be·lief (bəˈlēf/) noun — 2. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.
Friends, today’s episode is called “Belief”. This is the tie-a-knot-and-hang-on episode. When all is said, done and practiced in difficult times—no matter what our strategies for getting through—there is a point when none of these strategies matter at all. Random acts of kindness, meditation/being still, keep-on-keeping-on action are emphasized because these are things that we can DO.
But today, we consider the foundation…the stuff that is behind the curtain. What is there when you pull everything away and look? What keeps you going when nothing seems to be working, when everything has gone wrong?
On June 17th, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a white supremacist and terrorist entered a bible study at Mother Emanuel and was welcomed with open arms by a black faith community. But the surreal happened…The visitor pulled a gun and ended their precious, open and welcoming lives with hatred and bullets.
When asked how the people of Mother Emanuel AME have made it through the murders of 9 of their beloved community, the Reverend Waltrina Middleton, cousin of one of the dead spoke about how one goes on. She said, “because we live in God, I can live into forgiveness.” Forgiveness and mercy has been a key to many in the black community when facing grief and the constant beat of tyranny and oppression.
In September 1942, an Austrian doctor named Viktor Frankl was enslaved along with his wife and parents in Auschwitz a Nazi camp. Three of the family were sent to their deaths, while Viktor was marched to another camp where he clung to life until the camp was liberated. Other than a sister, his entire family was wiped out.
As he set about shoring up his fragments, Frankl turned his study to the question “What allows a person who has been stripped of everything to hold on?” His book Man’s Search for Meaning came from that question.
His primary interest was in the prisoners who, in spite of everything, “walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread…they offer[ed] sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In both of these true stories, it is evident that the people’s core beliefs are what frees them.
I contend that there is a guiding principle for your life. I personally cannot know what that is for each of you. But my experience with many faith traditions, including those who call themselves “nones” with “no faith”, and those who claim Science as their bottom line—ALL of us have something that we know to be true. It’s a knowing, it’s what you hold in your core, your belly…Science believes that there are organizing principles that cannot be rationally defied, everything can be figured out eventually. Facts govern. “Nones” might have as a grounding tenet “that all is basically good or can be made good” or any number of ideas. Muslims may have as their guiding principle that the idol of the self needs to submit to Allah and peace is yours. Jews tell a narrative of story and law that to walk humbly with thy God and to repair the world is redemption in this world. Christians give the most credence and ink to their relationship with Jesus and to the orthodoxy of right thought. This is where the notion if I believe rightly then I am saved or redeemed.
Buddhism has at its core the path to the elimination of suffering, that human beings can solve human problems on their own. Buddha was not terribly concerned with the questions about eternalness or who God was. The story he came up with to answer those questions was: “if you were shot with an arrow, would you waste time and breath asking who shot the arrow, what she looked like and why it was shot? Or would you just pull out the arrow?”
What I’m trying to say is that no matter what faith tradition or non-faith tradition we come from, there are those ideas we fall back on, hold onto when everything else is falling apart. We hold these truths like we do bread and water when hungry and thirsty.
And what do they do for us? These principles, these bottom lines?
Well, I would say that what we consistently tell ourselves, what we believe to be true can either carry us through choppy waters or can sink us. So we better have some idea what makes up our foundation.
Personally, my belief or beliefs about God, the world, myself within life, even life itself appears to have shifted and changed over the course of my life. Yes, I was reared in the Presbyterian faith and dabbled in the Baptist watering holes, but then moved to Catholicism and the Episcopal Church. Finally, I was ordained in the United Church of Christ, even as I was looking at the Unitarians and Buddhists. Further studies in Buddhism, Hinduism, New Thought, A Course in Miracles and Judaism (after many years of struggling with the brutal history of Christianity) brought me to a crisis of faith as it were. I converted to Judaism which left the door open for me to further my journey and to consider the non-duality that Ramana Maharshi taught. So, friends, I’m always in the search for truth, small t and big T.
But, BUT…while these traditions are wildly different in practice…I always come back to this statement, this truth: The only thing that is real and true is LOVE. Love always has been, love always will be. Love–That which doesn’t change in our souls, in our center. That which is constant. That which simply is. That “is-ness” is who I am. It cannot be destroyed. It cannot be damaged. It cannot stop or end.
So when times are tough, I remember, I go back to, I sit solidly upon the thought that the only thing that is real and true is Love. That is what is real. That is what is always here with me no matter what. Everything else is delusion appearing real.
The truth, the mystery behind the insanity of governments & their actors, the truth behind the dying loved one, the truth behind the perception of failure, the truth behind the discriminating acts and hatefulness, the truth behind any problem I have is that love is real. Love is here. I need to be open to it and see it.
So the question I have for you is simple (and hard) but will get you through…
What do you believe? What beliefs do you hold onto when life seems to be swirling out of control around you? What is the truth that is true for you no matter what the circumstance? What keeps your center in place? What holds you when you’ve let go? What is the knot at the end of your proverbial rope?
Are you like Reverend Middleton who believes that forgiveness is central to surviving this life? Are you more like Vickor Frankl who shows that our thoughts are our true freedom?
Think about what your beliefs the next few days. And test them. Ask Is this the kind of belief that will see me through tough times?
It’s important to know what that knot is at the end of your proverbial rope. It’s at this point we know that we have a floor on which to stand, to act, to move, to be our fullest and best selves in the world.
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Okay, dear ones, may you have a beautiful week ahead. Know that I love you. I really, really love you.
Here are some of the resources and links to things I mentioned in podcast:
Frankl, Viktor, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Rev. Waltrina Middleton, UCC Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
Beliefnet.com–an online starting point for searching various beliefs/traditions
and…in case you haven’t gotten Lee Ann’s books, you can find them here:
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