Friday, April 23, 2004

It's very odd that extremes of happiness and unhappiness both make you cry.

I've been thinking about my father a lot lately. He died in 1991 from cancer. And, in many ways, my world fell apart as a result. I was a senior in high school, and very scared. Scared of losing him, scared of the emotional center of our family disappearing, scared of being alone.

It didn't help that he and I had this ongoing tension over religion. My father was an Episcopalian priest, and I was raised very much in the church. In fact, he even told me at times that he hoped that I'd follow in his footsteps and become a priest. I think I would love to do that, except that I don't believe that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God. And haven't for quite some time. But I love helping people. I love to help someone feel better when they're down. I don't like to see suffering. In fact, ever since I was a child, I've kind of felt afraid of looking people in the eyes. I always felt like I could feel what the other person was feeling, just by looking in their eyes, and that's kind of scary sometimes.

But, the funny thing, is that my dad never got me. I always felt like I kind of disappointed him for my lack of belief. But, I was a deeply mystical child. I just really didn't believe in the Christian version of God, so he thought I was an athiest. I was always feeling a deeper presence in life, and sometimes, I still do. I don't really want to call it God. That sets off my bullshit meter. But there's something larger than we are, and we're a part of it.

I wish I could have the comfortable spiritual life that other people seem to have. I can't even call my god 'God.' I don't think the spiritual force is very personal. I think it permeates the entire Universe, without consideration of personhood or identity or beingness. The very fact of existence is a miracle, when you think about it. The Universe exists in just such a way that intelligent life is possible. And life emerges from non-life. Naturally, because order is emergent in our Universe; it exists as a matter of course. Take any complex system that's sufficiently large, like the chemical network on a primordial planet, and keep putting energy into that system, and you will get more and more complexity. Order. Life. That's much more of a miracle than any personal God intervening and playing games with people like tinker toys or building blocks or something.

I don't have answers. I wish I did. I just have questions. Most of them are uncomfortable questions.

As a Buddhist, I really don't believe in the eternity of souls. I don't every really believe that souls exist. I'm kind of a minority in that thought, as far as Buddhists go. The soul itself, or what we call the soul, your mind, whatever, doesn't exist apart from anything else. It can't exist in a vaccuum. It's part of the whole system that is Life. Minds are ephemeral and transient, and that is why they are so beautiful. The beauty comes from fragility.

Does my father live on in me? I'd like to think so. I'd like to think that all the people he touched, the countless people that he helped when he was called to the scene of an accident as a police chaplin, the people that he consoled when friends or family died or were sick, the people that he reached out to to help them, I'd like to think that that made a difference. I know they did. I may not believe in the dogma that he believed, but his deeper teaching and wisdom, to reach out and help others less fortunate than yourself, I hope I've learned some of that from him. If there's anything good in me, it surely came from him.

"One day I walk in flowers
One day I walk on stones
Today I walk in hours
One day I will shall be home" -Bruce Cockburn


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