This I Believe

James - Easton, Maryland
Entered on November 22, 2006

This I Believe

James M. Bank

Years ago, when I was a teacher of religion at a major University, I used to say to my classes that God never sits down to tea with any of us. We may talk of what happens to us in ways that might imply such an experience, such a presence in our lives, but a leap of faith is always required when we do so.

“As a boy,” I would tell my students by way of example, “we lived in a large house on a tree lined street. And on more than one occasion during any year, great electrical storms would pass through the area with lightning flashes and roaring thunder coming all around.

“When that happened,” I would say, “I’d pray for just one bolt of lightening in our great maple tree or in the yard that stretched out about us. ‘Just give me that one bolt of lightning,’ I’d say, ‘and I’ll believe.’ But it never happened.”

One year I told this story and a young wag in the back of the lecture room asked if that wasn’t the reason why I was teaching rather than preaching. We all got a laugh out of that.

Years have gone by – more than thirty of them spent first as a military chaplain and then as a parish minister. But I still hold to the dictum that God doesn’t sit down to tea with any of us. In fact, as the years have gone by, I have found less and less value for God talk in my own life. I have no concept of an afterlife and accept that my choices for good or ill rest squarely on my own shoulders – as your choices rest on yours.

I truly believe that regardless of our deeds or misdeeds all of us are going to the same reward – which may be too highly charged a word for what awaits us. Sometimes I prefer to say that all of us will merge simply with the void, and leave it at that.

In saying this I am aware that I keep company with mystics of many faith backgrounds, some of whom would say that we confront the void because it is so full that we cannot see what is there. I am content with their company no more nor less than those who say we see a void because nothing is there.

I’ve come to accept, as well, Liz Margoulis’ comment of many years ago to the effect that our lives are of no more cosmic value – and probably much less – than those of the microbes that came about long before us and will probably survive long after we are gone to dust and ashes, whether we “go” individually or as a species or as part and parcel of this puny little planet on the outer edge of a third rate galaxy on which we dwell.

Yet I counter-balance all of this speculation with one core belief: that it is our duty to live our lives in relation to each other and to the greater world as though we were of cosmic worth, for in doing so, that worth is achieved. This I believe with all my heart.