My Leap of Faith

Originally Published in the Hamilton Jewish News

There is an argument to be made that certain points in life require a leap of faith. Some would say a leap into faith in yourself, others argue that we require faith in the good intentions of others and finally for some there is the notion that we must give ourselves up to a higher power and leap into the mystery. I understand that mystery to be an essential element of our journey together. Living, as we do in a rational age, we often shrink from mystery. At times we relegate it to the realm of the fairy tale, in the pejorative sense.

I was once invited to a dinner being held by a publisher friend at a swanky restaurant in the bowels of the financial district of Toronto. The Guest of Honour was the atheist writer Richard Dawkins. He was touring to promote his bestseller The God Delusion. I was seated beside Mr. Dawkins. He had taken a leap of faith. His belief was that science was truth and religion was a fairy tale that only the infantilized could appreciate. I asked him what made him believe that science was truth. He looked at me with what can only be described as a look of pity and proceeded to explain that the laws of nature were immutable; that religion had done nothing but turn us on each other and that the sooner we rid ourselves of this irrational nonsense the sooner we would save ourselves from this delusional and frankly feeble mindset.

I asked him why he believed science was truth if science itself is constantly being reshaped by new discoveries, new thinking and never before discovered possibilities.

To me science is how we attempt to articulate God. God is the eternal creative force that gives birth to the cosmos through a cycle of creation, transformation, death and rebirth. God is unknowable and worthy of our humility. Dr. Dawkins, it seemed to me, would be loath to bend his knee to God or the waiter serving our table for that matter. He, I think, saw the mystery as a puzzle. A Rubik’s Cube that some of us can figure out and others, the simpler of us, cannot. That dinner was many years ago and I was in a different place in my life. Since then I have left broadcasting, created and accepted new opportunities, and soon will be an ordained spiritual director. All have required a leap of faith.

I speak occasionally of my leap role model, Nachshon. He is part of the Exodus story. Moses brings the people to the shores of the Red Sea. Pharaoh has hardened his heart and has given chase. He will slaughter the Israelites rather than set them free. As Moses prays and the people panic Nachshon enters the sea, and here the question becomes, was he pushed or did he walk in to the water. I like to think that the answer is irrelevant. Sometimes our leap is self-propelled and sometimes we need a little nudge. So be it. What happens next is what to me embodies the ruach, the courage, the spirit that can bring meaning and deep intention to our journey. Nachshon walks in to the water, up to his knees, he does not falter; up to his hips, he carries on, next his chest and as Moses prays/begs God to save his people his inner voice says turn and see what Nachshon has done. By then Nachshon is almost completely submerged and Moses calls for the people to follow. The Red Sea parts inside of us when we make ourselves available to the truth that this life is not rehearsal. That we have a Pharaoh deep inside us, a Mitzrayim that is the tight space that makes our lives seem small. We must choose our liberation, make ourselves available to the ever present wonder of creation and, as a recent guest to our Shabbat table said, come to the realization that we are all just walking each other home.

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Can YOU say the “G” word?

I guess you could say I’m Religious.

I was just re-reading a little book that American author and public intellectual Chris Hedges wrote a while back called I Don’t Believe in Atheists. It is a brilliant and passionate refutation of absolutism regardless of it’s ideological underpinnings. Now on the face of it that would seem obvious but when applied to the arrogant musings of folks like British Scientist Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens it provides a healthy inoculation against those that claim that their total rejection of religious faith is somehow superior to the reductivist and cartoonish image that they claim all religious pursuit represents.

Hedges is relentless in his critiques and brings an admirable lack of ‘need for affection’ and careerism to the task that holds so many of us back from articulating a much needed and clear eyed analysis of what a world without non-rational modalities looks like. Many times I have found that saying that I am ‘religious’ has placed me across the divide. If one is religious they must be an extreme anti-intellectual at worst or naïve and misled for those who see themselves as ‘understanding’ of my condition.

Hedges deals with the need for non-rational ways of seeing and the rituals and traditions that can foster the nurturing of those elements of the human condition that lack scientific definition: Love, sorrow, beauty, evil et al. It is through religion that I encounter and am humbled by my imperfection; that I place in myself in an unimaginable and breathtaking universe. It is my weekly nod to my smallness and the rituals in which I partake bring me closer to the wonder and awe that people like Creation Spirituality founder Matthew Fox speak of.

Recently I had a friend over for one of our weekly Shabbat dinners. He is a good and kind man — an atheist and scientist. We sparred good naturedly about our differing beliefs as all around the table friends, new and old, gave blessings for the meal and reveled in each other’s company. The evening, as all of our New Sabbath Project Shabbats seem to be, was warm and meaningful. He argued that all can be explained through science and that we are responsible to each other to be moral and ethical, not to some magical being. Only after he left did it occur to me that science has given us so much but science could not have given us Shabbat. It is through the ritual and practice that religion obligates us to convene to show gratitude and to connect.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Chris Hedges and I Don’t Believe in Atheists: “Religion is our finite, flawed and imperfect expression of the infinite. The experience of transcendence-the struggle to acknowledge the
infinite-needs to be attributed to an external being called God…God
is, as Thomas Aquinas argues, the power that allows us to be ourselves. God is a search, a way to frame the questions. God is a call to reverence… What are we? Why are we here? What, if anything, are we supposed to do? What does it all mean?”

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