Agnostic Spirit

Posted on 2013 March 14

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What do you do if you’re agnostic or atheistic but something impels you to search for things spiritual? Are you being rational or religious? You have one foot in each world. Few people are willing to walk that border with you, so it gets lonely. Still, you must struggle with the issue. It haunts you.

There’s an old joke where the philosopher Kierkegaard — whose Christian faith was marinated in doubt — says, “There is no God! And Jesus is His Son.”

A blogger writes:

I didn’t feel in anyway spiritual, but the words ‘Be still and know that I am God’ kept popping into my head . . . . what does Be still mean, I asked myself? Maybe it means stop the distractions? Maybe it means get rid of the huge pile of books that are guilting me into reading them? Maybe it means stop listening to podcasts and checking Facebook and all the other things that fill up my day with busy work? Maybe I should actually, you know…..Be Still?

I replied:

A friend once complained, “I want to have a spiritual experience, but I don’t believe in spirit!” It’s hard, in a scientific age, to find ways to express religious longings when we’re pretty sure there ain’t no Man with a White Beard running things.

Still, we yearn for something that seems to call us from within. “Be still and know God” isn’t a self-help tip; it’s not Yoga for Health. If we arrive at a moment when our internal dialog comes to a halt, that very moment is the point. The “me” is gone, and the world is directly ours in all its indefinable glory.

And then we can decide whether to call it “God” or “Spirit” or “It-ness” or whatever.

But we can’t exercise our way to spiritual realization! That’s just more internal dialog. Realizing that, we might become frustrated, as there’s nothing to do but wait, possibly without any results. As one sage put it, “You can leave a window open, but that doesn’t mean the breeze will blow in.” Ironically, though, the patience we need — the acceptance of doubt, of not knowing — is a huge chunk of the thing we’re searching for. Weird, eh?

To think about spirituality is to walk the border between what we know and what we can’t quite put a finger on. Our hands reach out nonethless: there’s something there, just across the line, just beyond logic, just out of reach of our reason. It’s not intellectually daring simply to stay on this side and pretend there’s no other world to visit; neither is it courageous to rush across the line and live in the other realm, casting aside our reason. Both are forms of cowardice, of the desire for the safety of certainty. Much more risky is the willingness to not know the answer … to stand at the edge — without preconceptions or conclusions — and simply wait.

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