Given the sadness and uncertainty that human beings can and do experience, I think it is understandable that they might look to religion for relief ... something that will "make things better." The ravages of war, the unrelenting purr of illness or poverty, the bright hopes turned to bitter tea, the crops that failed, the relationships cemented by horror or coming unstuck from delight ... the laundry list of things that can singe the soul is long and is not just some sissified philosophical view from afar ... this stuff is real and personal and painful and confusing and no goddamned joke.
What's wrong with relief? What's wrong with improvement? What's wrong with a brighter vision or hope or belief? What's wrong with religion as a bastion against cold winds and colder nights? Would anyone begrudge a warm blanket or a little soup? I certainly wouldn't.
Seeking relief and being lifted up ... yes, indeed, why not? Isn't that how anyone begins a spiritual interest or adventure? This is no time for rhetorical play things or convenient 'objectivity' ... seriously, why not?
People need something. But the question is, what?
Have you ever noticed that many of the spiritual relief agencies available have a way of leading the customer back to the address where those agencies reside? If religion is relief and if religious institutions define what spiritual life might be, then those seeking relief end up going in some endless circle ... out the front door on a Sunday morning and back to the same location next Sunday if not sooner ... if you want to keep on being relieved. There is no period on the sentence ... religious life turns into an endless series of ellipsis marks ... like bubblegum sticking to the sole of your shoe on a hot summer day ... trailing tendrils of sweet goo annoying anyone's progress.
Relief is OK. Some people do it for their whole lives, propping up the relief factor over and over and over again. But I think that there is another approach as well, a road less traveled perhaps because it takes more effort and is not for the faint of heart.
The trouble with relief is that it is addictive. There is no relief in the relief industry. Today's relief high turns into tomorrow's depths of despair, which must then be inoculated anew with a relief fix.
And it's OK for a while, but it hardly builds a solid foundation, a place in which to find an honest peace with things as they are instead of things as anyone might wish they were. The victim of an accident at sea is grateful for a life preserver. But once on land, s/he does not freight this life with what is unnecessary.
How is anyone to accord with life as it is -- sometimes happy, sometimes sad -- and not enter into some endless, addictive search for improvement or revision?
I think the best tools are courage and patience and doubt -- plus the willingness to pay attention and take responsibility. Relief is a limited commodity, but life as it actually occurs is not limited in this way. And as life is not limited, so too, those who are alive cannot be limited.
It is the unlimited component of this life that needs some understanding, some actualization. Understanding and actualization does not mean adoration ... does this life run around patting itself on the back for how deliciously unlimited it is? Does it kowtow or raise things up? Does it threaten or protect? No, I think life just comes and goes and since human beings are alive, they too just come and go, moment after moment, day after day, week after week, year after year. It's nothing special and yet it is worth enjoying -- this unimproved peace that life has to offer.