Monday, April 13, 2009

Seeking faith

After reading the rest of Eat, Pray, Love and talking to my mom and my sister, Annie about it, I’m really jealous.  I mean not only would I love to go spend a year roaming the world, but more importantly, I want to learn how to find balance, peace, gratitude, love of self, faith, happiness, etc.  Every time I read about Gilbert’s many cathartic moments, I wanted to stop time and try to reach my own place of understanding.  What hit me most was Gilbert’s explanation of her newfound faith in beads 57 and 58.  She begins by emphasizing the unnatural existence of faith, saying, “In the search for God, you revert from what attracts you and swim towards that which is difficult.  You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up” (175).  Mankind, as rational, does not want to think that there is something we cannot ever understand.  Reason and faith are not mutually exclusive, but there is an air of mystery that inevitably surrounds the concept of faith.  Gilbert uses the word “swim” to indicate the vastness, the darkness, and the incomprehensibility of the divine.  “In return for” one’s rejection of pure reason, what will they find?  Will it be a permanent state of being?  No.  Gilbert continues, “Devotion is diligence without assurance.  Faith is a way of saying, ‘Yes, I pre-accept the terms of the universe and I embrace in advance what I am presently incapable of understanding’” (175).  “Diligence.”  Diligence is a commitment.  Commitment is a constant decision to do something.  So in order to have faith, according to Gilbert, one must constantly make the decision to “swim towards that which is difficult,” the divine.  “Embracing” one’s faith therefore connotes that one cannot have hesitations to the experience of faith regardless of fear.

            “Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.” (175)

            (I have mentioned this before I know, but regardless of what I said before, this is the immediate connection I made:) This summer I left to work and live at a seminary in Princeton, New Jersey for eleven weeks, aka the remainder of my summer, having no idea what I was getting myself into.  All I knew was on this website for the program there were pictures of Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, etc. and it said, “Do these people inspire you?” My answer was yes, so I went.  I fought with my parents, my sisters, my friends.  No one wanted me to go because it meant I wouldn’t set foot in my home in Florida for six months, and for what?  A bunch of people I didn’t know doing what?  I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was going, what it would be like, or who I was going with.  But I knew I had to go, and I knew if I didn’t go I would regret it.  In some ways, this summer was the worst experience of my life.  I cannot even tell you how many times I cried and wanted to go home.  My faith, the thing I thought I would most strengthen, was pulled out from underneath me as I literally became ashamed to be associated with the same religion as some people I met.  I have never felt so judged in my life.  In other ways, this summer was the best experience of my life.  I experienced pure gratitude for even the lowest points of my life thus far, learned more than I ever thought possible about every social justice issue under the sun, laughed a lot, got to know myself a lot better, learned how to love even when its really, really hard, and watched a bunch of high school students transform before my eyes.

            One of my favorite and simultaneously least favorite people that I lived with was Jeff.  He is hilarious, friendly, passionate, smart, kind, energetic, enthusiastic, talented beyond all belief, devout, I could go on and on.  I love him.  We got along fantastically right from the start.  We both love to sing and dance and act like complete fools, which we often did.  We would frequently act out Rent’s “Light My Candle” and Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” for whoever cared to watch.  I could listen to Jeff talk about his faith for the rest of my life and be inspired by him for every second of it, but we are both so hard headed and so we would butt heads in a lot of situations.  Those situations became more and more prevalent as the summer wore on and our energy dwindled.  He was the person I meditated on during most of my morning yoga sessions; I realized that his insecurities caused him to talk over people sometimes in order that he be affirmed.  I decided, when I honestly meant it, I would affirm him.  I learned to love him better, but he caused some of the most challenging mornings of yoga.

At the end of the summer, we concluded our program in a three-day retreat with our spiritual director.  Each of the fourteen of us planned a half an hour portion of the retreat in which we shared with each other something integral to our identity (ironically, my half an hour was yoga, Jewel, and hugs).  Jeff’s half an hour was obviously exciting, based on his beautiful personality.  He played his guitar on the beach and sang to us songs he had written; some had never before been heard.  They were amazingly passionate.  I loved every minute of standing on the beach, dancing in the darkness with these fourteen people who I had come to know and love over the past eleven weeks, listening to Jeff express himself so genuinely.  As his mini-concert came to a close, he lined us up along the beach, facing the water, and said that we should end as we began, running full-speed into the darkness, into the unknown, but this time, instead of doing so alone, we would have each other.  We stripped down into our bathing suits, joined hands, and sprinted full force into the freezing cold water.  At that moment, I was overwhelmed with joy and love for Jeff.

Although I became frighteningly unsure of my religious beliefs this summer, I learned a lot about my spirituality.  When Gilbert wrote, “I just want God.  I want God inside me.  I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water” (176).  I thought of my struggle.  It was moments like running into water with a bunch of crazies that showed me “God,” whatever that is.  When I am in desolation, I want God.  I want to feel the presence of the love and joy that I have been blessed to experience again and again in my life.  Then Gilbert said, speaking about her prayers, “God already knows what I need” (176).  God probably already knows what I need too then.  I don’t exactly need religion to have a faith.  I was putting way too much emphasis on the religion part and not realizing that I had the most spiritual eleven weeks of my life.  I am longing for all the things Gilbert discovered on her journey because I gave up on my own journey.  So I ask myself, “If I want transformation, but can’t even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I’m aiming for, how will it ever occur?” (177)

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