Tuesday, December 05, 2006
searching for paradise
Very young, I was in awe at the satin vestments, the sparkling gold ornaments, the chiming of bells at the altar. The smell of incense filled my nostrils, as I sat in the pew, feet not touching the floor, wide eyes at the priest, smoke billowing from the censor at the altar as he blessed the congregation. I didn't know what it was all about, except that it was about God. I looked around at the crowd of people, crossing themselves, speaking in an unknown language. The Latin I would later struggle with as an altar boy. These people seemed to know secrets. I wondered at their connection to the powerful, the magical, the unseen. My young mind took it all in.
I was filled with questions. In my daily religion class at Immaculate Conception Catholic School I constantly had my hand up, asking the nun the hypothetical questions about heaven, hell, salvation, sin and grace.
Ah grace, the idea that I could be sanctified. I saw creamy white light in my mind's eye when I thought of the sanctifying grace. I was in awe that I could stand before God, as a perfect, blameless person. But life quickly taught me differently. In the midst of my easy path to God, I encountered pitfalls in my young life that gave me experiences that I could never confess to the priest. He would never understand or grant remission. Sin piled up upon sin and my white light turned to sackcloth and ashes.
Through my youth I started to learn, and I continued to imbibe on life's pleasures, yet seeking God, religion and fulfillment, but not finding it.
I landed at several different spiritual thresholds. At age seventeen I frightfully, but bravely forsook my Catholic upbringing. I saw that the lightning did not smite me from heaven. I moved forward in my quest and deeply embraced the hippie guru philosophies. Fueled by lysergic substances, I was fooled into thinking I found sure answers. But after a few years of dabbling, I was captured again by representatives of The Messiah. I listened as they witnessed of what all now seemed true to me. And I plunged into my new religion.
In my search for paradise, I filled my mind with scriptures and Jesus, music and the esoteric side of Christianity. Prophecies and speaking in tongues, healing and miracles all seemed natural in this different side of Christianity. But in the back of my mind was always the idea that things were being forced into place. Interpretations of natural phenomena received supernatural explanations. Rumors and tales became fodder for miraculous stories. Yet I learned to belong. I studied daily.
Then another change. Striving to be perfect, I forsook the world of Babylon. I joined a group of itinerant evangelists. I became a nomad, embracing poverty for paradise. I grew my beard long and wore robes of righteousness. I traveled this country along the highways and in the centers of learning. Sowing our seeds of religion to those who where hungry. Hungry and naive. And I disdained all who did not believe as me and my brethren. But the more I read, the more I studied; the more I saw that all was not right. Studying to show myself approved, I found yet again, that I was a believer in tales and ideas of a faulty man. Our Elder, a single man with charisma to convince disciples to believe as he did. And once again, with fear I forsook my faith. At a new threshold I continued to search for paradise.
I found myself back in the mainstream. And for years I sought to find the key. The key that was supposed to be mine by mere faith. I continued to read and to study. All the books, all the deep things of a devotee, never satisfied with being on periphery of this faith. Never content with not having all the facts. I studied the history, I looked at the origins. I read the old books that most of my fellow Christians don't read, or even know about. Books written by the Fathers in the early centuries.
Over the years, I began to see that things didn't add up. I saw how this faith was mostly blind. In my search for paradise, I began to look at how religions started. Not just mine, but the religions of the world. What did recent new religions claim? How did they begin? What did the Scientologist L. Ron Hubbard see and say? What of the Mormon Joseph Smith? I could see farce and untruths. Yet I saw millions following paths that were clearly fairy tales. People searching for paradise and grabbing onto lies. I looked further back in the years and centuries. And I realized how others had also seen their own angels, and had spouted their own personal revelations. I saw that such was true with Mohammed, with St. Paul, Pharaoh Akhenaten, Zoroaster, Buddha, Moses, and even Abraham.
I realized that these men all claimed the exclusive path to paradise, the only connection to God. They all claimed to be the sole source of the holy oracles. Yet I saw that these all were paths started by a lone man. A single person on his personal search for paradise. A person who relayed his story to others. And for different reasons people believed, or converted, or submitted. Be it a father teaching his own family and children and grandchildren about his personal ideas of God, or a leader conquering other countries and forcing conversions. Even new religions for profit and filthy lucre.
I looked out upon this field of faith. I could envision great monolithic structures that evolved from simple beginnings. And I saw vast populations, civilizations completely built upon a base of lies and false tales, upon misconceptions and ignorance of the truth of the universe. I looked at each of these religious worlds. In my mind's eye I could see a huge social structures built up, on a base of traditions and laws. And each religion was a world unto itself. I could see how a person is born and raised, and lived their complete life within the shadow of their religion, content with their path to paradise, yet ignorant of real life in the real universe.
And I began to change my mind. I began to apply the scrutiny I placed on all the other religions upon my own. And I saw the fallacy and the lies. I stepped out of the box I was in. I tore down my tight boundaries. And my universe became infinite. God became infinite. God was no longer an idol created in the image of a man, with human characteristics, with human anger and wrath and jealousy. God became all powerful to me. I was shocked at how small my idea of God had really been. I now understood how religion creates small idols and claim that their idol is the all powerful God. But their Gods are held within a rigid set of rules that mankind itself creates. I realized that I cannot know God. It is folly for me to preach my version of God, to attempt to convert others to my understanding, to my way of thinking. Doing so is like being one of the blind men in the fable about the five blind men and the elephant. Each blind man placed their hands on the elephant, describing the part of the animal that they encountered as being the true representation of the elephant. One described the animal as a great wall, another blind man said the elephant was long, like a serpent, yet another insisted that the elephant was flat and floppy, and so on. None of them actually understood the true picture.
So here I am. Still asking questions, not believing that the sun, moon or the elements are gods, nor that the path is through space aliens, or that God had a son who walked on water. Nor do I believe that keeping medieval laws, be they 613 mitzvot or Sharia or any other religion's narrow precepts, will get me to God.
I am still looking for the answers.
© Marc S. McCune 2006