February 24th, 2013…
Someone I know well was recently diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition. He is in shock, having clung to the idea that he was dying for the decade I have known him with something like eagerness. To find there is finally a serious problem, pulled the rug from under his feet. He had been told, however, that it was reversible. The first time I saw him just after the diagnosis, he was talking of the lifestyle changes he would be making to reverse the damage.
A few days later I saw him again. By this time he was no longer talking about a way to health, but was going home to plan his funeral and choose the music he wants played. He is, without doubt, the most negative person I have ever encountered and his depressive fragility appears outwardly, at least, to revel in despair. His oft repeated philosophy is ‘life’s s***, and then you die.’
I have seen and felt that creeping negativity spread like a dark virus, infecting those around it. I feel a deep sense of sadness for him that he is so blinkered to the possibility of joy. But I do not sit in judgement. I cannot. I do not walk in his shoes. I do not think his thoughts or see through his eyes.
I know others who wake each morning to lifelong conditions, disability, pain, degenerative diseases and invisible issues that take immense strength and courage to deal with… yet they wake with positive outlooks, joy and compassion, with love for the world and their fellow men. Their joy in life also spreads and affects those around them. I cannot see through their eyes either, only see a reflected joy in them.
Whatever sustains them, and their beliefs are as varied and disparate as the people themselves, no-one could rejoice in seeing that faith shaken, even if our views were diametrically opposed.
In the Christian Bible (John 14:2 ) Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Regardless of the path our own feet are called to follow, maybe that idea is worth considering.
I was talking with a friend a few days ago and the subject of the Papal election came up. The subject revolved around whether, in Catholic belief, God’s representative on earth could choose to retire and the possible implications that had for the faith of believers. However, I’m not about to go into religious politics. It was the delight in seeing people’s faith shaken at the roots that surprised me. I have for some reason been amazed at the nature of some of the comments this subject has brought up.
The social networks are full of barbed cartoons and humorous images. I have no problem with humour, and any institution, religious or secular, that has lasted for centuries will have elements of the dinosaur that invite both laughter and criticism. Any institution, like an individual, should be able to laugh at itself and accept that it will not always get things right, and hopefully be able to learn and grow from mistakes. Any institution where people wield power will have its fair share of those who misuse and abuse it and those who use it quietly for good.
What really surprised me was the sheer volume of people who profess to be spiritual who appeared to be gloating, not so much over the possible discomfiture of the Church itself, but almost rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of individuals being forced to re-evaluate their personal faith in the light of events. Yet these are people who would say they genuinely believe that each should find their own spiritual path.
I find that difficult to reconcile.
I believe passionately that there is a path that calls to each of us… even if it is the path of disbelief… and that each of us has to find for ourselves the one that sings to us and answers the need of heart and mind. For me, personally, the test of any path lies in its ability to encourage growth of those qualities of the heart, soul and being that are universally cherished by humanity. I do not honestly think there is a single right path, but feel all roads followed with love will lead to the same Centre. Spokes on a wheel.
Of course, I may be wrong. I accept that. But somehow I do not think we would be judged harshly for living with honesty, compassion and love and trying to be the best we can. No matter what Book we read or Name we use. I believe God is bigger than that.
It was the lack of compassion that surprised me. I do not feel we have the right to judge the validity of another’s faith, no matter how deep our own personal conviction may be. There comes a point, I think, where faith becomes a deeply personal Knowing… there is a rightness about it that brings a serenity, even amid the troubled waters of life. And this can come regardless of the religion to which we belong or the personal faith or belief that we hold. It does not come quickly or easily to all, for faith evolves and grows with us.
We may have a deep and unshakeable conviction of the rightness of our own belief. That is in the very nature of faith. But then so do thousands of others who have widely differing beliefs. Organised religion may be dogmatic and governed, but faith is a personal matter, an intimate relationship between Man and his God. Whatever doctrine it is based upon that relationship is unique to each one of us. Can we really be glad when that faith is shaken? How can we judge what another may need unless we can walk in his shoes and see through his eyes?
“We may have our private opinions but why should they be a bar to the meeting of hearts?”~Mahatma Gandhi