“Faith is trust. Faith is a deep sense of connectedness with being.” Eckhart Tolle
It’s been the “year of COVID” and the entire year had passed as stress-filled, uncomfortable, and strangely blank in my memory. This entire year has felt to me like when Wile E. Coyote runs off the cliff out into thin air, but has not yet realized it. I had awakened early this morning to a vague sense of dread. I anticipated a full day of doing things I had to do: pay bills, clean the house, repair things, etc. Not an ounce of joy was in the plan. I was a bit under the weather with allergies, but otherwise was in no pain… physical pain, that is. I was marinating, however, in psychic pain. Reaching for electronic relief, I picked up my iPhone and started compulsively searching the internet for anything to numb the discomfort. Sadistically, I opened up my email app. I wasn’t expecting an announcement from the lottery; instead, each swipe left me wincing, expecting bad news, or demands to be placed on me from work emails, or the notifications of bills past due. Then I ran across an email headlined with the above quote from Eckhart Tolle. Again:
“Faith is trust. Faith is a deep sense of connectedness with being.”
I have always struggled with “faith,” especially the capitalized variety. Cynicism, skepticism, intellectual curiosity are what I perceive as my greatest strengths. Optimists (I am married to one) who live by “it’s going to be ok” have always seemed silly to me. “Of course things aren’t going to just “BE” ok; someone has to MAKE them ok!” I want to say to all of them. I realized in a flash that the pain I was feeling was DISCONNECTION. The Tolle quote highlighted a point that I had never considered. That point: If faith – the sense that things will be ok (more accurately, ARE ok) is connectedness, then it follows that disconnection is the opposite of faith. The state in which I awoke this morning – profound uneasiness, anxiety, loneliness – is nothing more than intense faithlessness, or disconnection with being. So the Reader’s Digest version:
Connection is faith; disconnection is suffering.
Easy enough. Feeling like crap is not caused by disconnection, it IS disconnection. So just get more connected, right? Makes perfect sense to me. Either I’m feeling a part of creation or not. Either all alone, fighting a lost battle, or part of all of creation, forever. So it’s our choice: either our existence is marked by inevitable decline, suffering, and death, sprinkled with momentary pleasurable distractions, or ALL of it is as it is meant to be. The very obvious next question is, “connect to what?!”
Sin and the Fires of Hell
My introduction to the Christian idea of “sin” came when my family immigrated from Tehran, Iran to Memphis, TN in 1977. I was dropped into an all-white, all-boys parochial elementary school without a discussion or even a short pep-talk. At the school, I was marched off to chapel three times a week and made to sit in a church pew, and mouth hymnals, and “open my Bible to the book of so and so, chapter so and so, verse so and so.” I had never before seen a Bible, much less thumbed through one, with its golden-embossed spine and its wispy-thin pages. “What is this ‘bow down your head’ thing all about,” I thought as I secretly looked around to see if everyone was actually bowing their heads. I have moving-picture memories of the Bible teacher, Mr. John Duke, with his fat-knotted tie, weatherman hair, and thick rimmed glasses, speaking emphatically at the lectern about sin, and eternal flames and such. I had the simultaneous urges to shrink away into nothingness and to run out of the church screaming. But instead, I sat quietly and endured, hoping no one would notice that I didn’t belong. After my initial sink-or-swim introduction to Christianity, I spent the next 40 or so years with my early impression of sin, which I call the “Mr. Duke” version; that is, in short, “you’re a bad boy because you do bad things. Repent, and maybe burning in hell for eternity can be averted.”
On first read, Isaiah 59:1-3 seems to reinforce the Mr. Duke version of sin:
The LORD’S arm is not too short to save nor His ear too dull to hear; rather, it is your iniquities that raise a barrier between you and your God; it is your sins that veil His face, so that He does not hear. Your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with crime; your lips speak lies and your tongues utter injustice.
But I don’t think anymore that sin is a chain of bad behaviors that distance us from God. Sin IS the actual state of separation, disconnection, from our Source, our creator. The core meaning of the passage above is that separation between man and God is a CHOICE that man makes; God is always with us, the passage proclaims, it is our actions (sins) that “veil his face” to us. Bible scholar John Ritenbaugh writes, “Everyone who reads the Bible with any kind of understanding recognizes that man and God are not on the same wavelength. They are estranged from one another.”
The late leader of the Vietnamese Buddhist movement, Thich Nhat Hanh, emphasized the same point, albeit without the fire and brimstone: “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” In other words, have faith that you are already connected, and were never actually disconnected.
Sin and Syn
The word “Sin” dates back to English 1100-1500, meaning a transgression against God or morality. Change one letter and you get the word “Syn.” Commonly used today as a prefix, “Syn” predates the word “Sin” and derives from Greek, meaning “with” or “together.” Examples of this prefix used in our language are “synthesis” and “synergy.” The obvious conclusion is that at some point “Syn,” or the state of togetherness with the Creator, turned into “Sin,” or separation from God.
The illusion that we are separate – from each other, from all of the material world, and from God- is one that we buy into by choice. And having Faith (capital F) is also a choice. The former means spending your moments on this earth gritting your teeth and clenching your fists, clawing and scratching as you descend to inevitable death. The latter means breathing deeply, fully feeling all that each moment has to offer – good and bad – with the Faith that you are, always have been, and will always be connected.
Shifting from “Sin,”our natural born state of separation from God, to “Syn,” or connectedness with God is the point of our existence. I don’t mean this idea to be philosophy; I mean it in a moment-to-moment, real-life way. Take this very moment, for example. I want you to take the next 30 seconds to STOP. Stop reading, thinking, even stop breathing. Then just take a deep breath, and BE. Go ahead. Do it, now.
For most of us, even thirty seconds of being completely here is excruciating. If you keep practicing, the 30 seconds may become a minute... thirty minutes... even a few hours. But start with 30 seconds. That is enough for now. Becoming aware, even if it is just for 30 seconds, that the mind's ceaseless dialogue is pulling you away from the moment, is all you need. This yanking away is SIN. It is how separation from God happens.
“If praying is speaking to God, then meditation is listening.” – Rupaul