Raison d’être

There is a sense in which structure engenders expanse. Sometimes the infinity of a thing cannot be known until it’s given definition. Within limits, eternity can bloom.

There is also a time to forsake limitations, dissolve walls and allow oneself to swell in the void. But in the last several years I have found that without structure, I have not been able to see from either side. I’ve had no shelter, but no openness either. I’ve not had the strength or solace of a defining set of beliefs, and I’ve not had the eternity or infinity that are supposedly their opposite. Because in fact, they must be linked – limits and limitlessness, the two faces of one, of God; not a binary opposition demanding us to choose one or the other.

I have grown lazy. In forsaking structure I have forsaken practice. This morning I realized that study is invocation (Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness) and looking back upon those times in my life when my faith was strongest and richest, I see that my study was most diligent then too.

I forsook it because I became disturbed by the suspicion that my belief was insular: coherent from within, but not built on any universal reality, not founded on real ground. Like Plato, who was obsessed with rational knowledge not derived from the perceptible world, such as numbers, which may be called eternal and immutable but which must also be acknowledged as logical fictions (A History of Western Philosophy), I had become detached – had I? – from what is. I did not want to risk substituting what is with what I preferred to imagine. I could not be sure if I was making this mistake or not, so, to make sure, I gave up the house I had lived in for the wilderness of agnosticism. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t know.”

It isn’t enough.

I can’t go back to the house I had lived in. I can’t assent anymore to many of the fundamental tenets of the faith to which I used to belong. But I have to go home. I have to build a home in this wilderness somehow, recover some vestige of the rich tradition that meant and means so much to me.

In the wilderness I learned that the wilderness isn’t what it seems. The truth is, the wilderness is just another house. The wilderness house is no more infallible, or ascertainable, than the Christian house. It just says different things. I’m glad I lived there a while, because doing so opened my eyes to many intolerable elements of my old faith that I could never have otherwise seen or questioned. Yet ultimately, this is not a house I can live in either. In as much as study is an invocation, presuppositions are too, and whatever you believe, you will see it confirmed. The longer you believe something, the more evidence you’ll find to support it. I do not prefer to walk a road on which my best and boldest reasons for being are continually called into doubt. If there is no way to prove or disprove a thing, I would rather walk the road that leads me into meaning and wholeness.

That road is practice. It is time to begin again. A soul is no different than a body: I have been malnourished; my heart has grown lethargic and frail. It is time to expand: to swell and breathe, surge and build. I will look for the one who cannot be contained by any structure. For this, structure will be my tool.

  1. January 29, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I like you. Thanks.

  2. Sarah
    January 30, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Nice work, friend.

  3. April 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    I could have written this. Well, the parts I understood, anyway. Will definitely be back for more.

    • Elisabeth M
      April 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks. (:

  4. Seth Brown
    July 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    This reminds me of a quote by Bacon…

    A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. – Francis Bacon

    Also, take a look at Ecclesiastes 12, a chapter concerning study, practice, wisdom, and the limits thereof:

    1 …Remember your Creator
    in the days of your youth,
    before the days of trouble come
    and the years approach when you will say,
    “I find no pleasure in them”—
    3 …when the keepers of the house tremble…
    5 …Then people go to their eternal home…
    11 …Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body…
    13 …here is the conclusion of the matter:
    Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.

  5. Elisabeth M
    July 11, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Hm, the limitations of study… yes, I guess everything has its limit. In my case, for now at least, study is the opposite of body-wearying. Rather, it’s like the relief of walking again after you’ve atrophied.

    Perhaps because this isn’t just a mental, acquiring-knowledge kind of study; it’s a sort of prayer too, a spiritual discipline. Studying creates a context in which I can meditate on my deepest questions, listen and speak to God.

    I like what Bacon said.

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