I’ve struggled with faith my whole life. When I was younger I believed in G-d because it seemed like the only answer to why everything exists. However, growing up Catholic made me a little too neurotic and guilt ridden, so I was a militant atheist by the time I was 14. I met a girl in college who was a born-again Christian, so naturally I became a born-again Christian. I remember not needing proof that G-d existed because I could feel that G-d existed. Fast forward a couple years and a breakup later, feelings change, bada bing, bada boom, my belief in G-d evaporated. Back to atheism, albeit of a less militant variety.
Now fast forward 20 years, anxiety ridden, mid-life crisis, parents died a little too young, all those sorts of tragedies later, and I kind of want to believe in something again. I pray, I open my heart to G-d, I realize nature and the universe are wonderful things. I start to take a pantheistic approach – worship the universe in and of itself – with the caveat that if there is a more personal, animating, transcendent force in the universe that is the source of it all, hey, I have an open mind.
Some crazy coincidences and very happy feelings later, I find myself believing in G-d again. And finding that a lot of my stresses and anxieties melt away when I ponder that my place, all of our places, in the universe has a purpose, a purpose so intrinsic that we’re intricately bound up in G-d’s creation. That maybe all of creation couldn’t even exist without each and every one of us.
But I’m a scientist at heart, I’m not about to throw away all the evidence for evolution, big bang theory (which has spiritual implications, by the way), etc. that I’ve learned over my life. Scientists study the world as it is, develop theories to help them explain, and rigorously test those theories. That we know what we do today, that we have modern medicine and industry and consumer society and we understand more and more of outer space is because we have the scientific method.
So I still struggle with believing in G-d. Because G-d is something we can’t really see, we can’t really know in a real, tangible way. G-d is more like a magic eye picture – blur your eyes a bit, do a little hyper focusing and voila, you’ll see the duck or spaceship or whatnot.
I recently read a bit of Rambam (Maimonides), a Jewish philosopher, and he starts the list of mitzvot (commandments) as 1-To know that there is a G-d. The explanation is that we cannot be commanded to just believe. It is through our study, our prayer, our commitment and relationship with the Divine that we begin to know that G-d exists.
So what is faith? To get an old Boston song stuck in your head, it’s “more than a feeling”. Well, I take that back, I think faith is something that evolves over time. The first proverbial mustard seed of faith is an open mind (and an open heart). If you let yourself be sensitive to the world around you, you may start to find that crazy coincidences are perhaps a little too common, a little too perfect to ignore. Even if you don’t find that, you may look at a blade of grass, or a common house fly, or at the sky and wonder at it. Be grateful for it. It’s not my opinion, but a fact, that my/your/anyone’s existence on this planet in this universe with the ability to ponder our existence is totally awesome (In the truest sense of the word, not how we might say ‘that burger was awesome’. Well, to digress again, I suppose that we are able to experience and enjoy burgers is kind of awesome in the truest sense of the word too. See, that’s two miracles in as many minutes!).
The open heart leads to expanded thinking leads to feelings, a love of the natural world, a wonder at how much and how little we know, an awe at how amazing it is that we’re even here. That feeling is the start of faith. You want to be grateful (or find comfort from a tragedy), and G-d finds you. Your heart swells and you start to believe in G-d (or in something beyond yourself).
Now is the hard part. Feelings don’t last forever. They come and go like the clouds in the sky. When the feeling of love for what you decided to believe in dissipates, what then? Now is the time to work. And work doesn’t mean banishing all doubt from your mind, neurotically praying about every time you’ve sinned over the past twenty years, wondering how G-d could love you so much, then suddenly disappear to leave you alone and faithless once again. It means study, it means staying curious, it means keeping an open mind to who or what G-d is to you. It means cultivating a certain sensitivity to the spiritual that encompasses all things around us. Sometimes you’ll feel it, sometimes you won’t. So break out the rituals, the study, the challenging questions and, above all, the honesty with G-d. I pray every day. I make it a habit. And sometimes I throw my hands up to G-d and wonder why I don’t believe that day. I ask for faith. I ask for why I should believe. And G-d answers that faith is like a house. You commit to it and you build it slowly, over time. With study, kindness, good deeds, prayer, meditation, creativity, curiosity and an open heart. Faith is not a feeling. It is a commitment, a relationship, a deeper understand that no matter how you feel, G-d is there.