Faith (and Other “F” Words)

faith-vs-reasonWhile riding the train home from downtown this afternoon, staring out the window as I often do, I noticed something that struck me as odd. A young man on a bicycle pulled to a stop in front of a large, ornate cathedral. He dismounted, then hurried up the steps and disappeared inside the church to confess his sins or pray or whatever it is good Catholics do on a Monday afternoon.

I wanted to bang on the window and call out, “Hey, you forgot to lock your bike!” After all, it could have been an oversight. Perhaps he didn’t mean to leave a perfectly lovely bicycle resting, unchained, against the base of the cathedral stairs, where any number of dishonest people may come along and steal it. Maybe he was simply in a hurry to attend mass, or so distracted by the burden of his transgressions that he forgot to lock the bike.

Or maybe it was a matter of faith. What if that man just happens to place so much faith in the magical supernatural powers of that cathedral, that he doesn’t think anyone would dare steal his bicycle? Not in front of God’s house! It must take a great deal of faith to believe such a thing — that despite crime statistics in the neighborhood of the cathedral, and despite the fact that he made not one effort to secure his property, that somehow, God would watch over his bike.

brainI personally find such a faith both admirable and foolish.

It is difficult not to feel a sense of admiration when a person, against all odds, against the pressures of society, and even against scientific evidence, continue to have faith that something they choose to believe is true. What security such a faith must bring! What a sense of peace such a faith must offer – no need to wonder, to doubt; none of the skeptic’s dilemma of constant questioning. Only certainty.

And, perhaps, foolishness, at times.

After all, faith in the unknown must have its limits. No matter how much one prays for God’s protection or provision, or believes that God will supernaturally intervene, one must accept that if they were to jump from a rooftop, no miracle will take place to keep them from falling. And as for that young man at the cathedral, well, I can only hope that the downtown thieves were too busy this afternoon to notice his unlocked bicycle. Faith, no matter how admirable, makes a lousy security system.

Back when I used to pray, I truly believed, thanks to the widespread teachings within the conservative evangelical Christian church, and perhaps my own naïvete, that my prayers, and the prayers of other believers, could influence God’s choices. Pray incessantly. Pray with insistence — keep knocking on God’s door until he grants you what you seek: wisdom, peace, healing from disease, money. (Wait…what? Well, some people believe that, too.) Later, I came to prefer the explanations of believers who took the bible less literally. Their faith was not in their ability to change the mind of God, but in God’s ability to change them. Ahh…now that is a faith that I can truly admire.

quote-skepticism-is-the-beginning-of-faith-oscar-wilde-3552261

                                                                                        I doubt this.

“How does God help you to make life choices?” I asked this question once during a gathering on young Christian college students, because I earnestly wanted to know. So many people in my peer group held a strong faith that if they were to seek God’s guidance, then He would offer it to them. “But how do you know that the conclusion you reach comes from God, and not from yourself, or other influences?” I asked.

“You just know,” was the general consensous. You just know. Like a gut feeling or a lucky hunch. Or intuition, or psychic revelation. I was never satisfied with such a fallible theory. What if the warm, fuzzy feeling about taking Plan A instead of Plan B was just my intelligent brain making a logical decision, and had nothing to do with the guidance of a deity? How can anyone possibly know?

Maybe one cannot know. Instead, one must have faith.

faith-vs-science

The Loner Life (aka: Reflexions on Solitude vs. Relationships)

 

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to life in exile, and what it means to live a solitary life.  It is a state in which I have lived for so long now, that it is almost beginning to feel comfortable – the way a person who loses his limbs may eventually learn to accept the loss of his limbs. He would give anything to get them back and return to life as it once was, but he knows that it is impossible. The best that he can do is find a positive way to live without. That has been my challenge.

Time-Alone-Quote

This is true. I spend a lot of my alone time reading, watching good films or TV shows, disconnectcleaning house, baking, doing crafts, writing, and gardening. Fewer relationship commitments means more time for hobbies.

Just for kicks, I have been exploring a myriad of internet quotes to gain inspiration. It is both amusing and frustrating, as the world is filled with so many conflicting philosophies and values about relationships, solitude, and serving the self or serving others. After days of poring over popular quotes online, I came up with several clashing conclusions: Letting go and moving on makes us stronger, but we should never, ever give up on anything or anyone. Having fewer friends means that we have fewer problems, but having friends means more people to support you through those problems. Friends help us to become who we should be, but it is by being alone that we discover who we are.

have no friends

These words would be much more inspiring if not for her problems with drug abuse and eventual narcotic-induced early death.

Oscar Wilde

I agree that it is healthy to spend time alone. But how much is too much?

 

So which is it? Do we stay committed to people, even when times are tough, or do we move on and leave people behind when they no longer serve us? Is it through friendships and relationships that we find ourselves and become the best versions of ourselves, or is that achieved best through solitude and self-reflection?I think that perhaps, those are two different things. In solitude, we discover who we are in a self-centered way. In the context of relationships with our peers, we discover who we are within the context of a relationship. We only discover different facets of the same person.

The question that I keep coming back to, the one which the world only seems to answer in paradoxes and opposing opinions, is this: Is it better to actively pursue connections and attachments with other people, despite the risks of disappointment and heartbreak, or is it better to live the detached life, observing the world from a safe distance where neither good nor bad can touch us? Is it better to seek happiness and identity within the context of relationships, or better to know deeply and please the self, thus avoiding the drama and pain and expectations of others? Does one offer more reward than the other? Does one result in more suffering than the other?

nobody

…and vice versa No risk, no pain. No risk, no gain.

Friendship gives value to survival

Where Have All the Crunchy Granola Moms Gone?

ImageI was taken aback the first time someone referred to me as a Crunchy Granola Mom. It was years ago, after my first son was born.

“What’s a Crunchy Granola Mom?” I asked. Apparently, it was the name for moms like me – moms who were crazy about natural childbirth, exclusive breastfeeding, attached parenting, and co-sleeping. Moms who obsessed over healthy foods, natural remedies, and homeschooling. Moms who bought ridiculously expensive, dye-free wooden toys for their babies to teethe upon, and encouraged their kids to run and play in the rain. Moms who wanted to raise children who think for themselves, even if that means going against the grain. Crunchy like the raw carrots growing in our organic gardens. Wholesome as granola.

The nickname made me smile even more so than the other labels for moms like me – Attached Parents. Neo-Hippies. Afterschoolers. Earth Moms. Whatever you want to call it, I had swallowed the red pill and become a member of the Crunchy Sisterhood. I spent many happy years wearing my babies in slings, serving my kids homemade, super-healthy meals, cloth-diapering, and setting them loose to explore the world in their own natural way, at their own natural pace.

It’s a funny thing, though. Now that my kids are older, that Crunchy Granola Mom title seems to have rubbed off. It’s not that my parenting style or ideals have changed that much. I still value wholesome foods, natural remedies, and being in tune with my children. I still encourage my kids to run and play in the rain. It’s just that labels just don’t seem to stick to parents of older school-age kids. When you’re a parent of young kids, your philosophy of child-rearing becomes your philosophy of life in general. It defines you, and determines where you belong in the parenting social world.

But there is a shift as the children grow to become more and more their own independent people and less a reflection of your parenting philosophy. It’s a strange thing, after spending so many years being Crunchy Granola Mom. Now I have learned to step back and bite my tongue as my teen chooses to eat chocolate Pop Tarts for breakfast instead of my homemade oatmeal-apple-raisin muffins. Because he is moving forward at his own natural pace, and thinking for himself, even if that means going against the grain. And, well, wasn’t that the whole point?

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Ode to a Natural Child

Oh wild green branch

tender as the spring

let the rain be your first drink

let the wind be your song

and the sun drench your tangled hair

as you twirl, restless, dizzy

a kite set free

in the summer sky