I was just now idly skimming an Internet site called "beliefnet," which I think is one of the biggest, most popular or perhaps most publicized sites for spiritual and religious get-togethers.
The site, which is visually spattered with more tchotchkes than a Dollar Store, has links to all sorts of religious leanings and longings.
But as I puttered up and down the aisles, occasionally stopping to examine one trinket or another, there was a growing recognition of something I tend to forget: Not surprisingly, the site was largely geared, in whatever faith or persuasion, to answering the hopes and needs and sorrows of visitors in heart-felt (and lucrative) ways.
Longing for relief is just a fact of life along the spiritual highways and byways. The human heart can be wracked. A sense of drowning whispers or screams for whatever life-preserver is most handy. Even the most well-camouflaged, intellectually-couched, or protectively-phrased questions have a sense of weeping in them.
Hope and belief ... but perhaps hope most of all springs from the spiritual soil like a dandelion in spring. Except among heartless idiots, there is no bad-mouthing or disdaining the weeds as we speak of the flowers of faith. The Tooth Fairy is no joke and I think many, if not most, people who interest themselves in the world of the spirit, do so in the same way a Las Vegas gambler might yank the arm of a slot machine ... in hopes of a wonderful payoff for which only a nickel or a dime is required.
One of my favorite Zen-teachers of the past, Ta Hui, once wrote to a student and encouraged him sternly to "stop seeking for relief." While true and apt in every respect, such an encouragement flies in the face of what actually happens. Or at least I think so. Relief ... yes, a prayer for relief! That is what spiritual adventure amounts to. Which of us has not done the same?
But for myself, I would like to remember as best I can: Relief is not found in seeking relief, but the prayers for relief are no less heart-felt and important. If the world is weeping, then I hope to do what I can ... not so much to provide relief as to staunch the tears.
Portraying spiritual life as an emotional matter is a dangerous and ill-advised business, but that doesn't mean that it is somehow devoid of emotion.