Religious studies scholar Charles H. Long calls religion a personal orientation to the world, an effort at coming to terms with one’s place in the universe.
This idea, that religion brings significance to the mundane ordinariness of the average person’s life, feels right, especially to someone who has stood in Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School, humming hallelujahs as sunlight streams in well-placed windows.
And yet, for many people, religion is less about finding footing in the everyday, and instead about crafting expectations for the thousands of tomorrows that make up a life, and for the end that comes when those tomorrows run out.
Religion is an attempt to secure a happy ending, to purchase a membership in a club whose handbook offers answers to the questions that haunt us most. Faith in God is faith in something bigger than the commonplace. It is faith that our lives are more than just a finite number of hellos and goodbyes.
Millions of people throughout the world could not imagine a life devoid of bedtime prayers and Sunday service because somehow a life lacking these things would be a life lacking its second bookend. We are forever seeking the end of our story.
As an avid reader, I’ve sought the ends of countless stories, staying awake into the early hours of the morning seeking the satisfaction of a completed book. But, looking back, the ends of books are very rarely my favorite part, as they more often disappoint than fulfill the promise of earlier chapters. I instead live for the agonizing delight of the rising action, as I devour page after page of delicious ambiguity.
And so I ask myself, why is it that in life I am so ready to rid myself of these next few decades? I am forever sneaking peeks into the back of my own book, signing on to religions that attempt to explain away uncertainty.
I want to return to the type of religion that Charles H. Long so poetically described. A religion that roots you in your experience of this Tuesday or that Thursday instead of in the far off distance at the end of the road.
Faith in God that leads to engagement with experiences and not misplaced confidence that we have it all figured out. Religion that calls for meaningful action to better the world of today and not an all-consuming exploration of what tomorrow could hold.
I don’t want a religion of promises, but, instead, a religion of passion and praise for the beautiful surprises of a life well lived.