Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pondering the Starfish

I started this blog as a way to nail down and give explanation to how my spiritual beliefs had changed. I wanted to make clear to myself and anyone who asked why and how this happened...although, only one person ever did ask. I promised myself I was not going to let that bother me--why should it? The best part about how I now saw things is that I was no longer responsible for other people's faith. But the truth is, it did bother me. A lot. I wanted everyone to have the amazing, stronger faith I now had...if I could just get them to see that God's will is stronger than man's, and His will is to save us all. Everything's going to be alright--we can trust it! Though the more time goes by, the more I have to ask I really have this faith?

To think I could nail down faith, or give explanation to it, is probably a pretty good indicator of the level of my arrogance. But what is arrogance really, except a defense against our own fear. To have to so staunchly defend against criticism of our beliefs seems only to shed light on our lack of faith, doesn't it? And I don't say that to give myself (or anyone) a big guilt trip about not having enough faith...that kind of guilt is blessedly one of the things I've been able to let go of. (for the most part) But the ironic thing is, the less guilty I feel, the more confused I get. It's as if the guilt gave my life meaning, and without it, I feel lost.

What is it about guilt (or trying to avoid it) that makes it such an amazing motivator? I spent my life trying to be set free from my shame, (with very little results) but at least it gave me something to do. As I was running away from guilt, what was I running towards? Praise? I don't know if it's fair to say that. Worth? I think that's closer to the truth. How can you possibly have value if you haven't accomplished anything? So the more I tried to accomplish something, the more I felt as if I wasn't accomplishing anything, the more guilty I felt, the more I told myself I needed to try harder...and round and round it went.

Stepping off the merry-go-round felt great at first. Though, truth be told, I am missing the feeling of movement; circles or not. What the hell am I supposed to be doing? This is not just a selfish need to appease my guilt, though surely some of that remains. But is there not in my heart a very real desire to help alleviate suffering in the world? And this need exists in people of all faiths, as well as in people with no faith. In fact, I often see it the strongest in the non-religious...maybe because they don't think it's fair that people should suffer so.

I want to believe there is meaning in suffering. I've seen it...I know it can be true. But it rings hallow at times...when the suffering you see is so horrific all you can feel is sick. At church once (a long time ago) I heard an allegory to try to inspire you to do good. Here it is:
One morning an elderly man was walking on a nearly deserted beach. He came upon a boy surrounded by thousands and thousands of starfish. As eagerly as he could, the youngster was picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean.
Puzzled, the older man looked at the young boy and asked, "Little boy, what are you doing?"
The youth responded without looking up, "I'm trying to save these starfish, sir."
The old man chuckled aloud, and queried, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?"
Holding a starfish in his hand, the boy turned to the man and, gently tossing the starfish into the water, said, "It will make a difference to that one!"

Am I the only one who wants to weep instead of feeling inspired? Are we really supposed to feel good because we've done our good little deed instead of feeling complete despair and anguish when looking at the thousands we can't help? REALLY? 

I know, I know...what good is it to sit in anguish and not at least try to help? I get it. But trying to sort out a God who is supposedly in control and yet allows all that pain...well, there is no sorting it out. I still try, because I can't help myself...or maybe it's God who is sorting himself out in me; I don't know. I'm not going to worry about how anyone else sorts it out...if staying true to a religion is how someone hangs onto hope, at least they are hanging on. No longer do I want to find fault in someone's faith, and especially will I never criticize someone who has none. It's less painful to see no meaning in the endless shore of death than to try and trust a God that is incapable of fixing it. As for me, I'm inclined to think that death itself is part of the solution, even as ugly as it seems to us. And when I look at the trees and the flowers and the seasons, I can see that death never has the last word. 

When I was looking up the starfish story above, I came across the Wikipedia page on it. The story is actually derived from a 16 page essay called "The Star Thrower" which was published in 1969 in "The Unexpected Universe". Since then the story has changed quite a lot, and I think much of the meaning as well. I think it's fitting to end here with some quotes from it to ponder.

In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.
"It's still alive," I ventured.
"Yes," he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.
..."There are not many who come this far," I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. "Do you collect?"
"Only like this," he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. "And only for the living." He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. "The stars," he said, "throw well. One can help them."
..."I do not collect," I said uncomfortably, the wind beating at my garments. "Neither the living nor the dead. I gave it up a long time ago. Death is the only successful collector."
  (Later, after some thoughts on our relationships to other animals and to the universe, the narrator says.. )
"On a point of land, I found the star thrower...I spoke once briefly. "I understand," I said. "Call me another thrower." Only then I allowed myself to think, He is not alone any longer. After us, there will be others...We were part of the rainbow...Perhaps far outward on the rim of space a genuine star was similarly seized and flung...For a moment, we cast on an infinite beach together beside an unknown hurler of suns... We had lost our way, I thought, but we had kept, some of us, the memory of the perfect circle of compassion from life to death and back to life again - the completion of the rainbow of existence"