Friday, December 19, 2008

Gratitude and the atheist's spirit

I'm a jew. Sort of. Small "j," anyway. Years ago I was observant: I kept a kosher home for a time, observed Shabbat, and knew a lot of prayers. At times it was a heartful thing for me; sometimes on Friday evenings I felt connected, close, wrapped up in a web of life and spirit much bigger than me. My ex-wife and I had probing and powerful conversations with our religious friends. I often walked for hours on Saturdays, meditating in the way a privileged 20-something will, spirit soaring.

Then I got divorced, and in the process of obtaining a get, a Jewish decree of divorce, I met with a panel of Orthodox Rabbis. Dissatisfied with my converted mother's bona fides, they declared unanimously that I was no Jew. That was 1995, and I've hardly lit a candle since.

It took me years to understand fully that I put that light out myself. I blamed the beard & shtreimel set, convinced that they took something from me.

Since that time I've come to a different understanding of God. As in, there isn't one, outside of the God we've invented in our human language. I've got all the same arguments anyone else in my position does - we need some framework to ponder the imponderables, for example.

So many blogs about gratitude seem to fall into one (or both) of two categories: religion or recovery from addiction. This one is neither. I thought I'd bring it up early and get it out of the way at least as far as context goes. I do wrestle with the religion question.

What a luxury to have the time, energy, and comfort to noodle this stuff around in my head. Being religion-free has advantages, perhaps chief among them is that I am aloof, protected by some veneer of rationalism from all the crazy shit I don't understand in the world. Plenty of that going around, by the way. And of course I am much "better than" the religious fundamentalists whose seething hatred fuels so much disaster in virtually every corner of the world. One might argue that fundamentalism is the shadow side of religion but now I'm headed for an even deeper digression.

The point is this: I'm an unreconciled atheist, and already only a few days into this silly experiment of writing and thinking about gratitude I'm sensing the gap between my rational conviction that there is no God and my soul-deep yearning for a spiritual connection through the world and all the people in it, not to mention whatever lies beyond it. There are imponderables, after all. And every time we read another story of human goodness poking like a weed through the heavy cover of grave circumstance, I think we're all pulled for even the tiniest moment to believe that something grand is moving out there.

Maybe not. What I'm thankful for this morning is that the sun is shining, as it does. It's just the simplest little miracle, anyway.