Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Can I fight to be the person philosophy wants me to be today?
Every day. And it’s not a fight. It’s a privilege and a responsibility. I feel that deeply. As Marcus Aurelius says in today’s meditation, “Keep yourself simple, good, pure, saintly, plain, a friend of justice, god-fearing, gracious, affectionate, and strong for your proper work….Revere the gods, and look after each other. Life is short–the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” That’s not a call to battle–it’s inspiration to always keep reaching.
It’s Easter. A friend posted a long piece about her challenges with “Church,” and I know many people who have complicated relationships with the faith of their childhood. I don’t have these stories–my departure from organized religious faith had very little to do with the hypocrisy of the churches I attended or any kind of traumatic event. In fact, I would argue that being heavily involved with my very liberal-leaning Presbyterian church as a teen paved the way for many of those ideals mentioned in today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt–particularly the sense of service to community. I was ordained as a Presbyterian deacon (and that’s a lifetime commitment–one I think I’m still striving to keep), which involved heavy involvement with my church’s outreach programs to the poor, older adults, and people in crisis. (And because we were liberal-leaning, this was done without moral judgement or conditions). My church was also heavily invested in peace and social justice initiatives–this was the 80s, and the Cold War was still frigid. But interestingly enough it was in the efforts to understand other approaches to faith–our Spring Break trips involved visits to synagogues, mosques, a Mormon temple (at least the part of it non-Mormons could see), a Catholic cathedral, and so on–that opened my mind to the possibility that no one religion had “the answer.”
So I’m left as what I would call a philosophical Christian. I have never abandoned my belief in the essential moral teachings of my upbringing. But my concept of divinity has changed to something far more abstract, and to my understanding, more powerful. My own exegesis has veered away from the literal and towards the moral and anagogical. Religion becomes a tool–and not the exclusive tool–of attempting to comprehend the unknown. But I have my own tools.
There was also the ritual and liturgical aspect that buried itself deep in my soul. The rhythm of a service and the music that accompanied it, the cycle of the liturgical year, the power of symbols and words said together, and the evocative visual impact of sacred spaces–that has a powerful and intense resonance for me beyond faith. How else can I explain why I can express such reverence for the Catholic Eucharist when I do not believe in it? How can Orthodox chant send shivers down my spine (even outside of the augmenting confines of an Orthodox cathedral?) Why do the elements of ceremony–of any kind–send me into a kind of ecstasy (in the both philosophical and religious meaning of ecstasis – to step out of oneself)? I can feel the foundations, the tensioning rods, the keystones, the flying buttresses of the universe when I am part of, or even just witness, these rituals that have bound people together for hundreds and thousands of years. Suddenly I am part of something larger and imminently more intense. I see what they saw, hear what they heard. And that applies outside of physical structures and scripted liturgy. Simply looking at the moon and stars (in particular) or nature will evoke those same feelings–the endless procession of the seasons, the dance of time itself. I can look at Jupiter through a telescope and rediscover the moons Galileo saw in their endless minuet. And yet, I can also see change–the remnants of a supernova, now a nebula, in the yearly meteor showers the remnants of comets now departed. But the skies themselves are a ceremony.
And so, I create my own rituals, sacred only to me. This is my faith turned inwards, feeling the pull of the universe. And returning it outwards, I build the bonds to those in my own world by following those simple ideals stated by Marcus Aurelius–simple, yes, but always a challenge, not always easy.
I have one day left in my mini-vacation. After a difficult start on Thursday, I gained my footing on Friday. I have accomplished maybe not as much as I would have liked, but that was primarily because I set my sights too high. I did take time to enjoy time walking and enjoying the rapidly-emerging spring (even though it was a little cold). I read two or three articles, made some progress on my primary source project, and today got all of the goldwork done on my cat embroidery (after deciding on using another type of gold thread than I had originally started with), all the while playing my two RPGs.
I’m definitely feeling refreshed. To use the RPG terminology, I feel as if the universe has applied a healing spell, and I’ve gotten most of my hit points back.