Belief–Sanctuary or Prison?

We recently attended the Broadway show Book of Mormon while visiting New York City. Without giving a review of the musical, suffice it to say that the show takes the audience into a comedic, irreverent and bold exploration of the world of religious belief and human relations.  The main character finds himself caught between the world of his religious faith that has taught him to “just believe” and the mission field he has been sent to where the needs and tragedies of human life cannot be answered by his “simply believe” responses.  And so, he begins to make up new answers!

In my experience, this is exactly the best crisis religious faith can bring us to:  a place where our accumulated beliefs are challenged by the realities of life.  This most often happens to us around questions of suffering.  As one of the characters in the show asked: what’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you?  The answer to that question is often the big reveal in our lives.  Deep crisis and suffering bring us to the brink of faith and then beyond to a place where we begin to question everything.  It is only when we become willing to question everything that our deep soul life opens up, our imaginations begin to flourish and we find a way forward into a meaning for our lives that “simply believing” would never reveal.  Simply believing keeps us shallow and small.  Allowing the questions that overwhelm us to take us down deep into personal darkness, as painful as that is, expands us and frees us to imagine, shape and experience a truly meaningful life.

Belief is often a prison that holds us in a place that promised to be safe.  It is a safety, sad to say, that becomes a living lie and which, in the end, does more harm than good.  We witness this every time a religious leader does more public harm against the LGBTQ community and their allies based on a religious belief.  What sort of God would mandate this kind of damage in human relations?  Belief can be set free, however.  When we arrive at an “I believe” statement forged from a personal and collective journey into darkness, a darkness that ultimately reveals a deeper sense of our interconnectedness, this belief becomes a new and expansive sanctuary.

We are often taught as children “to believe” in order to be kept safe or saved.  In fact, the only life giving belief we can have is the one that allows us to let go, embrace, and transform.  This is a life long process, and, if embraced, lands us squarely in the sanctuary of change.

Bob Patrick

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