This essay was delivered for me by a friend at our Unitarian church when we had a “This I Believe” service during which several of the congregants stood up to make statements. If chosen for broadcast, that same friend or my fifteen-year- old daughter would gladly read my words for me again.
I never ever speak publicly myself, due to my lifelong speech impediment (a stutter), but Liza has agreed to be my voice at the podium today. I was honored by the invitation to share some of what I believe in 500 words or less.
My big chance to make a statement! So many beliefs swirled within me! Which ones should I share? That vegetables are best consumed raw? That we should kill our televisions? That my four children should do their own laundry? No– I knew I was expected to go larger, to go cosmic.
With this notion, my heart rate rose. My brain felt mushy. But on the ride home after this project was suggested to me, I began scribbling sentences on the back of an envelope pressed crazily against the steering wheel. This I believe: essays should not be composed at 50 miles per hour. However, here goes:
Part One: Among the things I scribbled is what appears on a bumper sticker I gave one of my children last year. It says: Assume Nothing. This is harder than it sounds. In myriad ways, assumptions get us into trouble both emotionally and intellectually. If, as a strict practice, they can be avoided, so can lots of mistakes and confusion. Scientists are trained this way, but it’s worth bearing in mind more broadly –such as when trying to communicate with others or when trying to comprehend a religion, philosophy, or worldview.
I believe in taking the time to tease out what my assumptions are and in then seeing if they are valid or deserve busting. Associated with this, I believe in fostering and maintaining doubt. Few things scare me more than beliefs expressed devoid of even a smidgen of doubt. I believe that humans know very little and that doubt balances belief nicely. In this way, we avoid being hubristic or simply too big for our britches.
Part Two: I believe there is a divine force about which we know nothing. I never make any statements about this force because I also believe it is impossible to know anything about it. And I like it that way. It seems that is exactly as it should be. I have been brought to this belief by somehow being infused with what is called “radical amazement”, a term coined by Abraham Heschel, a Jewish Theologian from the early 1900’s. I am infused with radical amazement naturally, but I must also sometimes remember to foster it, to stay awake to see the unlikelihood, fabulous mystery and stunning beauty in most of what surrounds us every single day. There is the wineberry, there is the kidney, there is human language, there is music, there is love, sweet love. It is enough to knock us back on our rear-ends, to leave us reclining in wonder. We must block out some of the glory, some of the splendor, in order to get anything done at all—(remember that laundry!)—BUT I believe in experiencing the wonder to the highest degree possible given that I am not a monk. The insights which arise from radical amazement feel themselves like revelation—The divine power disclosing itself to humanity, or at least to me.
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