A blog is forever a work in progress, never a polished and completed tome. Unlike a book that gets reorganized and revised many times before publication, a blog flows with only a little more planning and control than stream of consciousness writing. Sometimes I write a series of posts in which each new piece serves as a corrective to the last. This is such a time.
First I wrote a post describing an approach to life that leads to peace with no dependence on metaphysical beliefs. Then in a second essay I remarked on numinous and nonverbal realizations that sometimes erupt in the human mind, and described their transformative value. At the same time, I cautioned against forcing interpretations on the resulting transcendent states of mind. In that second piece, I rather inexpertly equated faith with belief. I told of the dangers of combatting doubt with ‘blind faith’.
In so doing, I sidestepped a subtlety I want to address now.
There are actually two different uses of the word faith in this context. In the first and shallower meaning the word is employed as a stand-in for belief. This is the species of faith that gets people and societies in trouble. It results in admonitions such as: “Don’t question your faith.” Its outcome is dogmatic sectarianism. Allegorical texts written in distant epochs and regions become deified as literal truth and the word of God. Because these ancient stories and precepts were written and revised by multiple authors, they are rife with internal contradictions. But the “faithful” are commanded to accept inconsistencies as indicative of God’s inscrutable ways. They are encouraged to defend a logically indefensible belief system. This sort of faith resides in the egoic, verbal mind. In the worst case, it leads to violence.
The second, deeper, faith is gentler and heart-derived. When we see people who weather terrible suffering with grace, we are watching such faith in action. There may or may not be a particular religious belief system at work, but peace in the face of terror arises from heartfelt confidence in cosmic ‘rightness’ that arises from the deeper wells of human spirit. It is faith that the universe is so lovely and mysterious that the only sensible stance is to surrender before its howling gales with awe. It bespeaks a tender relationship with life that makes no demands, but accepts the gift of every living moment.
This second, organic faith underlies the awareness of cosmic interweaving that I proposed as a basis for inner peace two essays ago. It is the ultimate fruit that grows from the intrepid kernels of mystical awakening I mentioned last time. When fully developed, one stands humbled before the magnificent complexity and timeless beauty of cosmic unfolding. One lives as the willing and admiring flesh of the earth and no longer struggles against fate.