November 2, 2015

Religion Requires Risk

About a week ago I went to a reading at my friend's house. This happens every month or two. We gather in his living room and read things we’ve written or read that we’d like to share. Sometimes people read a funny piece of spam they’ve encountered, an essay they are working on, or a passage from a short story they love. 

This particular evening one person read some lovely and heartfelt poetry that had never been read by another human being. Someone else read some of her touching and funny thoughts about death, including the death of her mother. One friend composed a letter to her recently deceased friend right in front of us, which was both raw and moving.

Most of these people are not religious. They don't go to church and or necessarily believe in God. Nonetheless there was something holy about how honest and vulnerable we all were there in my friend's house. 

In church sometimes we are too concerned expressing and creating polished, joyful moments, rather than the harder truths about our doubt and fear. Yet, as the Commemoration of All Souls Day and all the celebrations around it remind us, we also need those difficult and honest commemorations of death and pain we’ve all experienced. 
We sometimes imagine that religion is something we can protect ourselves with, a fortress or an argument rather than a tool that we use to get closer to the holy and the human around us. Religion, at it’s best, like stories, is not a dispenser of undeniable truths, but a way into the world, a way to reach other human beings, a way to reach God. 

Telling true stories about ourselves is risky, of course. We risk saying something we regret; we risk people knowing things about us that we’d rather keep hidden. But religion, like writing, requires risk. It requires expressing things that we believe are true and also a willingness to be wrong or lost, but with the knowledge that the other people in the room are also taking risks and are also a little frightened. It’s risky, but there’s no other way to live, really, if we don’t want our faith to calcify and become brittle. 

Our stories can be a lens into other lives, a way into each other’s hearts. When we open ourselves up by telling the truth about ourselves, we see the image of God, sometimes strong and beautiful, sometimes broken and confused. Both images are true and necessary. 

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