A few days ago I wrote about my pursuit into the study of philosophy. I am reading, for the first time, a book I purchased at least a decade ago. “Philosophy: Something to Believe In” was written by Richard Paul Janaro and it seems to be a text book for a community college course. It was published in 1975. The end of the first chapter summarizes his thesis:
“Philosophy is good for humanity because it is the practice of asking questions and developing the art of reflective thinking in order to understand something about what we believe and why.
Philosophy is the discipline of reflecting upon the consequences of human action and the sense of responsibility which the social nature of humanity seems to require.
He posits the notion that many of our beliefs exist “just because we must have belief….The act of believing, he writes, is a form of experience bringing about its own peculiar and profound pleasures. Even the momentary anguish of confusion, of knowing what to believe can be worth the trouble in the long run…”
Or as Mary Oliver wrote in one of my favorite poems:
The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
I have faced directly into life altering challenges, and hated every moment of it. The fear, despair, and anxious uncertainty fueled by a real sense that God was gone or did not care. Challenges of this nature rock my belief in a present and loving God who cares for each human being. Such experiences force me to examine my beliefs and look deeper into my life, my thoughts, my experiences, often grounding this “examination” in a Christian discipline like prayer and meditation.
Janaro goes on to write that because one has beliefs one then creates systems of belief. He compares and contrasts the idea of “spontaneous” unreflective thought and lifestyle, built off of one’s intuition with the practice of reflection and examining one’s thoughts. Intuition is certainly a good factor, it leads to inspiration. But one must always examine one’s intuition, exploring where one’s beliefs conflict or contradict themselves. Putting our beliefs together, creating a system, he argues, has huge implications for acquiring greater self-awareness.
My daily practice of meditation is not a discipline of self-examination. It is a practice of silence into which I hope God will speak. Typically God does not “speak” to me with words or thoughts that rise up in the meditation. God speaks to me later, as I return to the actions of daily life, refreshed from a practice of relaxation. This practice is not just about relaxation, it is also about creating the means by which I can become open and aware of what is going on around me because I am less tense. I have managed to get off the hamster wheel of my emotions and reactivity and centered myself in peace. From that interior place I am able to see and understand more fully. I know I function better as a human being when I practice daily meditation. And, on those days when I am feeling particularly stressed out, that says a lot – or rather that says nothing as I practice the art of keeping my mouth shut and letting the emotions settle before I speak. Meditation is part of my discipline of earning to “respond” from a thoughtful place and not “react” from my emotions.
But in addition to a daily practice of meditation I spend time writing in the morning. I have found that writing on this blog, on my computer, is a much more effective method of reflecting than writing by hand. It just works for me. Most mornings I aim for a little time to read, think, reflect, and write. Examine my life and consider it from the inside out and outside in.
I appreciate this book and the manner in which it is connecting my daily practices with the process of philosophy. I had no idea that what I was doing was philosophical. I have always thought that one needed to be abstract and heady and intellectual to be a philosopher. But according to Janaro, that is not so. One is a philosopher when one practices a process of asking questions, examining one’s beliefs, searching for conflicts within the beliefs and seeking to understand them, and working to create a system of belief that guides one’s life. That is also the “work” of a religious person.
One reason I returned to church was to anchor myself in a tradition of belief. Prior to returning to church I engaged in a whole array of “New Age” thought. I was definitely searching. But what I began to notice in New Age thought was a lot of, “anything goes” and no real system of belief. Or at least very loose systems of beliefs that enabled one to believe almost anything one wanted too. I wanted more. I wanted a system of belief that anchored me and yet still encouraged me to question, explore, examine, think, and be reflective.
For many years, due to my Mormon upbringing (and their system of belief) and my little exposure to Christianity through Southern Baptist revivals (I lived in Texas at the time, 1970), and the Roman Catholic Church – I was fairly certain that Christianity held too narrow of a belief system. Which is why I was exploring alternative forms of spirituality – I wanted a relationship with God that would sustain me through the challenges of life and help me make sense of it all.
It still surprises me, at times, twenty-three years later that I found a progressive form of Christianity. Who knew that such a thing existed?
In the world around me there are a lot of people who feel the same way I did about Christianity. The dominant public voice is loud and clear. I find it very sad. I hope we are changing that paradigm, that people are beginning to be aware that there are Christian voices that mirror the hopes and ideals of “New Age” (does anyone use that term anymore? I think not – I think it’s now known as “Spiritual but not religious”)….but instead of being loosey-goosey in its beliefs and belief system – Progressive Christianity is anchored in solid teachings of the historic church.
There is a long history of church thinkers who support the progressive Christian understanding of Jesus as the fullest expression of God’s love for humanity. And that the primary belief is: Love God, love self, and love others as yourself. First and foremost. And the rest is just food for thought. Perhaps the mystique of knowing is really an invitation into exploring what it means to be human? The true mystique of knowing maybe actually be a reminder to love others, and to trust that there is a Divine being, the creator, who loves us first and from whom we come to understand the full meaning of love.
For me, this mystique of knowing has come through being part of the Episcopal Church, an historic Church and community of faith, that has woven my many loose threads of faith into a rich tapestry of religion and spirituality.