Saturday, November 10, 2012

"In God We Trust"

According to Wikipedia, "In God We Trust" was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956 as an alternative or replacement for the 1782 U.S. motto, "E Pluribus Unum," which means, in Latin, "out of many, one."

Rightly or wrongly, I speculate that the addition/revision rested in part in the grotesque horrors of World War II, which ended in 1945 but had wracked so many, leaving them speechless with effort and grief : What word does anyone choose where words are not enough? Well,
maybe "God" came as close as anything. Whatever the case, the quaint supplication of times gone by arrives in the present with a kind of uppity imperiousness and down-home ignorance: It's cozy, but it divides and separates rather than inviting a common cause or vision and the hard work that goes with it.

One of the useful aspects of zazen -- the seated meditation that plays a core role in Zen Buddhism -- is that it offers the opportunity to examine the human and very personal desire to trust. I think it's important.

From the get-go, trust is delicious. Kids trust their parents. Friends trust friends. Lovers trust lovees. Misers trust money. Many trust the moon and stars and sunrise. And let push come to shove, friends also trust their enemies. The deliciousness of trust can be seen in the outrage expressed when a trust is somehow broken ... as when politicians sell out their constituencies as a means of bolstering their chances for re-election.

But all that is the tip of the iceberg, the kind of trust that can be relied on but also broken. What is trust and is it worth the price of admission? The question itself runs the risk of being accused of sour grapes or curmudgeonliness. No one wants to live the life of a sourpuss skeptic ... too much that is delicious is lost that way and deliciousness is just too damned delicious.

Zazen provides a venue -- not the venue, just a venue -- in which to examine trust ... not elevate or denigrate, just examine. Spiritual sales agents may take the money paid for their talks and then ooze with sayings like, "trust yourself," but this begs the question for the man or woman who may want to really examine trust... what is it and can its deliciousness be captured without paying the downside price?

My own take is this: Trust relies on the past and on separation. And any jaywalker with two brain cells to rub together would be a fool not to rely on the trust implicit in knowing that a car is bigger and stronger and potentially more dangerous than the capacities of his or her body: If a car is coming, get the hell out of the way or suffer a trustworthy set of injuries. Trust lives in past knowledge and experience and it is invested in something separate from me.

Trust lives in the past, but I live in the present ... a present so present that there is simply no time to impose trust upon it. By the time trust is imposed, the present has become past and finding the "unum" of an e-pluribus-unum life is impossible. The present is "unum" but life is "pluribus:" How is anyone supposed to square that circle?

Zazen provides a venue in which to trust what is trustworthy ... i.e. nothing at all. And there are no sour grapes in it. There is simply this moment -- the moment before any trustworthiness or untrustworthiness can enter. It may sound spooky or undelicious in spades, but it has the advantage of squaring up with the facts of anyone's life.

And bit by bit, with practice, the dime gets a chance to drop: This deliciousness is not something anyone could do anything about. This trust is neither trustworthy nor untrustworthy. "Unum" is not better or worse than "pluribus," but the deliciousness is pretty delicious. Trust it all you like. Distrust it all you like. That's all in the past.

My feet are cold.

How about them apples?

PS. And as a footnote several days hence, Brazilian prosecutors are trying to get "God" off the country's printed money.

1 comment:

  1. I don't trust this god. He's trying to de-unum our pluribus.