This post appeared first in The Finger Lakes Times (NY) as part of the series, “Denim Spirit.”
There is a recently recognize literary genre called spiritual fiction. It is the religious equivalent of a romance novel. In other words, generally flowered language following a well-worn scenario of protagonist succumbing to temptation or somehow entering personal crisis and torment, only to find salvation and moral prosperity through faith. All’s well that ends well.
It works for some people. Without romance novels funding the rest of the fiction genres, there might not be any fiction published at all!
Still, I prefer something I call god noir. It depicts a spirituality that refuses certainty, and operates in the real world of ambiguity.
Rather than depicting the sacred as shiny and spectacular, a flash of light or supernatural miracle, god noir features holiness as threadbare and woven into the ordinary. It is there for people with open minds and hearts to perceive but easily stepped over by most.
One of the problems of religion in the twenty first century, is describing biblical stories as if they were historical events that could or do still happen. That is basically like asking us to believe Black Panther and Transformer movies could really, really happen. The comparison between Moses parting the Red Sea or Jesus curing a paraplegic on the spot, and our own moments of sensing God’s presence, is simply a pale one. That does not make the quieter, still small voice in our lives impotent, but it does diminish it because the expectation is for a Disney-like experience.
Seeing fantasy in 3-D does not make it any less fantasy, it simply distorts our sense of reality.
That is my take anyway. I prefer to go looking for the sacred where it is least expected – in our brokenness, rising up along the socio-economic margins, at the border of powerlessness, in the dark where we can’t see, and among the people we least expect the image of God to appear.
Sure, we get taken up into the transcendence of mountains and the forested magnificence of nature as in the vaulted ceilings of spectacular churches. But what about in the words unsaid, the face only you saw and cared about, the unforeseen and unnoticed serendipity that changed the course of bigger things? How about the one time a jerk did something benevolent for someone else and it changed both of them? Or in the grim anxiety gnawing inside, when we finally listened to it and heard what we needed to hear. There are so many ordinary instances of the sacred, but we often miss them while looking up toward the clouds.
The fact is, we lead lives of ambiguity because right and wrong frequently refuse to make themselves obvious. We suffer from remarkably common dis-ease, because depression, anger, grief, and emotional pain in all its frightful diversity erodes our balance. Instead of enhanced sound through Bose speakers, God is heard, if at all, in whispers on the wind or with the faintest of breath in our ear. Sometimes the tough callous between God and us is thinned just enough, and we sense the presence of a power greater than ourselves. But it is only ever thinned, not pierced.
Beware the headset of virtual reality when it comes to religion and spirituality, opt instead, for the still, small voice. But that’s just one man’s opinion.