Monday, October 24, 2011

The Size of God...

A good, old friend of mine and I recently exchanged a few e mails on the subject of drug addiction and mental illness. (By way of background - my friend has (in the 40 years I have known him) pursued, thought about, been involved in and followed what I think is best described (however inadequately) as a devout and spiritual path. In contrast, "spiritual" is not the first word likely to come to any one's mind to describe my own path. Nonetheless he and I have over the years (and since the beginning of our friendship) often discussed spirituality and have over the years developed a language that works for us to talk about such things in ways that, despite our different perspectives, provide a way of understanding each other.

In any event, in the email exchange my friend was saying how hard it is to imagine the experience of "what it is like to be a patient on a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital or more to the point, what it is like to be discharged and out wherever again."

As an aside, he also said that he envied my chicken manure (a reference to my having told him that I recently shoveled 8 large bags of chicken manure that I got from our local chicken farm into my vegetable garden (we are both amateur gardeners).

I agree with him that it is questionable whether civilians can deeply imagine (i.e., know) the experience of addiction and mental illness (much as it is, for example, for them to "know" the experience of combat). I replied to him that I think "being a patient is Hell and that recovery is a miracle". It is interesting to me that, "non-believer" that I am, sometimes (and I am obviously not alone in this) I resort to religious language to describe certain types of human experience. In this case, my attempt to convey a sense of a certain kind of utter despair and helplessness and, on the other side, transcendence that religious imagery seems almost to have been invented for (among other things).

So that got me thinking again about the seeming divide between believers and non believers - it has never made sense to me and I have always had an aversion to the "us and them" aspect of the whole thing (and I mean this as to both sides of the divide). How can something that is not broad enough to encompass everyone without duality, without suggesting enlightenment and un enlightnment, without suggesting one path versus another, possibly lay claim to anything as big as "truth"?. Everyone knows suffering and everyone knows joy (and everyone knows the golden rule) and I am not sure it matters where you put (or don't put) God or mysticism into that equation or how or what you do to express your own experience of the meaning of it all. This leaves me somewhat on the sidelines of the whole discussion but only in so far as having any answers, questions I got plenty.

And then today, I happened upon this concluding paragraph to an article I was reading on the weekly "Sugar" column of the daily Rumpus web site (
). The article is about a woman's questioning of her own faith and experience upon receiving her young daughter's diagnosis of a brain tumor and struggles through treatment (the daughter is in remission). I found the article to be a moving discussion about faith. No conclusions - just thoughtful (and I think beautiful) questions:

"What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that?"

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