Doubt and Faith and Coffee

Rev. Henry Simoni-Wastila
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 07/24/2016

Doubt and Faith and Coffee--© Henry Simoni-Wastila

Faith is about the core.
Faith is about pausing.
Faith is about the reality of Life, the coffee not the cups, the essence not the shell.
Faith is about our making life sweet instead of complaining about the bitterness of life.
In our responsive reading, “Summer Meditation,” by Robert Weston it was said, “The sun beats down; it is a time for pause.” Faith is about pausing
Faith is about the core.

In our ceaselessly flowing lives, moving from one thing to another, hectic, busy, not quite at peace, we can often become distracted. We can live on the periphery. We can get separated from core realities.
Faith is that which calls us back to what is most valuable. Something essential or true in life is, at times, strangely difficult to envision. We can barely see the core of what we want. It’s not crystal clear. We don’t know how to find it. We can only have faith in it.

It seems clear to many religious people that things aren’t clear. Many theologians and mystics assert that faith is not something we can be completely clear about.
We cannot see or understand God, however defined.
Huston Smith, in one of our reading wrote, “Because the human mind cannot come within light-year of comprehending God’s nature, we do well to follow Rainer Maria Rilke’s suggestion that we think of God as a direction rather than an object.”
Yes, define the Divine is so difficult. God is not a physical object, which would be an idol. And God is not an object for our minds that we can know, and define and fully comprehend. God should not be an idol of the mind.
So, it seems we are stuck with a cloudy, formless faith. Instead of religion being the pure clarity of life, --it is “darkness” in some ways. But it’s a fertile darkness.
In terms of Life, I would say “the Essential in Life” is distant from where we are at times, so how can we capture it?

Just as religious people have a lack of clarity in defined God, so too do we all share in a lack of clarity about the “Core of Life.”

I feel mystery is still an important idea in religion and in human experience. And it’s not a bad thing. Clarity and mystery are poles of our existence.


Did you ever catch a butterfly? I don’t like to do it too much as the wings are so fragile. But if you catch one, you can hold it close up. But to see it fly, you have to let it go. So, there you have it: the clarity of seeing its beauty up close must be given up to see blur of flight, an activity we can’t see with perfect clarity.
Spirit is experience-able in free creativity more than in settled thoughts. Faith never turns the mystery into the mundane. Faith may be an inspiration, but its not a possession.

Tradition Religion

So much in traditional religion, however, gets this wrong right at the start. The Western religions of the book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam often focus on trying make the mystery comprehensible. They try to hold the butterfly down, even pinning it in a display case. But in this case, the butterfly is the Divine. Much better to see it’s flight. –To see the direction it goes.

Thus, in a way, Faith is not about what is seen, but about that which could be. It’s about a form of life in which our core humanity comes to forefront. When we are really real, and all the inessential things recede into the background, we live in the core.

Knowing Where You Are Going

I know a person who had just been saved from death, but he said something I found quite strange. He said, “Yes, it was a little scary. But not really. I know where I’m going. I have no doubts about the afterlife.” And so on. That really struck me, because saying, “I have absolutely no doubts about the afterlife,” is such a blanket statement. It can only come from unswerving faith. I don’t know if I have that kind of faith. And I’m not really sure that is the kind of faith that really can exist. ..Maybe I’m just a little jealous.

I didn’t want to argue with him. I didn’t think it was my place to remind him of the possibility that death is utter annihilation. Nobody likes that, nobody likes to think about that. Except perhaps the poets and the philosophers. And so, for me, Robert Frost talks about “a blanker whiteness of benighted snow/ With no expression, nothing to express,” that describes an emptiness he feels “so much nearer home.” He not talking about snow, but the loneliness that “will be more, ere it will be less.” It is a vision of death as utter stopping, complete cessation, total annihilation and emptiness. It’s a vision of loneliness. It’s scary. There are moments like this in life.
You can get religion once you’ve looked into such a storm. But that religion does not have to be absolute. Blind faith can seem the only way, the only choice. But it isn’t Either complete meaninglessness or the absolute negation of meaninglessness. Either negation or the negation of negation.

Eternal life negates the negation that death is.

But even faced with the white snow of loneliness, I find a religion of mystery still valuable and real.
My friend’s religion was absolute and comforting. “Having no doubt,” about the afterlife obviates the whole possibility of death as annihilation. It’s comforting certainly, if you can belief that. Absolute faith, a faith so perfect that it is beyond doubt, edges into metaphysical projection of our wants onto the Universe. I’m not sure it is realistic. I’m not sure it’s authentic. I’m not sure it is even worthy of the name faith.

Faith In Another Form

There is another way. This middle way is faith looked upon as a door or a window into a fuller, more authentic form of existence. “Live the questions,” Rilke reminds us. Live in spite of the possibility of meaninglessness. Be at peace.

Huston Smith offers a faith of this type. Huston Smith is one of the best thinkers about religion. He speaks of a longing for a “more” than the “world of everyday experience” can “requite.” There is a tragic side to life, an unsatisfactoriness simmering about. There is a hunger for something more. For Smith, this hunger speaks of something that will fulfill it, but he says the human mind cannot comprehend God’s nature. “Because the human mind cannot come within light-years of comprehending God’s nature, we do well to follow Rainer Maria Rilke’s suggestion that we think of God as a direction rather than an object.”

We should not think of God as an object, but as Rilke says, more like a direction. We do not possess Infinity; but, perhaps, we are possessed by it. To say one has absolute faith, to say one, “has no doubt about where one is going,” misses the point I think, because there is no way of saying that in an objective way.

To me, any rational, thoughtful religion has got to know what Robert Frost and Huston Smith are talking about. Denial is not a reason; it’s a blinder. Projection our deep need for a solution to death or loneliness is not a reason in itself. Courage is not blinded to the realities of being and non-being, but lives on. And it’s in the living on, creatively and courageously, that we will find what we need to find.

If you start out your religion in absoluteness, when you need to face relativity and non-absoluteness, you’re not starting your humanity in the right way. You’ve made faith into fanaticism. If there is a connection between religion and psychology, then metaphysical denial might, in some cases, lead to forms of psychological denial. Think of all the irrational lengths people will go to prop up an outdated faith.

Faith Positively Speaking

I’ve talked about what faith is not, now I’ll try to say what faith might be.
Faith, at least for me, trying to define the indefinable, is about authenticity, being real.
Faith is idea that we can find peace.
Faith is the idea that we can find companionship even in loneliness.
Faith is the idea our lives are going in the right direction.
Faith is not about absoluteness, but living well the mystery.

I think absoluteness is a great idol the human mind creates. Something in use fears a mystery. You can possess the idol you make, yet you can never possess the Transcendent Spirit. We all have the demons of manipulation. We all have the demon of aggression. We all have the demon of cloying victimization. These demons slaughter the spirit of those who cannot see the storm, acknowledge it, and yet still live well.

You need to have peace about the storm lest fear subsume you. Denial that we can find peace is the initial faithlessness, the primal heresy. Faith is what connects us with our present experience of peace, not believing a catechism.

Authoritarianism in religion isn’t about the inner experience of peace and love, but really a big, wrong step in the wrong direction.

I would say that authoritarianism is actually a primal rejection of the possibility of real, lived faith.

Faith isn’t about achieving permanence in quantity of life; faith is about taking a path in achieving authenticity in the quality of life.

Faith is about believing that you can do it, that you can find a way to live better.
Faith is about knowing you can yet love more deeply, you can care more immediately.
Faith is the awareness you can be more beingly.

Faith is the feeling your heart is going in the right direction. What direction is that? It’s getting bigger and better. You love more. Tough love sometimes, but real love.

Have you really been working on how you love your fellow human beings this summer? I guess I haven’t been as much as I should. I need worship to call me back the practice of faith. It’s so easy to get caught up in the coffee cups.

Vision of God as the Direction of Love

Perhaps the direction of the Universe is towards Love, and perhaps the direction of things to Love is all we can know of Spirit, which we call Divinity, and which we can called the Creator who made it so wonderfully. –The Great One who Loves, trying to teach us how to love. –Not really caring so much what we believe about the religious idols we construct for ourselves. –Like a music teacher trying to teach a young musician the beauty of a piece, not getting the notes right or playing really fast to show off. –Teaching the beauty of a melody. --Rather, a pedagogy of love, an education in caring. For this is the answer to loneliness. Love fills in the emptiness.

How can you see the butterfly fly into the sky if you are holding it between your fingers?

Once more, consider the story about the coffee and the coffee cups. The alums were taken up by the allure of the nicer cups, not recognizing what is essential is simply the coffee. So much in life is like that. Sadly, so much in religion mistakes the first step. It’s not about believing difficult theological statements to be absolute true; it’s about the inner path we tread.

Are we kind?
Are we open to joy?
Are we compassionate?

We human beings are easily distracted. Like a spinning top we are so easily put off balance.
We lose our way, and we need something to call us back.
To what? How? To a more authentic life. By faith. Faith calls us to a more authentic life, to what is essential, to the core. And what a beautiful essence that can be.

Bliss. Beatitudine. Sayeed. Eudaimonia. Ananda. Bliss.
Bliss, Bliss, Bliss, Bliss.