A Religious Operating System: ROS beta (Part 1)   Leave a comment

“Whenever I get bored or depressed, I do laundry,” said an acquaintance.  “Afterwards I may still be bored or depressed, but at least I’ve done something that needed doing.  And often enough I feel better.”  As a treatment, the success rate of this strategy may or may not equal that of therapy or medication, but as far as clean clothes production goes, it’s got the other two beat hands down.  At least I can be depressed and dressed.

How different the quiet of depression and the quiet of peace! (I’m writing about peace and using exclamation points.  Hm.)  One deadens and stifles, the other ripples outward and invites attention, a kind of relaxed wakefulness.  We say we want peace, and the holiday season bombards us with prayers and songs and sermons and wishes for it.  There are prayers for peace in the ceremonies of many religious teachings and spiritual practices, Druidry included.  But rather than asking somebody else for it, I can begin differently.  Peace starts in the center, and that’s where I am — or where I can put myself, with the help of recollection and intent.  “Come back to yourself,” my life keeps saying, “and remember who you are and what it is you want.”  If I start peace (or anything else) within myself, however small, however tentative, it spreads from there outward.  After all, it works for every other state I create, whether positive or negative — and I know this from sometimes painful experience!  “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is still some of the best advice ever given.  If I want change, who else do I expect to bring it about?  And if someone else did, how in the world would such changes be right for me?  Gandhi knew the secret lies in the approach.

In my early twenties, Lou Gramm and Foreigner were singing “I want to know what love is.  I want you to show me.”  It’s a lovely ballad — I’ve got it playing on Youtube the second time through as I write this paragraph, nostalgia back in full force — but it’s precisely backward in the end.  As loveless as I can sometimes feel, if I start the flow, jumpstart it if necessary, I prime the pump, and it will launch within me from that point.  Do that, and I become more loveable in a human sense, because in the divine sense I’ve made myself another center for love to happen in, and from which it can spread.

But neither love nor peace are things I can hold on to as things.  “We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most intimate,” says the German poet Rilke in his poem “To Holderin” (Stephen Mitchell, trans.)  “From images that are full, the spirit plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled; there are no lakes till eternity.  Here, falling is best.  To fall from the mastered emotion into the guessed-at, and onward.”  Whatever I long for in a world of time and space needs to be re-won every day, though in that process of re-winning, not always successful, it begins to gather around me like a fragrance, a habit.  Both the customary behavior, and the clothing a monk or nun wears, have the same name.  The connection’s not accidental.

The American “farmer-poet” Wendell Berry captures it in these lines:

Geese appear high over us
pass, and the sky closes.  Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith:  what we need
is here.  And we pray, not
for a new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear.  What we need is here.

So if we’re looking for a “religious operating system,” a ROS, we’ve got some design parameters that poets and others tell us are already in place.  “What we need is here.”  But try telling that to an unemployed person, or someone dying of a particularly nasty disease.  And of course, if I tell someone else these things, I’ve missed the point.  What they need is indeed here, but my  work is to find out this truth for myself.  I can’t do others’ work for them, and it wouldn’t be a good world if I could (though that doesn’t stop me sometimes from trying).  I don’t know how their discoveries will change their lives.  I only know, after I do the work, how my discoveries will change mine.

A recent article in the New York Times about the rise of the Nones, people who aren’t affiliated with any religion, but who aren’t necessarily atheists, offers this observation, from which I drew the title for this blog entry:

“We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system…

I’ll be examining this further in upcoming posts.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Laundry, Foreigner album cover, and Rilke.

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