Wednesday, March 07, 2007


"At bottom, the whole concern of religion is with the manner of our acceptance of the universe," said William James, who, in the Varieties of Religious Experience, was one of the first to study religion as a natural phenomenon. Ironically, most people who consider themselves religious say "no" to the universe. Their guiding purpose is to get out of the universe into a supernatural realm where they will live forever in the bosom of their deity. They wait to be raptured. They blow themselves up with suicide bombs. When a loved one dies, they say, "She's in a better place." Meanwhile a universe of astonishing mystery and majesty goes unexplored.

Yes, I say, yes. Yes to the gecko on the window screen. Yes to the cherry tomatoes that ripen in the pots on the porch. Yes to the thick gray clouds that roll in from the north as I write. Yes to the woman who lies sleeping in the bed I left just moments ago. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Why am I here? asked the catechism of my youth. The answer: To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a long way toward explaining why we anthropomorphize the Mystery with the idolatrous "Him," but with William James I might still give pretty much the same answer. Why am I here? To know the universe (science), to love the universe (art), to serve the universe (conscience). Acceptance. Acceptance of what is, and when the time comes to let it go, be grateful that I was part of it.