Friday, December 30, 2011

A Little Faith

It seems to me we all spend a lot of our life looking for answers. I am abundantly blessed by many friends, acquaintances and colleagues who have come into my life in recent years who are seeking to find just what I am - a way to live an authentic and meaningful life.  We all have hopes, dreams, and desires that go far below the surface; that define us as we aspire to live a life filled with more than just "things."  Sometimes though, it has been hard to describe just what it is we're all looking for.  I'm always wanting some definitive answer that says, "YES! You've GOT IT!!"

As I've spent time searching for words of wisdom and signs to let me know I'm on the right path, they've most often come to me when least expected.  Last night I had one of those experiences.  I watched the Hallmark presentation of Mitch Albom's "Have A Little Faith."  I'm impressed mostly at how raw and personal the story was.  I am in awe of writers who can bare their souls in such a wonderful way and who can touch the lives of others.  My life was undoubtedly altered by this man's words and experiences.

I have struggled with my faith for some time. I suppose it isn't my faith really, as much as it is the idea of religion.  What I heard last night in the context of a "sappy, made-for-TV movie" explained it better than I've ever heard it, and gave me the peace of knowing that whatever version of God I seek, what's important is that I simply look up, and have a little faith.  When I was searching for the exact words that I heard so that I was sure to quote them correctly, I found the full text from Mr. Albom's book that struck me so profoundly:

"Is there any winning a religious argument? Whose God is better than whose? Who got the Bible right or wrong? I preferred figures like Rajchandra, the Indian poet who influenced Gandhi by teaching that no religion was superior because they all brought people closer to God; or Gandhi himself, who would break a fast with Hindu prayers, Muslim quotations, or a Christian hymn. 

Over the years, the Reb had lived his beliefs, but never tried to convert anyone to them. As a general rule, Judaism does not seek converts. In fact, the tradition is to first discourage them, emphasizing the difficulties and suffering the religion has endured.

This is not the case with all religions. Throughout history, countless millions have been slaughtered for failing to convert, to accept another god, or to denounce their own beliefs. Rabbi Akiva, the famous second-century scholar, was tortured to death by the Romans for refusing to give up his religious study. As they raked his flesh with iron combs, he whispered his final words on earth, “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” He died with the word “one” on his lips.
That prayer — and the word “one” — were integral to the Reb’s beliefs. One, as in the singular God. One, as in the Lord’s creation, Adam.

“Ask yourself, ‘Why did God create but one man?’ ” the Reb said, wagging a finger. “Why, if he meant for there to be faiths bickering with each other, didn’t he create that from the start? He created trees, right? Not one tree, countless trees. Why not the same with man?

“Because we are all from that one man — and all from that one God. That’s the message.” 

Then why, I asked, is the world so fractured?

“Well, you can look at it this way. Would you want the world to all look alike? No. The genius of life is its variety.

“Even in our own faith, we have questions and answers, interpretations, debates. In Christianity, in Catholicism, in other faiths, the same thing — debates, interpretations. That is the beauty. It’s like being a musician. If you found the note, and you kept hitting that note all the time, you would go nuts. It’s the blending of the different notes that makes the music.” 

"The music of what?"

“Of believing in something bigger than yourself.”

But what if someone from another faith won’t recognize yours? Or wants you dead for it?

"That is not faith. That is hate.” He sighed. “And if you ask me, God sits up there and cries when that happens.”  

He coughed, then, as if to reassure me, he smiled. He had full-time help at the house now; his home care workers had included a tall woman from Ghana and a burly Russian man. Now, on weekdays, there was a lovely Hindu woman from Trinidad named Teela. She helped get him dressed and do some light exercises in the morning, fixed his meals, and drove him to the supermarket and synagogue. Sometimes she would play Hindi religious music over her car stereo. The Reb enjoyed it and asked for a translation. When she talked about reincarnation, per her faith, he quizzed her and apologized for not knowing more about Hinduism over the years. 

How can you — a cleric — be so open-minded? I asked. 

“Look. I know what I believe. It’s in my soul. But I constantly tell our people: you should be convinced of the authenticity of what you have, but you must also be humble enough to say that we don’t know everything. And since we don’t know everything, we must accept that another person may believe something else.”

He sighed.

“I’m not being original here, Mitch. Most religions teach us to love our neighbor.”


It's put a bit more simply in the movie:

Rabbi Albert Lewis: Did God make trees?
Mitch: Yeah.
Rabbi Albert Lewis: Why trees? Why not
A tree? I mean, he's God. What he makes is perfect. So, why not one perfect tree for the whole earth? Instead, he gave us the oak, the spruce, the elm, the redwood.
Mitch: Right.
Rabbi Albert Lewis: So, maybe faith is the same. Many trees, the branches all going to Him.
Mitch: Have you looked at the world lately? The trees are all attacking each other.
Rabbi Albert Lewis: That's not faith, that's hate.
Mitch: Engaged in the name of a religion.
Rabbi Albert Lewis: And wrongly! Thou shall not kill. Honor thy neighbor. If I mean these things, and the other guy means these things, what do you get?
Mitch: ...Peace on earth.

I say, let there be peace on earth...and let it begin with me.  As long as I have faith, then is there a right or a wrong?  My guess is no.  What I got from all of this is that it is better to be faithful and seek God in whatever form we are able than to have no faith at all.

Despite my struggles and questions where religion is concerned, I have always come back to certain scriptures that resound within me and that I try to abide by.  One of those was even read at my wedding, and for a long time, on a print on my wall:

I Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I have been told that the messages we need to hear and the lessons we need to learn will always repeat themselves.  With this coming to mind, I know then, that what I seek, and what those like-minded souls who grace my life are also seeking is just that - faith, hope, and love.  That is no secret, it is a simple truth we often fail to see.

What Mitch Albom learned is that we are, indeed, seeking the same things: 
" can know the whole world and still feel lost in it. So many people are in pain—no matter how smart or accomplished—they cry, they yearn, they hurt. But instead of looking down on things, they look up, which is where I should have been looking, too. Because when the world quiets to the sound of your own breathing, we all want the same things: comfort, love, and a peaceful heart." 
I think then, that for the New Year I will simply be resolving to have faith.  And for everyone I love - those wonderful, blessed souls searching as I am, I wish you comfort, love, and a peaceful heart.