“Faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.”~Hebrews, 11:1.
Story telling comes naturally to the human race. It is how we make sense of the world, of our lives, of relationships. Even little children can spin a yarn as they tell you about a bee in the closet, or an encounter at school. There are good story tellers and bad story tellers, some you wish would just get to the point! Poets arrange their stories with care, bringing a rhythm and a rhyme to their words. Lyricists make their stories even more memorable when they put them to music. Songs describe our pain, our joy, our love and so much more.
As far back as the caveman we have been telling our tales, carving our lives into stone, leaving cave paintings to record our presence on this earth. In the retelling of stories we learn our history. As the youngest child in my family, I was acutely aware that there were many stories I was not a part of. ‘Was I born?’ was my famous question. Often when we hear the best stories often enough, we actually remember the event, especially if it is supported by photos. The story becomes so real, we swear we were there.
I was thinking about the comfort of religion, the stories that have been repeated and retold, that when accepted in faith can assure and reassure of the existence of an all-knowing God. But although many accept in faith, it is not the same as knowing what happens to the special unseen part of a human being when the heart stops forever. I have never been comfortable with the thought of a heaven and a hell, it seems a little arbitrary. Hell in particular seems particularly cruel. So despite the teachings of my childhood that is not a story that I accept in blind faith. But what happens to our essence, that unseen spirit, the part that cannot be biopsied or seen under a microscope. Where does it go when set free from an aging, sick or damaged body?
We certainly keep people alive when we tell their stories, or retell stories about them. We keep them alive in the DNA that we each have inherited from the first man and woman that appeared on this earth. Those who have left physical bodies of work can remain alive in books, and songs, and beautiful paintings, which now can be seen by so many more thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web.
Buddhists teach that suffering comes from wanting things to be other than how they are. We waste a lot of energy wishing and hoping that things had not happened a certain way, or that we could have done things differently. Not only does this cause you suffering, it is also a wasted emotion, for one thing we know for certain, is that we cannot go back and undo the past. So how do we make sense of these lessons that life teaches us? How can we pay the lesson forward, use it to make sense of this unpredictable and fragile world?
It seems to me that more than any other thing, love is the infinite substance that as humans we have the capacity to show and share and feel. My father once gave a beautiful wedding speech where he spoke about the different words that the Greeks had for love, describing the different types of love. Eros describes erotic love, that passionate chemistry of response between two consenting adults. Philia means friendship, usually between equals. Storge represents the love in a family, between parents and children. Agape means brotherly love, but it also means the unconditional love of God for His children. Another definition says it means to wish good for another. How rich are we that we can be surrounded by love on a daily basis? And how can we use this love to direct our thoughts, words and actions, so that we can live better with each other?
In trying to make sense of our time here on earth, I have been struggling with this question of what happens next. But as the Buddhists remind me, since it is not something I can change through thought, perhaps I should just let it go, and wait for the surprise (hoping it does not come too soon!). But it gives me great comfort to think of the possibility of those who have gone before us as being a source of love and light for those of us who remain on this plane. And as another great one who left too soon said: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (MLK Jr). It is hard to remember this when our knee jerk reaction to atrocities in Bourkina Fasso, in Pakistan, calls for demonstrations of murderous revenge.
I was observing the way we automatically show manners and respect for total strangers, saying please and thank you; being gracious and generous. Showing empathy to those in distress, identifying with the suffering of those half a world away. We have an innate capacity for caring and for love, but often become hardened and cynical over time. We suspect the motives of everyone; we mistrust those soliciting phone calls, the scruffy panhandlers (or are they angels?) at the intersection. And although we cannot save everyone, perhaps if we started by sending out love to clear our path each day, tapping into the love which streams into our world from people known and unknown, present and past, maybe, just maybe we could shift the collective consciousness of our planet.
Have a fabulous weekend Family! We are in this together, so we may as well recognize our kinship, and none of us will get out of it alive!