Friday, February 27, 2009

Having Faith in Faith

My friends provided me with this week's Time magazine. The cover story is Science and Faith: The Biology of Belief (links below). The teaser states:

Science and religion argue all the time, but they increasingly agree on one thing: a little spirituality may be very good for your health.
I was pleased to see that their concept of spirituality is a little more inclusive and encompassing than just the "major" religions. It's true that we Confused Pantheistic Agnostics have a lot harder time finding a congregation that fits, and so we miss out on some of the communal benefits, but that doesn't make our spirituality any less relevant, or less effective.

There's lots of interesting information. This, in particular, jolted me: a longitudinal study of 1,500 people... he has found that parishioners benefit when they receive social support from their church. But he has also found that those people who give help fare even better than those who receive it — a pillar of religious belief if ever there was one. He has also found that people who maintain a sense of gratitude for what's going right in their lives have a reduced incidence of depression, which is itself a predictor of health.
Well, that explains why, before my illness, I was sort of addicted to volunteer work.

I'm not a particularly spiritual person: I'm about as deep as a fine layer of pond scum. But there is still a need for an understanding, an acceptable concept, of my place in the universe, of things I feel but do not see. I knew for a long time that Judaism was my culture and my heritage, but not my belief system. There are too many concerns with the "Western" god that trouble me, starting with Abraham and Isaac. I've struggled with issues of faith, and feel some envy for those who believe absolutely, unquestioningly. That's not in my character.

Many years ago, I read a book called "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner. I was lost, spiritually devastated by the death of my treasured Auntie. (Coincidentally, she was my age when she died.) Most people read this book when they are confronted with a devastating loss, but I recommend it to everyone. I'm quite sure I never would have figured out on my own what the book taught me -- it led me back to a comforting faith and a concept of a Supreme Being that made sense to me. I could not accept a god who wields tragedy like a weapon; who has the power to cure sick children, and chooses not to.

So even now, I can't bring myself to pray for healing, because I can't believe in that kind of god: a god who might say "no" to that request. Instead, I believe in a god who has given us the tools to live in an unpredictable and often unfair world. A god who grieves with us when tragedy strikes. A god who is a source of strength and comfort, not a fairy godfather with a magic wand. (And by the way s/he doesn't give a hoot whether or not I capitalize god. S/he's got bigger fish to fry.)

I can, and do, pray for courage, grace, strength, understanding and patience. Lots of patience.

The Biology of Belief
Faith and Healing: A Forum

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you haven't already done so, consider reading "Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life" by Thomas Moore.