How Can I Believe?

God? Gods? A God? Goddess?

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably seriously questioned how on earth you can believe in any form of supernatural being. Or perhaps you wonder how you can believe in any of the world religions which seem to be a quagmire of complicated doctrines that people argue over incessantly to no avail.

I’m sorry, I can’t help you! Because it is hard.

A vast majority of the human population professes some form of faith. Some form of belief in a higher power. This in itself raises an interesting question. Is our desire for “religion” innate; Part of our makeup somehow? An evolutionary failsafe developed to placate our growing self-awareness? Or is there something to it?

I’ve been taking a course in the history of Western Philosophy this semester and what strikes me is how many philosophers have argued for the existence of God. In some ways, it seems to have been one of the primary discourses of philosophy up until the modern period.
One particular writer who I have found interesting is Anselm of Canterbury, an Italian bishop who lived in the 11th Century and was considered one of the greatest minds of his time. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury (in Catholic England) and is considered a saint in the Catholic and Anglican Church.

His idea that God is “that of which a greater cannot be thought” can at times seem like a ridiculously stupid argument and at others, pure genius.
His basic argument being that if you don’t believe in God, you must concede that you can think of the idea of God and understand the idea of God as something that transcends all other things. i.e. the greatest thing that can be thought.
But then he says, if you are thinking of something which nothing greater can be thought, then it must exist, because if it doesn’t, then it isn’t something which nothing greater can be thought! Because any existing thing would by default be greater by the mere fact that it exists!

There is obviously more to his arguments (see Proslogion) but my point is to show that the intellectual discussion and reasoning that went into many philosophers’ discussions about God was remarkable. This is in stark contrast to how people perceive “believers” today.

But perhaps the hardest thing to wrap our heads around is why there is suffering in this world. In light of the terrible conflicts and terror attacks around the world recently, you can be forgiven for questioning whether a divine being exists and if it does exist, what is its nature that it leaves us to suffer? There are of course arguments and discussions around this topic, but much of that rhetoric falls flat in the face of the reality of human suffering. You cannot spout philosophy or apologetics to a mother who has lost her child.

I remain, however, positively biased towards God’s existence. I mean this in the sense that even though I may doubt, I have not written off the possibility of a God and I have not written off the possibility that I can know something about this God; that relationship is possible. How we achieve this relationship? That is a question of faith!

The last few months have been quite a rollercoaster ride for me personally. Living in Leuven is amazing and I love my course immensely (despite the stresses!). I’ve learnt a lot about myself too, about my strengths, my faults and how to approach both of these things. I’ve enjoyed intimacy and I’ve hurt people, I’ve been reckless and I’ve been too cautious, I’ve been joyful and I’ve been terribly sad. And this is where, perhaps, philosophy falls short because what is logical about emotion and life and pain and joy? And this is where, perhaps, theology steps in and says, “I am not sure either, but I have some ideas.” And finally, faith steps in and says quietly, “I’m here.”

Lord my God, teach my heart
where and how to seek You, where and how to find You. If You
are not here, 0 Lord, where shall I seek You who are absent? But
if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You as present? But
surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is light inaccessible?
Or how shall I approach unto light inaccessible? Or who will
lead me to and into this light so that in it I may behold You?
– Anselm of Canterbury

To Be Remembered

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Taizé, France - Sebastian TemlettIt’s saddening and humbling that all things are transitory. All our human endeavours: Architectural masterpieces, great works of art, cultures, beliefs – all of these things pass away.

Being in Europe this year has in some ways emphasised this reality to me. The beauty of medieval castles, an ancient monument or Roman ruins – They inspire a sense of awe at what has been.
But they will be gone one day. As will everything else. We see it in our modern cities now: things needing a lick of paint, cracks in the side walk, once grand office buildings of the 80’s now derelict and run down, rusty hand rails and sign posts; All things decay.

Is this something to lament? It strikes me that nature also decays but it does it in a way that replenishes itself. How is it that human beings, although a part of nature, cannot do this effectively?
In the building of monuments and amazing structures, ancient civilizations were trying to establish their primacy at the time but also, I suppose, they wanted to leave a legacy – to be remembered. And as I find inspiration in those amazing structures and breath taking pieces of art, perhaps that is the replenishment I’m talking about.

Notre Dame, Paris - Sebastian Temlett

This desire to be immortalised, is it good or bad? If we detached ourselves from it, we’d be able to be present to the now and enjoy the time we have. But in some sense, in doing that we would lose much of what drives us to create. To create is, to a certain extent, to put a piece of your soul into the world and leave it there for others to see. The desire is for people to be affected by your work, and for that to happen you want to be good at what you do in order to be recognised. And “recognition” comes from the Latin root recognoscere ‘know again, recall to mind’ – To be remembered. You gain a small sliver of immortality.

We want to be remembered, to feel as though our life was worth something; the implication being that if it was worth something, we’d have had an effect on many people in a positive way. But perhaps “to be remembered” is not what we should strive for but rather to be a force for good. It would be better, in my mind, for no one to ever know who you were but to have made a positive change in the world. In a way that is true heroism, true selflessness.

All of these thoughts spawned from a rusted handrail and cracked staircase baking in the midday sun. That decay was compost for my creativity. So perhaps it is good that all things fade; It means there is always call for something new, for creativity to continue, growing from the sediment of old ideas.

And one thing is certain, although all things fade, our very presence on earth has in some way altered the outcome of the future. Every person you encounter, even for a moment, has been changed in some way, however small that change may be, it is irreversible!
Which is a little scary… and a little awesome.

The Art of Living

I am in London.

So you know all those posts on Facebook like this:

dontwaitfortheperfectmoment_zpsb5d25580

Yeah, they suck.

The reason is they tell a half truth and they do it in a kitch, cheesy, sentamentalised way.

I think a lot of people see these sorts of messages as motivational or inspiring because, well, life can be boring sometimes and so this must mean I am wasting my life away. The conclusion, take life by the horns and quit my job! Sail off to a foreign country and backpack through Peru!

Great!

No!

The reason I feel strongly about this is because I fall into this way of thinking often.
But I learn over and over that there is nothing on Earth that can make me happy.

Nothing makes me happy.

Yes, nothing. If I stop expecting, stop desiring, stop coveting and just be, then I start to touch freedom.

This is a message preached by many religions including Christianity but it is an extremely difficult attitude to adopt, especially in today’s world.

Just be. If what made us content was just being, imagine that peace? Sitting in the office, in traffic, on a long journey, content with who I am and what I am and everything that is around me.

Now I don’t believe that we can’t enjoy material things, they just mustn’t be the end goal.

A year ago I was in London and this city nearly killed me. A lot of the factors were out of my control, but one of my biggest stresses was that I felt like I wasn’t maximizing my time here. This put a weight on my shoulders. Where was the adventure? I was just me living somewhere else.
There was no epiphany or magical moment. There was growth, yes, but that happens when we are open to change, and change doesn’t always need to be continents apart.

And here I am, a year later, back in London. This time, with a much healthier attitude. I am planning to travel a bit and then return to Cape Town but I am consciously making the effort to drop any expectations I may have and let things be what they are. I cannot “craft” the life I want. Life is not a fine art, it is more of a Pollock painting.

"Plain Number One of 1948"

“Plain Number One of 1948”

The more you think about it, the worse you make things.

Perhaps this is what is meant by “the Art of Living” – to stop trying so hard, and to just be.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. – Jesus of Nazareth, Circa 30AD, 1st Century.

Who Am I?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM“; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

On My Way!Who Am I? Sometimes I think this question is at the root of our human experience. It is what drives us. It is a desire to know ourselves, to know where we fit in and what makes me “me”. What is my identity?

We are social beings, we thrive in community. I believe one of our greatest fears is that people will reject us. As a result we live by the book, following the script written by countless generations before us.

Imagine a scenario where a group of people come together for a book club. They were all supposed to have read a chapter of their current book before the meeting but none of them has.
They make small talk and divert the conversation for as long as they can, each one of them feeling embarrassed and scared of what the others might think. Some even lie about the chapter and make up opinions so as to appear to have done the reading.

Finally, one person confesses to having not done the reading and the tension is broken, everyone admits and the group laughs, feeling closer and more bonded than before.

This book club is a lot like life. We jostle for our place in society pretending to have it all together but we are all just lost on the inside. We’re afraid to admit it but if we do, we find that everyone is really in the same boat, and there is liberation in knowing this. It takes the pressure off.

I find it interesting how many people take those “tests” on Facebook:  “What Disney Character Are You?”, “What Is Your Celebrity Alter Ego?”, “What City Should You Really Live In?”.

I’ve taken plenty myself. Sure, they can be a laugh but I feel those tests are so popular because we desire identity, we are searching for meaning and for who we are. We like it when our ideas of who we are are affirmed, which is often why those tests are flawed because we will answer according to what we want the outcome to be.
Which describes you best: Shy, Adventurous, Bookish, Fun?
I secretly want to be an adventurer so I choose adventurous. The result tells me, “You are an explorer! Seeking adventure and thriving off change!” – Yes! No… I am actually insecure and afraid of so many things. I want to be an explorer because I believe that will fulfil me. But will it?

A year ago today, I boarded my plane and began my journey to London. This was my adventure. This was my initiation; I was going to find my place and my identity.
Well, this did happen, but not in the way I expected at all! So here I am, on the Feast of St.Dominic, back in Cape Town recovering from a traumatic, life changing, OCD episode but strangely, in so many ways, I’ve never been happier.

I’ve admitted that I didn’t do the reading.

Somehow, in that surrender, lies the key to feeling more at peace in my own skin. Realising that I am who I am, warts and all, and that is enough. I am not claiming to have reached “enlightenment”. I am still insecure and afraid of many things, I still fear rejection, I am still human. And that is fine and good. But just as shading gives a drawing definition, our flaws help shape our character.
My insecurities affect me, but they don’t define me.

St. Augustine’s most overused quotation is, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rests in you.”

The quote’s popularity is, in itself, telling. We relate to the phrase “our hearts are restless” so much because we are restless. We seek
and seek but we do not find because we seek in the world.

But we are not made for this world. At least, that’s my belief. We desire more, something greater which cannot be found in this life.

An image comes to mind of a barren wasteland in which I stand, seeking out some form of life, some sign of colour in a colourless world. I run and run, seeking in vain, trying so hard to feel and to see something which I haven’t felt or seen before but I know exists somehow. Eventually I trip and fall into the dust. At first, I want to give up, and so I weep, as all feels lost.
But then I open my eyes and notice that where my tears have fallen, a small flower has sprouted and it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

It is in surrender that we find what we are seeking, we cannot find it on our own.

And what we are seeking is God. Nothing else. And He is waiting for us all.

No matter your creed, code, culture or religion, try and say a prayer
now. Reach into that place in yourself that is hurting, and then lift it up to the I AM, the Divine Being. Realise that He is here, right now, within you, around you and that you are in Him, and He IS Eternity.

Peace and Happy Feast of St. Dominic.

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – Jesus Christ

Little “Christian” Boxes

Box

Image Credit: Gisela Giardino

Labels are ridiculous things.

They push up the price and they make clothes more difficult to iron.

They also stop people from thinking for themselves.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the “ideal Church”. What would it look like? Who would be its members?
There appears to be a paradox in Christianity at first glance. We are told that our faith makes us fully who we are, yet often individual expression is frowned upon.It happens on all fronts, whether you are “liberal” or “conservative” or “whatever”.

Take a label like “Worship Music” – As Christians, we tend to accept that it is what it is and there is a certain sound to it and a certain way to play it. Who said that that was the case? Who decreed that henceforth all Christian songs shall be of the progression G,Em,C2,D ?
Who decreed that we shall repeat the chorus twenty times with more and more fervour each time?
Who said there should be a lull midway through where the “worship leader” can interject an emotive prayer?
Why should I like that kind of music? Why should I? Because I am Christian???

This ethos extends to bigger issues; That there are certain ways to act about particular topics.
Any choice to act contrary to the “done way” is seen as a rejection of the actual teaching.

“Hey come and stand on the corner with our anti-rhubarb pie pickets!”
“Erm….. I…”
“You are anti-rhubarb pie aren’t you?”
“Well… yeah…”
“Great! Come along!”

If I don’t want to picket rhubarb pie, does that exclude me from the club? Am I somehow less committed? Who decided that picketing on the corner was the best approach anyway? Sure, someone did, somewhere down the line but since then no one else has bothered questioning the status quo. “It’s just how it’s done.”

Protest Picket Pie

Image Credit: Kheel Center (modified)

Okay, I know I am generalising and exaggerating. But I am doing so for effect.

The question is, what does a Christian look like? Hopefully, themselves.

We don’t sign away our personalities at our baptism. Sure, we put on Christ, we change our lives and our priorities, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be who we are. I believe that at our cores, we are good, we are made in the image and likeness of God. After we were created, God saw that all creation was very good. I feel quite convicted that our belief in God should draw out our uniqueness, draw out who we were created to be. It should not conform us to a box. There is no Christian box.

My friend pointed something out to me recently which took me by surprise. I was essentially telling him everything I have just written above and he responded, “I don’t want my Church to conform to me. It should challenge me.”

It was that comment that prompted me to write this post. He is of course, spot on.
At the crux of this debate is, what is the purpose of Church? To bring together believers? To praise and glorify God? To have communion with God?
Perhaps there is a clue in the final words of the Mass. “The Mass has ended, go forth to love and to serve the Lord.” To which we respond, “Thanks be to God!”

My challenge is to stop being so focused on the inward functioning’s and dynamic of the Church and to flipping get out into the field and make a difference in other people’s lives.
My prayer is that we, I, may let go of my preconceptions of how a Christian should be and rather let my heart be led by love.

Perhaps the inverse argument is true… Perhaps when I can embrace all variations of the Christian expression, rather than expect Church to embrace me, perhaps then we have the beginnings of a truly Catholic Church.