Readings for 2/10/2011

An excerpt from Laurence Freeman OSB, “Understanding Faith,“ in FIRST SIGHT: The Experience of Faith (London: Continuum, 2011), pp. 9-10.

Instead of fingers pointing to the moon, doctrine or dogma bend backwards pointing to themselves. Anything that questions belief is then perceived as threatening and what is threatening can exude a kind of strangeness or threat which incites fear.

 I am what I believe is as dangerous a principle as I am because I think. What I want or try to believe then constitutes my identity, myself, and so because I believe in these doctrines I am a Christian. Others who don’t believe these particular statements are “non-believers.” Belief may indeed be strong and true. We can be loyal to our beliefs and die to defend the system they form part of. But belief of this kind---the kind we might die for---should arise from the experience of faith not the fear of a threatened and insecure identity. Why die or attack others over verbal formulas alone? As long as we think of faith as constituted by belief, we lack the full dimension of the mind of Christ.

This means the “catholic” mind that inherently seeks to include and integrate rather than to exclude and condemn when it meets with different expressions of belief that bring the natural uncertainty in our own system to the surface. We see that there are different ways of belief and that others may hold theirs as sincerely as we hold ours. Without faith we will feel painfully threatened by this. Reacting from our insecurity, Christians often describe devout followers of other religious traditions as “non-believers” simply because they have different beliefs.

Differences, like opposites, are only ultimately resolved in God who is infinitely simple enough to contain it all. Only in God can we meet others and it is at the level of faith, not belief, that this meeting occurs.

After Meditation, “The Indian Tree,” by Rumi in THE SOUL OF RUMI (New York: HarperCollins, 2002, pp. 47-48.

A learned man once said, for the sake of saying something,
“There is a tree

in India. If you eat the fruit of that tree, you’ll never grow
old and never die.”

Stories about “the tree” were passed around, and finally
a king sent his envoy

to India to look for it. People laughed at the man. They
slapped him on the back

and called out, “Sir, I know where your tree is, but it’s far
in the jungle and you’ll need

a ladder!” He kept traveling, following such directions and
feeling foolish, for years.

He was about to return to the king when he met a wise man.
“Great teacher, show me

some kindness in this search for the tree.” “My son, this is
not an actual tree,

though it’s been called that. Sometimes it’s called a sun,
sometimes an ocean, or

a cloud. These words point to the wisdom that comes through
a true human being, which

may have many effects, the least of which is eternal life!
In the same way one

person can be a father to you and a son to someone else,
uncle to another and nephew

to yet another, so what you are looking for has many names,
and one existence. Don’t

search for one of the names. Move beyond any attachment
to names.” Every war

and every conflict between human beings has happened because
of some disagreement about

names. It’s such an unnecessary foolishness, because just
beyond the arguing there’s a long

table of companionship,  set and waiting for us to sit down.