Tuesday, November 30, 2021

RELIGION

 My dear Peter,

The afterlife? Rebirth? Such questions! You won't be surprised--but maybe a bit disappointed--to know that I can't help you with this. It can't have escaped your notice that there are secrets that the dead can't share. (And besides, you do realize, don't you, that you're talking to yourself?) Still, we can talk about religion. I've always enjoyed doing that.

I never meant to force anything on you. Of course we were Christians, Peggy and I. That's how we were brought up. We went to church. We passed on our Christian stories to you and Flora--the birth of Christ, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and so on. You remember particularly those marvelous Peter stories, and I'm especially glad you found the hidden treasure in your name! There was just never any question about Christianity in those days. It was our whole history, our heritage. It's only recently that human beings have had the arrogance and the temerity to cast aside the wisdom of their elders without, it seems, a second thought. We were brought up to be more respectful of the past. 

You shared that respect, Peter, to judge by the guilt you felt about your loss of the Christian faith we brought you up with. It's to your credit that you did not cast the heritage aside lightly, thoughtlessly, without emotional and spiritual struggle. I wish only that you had brought those questions with me, rather than fear my disapproval. In your letters you mention your timidity in sexual matters. Yes. But don't you think it was that same timidity that stood between you and me and the conversations that you say you would have wanted? It's true that I have my part in it too. It's not that I was unaware of your loss of the faith I'd embraced as my life's work; I watched your struggle from afar, weighted down with my own doubts and guilts, and chose not to confront it. It was easier for me, as it was for you, to keep up the pretense, and for that I apologize. 

And yes, you are right about my doubts. They plagued me from the earliest days of my awakening to the responsibilities of life. You mention my running off to a monastery for fear of making the commitment to your mother and to the temporal life of marriage, children, and so on. I so much wanted to believe in God that I mistook His calling. And there was always some part of my rational mind that insisted it was all a fairy tale, that no such "God" existed, even as I was trying to convince others that He did. It was painful. It was a kind of slow torture that lasted many years. All my life, really. And--yes, again you're right--it showed up in the form of physical, body pain. My ulcers.

It was perhaps because of this that I resisted death when it approached. I did not want to die. Did not trust that heaven awaited. I hope for you that you're like your sister--ready, when the time comes. Much easier to slip into death without resistance, secure in the knowledge that it will catch up with you anyway. I think you understand this.

As to sin, I have to admit that it always seemed to me much more appealing than abstention! I struggled with that, too. There was some devil in me that sorely longed to be the sinner. That I succeeded (mostly!) in resisting temptation might be more attributed to what you call your timidity than any moral or natural restraint!

Ah, yes, Buddhism. I'm glad you found it. Truly. I know next to nothing about it, nor did I as a minister of Christ, but I'm sure I would have found much in common with your "Than Geoff"--as I did, in Judaism, with Mike. The ecumenism I discovered rather late in my life was really no more than a confirmation of what I had always believed, that the spiritual is an essential part of the human experience, no matter what particular form it takes. Life would be a very shallow thing without it.  I'm sure the meditation that you practice takes you deep into that realm where the petty circumstances of "real life" give way to the vast reaches of the unknown. I choose to call it "God," but I'm not sure there's much difference.

I was much moved to be reminded of that last blessing that you asked for as I lay dying in that hospital bed in Cardigan. I don't actually remember it myself, of course--I was already too dotty at the time to understand what was going on around me! But I'm glad that you insisted. I do believe in the power of blessing--that one human being with a full, loving heart can pass on that fulness and that love to fellow human beings. It need not even come as a formal laying on of hands--though that was my own preferred way of conferring blessing. It can be passed on silently, by the mere fact of common presence in a sacred moment. You may be reluctant to accept it, but I believe that you too have the qualities you need to give blessing, and I would encourage you to exercise that faculty as frequently as possible as you live through your last years. It is a gift, and one that is not given but earned. If I can offer one last piece of advice it is that you look for it in yourself, and value it.

There I go, on again as usual with my meanderings. I have to get on with my "afterlife"! But before I do, I'd like to offer you one last time that blessing that I gave you every Sunday as a child, the one I tried to give you, whether you knew it or not, every single day you honored or struggled with the life I gave you, with your mother, the one you had the wisdom to ask for when I died. Bless you, my son, for who you are, for the man you have become.

With love, your father, Harry

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