As I was preparing to write this blog, I looked at the calendar and had a bit of, shall we say, a revelation. This will be my last opportunity to write to you before Christmas! As such, it behooves me to share a Christmas blog… a little early to be sure, but close enough for government work.
The gravamen of this particular blog is a little out of our normal subject matter, faith… and not in a traditional religious sense.
Faith is an extremely important, if not an all-important, component of our spiritual dimension. Whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an Atheist, an Agnostic (or, like me, somewhat of a Deistic Existentialist), faith underlies the basic foundation for all spiritual thought. For without a belief that something exists beyond our mortal realm, or for the Atheist faith that nothing beyond exists, our spiritual development stops at the water's edge.
Faith also exists in our interpersonal lives and has a transmutative nature. When we have faith in those around us, real faith… not patronizing support… our own lives are enriched by the contributions of others.
Years ago, 1999 to be exact, I watched a truly beautiful movie. Ed Harris, one of my favorite actors, played the role of a Roman Catholic priest. He was based at the Vatican and his job was to discredit miracles putatively attributed to deceased individuals who had been nominated to sainthood. (In the Roman Catholic tradition, someone cannot be beatified until there have been three confirmed miracles attributed to them… hence the name of the movie: The Third Miracle.)
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Harris’ job was to keep the “Saint Rolodex” as exclusive as possible. Basically, he needed to investigate the “miracles” and discredit them. In the movie, a deceased individual who undeniably led an exemplary life is “up for sainthood.” Globally, there were three miracles that had reportedly taken place after people prayed in the name of this individual. So, off Harris goes to investigate… and ostensibly discredit… these events.
The one wrinkle in the move is that Ed Harris is a priest who has lost his faith. He is, at this point in his life, agnostic at best and heavily leaning toward atheism. He still goes through the motions of a priest, because… well… it is all that he knows. Two of the miracles he cannot discredit. The third one, however, is clearly the result of medical treatment and has nothing to do with divine intervention. During his journey, though, he regains his faith. This event, his acceptance of the divine, he considers to be the “third miracle” and reports his findings which result in beatification.
It is a beautiful movie that showed me something that my religious studies professors in college left out of the curriculum: Divine inspiration often comes from the interactions with those around us.
Angelica, some of you know her by her call sign as Seraphim, is without question the most “religious” of us here at the Artemis Defense Institute. She is a deeply devoted Christian and her faith is both inspiring and intellectually stimulating. She has a faith in the core of her religious convictions, yet is passionately aggressive in challenging some of the assumptions that many consider to be orthodoxy of the church. She is an intellectually demanding adherent to Christ; her faith is not challenged by those she meets, it is strengthened.
A couple of weeks ago I met her opposite, an Israeli who served in the IDF and lost many of his platoon to an assault by Hezbollah.
He retains his “Jewishness,” as I am “Jewish,” but he is now a devout atheist. He argues that the existence of God is supplanted by the reality that he allowed his so called “chosen people” to be murdered in front of him. His belief in the mythology of the Abrahamic tradition is tempered by the cold reality of the carnage that he saw, driven to a large part by adherents to that mythology. He has faith too… faith that the world has been duped by the need to believe in something beyond people’s desire to control other people.
While the description of the IDF SGT above might sound dismal, it is not intended to be. His faith dictates his decisions. He sees what he wants to see, and constructs his life based around the precepts he has created. These precepts were forged in aggression, and destruction, and to a large extent shaped him into who he is today. But we are not static creatures, are we? Faith sometimes changes with circumstances.
Just ask Angelica… like the Apostle Paul, she came to her faith… she was not always the same person she is today.
For me faith, and the struggle I have had with faith, has taken on an almost Muslim philosophical approach. The Koran talks of individual “submission.” That submission to faith has been one of the hardest things that I have had to struggle with throughout my life.
This struggle is especially true when faith becomes the faith in others.
The word Israel literally means “one who struggles”… it actually means “one who struggles with God”… but that struggle can take on a broad context.
I have struggled a great deal with the submission to faith in the good and the wisdom of others.
My wife and partner, Sandy, is the strongest and the wisest person I know. I married her for a reason. She challenges me, she stimulates me, and she guides me. Yet, my faith in her love for me, her respect for me, and her wisdom in life has always been challenged by my own insecurities. I might have claimed to have faith in her wisdom… but that faith had an intellectual safety net girded underneath.
When Sandy first proposed the Artemis Defense Institute, I was skeptical. I looked for the reasons it would not work, and had little trust in her wisdom that it would. When she would develop programing for Artemis or organizational structures, I would resist… not because I disagreed with the concepts, but, rather, I questioned my faith in her wisdom.
This made little sense. I knew, empirically and instinctively knew, her abilities far exceeded my own, and yet, I still resisted her ideas, all the while claiming to all who would listen that she was the smartest, most talented person I had ever known.
Like Ed Harris, I wore the vestments, but in reality, had abandoned my faith.
Something happened… and honestly I cannot point to one thing… not one transmutable event… instead it is more likely the result of self-introspection… and yes… the intellectual struggle of self-assessment… but I have learned to accept and rely on my faith. My faith in my wife has given me strength and comfort… just like Angelica’s faith in Christ gives her strength and comfort.
Is Sandy perfect? Not by a long shot… nor would she ever claim to be. Do I have faith in her wisdom and her support of me, of my family, and our extended family at Artemis? Yes… with absolute conviction.
So… there you have it:
Perhaps, that is the ultimate meaning of Christmas, not the arbitrary date we choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and not the pagan adoption of an elf who delivers gifts, not even the altruistic platitudes of “Peace on Earth” and “Good Will to Men.”
Perhaps the ultimate meaning of faith is a reflection on faith, and the beauty that comes from reciprocal love, both spiritual and personal, a love forged from a rigorous exploration of our own individual faiths.
As we head into the Christmas holidays, may the burdens of your world be lightened, may your families gather together to give you strength. May your times of reflection make you stronger, and may you sleep secure under the blanket of safety and freedom that others stand watch to provide. May you love each other deeply, and may you love yourself with the same passion. Have faith that the angels of heaven martial in your presence and guide you with the radiance of God himself.
God bless you all, and Merry Christmas!