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The Soul of Peace

Walking into the old church building, the white one with its bell in the steeple from the late 19th century, out in the countryside, we feel the presence of souls no longer occupying the flesh of this life. By extension, we are warmed by the assumption of God’s quiet, swirling nearness; we feel that we are returned to safety and comfort for reconnection with the tangibly ephemeral spirituality of our ancestors and their Maker.

But I get most of the same feelings when I walk into an old family home, touching and seeing the remnants of lives that came before mine, the ones that assured my arrival here so that I may ponder my place in eternity. Whether the house is from 1850 or 1960, I am moved by the thought that this place holds aspects of the souls who dreamed a life that eventually included me. The idea of God is also floating about, but more as common denominator, less as creator.

A belief in power beyond our bodies is amply documented as a human priority, dating from the earliest confirmation that we could observe and reflect upon our world, as by painting animals on cave walls or carving body parts from stone. Because we see our lives as a continuation of those that preceded ours, we are bound to invest inordinate trust in the remembered, but inaccessible, spiritual touch of past lives. This mystical connection offers comfort to many, whether by formal doctrine or simple, sensory memory.

Humans will, however, inevitably resort to firm definition and exclusive portrayal of spiritual truth, often imbuing it with hard, physical descriptions in an effort to make it tangible to the people who walk the earth now. From a clever, compelling narrative there often follows an opportunity to build a sect, a cult, a denomination, a religion, or a physical philosophy. For the good stewards of these spontaneous, human creations, power over the listeners who then become believers is the seductive goal. These leaders in belief don’t have to be cynical or power-mad to evolve in this manner; adoration accrues to the one who makes my soft hopes into concrete foundations, regardless of his motives. *


Our ability to feel--and remember--pain, relation, anger, hope and loss, makes:

My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord:

My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. (Psalm 84).


            And the words “living God” hold the key to human response around the elusiveness of spiritual hope. During our good days, whether holding a grandparent’s hand, walking into the sanctuary as a child, or holding our own child for a christening in the same space twenty years later, we are covered in safety and implicit gratitude. We are open to the gifts so peacefully showered; the good desires within us are reinforced to seek their own replication through loyalty and selflessness. All of this is good, and it is routine in all forms of agreed-upon behavior attributed to multiple religious traditions across the earth.

            It is only after that baptized child dies when his friend’s meth lab blows up, or she is the victim of a drunk driver, molester, or he of a drone attack, food poisoning, AIDS, suicide—all of which occur every day—only when these truths attack are we taken back to the place of doubt and review of our full beliefs. Our reaction to what we learn from actual crisis defines our practical level of connection to our God. We are forced to confront again our trust of any force beyond what, and whom, we can touch.  We are changed spiritually by the lasting impact upon our physical world from death, sickness, injury, mental illness, emotional breakdown and all forms of change beyond our control.  There is a simple triage that results: we retrench, making vows to trust greater power even more; or we re-examine and adjust our spiritual assumptions; or we turn away from trusting beyond what we can manage by touch in the here and now.

            In conversations on such spiritual topics--from the existence of an active God, to the “everything happens for a reason” school of thought, through absolutism of all stripes and on to lazy, or careful, relativism—one is struck by the extreme variations. No two people of a given religion see its particulars in the same light; no two atheists have the same rationale for their rationality. In short, we are all selectively inheriting spirituality, making it up as we go along. We select the verses, leaders, philosophies, communities and friends, which complement our preferred balance of our non-physical components.

            It is, of course, only when another person claims a special power associated with their particular enlightenment; only when such power is turned toward compulsion and exclusivity and the accumulation of guns or money in the name of their revelation—only then do I personally turn the inquisitive lights off and walk out of the sanctuary marred by arrogant certainty.

I can feel the presence of the believers and doubters and accommodators in my bloodline. As spiritually firm as many of them may have been, I am certain that, whatever their manifestation in mystic ephemera at this moment, each would grant me the room and the time to get closer to truth, without my assuming that I will ever own that truth. I am not equipped to doubt that souls at peace leave peace to the rest of us.

            Arriving at that trust involving eternity, however, is ultimately between God and me. I can love you, my fellow man, but I will never trust any one of us to be the exclusive messenger of any version of that highest power.  Like St. Paul in a profoundly humble moment, I will only know Truth on that day when—and I must say if—I meet God, face to face.




*(It is important to note that good things are done by good people when they assemble to help others. Religious organizations are particularly useful in this way, as long as they don’t demand a pound of conversion flesh in return for kindness. May this outlet for good will be ever among us.)



Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 11:47PM by Registered CommenterCoEternity | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

The ol' spirituality topic. A popular one between us if I recall correctly. :)

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJill

This was a most thoughtful essay on why some among us are religious. I don't call myself this in the slightest, but I do like singing hymns and thinking of my Grandma in that little white country church.

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKam

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