Monday, August 8, 2011

My Verison of Faith

I have a great deal of faith.  I tend to leave it at that, without going on to add anything about the word "spirituality," purely because I read an article for my History of Judaism class senior year that condemned the word very eloquently and convincingly as being a soft, selfish word used by people who don't have the balls or wherewithal or interest in conforming oneself in order to follow a structured religion (in this author's case, Judaism).  I don't agree with him.  But I still tend to leave that word out of my lexicon and simply say that I have faith.  I have faith in karma, in the overarching goodness of all people, and in the great and powerful ability we have to change ourselves and the world around us.  

When I set out to be a religion minor, I did so with a certain amount of selfishness: I wanted to figure out for myself what I wanted to do with all this faith; where to direct it, so to speak.  Four years later, I realized two things: 1) I should have relaxed a bit on the pre-med stuff and double-majored in Religion, and 2) There was no perfect religion for me.  I didn't want or need the structure of an organized religion in order to feel deeply connected to what I believe and that was okay.  So these days, I look fondly at the beautiful Catholic church across the street while reminiscing about a childhood spent altar-serving and praying the rosary.  I also speak at length about the Bible with the Jehovah's Witnesses that come enthusiastically and passionately to my doorstep.  I respect and admire my mother's dedication to her meditation practice and when I can't sleep, I often count my breaths and cup my hands together at my belly button as I was taught during another Smith class, Buddhist Meditation.  I consider all of these representations of my faith, but I still felt I was searching for a practice of my own, a ritual, if you will, that helped me organize what it is that I do believe in, and what it is that I hope my faith can do for the world.  I think I've found it.

I can't take credit for this idea in the slightest, rather, it came from a book I read recently called The Blue Cotton Gown, by Patricia Harman.  In this memoir, the author talks about lighting candles and placing names in a prayer box each night in an effort to help those she knew and cared for during her life as a midwife and mother.  That's it, I thought when I read it.  That's what I'll do.  The universe helped me out: I found a box for twenty-five cents at a garage sale when I was visiting my parents, and I am blessed with a friend who heard me out on the idea and jumped in with me without a moment's hesitation.  The other night, the two of us wrote thoughts, prayers, names, and wishes on scraps of paper, took turns reading them out loud, and placing them in the wooden box while two candles flickered in the breeze from my open window and Fleet Foxes played on the stereo (loosey-goosey is a totally acceptable word for describing this entire practice and ceremony).  

A lot of the notes are too private for the blog, but I chose a select few to showcase what we independently came up with to add to the box, the two of us sitting on the couch, listening to the gathering thunder and scribbling away on imperfectly cut up pieces of cardstock.

Last night, after saying goodbye to my dear friend, I had a chance to put my new faith practice to the test (as all faith practices should be.  I just wasn't expecting mine to happen so quickly.).  I was riding the subway home, standing by the door and reading my book when a bedraggled man came crashing into the subway car, having walked through the car in front of ours and dangerously changed cars while the train was in motion.  He was very drunk and/or high on something, he smelled, he was panhandling, and there was an edge to him that scared me.  I pulled myself tight against the door and studiously ignored him, forcing myself to concentrate on my book.  He was moving down the car and I had just started to relax when I heard a scream.  I looked up and saw the man reaching to choke a woman sitting and at the same time, another man reach around and put the homeless man in a tight headlock.  Pandemonium broke out.  The lurching train sent the wrestling pair sprawling to the floor and the homeless man bounded up and stood over the other man with his foot ready to kick in his face.  "She elbowed me!  She deserves to die!" he screamed, as another, third man put his body between the two fighting men and tried to prevent any more violence.  The rest of us were standing in shock and horror as the adrenaline coursed through me and I had a moment of very clear thought: We could die right now.  He could have a gun, he could pull it on this train, and there is absolutely nowhere for any of us to go.  The adrenaline was useless - "flight" was not an option, and "fight" was certainly not high on my list of priorities.  When the train stopped, the homeless man went crashing back through the doors between cars and the woman who was attacked ran from the car before anyone could stop her or ask her if she'd like help in reporting it to the police.  I stood there afterwards, shaking with terror and rage.  That man is evil, I thought, and then stopped.  No, he's not, I corrected myself, He's very troubled.  He did a horrible thing and we are all lucky that nothing more came of it, but he is no more evil than me or anyone else on this train.

When I got home, I lit the candles.  I pulled out every scrap of paper and breathed calmly while I let my thoughts and prayers go out to the world as I read each hope and wish we had written.  When they were all safely back in the box, I added one for today:

I gently closed the box, blew out the candles, and climbed into bed.  I don't know if my prayers will have an effect, but I'd like to think they do.  This morning, looking at the box beside me, I feel at peace knowing that all my thoughts, worries, and wishes are tucked safely into it, having been sent out into the world.  There is nothing more I can do.

1 comment:

dmsegel said...

That is a beautiful idea, the box and candles.