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Starting Point

Some things just don’t become clearer, no matter how much we ponder them


Just recently there was an article in the paper about a major Christian denomination’s convention. During the convention, one of the keynote speakers shared his insights on Hinduism, telling his hearers that those of the Hindu faith should be rescued from its errors. In the same paper were stories from all over the world about goodness and violence, pity and hardheartedness, forgiveness and hatred, smart moves and sheer stupidity.

Since we all share in the lot of being stupid, I did not get all that alarmed when I read the comment about Hindus. But I did think a bit.

I think salvation is a given. The universe is imbued with the sacred prior to our trying to define it or think about it or do anything about it.

You cannot go chasing after it or seek it in terms of some day finding and keeping it. It is calling us, shaping us, inviting us: Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists. No one is left out (seems to me that we do the leaving out). And we are all caught up in this moving, living, singing and worded mystery.

All “religious” scripture “flows” from this truth. All the Bibles and other texts revered as sacred could be destroyed tomorrow and it would not make a difference. The truth of scripture is not “in” the text. The text(s) constantly points to a living, expanding mystery we call life.

I do not think that the Bible or the Vedas were written to footnote one’s version of a religious “real.” Once a person realizes what is being said (or sung), joy is found and hoped for in all living things. God is in our midst. God is everywhere.

Some things do not become clearer or “more” of what they are by our thinking about them or thinking them through. I think that the trouble with much exegesis (the science of interpreting texts) is that it is an analysis of something that was not meant to be analyzed or picked apart. Words of beauty open us to beauty itself, to a truth that is not reducible to the opinions of the mind.

When you read poetry or listen to beautiful or “true” music -- and there is truth to music -- you do not look for contradictions or contrasting interpretations. You move with and then back into life.

Scripture has its life on the street, in the skies with the birds, in laughter and hope. I think that the West in general has analyzed beauty to the point of either killing it, or, better, of missing it altogether.

Beauty has wings, it flies away when we try to seize it. Once a person thinks that he or she can “get” to the point of Jesus or scripture by way of literary analysis, post-modern gymnastics or whatever, the Bird has flown -- probably to a place where you can still see it.

A humble person? A beautiful avenue? A longing for God? These are all forms of questioning or savoring of something good.

Most of our waking moments are spent in noncritical modes. We walk and talk, work and play, suffer and rejoice, and every now and then give pause to consider what we are and where we are going. Sometimes this pause takes place in a church or a temple. But it may well take place on a mountaintop or at a quiet corner in a restaurant. Spirituality overflows from everything -- hearts and coffee cups and longings. There is no “getting around it.” It is around us and in us.

Dunno if this makes sense. But I think that part of the reason so much institutionalized religion has run out of gas is because it took too rational a road. God is in the heart. And whatever opens the heart is scripture, be it the canonical gospels, a sutra, the Vedas, Bob Dylan, a trip to the circus, Sylvia Plath or feeding the birds.

I love beauty. Where is it today? Here, and there, high and low, in the song of a bird, the rising chant of the monk.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia.

National Catholic Reporter, December 17, 1999