origin of any religion seems to be rooted in not-knowing and thus our need to believe.
If the Big Bang was the beginning of everything, where did its energies come from? Is this where chaos theory applies? If Earth is just a piece of galactic dust, why would God bother? And if evolution applies, how much longer will “God’s Garden” grow? And when in its process and progress did Original Sin occur? Just a few of the questions that affirm my not-knowing.
I said to my friend, “Let me repeat: I am not trying to sell anything here; I am merely playing with just some of the pieces of an unsolvable puzzle.”
I am grateful for my faith and all I have learned and am still learning along the way. There is no cynicism in my thinking and few regrets. I believe I am on a spiritual journey, accepting my humanness while acknowledging the Oneness of us all. My faith tells me what I cannot know while inviting me to live into unimaginable surprise.