Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is Faith

[This is the first of a series of poems (and brief essays) on the concept: Faith.]

Someone Somewhere

Faith is the certainty,
even in the absence of perceivable life,
that there is someone there,
and not only someone,
but an infinite abundance of someone.

We dress up someone as Self, thinking,
how can one lose certainty
of self, but one can, as easily
as looking in the mirror.

Then we name it others,
until the day we extend a trembling candle,
whispering, "Is there anyone there?"

Then we call it God,
so that it has nothing to do
with us, and this works, except only God
is allowed to have certainty,

while faith has become our own
cancerous replica of certainty,
the machine's decision that machines
are not designed to operate smoothly
in the absence of the idea
of someone somewhere.

Commentary: This poem describes a reduction or decay of faith, not into cynicism, but into a mockery of itself, the way clumps of cancer cells sometimes take the shapes of the organs they destroy.

Faith, as seen in stanza one above, is a certainty. When one chooses to doubt this certainty (persuaded it is shaky? for a game?), the next step is to "solve" this doubt by putting faith in something more broadly agreed upon, more visible, like one's identity.

When that proves shaky too (and who has not at some point looked in the mirror and seen signs of mortality and weakness?), we put faith in others--for example, fall in love, and place our faith in a lover, one who will never fail us.

That failing, we put faith in something safe because it seems to us to be nothing at all (a God posited to be beyond anyone's experience). Probably we first try wooden and stone gods, looking for lastingness. Wood burns, stones shatter. But nothing can shatter what can't be experienced.

What we start with is hard to identify, but can be experienced, that infinity of presence. Whether it is called God or Self or true self or spirit or glumph, it is not only a presence, but an infinity of presence or an infinite capability in God or in ourselves of granting life. It is not a certainty one must cling to or protect. It is simply created and known (and creating is the surest knowing--the ability to create and uncreate).

Master Eckhart (best Googled as "Meister Eckhart"), a Catholic mystic, said (before the Inquisition gagged him) "The eye with which you see God is the eye with which God sees you." The faith I describe in the first stanza is, in a way, that eye. It isn't important whether that certainty is God's certainty of you or your certainty of God. They are one thing.

Or so postulates this poem.

It moves from God to God, where God begins as what is most intimately present to us (more so than the "self" we define by body, personality, attitudes, etc.), then moves to God as infinitely alien to us. It moves from faith as certainty to faith as desperate fear of having no certainty and of there being nothing it is possible to be certain of.

At the top, faith is not separable from knowledge by immediate experience, and is perhaps even communicable to others, simply by sharing that presence. It is as empirical as the expectation that a hammer blow to the finger will cause pain. At the bottom, faith becomes a footnote to one's life, an insistence on knowing what one has decided can't be known, a creed. It is this level of faith that we call different from or even incompatible with knowledge. It is when we view faith this way that we begin to classify religions as gnostic (based on the idea that one can come to know God or spiritual awareness) as opposed to faith-based.

At this level, having attributed to God all causality, all ability to create, we have defined ourselves as automatons. This is a "belief in" (I've never seen a good definition of "in" when used thus with "belief"--it makes me think we get into something, like a moving bundle of meat, in order to believe), a belief in God in the absence of God's having any presence in what we are. God's presence in what we are is a concept (in every religion, among some of its followers) that the Gospel of John expresses in "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." There are many other similar expressions, some from people who, apparently, do not mention God.

Personally, I do not look for a theology to believe in. Any theology can be a ladder to be climbed and discarded or an anchor to hold one fixed and down. (And also fun to banter about, mustn't omit that.) But I do find--and I've worked hard at this thing that now is almost second nature--that, increasingly, I'm aware of an infinite abundance of someone, and that, increasingly, it doesn't matter what I find this "in." When I admire our cat, I find it in her (and understand why Christopher Smart included perhaps the best cat poem ever written ("For Geoffrey, His Cat") in a long religious poem, "Jubilate Agno" (rejoice in the lamb). And when I admire any person, I find it, or any tree or nothing at all.

I do not call myself a mystic, because none of this seems mysterious to me. And because I see no importance in calling myself something. Not that I have no named religion, but it's the means I use to achieve the state, not a label for a set of beliefs.

My body is alone now, in a room, typing at a computer, with a faith that you are here, infinitely here with me, if not now...then now.

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