Thursday, January 31, 2013

A large, lovely, freshly washed window

I asked the Sufi acupuncturist about atheists yesterday because I've been thinking about my atheist friends, how dear they are to me in spite of their world view. They don't strike me as "godless" or without faith, and too, these friends are kind and wonderful, creative seekers of essential truths about, for instance, the nature of humankind. They espouse all the best parts of spiritual traditions, such as wanting to help the less fortunate, and care for the natural world.

But they completely dismiss every idea of God. Two of my friends are hellfire and brimstone atheists, that is, they become instantly furious at even the mention of God or faith. They snap at me, "That's just superstition!" I try not to mention my faith when I'm around them. You'd better believe it. I don't want any trouble. I used to think they were correcting me, but given what the Sufi acupuncturist said yesterday, I'm more inclined to see their fury, the way they snap, as something they do for themselves. It has nothing to do with me and my abiding faith.

The Sufi acupuncturist teaches just like a rabbi. He began by telling me that the Arabic word for non-believer, literally translated, means "covered." In Sufism it is believed that everyone has a window that opens to God and divine light. Those of us who turn to face that window can feel the warmth, are wrapped in light and lifted up. But some people cover the window with black out shades. In extreme cases, they board up the window so not even a tiny ray of divine light can enter into their consciousnesses. But they're still believers, even if they don't consciously connect with the light, or so says the Sufi acupuncturist.

It's interesting to think about. I brought it up because it has occurred to me that in old age, those of us who have access to faith and therefore to the big picture (through the big picture window), have ways to manage all the feelings that come up: the regrets, the longing for the perfect life none of us ever lived. We faithful have context. It really helps!

My faith is anything but perfect. I wrestle with it all the time, but it's there, strong and abiding even when I flop around. My window is open and the light streams in, whether or not I choose to stand in that light. Some days, for reasons I can not explain, I forget about the light or doubt it. But I know it's there and mostly I'm open to it, even on my most suspicious days. I am so lucky.

I love my atheist friends and completely respect their points of view.



Tom said...

Hm. It seems some of them don't respect your views, even out of politeness.

Pam said...

With my husband and daughter being atheists too, I find their adamant attitude intruiging. I try to remain open to everything, but part of their definitive stand is the danger and harm done in the name of religion and the suffering it has caused. Of course, I can't disagree with that, but like you, I prefer to think of a pure and divine source that is always open to us. Their shutters are firmly down, and I have to respect that.

Reya Mellicker said...

Just because I don't understand it doesn't mean I should disrespect it.

Pam I've heard that kind of atheism described as people who have been "church hurt." There is a lot of wounding that takes place around faith. it's kind of flammable.

No Tom, they are not polite, but I've figured out it's something they have to do for themselves, snapping at me, interrupting me to say there is no such thing as God. Even the idea of faith or God seems dangerous to them. i respect it and keep my thoughts to myself.

Paula said...

I read your post earlier and have been thinking about it all day. I've come to think that people have a belief "temperament" that is separate from their belief system. Those temperaments can run from hard belief (that there is one belief system that is correct, and other belief systems are less correct or incorrect) through to various forms of agnosticism. Hard believers, whether atheist or religious, may tell you that what you believe is wrong. It's not the atheism talking, it's the temperament. I know that not all of your atheist friends treat your beliefs the same way, because I'm an atheist, and I hope I never have. My temperament is agnostic, and I'm not particularly interested in belief, yours, mine, or anyone's. Do I really need it to have access to that clean window? I think I have access without it.

Steve Reed said...

Atheism is really a social luxury. It's an indicator that we have so insulated ourselves from the unpredictability of the universe, and so elevated ourselves with reason and knowledge, that the mysticism of the past no longer works for us. Perhaps those among us who are less atheistic are just better able to see and appreciate the still-unanswerable questions.

Reya Mellicker said...

Steve - yes! Atheism is very modern.

Interesting what you say, Paula, about belief temperament. I see what you're talking about, oh yeah.

What's most provocative to me at the moment isn't about what they think of me. I'm surrounded by atheists I cherish and love dearly - including you of course. What I'm wondering is how atheists contend with old age and the visceral sense of mortality that comes with old age. What is the context for aging and dying for atheists? Of course not all atheists would answer that the same way. What is your context?

I identify as an eternal soul in a finite body. My body is the ground floor of a vast tower or the ground of a beautiful, infinite garden of the spirit. I'm not looking forward to dying, but I'm curious about what happens next. What do you think will happen or do you think about it?

Kerry said...

Much to think about here, Reya. My family ranges from born-again Christian to atheism. I find it easier to discus religion with the atheists than with anybody else. They're really interested and have thought about it deeply, but they have never felt the "touch of light" that the born-agains have felt.