Tuesday, April 6, 2010

the greater audacity

Last night on public television, there was a quiet program about the Mormons -- their beliefs, adventures and tribulations. There were a number of strands to their tale as television told it -- bright visions, settling only to be uprooted, polygamy, insularity, horrors visited upon them and the horrors they visited on others, and a fierce and audacious way of life in pursuit of God. I couldn't turn the TV off, though it was past my bedtime.

The older I get, the stranger religion in its usual guises becomes. I don't begrudge its touchingly human aspects and I am amazed at what people will do in the name of their faith. There is so much courage and patience and effort ... it is so human, whatever the political or social elevations or depredations may be.

Here was a group that suffered enormous hardship in its quest. And like others before and after them, they reveled in their suffering, finding in it a means of confirming their unity and cohesiveness and belief in this avenue to the holy. Love it or hate it, it was an audacious vision -- a vision for which its participants put their asses on the line. It reminded me a bit of the Jews when they wax lyrical about a past that was sometimes hard.

Hard. Everyone has had hard times, though not so hard, perhaps, as crossing the prairies in winter, starving, watching children die as their parents sought redemption and salvation. Hard times ...

And yet, within the television tale before me, the physical and mental hardships were clear, but there was little other than a shining dream that would quantify what things might be when times were not hard. The suffering that was so concrete was never enough to make the dream come true ... the dream was always just out of reach ... up ahead somewhere ... in the tales and prophecies, but never laughing at the dinner table. Yes, the Mormons might express their God in dance or work and explain their God-hood in those ways ... by inference and insistence. But not at the dinner table, concrete and assured as the tribulations.

All of this struck me as human. Hope and belief is where all of us begin -- even when we are not talking about religion or spiritual endeavor. It takes courage and patience and doubt and perhaps a dollop of utter foolishness to posit in the heart what cannot yet be seen with they eyes. It is as audacious as it may appear foolish. To sweat and suffer and rein the self in on behalf of a vision or religion ... it takes some determination and effort.

But in order for a good and true vision to come true, I think there is one last audacity that is required -- a last bit of sacrifice. That last bit of sacrifice comes after all the other sacrifices and efforts have outlived their adoring welcome. And that one last step cannot be summed up in some sainted death ... getting to heaven where the milk and honey will flow. It is a step that needs to be taken at the dinner table where people pass the mashed potatoes.

The audacity that is required in order to actualize the cherished dream is ... to leave the cherished dream behind. Not in disdain or arrogance, but simply because no dream can make the dream come true, no prophecy can fulfill the prophecy, no suffering can gain the prize, no speaking of actualization can ever actualize. Where the dream falls away, the dream has the opportunity to come true ... and where God expressed him/her/itself in dancing, now there is only dancing and delight. Now there are only those who pass the mashed potatoes...and eat.

I am grateful to have become acquainted with a path that offers a greater audacity. It does not enforce anything, corrects no one -- it simply offers in the hope that someone might take that one audacious step into what self-help books refer to as "the present."

It is a great audacity and yet it requires no courage at all. It is imperative without any imperative. It is just breathing in after breathing out or breathing out after breathing in. It has no name, even as those with hope and belief and courage and striving and suffering and delighting in that suffering name it again and again and again.

I call it the greater audacity, but that, of course, is just another name, another dream, another hope, another path of cohesive suffering.

When the time comes to dance, we are fortunate indeed to dance ... not because of the God whose praises are sung, but because dancing -- let's face it -- is both what we do and, hot damn! -- fun.

Pass the mashed potatoes, will you?


  1. Ugh, Mormons. I was raised Mormon and spent 22 years in their ranks. It was hell, and I'm glad every day that I'm no longer under their influence. They have their good side but they are also a bit cultish.

  2. James -- I don't know if you will agree, but I have always thought that what many if not most people find repugnant about cults is the fact that they have enriched roots in what others do not call cults -- i.e. "mainstream religion" or some such. Without that root system, the cults might have far less force and be far less convincing.

    This, I imagine, is pretty much true of all religions ... or perhaps anything else for that matter.

    A friend of mine, a woman in her 80's, is also a former Mormon and is far less polite than you in expressing her opinions ... grab your flak jacket when she opens up. :)