15 November 2006


Children – they force you to deal, don’t they?

Do any action you must do,
since action is better than inaction;
even the existence of your body
depends on necessary actions.

The whole world becomes a slave
to its own activity, Arjuna;
if you want to be truly free,
perform all actions as worship.

Bhagavad Gita 3.8-3.9

Luke, Matt, and I sat at the breakfast table eating. I told them all about the Kali puja and the overwhelming display of food at the Swaminarayan New Year’s celebration.

“Well, Mom,” Matt offered, “I’m sure when you get through with your spiritual quest you’ll know what religion to choose.”

From the other side of the table, Luke attacked: “She’s not on a spiritual quest. She’s on a fake spiritual quest. Maybe once she’s done, then she’ll start to figure it out.” Luke turned to me for verification, “Right, Mom?”

I said nothing at all back.

And the vacuum was filled with fraternal verbal swordplay over whether what I’m doing is real or fake and what real or fake means anyway and whether the other could possibly understand anything at all in the first place and getting words in “edgewise” and who was interrupting whom.

I was taken aback by Luke’s words. It was almost like he was asking me to reassure him I wasn’t actually on a personal spiritual search but just engaged in a safe exercise in journalism - the look on his face, his full blue-eyed question, the morning light on the tiled floor, on the corner of the yellow table cloth, the complete momentary pause in the conversation.

Why can’t I answer? Is what I’m doing fake? And what could fake possibly mean when I’ve dropped everything in my life to do this and only this?

I have to admit I’m on some kind of personal search. If “fake” means I don’t know whether I’ll get anywhere, if “fake” means I might not get to any definitive place, any definitive faith by the end of this, if “fake” means I might find out I don’t have the ability to be what people call “spiritual” within me, then I guess I must accept that label as possible. What I’m doing is nothing more than what every single human being, aware of their own mortality, must go through in one form or another.

But I want something more from this than digging up my own personal belief system. I want to understand what’s happening in a world beset by violence that claims religious doctrine as its source and that obsession of mine is very real. And, whether global or just personal, I do have faith that my effort will be worth something in the end even if I can’t know right now in what way precisely. That faith isn’t fake. That faith I have. That faith is real.


  1. The kids' question here is great. From a story-telling point of view, this little scene is wonderful because it calls into question something anyone with a brain is going to think. If you are approaching this with some sort of journalistic or other distance, then are you just a tourist? And how much can we trust a dispassionate eye when we're talking about faith, which requires some soul-searching if it's to be legit enuff to cut to the quick.

    The fact that your son might be worried about the other end of the pole, that you might become a freak/devotee of some kind, also illustrates a concern we, the readers, might have. Is Marley going to go off the deep end a join a cult? Or even a legit cult patented by the Major Seven?

    My 2 cents on the topic at hand, "fake:" here's a tautology for you and a blind assertion of faith - anything that Marley does is not fake. it's a tautology because "Marley" always equals "not fake" in my book. The questions remain legit, however. as far as you run the risk of seeming like either a tourist or someone too desperate for answers and all the pop-psychological inferences we might muster to back up that assertion.

    I'm a little concerned that you are going to this well to try to understand a world beset by violence that uses or abuses religion as it's dogma. It's okay to look for answers, but troublesome if you believe you will really find anything more satisfying than a deeper picture of the complexity of it all. Call me a fatalist (not pre-determiend, but maybe inevitable) but I think being nasty is convenient to our baser impulses and that we (as a species) wield our intellects, moral doctrines, etc. as useful tools in enacting our darker purposes. I don't think that means we can't also wield all that stuff for better, but it takes more effort and (invoking physics) energy always returns to a lower state.

    Call me Norse: The world will end. The fenris wolf swallows the sun. Gods and heroes will struggle against the forces that maintain order and good in the universe, but will eventually be overwhelmed. Still, the fight is good. The attempt to find meaning in religion, the striving to be good and question bad - those remain worthy things, but I'm not sure they get to win.

    I continue to wish you joy and light in the quest.

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  3. Alec9,

    I just reread this post of yours and it moved me all over again.

    Perhaps you are right and the struggle to find meaning will turn out, ultimately, to be useless but I'm not sure we have any other choice but to try. Bernie Glassman recently said something like "I'm not interested in answers - answers can be quite deadly. But it's in questions, where the energy is, where a lot of life is."

    (Here's a link to a YouTube video of the talk where he said talked about this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=wGL6e0f2l7g)

    On the question of whether or not I am looking for answers in the right place or with the right process... It's hard to say what I will come away with once this mission of mine is through but I can safely say I am learning things I never expected to learn. I agree that one of my central questions - why people of faith are at odds with each other - might answered more by the process of what I'm doing rather than what I'm specifically learning as I study and begin to practice each faith.

    For example, as of this moment, after being in and out of a number of different houses of worship in a number of different traditions, I've found it's pretty remarkable how similar the group dynamics are from place to place. There are charismatic leaders many want to be near, a small group of those with insider knowledge and power, another group who usually resents some or all of the people in that insider group, and at least one person people try to avoid. There's usually a rabid rule-follower who annoys those who take the rules less seriously and who prefer to concentrate on enjoying the group joie de vivre.

    This is probably another example of just how little I knew but, before I got into this project, I thought the decision to commit to a faith had to do solely with coming to believe in the tenets, principles, and practices of that faith. I never really understood the degree to which religion is as much a social decision as a spiritual one, that it has a lot to do with belonging to a group. It seems that, for many people, the precise tenets and practices are less important than that they have an identity and a social network.

    Given this, it's hardly a surprise that individuals can't always get along, that groups can't get along with other groups, or that group bonds are strengthened by outside threats, real or imagined.


I'm interested in any and all comments although it may take me a while to post them.