What’s both wonderful and annoying about being a Divinity Student is that you are always thinking: thinking about the next paper, this morning’s lecture, conversations in the cafeteria, email exchanges with friends, etc. It is a constant learning experience, both inside the classroom, and outside.
You are (or at least I am) always ruminating upon the implications of the things we are learning. I am always seeking to tie my latest revelations into that tapestry that is the sum of what I’ve learned to date in the long and rather meandering path I’ve taken through life. I also love to write and to discuss these thoughts with others. So, voila, time for a blog.
My viewpoint from a pastoral / theological point of view is this: that our faith is for each of us like a language. It is a language that helps us explore and express our relationship with the eternal. Everyone has such a language, whether we are a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Atheist, Shamanist or we (as our Australian Aboriginal cousins do) walk in the Dreaming.
Our Faith is a language: the language we use to explain and explore our relationship with the Eternal. A major interest of mine has always been to learn more about our own “eternal language” and those of others.
The “eternal language” I use to explore my own relationship with the eternal, with God if you will, is Christianity. That I am a Christian is in large part due to the confluence of my origins as a child born and raised in the Reformed Protestant tradition, my deep familial roots in New England, my education, and the choices I’ve made in life up to this point. Christianity works for me. I am familiar with it. It is part of the “cultural wallpaper” of my life, and I find that the concepts it embraces and expresses are excellent and familiar tools as I explore and learn more about my relationship with God. This does not mean that I feel Christianity is the right “eternal language” for everyone, or even anyone, else.
When meeting speakers of languages like German, Spanish, Tagalog or Warlpiri, we do not condemn such people for not speaking English. (At least, I do not!) We (hopefully) recognize that their language is an integral part of who they are, how they view the world, and how they relate to the culture in which they were born and (probably) still live. Their language helps define who they are and their place in this everyday world we both share.
Similarly, one’s faith defines one’s understanding of who we are and where we stand in relationship to the issues of eternity. Faith answers questions like “Why are we here?” and “Where do we go when we die?” Faith is the language we use to explore the eternal world, it also shapes our view of that eternal world, shapes our relationship with it, and is how we communicate our views on such issues when talking with others about them.
Therefore, every Faith has value. Every one provides a viewpoint on issues of eternity – a viewpoint that can be a new perspective that helps us more fully understand both our own faith and how we relate to eternity. So, I am always looking to learn about the faiths of others, so that I can more fully appreciate where they stand, and because I find that learning more about their faiths enriches my understanding and appreciation of my own.
Our faiths are the sum of the millenias-old legacy of thought and belief that has been passed down to us. What I find both interesting and distressing about this is how so many of us (including myself) are often ignorant of that legacy. In that ignorance, we often do not think-through the implications of what we believe, whether the reasons for a particular belief we have has relevance any more, or how our beliefs impact, or are viewed-by, others.
My goal in this blog is to explore Faith both in the general and in the particular: exploring my own views on Christianity and how it relates to my day to day experiences in this world, and reaching across the boundaries to explore the faiths of others. I also hope to help both myself (and you) better understand other faiths and how their understanding of the eternal can shed light on our own understanding.
This blog is therefore an exploration and a learning experience. I am glad that you have taken the time to journey on at least part of this path with me, hope you’ll share your own thoughts as we go along.
Copyright (c) 2009, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).
3 thoughts on “The Languages of the Eternal”
Not to worry, Van, I figured out how to sub; just like to any blog!
I look forward to your further ruminations!
My aunt (Joann Nichols) just passed your blog on to me thinking that I might appreciate it. I don’t feel that I’m affiliated to any religion, although when I was little I went to a methodist Sunday school. However, I am very interested in the idea of faith. Recently I’ve touched on Jewish mysticism – the kabbalah – in an attempt to understand the origins of creation and creativity. Are you familiar with the concept of the dark spark of creation. I read Rabbi Laurence Kushner’s book “Kabbalah: A Love Story” and came across this concept. (See http://www.pascalsview.com/pascalsview/2006/12/botzina_dqardin.html). Being an artist and I am fascinated about the origins of creation and how that translates down to a personal level. Where does creation come from? How does it come to be?
I wonder about God – and have come to understand that this concept is genderless. God is being true to one’s heart and being open to listen to our instincts and inclinations. As an artist I get excited to see where my process will take me. I plan my process in a general way, but look forward to the deviations inherent in the process because each step determines where the next step will lead. As in life, if we are open, opportunity for further understanding can only happen if we are open to listening to our true spirit.
It’s difficult for me to commit myself to one belief structure. I’m suspicious of impersonal organized power structures. However, I do understand the depth of a personal connection with something greater than the self.
Recently, I attended a Greek Orthodox funeral for my husband’s grandmother. I was overwhelmed by the icons, incense and chanting. This was truly a sensual (literally) experience and not anything like any funeral I’d ever experienced in the past. No one got up and spoke about how they remembered her. The focus seemed to be on paving the way into Heaven and absolving sins and ritual.
I appreciate your thought about how religion is a “millenia-old legacy of thought.” I feel that religion is essentially a mythology that helps us to understand in human terms things that are too huge to understand. I connect with history in a deep way and knowing that mythology has given solace to many many generations of people that have lived before me makes me search for a mythology that gives me solace. I want to connect to something ancient that will give me answers and the best that I can do is connect to eternal human experience (i.e. joy, love, death, grief).
Anyway, I look forward to reading what you have to say in the future.
Thanks, Caron. Perhaps I’ll take a spin on why there’s a creation sometime soon! – Allen