Monday, May 18, 2009


Two days into being another year older, at an age when one becomes inclined to take stock of one's place in life, I still feel less than contemplative. Yet I had a bit of, well, an epiphany as I drove down a lonely country road yesterday, listening to the NPR program Speaking Of Faith.

Not a show I listen to regularly, or at all, partly because of my cynical aversion to all things faith-based, but mostly because the program tends to have a typical public radio touchy-feeliness, a vaguely New Age approach to all the world's religions, suggesting they're all basically the same, ignoring the more unpleasant aspects of all of them while proffering them as a feel-good panacea for life's problems.

Which is basically what this particular installment did, but in a somewhat more arresting way than usual. This hour was devoted to essays from listeners explaining how their faith has allowed them to weather the current financial crisis, and even larger personal issues. People spoke of their ability to sustain themselves emotionally and mentally despite job loss, homelessness, even catastrophic illness.

Their voices sounded so serene, so...calm. Me, I'm a bundle of anxieties. I couldn't possibly sound calm, because I never am. And I wondered, as I observed the dark gray clouds rolling in from the west, why it's so hard for me to relax. And I had the standard knee-jerk response: Could it be a lack of spirituality?

But that depends on definitions. If spirituality is something we come to strictly through affiliation with one of the world's accepted faiths--Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, what have you--then true, I'm sadly lacking. Maybe I'm just too hard-headed, or too much the rationalist, but I can't make the leap of faith necessary to believe in God as centuries of cultural tradition depict Him. Everything I've ever believed in has either been revealed as a lie or otherwise become upended; why should I believe in something that can't even be proven true?

I'm an agnostic, though, not an atheist. I don't believe, but I don't disbelieve. Which is missing the point, I suppose, but surely it is better to question than to merely accept. And sometimes the questions almost seem to provide their own answers: The changing of seasons, night's transformation into day, the moon's pull on the tide, the ability to grow life-sustaining foods from mere dirt, the ability of life forms to adapt to their environment. The very existence of these things seems...miraculous.

There is, however, a capricious side to this natural order, and to it we sometimes ascribe motivations where none exist. Tsunamis can end hundreds of thousands of lives all at once, tornadoes destroy homes and livelihoods, diseases kill without mercy. We wonder why these things happen, but there is no Old Testament-style justice being meted out, or any larger meaning at all. It is simply the way things are, earth and nature moving to their own rhythms, which are beyond our understanding.

We're mortal, then. Our time here is finite, both are individual lives and the life of our species. And that's fine. I acknowledge that, accept it, even, in my own way, celebrate it. This, perhaps, is a reflection of my spiritual side. To so many of faith, our life here is merely the portal to the next world, but what if this is it? Whatever else I do, however uneventful my existence, I never take a single day for granted. And if I spend too much time worrying, if I rage repeatedly against the machine instead of taking time to relax, maybe that's just my attempt to make my mark in my limited time, to leave a trace of my existence, to say, by God, I lived.