All of us are meaning-seekers. We approach every painting, novel, film, symphony, or ballet unconsciously hoping it will move us one step further on the journey toward answering the question ‘Why am I here?’ People living in the postmodern world, however, are faced with an excruciating dilemma. Their hearts long to find ultimate meaning, while at the same time their critical minds do not believe it exists. We are homesick, but have no home.
Excerpt From: Ian Morgan Cron. “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale.” Zondervan, 2013. iBooks.
A couple of weeks ago, Eva –The Aspirational Agnostic who can be found at theaspirationalagnostic.com — recommended “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale.” It’s author, Cron, describes the book as a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching.” At the heart of the fiction is a mega-church minister who lands in spiritual crisis when life circumstances cause him to doubt his faith in the Gd about whom he preaches but with whom he has no personal connection. The nonfiction is what readers learn about Saint Francis of Assisi (and his ministry and “brand” of Christianity) as the mega-church minister goes on a pilgrimage to find Francis, Jesus, Gd, and himself.
Once I started the book, I had trouble putting it down because, as a seeker, I could relate to many of the minister’s struggles with faith and religion. I couldn’t wait to see where his Journey took him, what he would experience and learn, and what I might learn in the process!
There are many themes from the book that I may write more about in the future as I ponder what it might mean to live a more “Franciscan Judaism.” But the theme that keeps popping into my mind most frequently is the idea expressed in the quote above . . . that modern humans “long to find ultimate meaning” but are unable to allow ourselves to believe that “meaning” could exist.
Not too surprisingly, I keep thinking about that theme because struggling with whether and how to believe in Gd and ‘find meaning’ is a big part of my story…my Torah…my Journey…
You see, some twenty years ago, during graduate school, I broke the news to my parents that I am gay, and my parents, well… they did exactly what you would expect socially-conservative Christians in a rural area of a “Red State” to have done in the early 1990s — they freaked out!
First there was denial. Then there was anger… and bargaining… and depression. Somewhere in the midst of their anger and bargaining, we ended up in the office of a Christian counselor who in no uncertain terms told me that my “decision to be gay was a ‘disease’ tearing apart” my family, that Gd did not approve of my decision to engage in sin, and that I would go to Hell unless I changed.
My response was to do exactly what any rational 24 year old (who wasn’t ready to commit suicide) would have done when handed that load of religious guilt and shame — I said “f*ck you” to Gd!! If Gd couldn’t love me as Gd had created me, then I didn’t much care to believe in the existence of any such Gd.
For more than a decade, I angrily refused to believe Gd could exist — and I gathered as much scientific “proof” as possible along the way — because denying Gd’s existence seemed ‘easier’ than confronting the religious guilt and shame that were eating away at my soul.
During those years of ‘exile’, I converted to Judaism because I wanted to raise my children within a religious belief system and Judaism spoke to my tattered soul without requiring me to affirm a belief in Gd. At the same time, while I couldn’t bear to read them, I was amassing a large library of books about Kabbalah and Hasidism — branches of Judaism that encourage having an intensely personal relationship with a loving, ever-present Gd.
But then, five years ago, my Granny died, and I “hit bottom,” because she was the last “parent” who had accepted and loved me unconditionally. Not only was she my last loving parent, her house had been the last place I could go “home.” Suddenly, the spiritual disconnect that I’d been masking with adamant atheism for all those years turned into a full-blown existential crisis. I felt completely “untethered” from all of life.
Nine months later, a Rabbi noticed my pain, listened to my story, and suggested reading materials that helped me start to forgive Gd, my parents, and myself. I cried nearly every day (for longer than I want to admit) as I worked through all the years of anger, grief, shame, and pain.
At some point during my healing process, I expressed that I wanted to pray like I had as a child, to talk to Gd like Gd was the parent that I had always wished I had had (like the prayers of the Hasidim in all those books that I had collected and finally begun reading), but that my mind kept getting in the way, distracting me with rational scientific arguments about how Gd didn’t and couldn’t exist.
The Rabbi looked at me and said, without any hint of sarcasm or condescension — “It’s okay to turn off your scientific brain and pray with your heart.”
And that simple statement . . . that granting of permission to ignore all the scientific arguments against believing in Gd that were bouncing around in my critical brain . . . allowed me to begin disregarding my brain and opening my heart to pray. Over time, I’ve been able to trade my need to be logically consistent for a deeper relationship with Gd.
Now, after years of exile and homesickness, I’m finally Home . . . believing in a Gd who is more complex and contradictory than even the greatest human mind could ever comprehend, but who nevertheless loves me — exactly as I was created!! — with infinite and eternal unconditional Love.
Somehow, amidst the pain and tears and prayers, I found the ultimate meaning for which my heart longed…