Monday, June 27, 2011

"We need not turn away from the measure of light that comes into our experience showing us a Way through the unseen world." A. S. Eddington

A little over a year ago I was sitting in a small United Church of Christ church attending the funeral of my sister-in-law's mother. My entire family Irish Catholic-agnostic-atheist, were there. We loved Lois (not her name) very much. She was a woman who had endured a hard life, two marriages to alcoholics – one who used to beat her, an abusive mother of her own, hard work at low paid jobs, until her third marriage to a far nicer man. She had stayed with him through his long final illness of cancer, the third husband she'd nursed before his death. Through it she had brought up her daughter among the most purposeful and hard working members of our family, a woman who has ended up doing an enormous amount of good.

Sitting in the small congregation of her church and craft circle friends, listening to hymns sincerely sung by people who grew up on them no matter how corny they sounded to me, listening to the unfamiliar service and hearing people speak about what her life meant to them, gave me an unexpectedly complex and profound experience of the real equality that covers us all, of the rightness of it, of the ultimate stripping of pretensions and snobbery that are an emblem of the higher learning as merely a more profound ignorance., an experience of self-abasement that is still working itself out into an attempted reality though action.

Here was a church, foreign to my experience, Calvinist in origin though a member of one of the most liberal institutions in the United States, where I could be married to another man if we chose to be married there – I suspect the minister would have liked to solemnize the marriage of a gay couple – a tiny congregation that hosted an interdenominational food pantry and meals run by some of the least arrogant people you could imagine. It housed other necessary ministries of the kind that secular government is abandoning, the kind of social services that you can read atheists argue are a folly because they lull the destitute and the merely poor from doing what their scientific ideologies say they are supposed to do in order to bring about their materialistic eschaton. Here I was witnessing the ongoing and humanly imperfect creation of the better life laid out before me and for the first time I was unable to deny that it was far better than anything I was involved in. It's clear and known impossibility of making more than the slightest dent into the vast size of suffering making its attempt all the more a profound act of faith an entirely more impressive act of thought than the entire mass of enlightenment mumblings on the subject. Here, the propositions of pure reason were outdone by action undertaken through faith that would be widely seen as absurd, in a maligned tradition which couldn't be more out of fashion in what called, in a truly absurd act of would-be impressiveness, the present Zeitgeist.

That was an experience which I am still dealing with, even as I am falteringly beginning to learn to act in a way that the members of that unfashionable congregation, widely seen as superstitious or necessarily conflicted, knew decades ago. I cannot be a Christian due to my own disbelief in ideas and doctrines but on the ground of action, where faith is made flesh in real life, I am totally convinced.

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