Si comprehendis, non est Deus.” (If you understand it, it’s not God.) – Augustine of Hippo (4th century)
Perhaps the most misunderstood issue of today, philosophically; theologically and, (unfortunately) this summer, politically, is Faith.
It would be easy to focus on the media or the liberal intelligentsia for their demonization of those who continue to “cling to their faith and their guns” here, but I believe it necessary to cast a wider net in this thesis. I cannot help but see examples every day that, the concept of “faith” is misconstrued not only by media pundits and relativist agnostics, but also by many who profess to have it. It is easy to weekly pay homage to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is quite another thing, though, to ‘walk the talk’; ‘live the dream’ or even to truly comprehend the concept inherent in faith….that it embraces the unknown; the unseen; the incomprehensible. It knows no logic and suffers no doubt. To ask for, or even to attempt to provide, “proof”…is to deny it.
Most Christians, even if only as the result of rote and repetition, will readily communicate their understanding of the basic tenets of scripture: Love God; ….and love thy neighbor as thyself. Simple. No sweat. A substantial subset of these “believers” also acknowledge and profess understanding of the amazing Grace afforded to us by a God who sacrificed his only son, His Being made flesh, for our salvation from death through sin. Doesn’t take an ‘Einstein” to get our brains around that one, either.
But then, there’s this “Spirit” thing. That one’s a little trickier. Is it a dove? Is it a light? Is it in the water of the baptismal font? Or is it some theological artifice made necessary to preserve the virginity of the Mother of Jesus?
It is all of those things and it is none of those things. It can only be described as a “force”. (I am not a fan of Star Wars…. cannot avoid the allegory, though…). It is the ‘spark’ in us that can, should we let it, enable us to take the next step in our fleeting existence in time and space; to finally supplant ‘reason’ as the only distinction between us and the animal world.
The other night, frustrated with the “Theology/Faith” categories of several internet forums I frequent, I took a ‘stroll” over to one of my favorite ‘art’ sites and came across the YouTube video you can access below. Aside from the amusement it afforded me and the respite it provided from the arcane and insipid “prove it” and “why pray?” threads I had been perusing, it “spoke”to me. I saved it to my ‘favorites’ and went to bed.
And then I had a dream.
The dream began as those few other dreams I can actually remember upon waking…with me walking, searching for a place; a vehicle; a person, to no avail. I came upon a tavern in some ‘inner city’ neighborhood, and it was not until I entered it to rest my feet that I recognized it as “Sindy’s”: an establishment owned and operated by a man named Sindella in my hometown. It was the place my parents frequented while dating and engaged. Pinball machines clicked and jangled. A large fan hummed and droned and circulated the tobacco smoke up past the swinging coils of flypaper to some place above.
I had not the money for a beer. I asked if there was a pool table. The portly bar-tend grunted, and without looking up from his crossword puzzle, gestured to a room in the back. Going back, I selected a high stool against the wall, sat down and idly fingered an empty glass, looking for a “mark” with whom to wager a friendly game.
While I was considering which of the two tables to approach, a man sat down on the stool next to me. Ignoring him at first, I could not help but feel something rubbing against my shin. Looking down, I gasped.
“Is that an aardvark?”
“No.”, said the man. “It is an anteater.”
I looked up and faced the animals’ keeper. It was Salvador Dali.
“Shoot pool?”, I queried.
“No. But he does.”, He gestured toward the anteater.
“Are you nuts?”, said I.
He said nothing, but, levitating to the top of the far wall of the pool room, took out a huge brush and, dipping it into a mug of beer, painted the following in bold cursive letters across the wall:
“There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”
He hovered backward, admired his work, and floated back to his perch beside me.
Lighting a cigarette, he matter-of-factly declared: “People say that surrealism is destructive. What they do not see is that it it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision“. He bent down to stroke the anteater. “People do not see the shackles…. nor are they even curious.”
With this, he rose, adjusted his cape about his shoulders, and walked the anteater out of the pool room. He had left the beer.
A table had opened up. I noticed a few quarters on the rail, and inserted them. I dropped the balls and racked them slowly, perusing the periphery of the room for a likely adversary. In a dim corner, there sat an older gentleman with a shock of gray-white hair and a walrus mustache. I called over.
“Care to play?”
“Ja”, he replied. He rose and ambled over.
As he selected a cue from a rack on the wall I sensed I knew him. When he turned to approach the table, I saw that I would be playing eight-ball with none other than Albert Einstein.
“You break.”, I said. He placed his schnapps on the rail. Taking a piece of blackboard chalk out of his pocket, he applied it to the butt-end of the cue-stick. “Tremendous”, I thought to myself. Not only was I going to be facing an adversary who had revolutionized physics, but he was going to exacerbate my imminent defeat by using carnival ‘trick-shot’ artistry. I decided not to offer a wager of a beer on the game.
His shots were sure. The game was short. There was a glimmer of hope for me when, after he sank the last striped ball, the cue-ball came to rest in a position which placed several of my ‘solid’-colored balls directly between it and the eight-ball. I took a sip of Dali’s beer and began to chalk my cue for my next shot.
It was for naught.
He tapped the rail with the butt-end of his cue. The smooth flat expanse of the green felt transformed into a three-dimensional surface, a topography of rolling hills and valleys, among which discernible river-like fissures meandered around the hills. He gave the cue-ball a tap. It rolled a winding path around each of my ‘solids’ and nudged the eight-ball toward a corner pocket. It accelerated rapidly, and entered the pocket with such force that it created a vacuum of sorts. Not only the rest of the balls on the table, but all of the chairs in the room followed it. Then the tables. Then the walls around us. When the maelstrom passed, I was standing alone with Albert on a surrealistic purple plain.
I understated, “Nice shot!”
“Danke schön” , he replied. ” I call it my “black hole’ bank-shot”. “It kept me from starving when I was attending the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich.”
He sat down on a rock and took off a sandal. Producing a pipe from a pocket, he struck it with the sandal to empty the ashes. As he began to pack it with fresh tobacco, he glanced up at me and asked, “Whats your line?”.
Seeing my confusion, he restated, “What do you do?”
I lit a cigarette. “I have done many things, but these days I just work a menial job and am trying to become a writer. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
I proceeded to tell him about my blog, its’ categories, and my fears that, in concentrating so heavily on ‘faith,’ I was limiting myself.
“You are wrong” , he replied. “That is really all there is which is of any consequence.”
He pulled out a wallet. From it he pulled a worn and tattered folded piece of newsprint. As he unfolded it, a small piece of paper became dislodged from it and fluttered to the ground. I picked it up, and in handing it back to him, could not help but notice that upon it was a scribbled phone number…….for an ‘M. Monroe’.
He stuffed it quickly back into his wallet, and, clearing his throat, asked me to read the newsprint.
It read: A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. (Albert Einstein)”
“It has always been my goal to satisfy a curiosity about life and the universe. When I was a boy, I called my copy of “Euclid’s Elements” my “holy little geometry book”.
He continued. “Reason; knowledge; even physical ‘laws’ are inherently limiting in that they are conceived and experienced by our limited identities as human organisms. To have faith in a greater power or entity which is the source of light; of beauty and of comfort for our psyches is a prerequisite to the fulfilling exercise of our talents, whatever those talents may be.”
He took a puff from his freshly-lit pipe and exhaled a fragrant and beautiful wisp of smoke, which grew in body and volume and began to disperse itself across the orange sky above us. It hovered and formed the words which follow:
“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive. (Albert Einstein, 1954)
Overcome with emotion as I took this in, I cried, “Al! You should write sermons!”.
He did not answer. When I looked over to where he had been perched on the rock, he was gone.
The dream ended.
Upon waking, I tried to make some sense out of it. And I began to grasp the essence of “The Holy Spirit”.
The least limiting and the most effective way to comfort those around us is to use our talents, (our “lines”), to harness and channel those smoky wisps of the Holy Spirit which waft their way around and among us so that we share the Light and witness the Word in ways and manners which are unbridled by societal shackles; unfettered by convention; unlimited by dimension. Our talents and our efforts must be exercised with no regard for anything but the love which God has for each of us.
The substance, the mass, of our talents and the exercise of our “lines” ,when truly unshackled by our mortal limitations, can bend light; warp time and maybe, in the end, help those around us to acknowledge the Spirit.
“Surrealism” is not so much a genre of art as it is an acknowledgement of our mortal limitations in perceiving what is around us. That “surrelativity” may be the result of research by the next Stephen Hawking is not beyond the realm of possibility. If to truly obey God’s commandments to love Him and to evince that love by loving each and every other is to be perceived as some sort of “surreligiosity” , it is entirely possible that even those of professed “faith” can endeavor to witness it “outside of the box” of the church.
There can be no harm in using our talents to “pay forward” the comfort and the joy of being faithful to everyone around us. Earnestly practiced and broadened in focus to not only our families and communities, but to everyone, these talents may help those who doubt or question to reflect on whether it could make a difference in their lives to share that faith.
Or, at least, to be curious about it.