My mother and I have been having regular Sunday afternoon phone conversations for years now, and in the last few months we have turned them into a book club of sorts, which is just heavenly and makes me miss her all the more (we are currently on opposite sides of the North American continent.)
We assign ourselves chapters of some book or other and then we chat about what we read for part of our conversation.
We ran out of book ideas for the time being, so we’ve started in on the Bible.
Anyone familiar with me knows that I struggle with labels. I am a believer, but I don’t feel comfortable adopting any religion in particular.
Watching the documentary Journey into Buddhism yesterday, in which they travel throughout Asia and give commentary on Buddhist thought, history and tradition as they go, I alternated between reactions: on the one hand, ‘YES! This is exactly what I believe” as the narrator was talking; and on the other hand, “No, not so much,” when I see the visuals, the ornate temples, the gigantic statues of Buddha, basically, the culture. Fascinating, but doesn’t resonate.
It feels false to take on ideas with none of the background that goes with it.
Then I’m reading our assignment, my mother’s and mine, for this week: the first letter of John. I read in Chapter 4, beginning with verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. ”
Yes! So simple! God = Love. A rock to stand on. A declaration that I have no problem declaring allegiance to.
Further, verse 18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”
Fear is something I struggle with moment by moment, and here is a way out! Rather than compounding the fear, as I’ve heard “Christians” do so often, the goal is to be free from fear, just as the Buddha says it is possible to be free from suffering. Life will still be difficult, there will still be pain, but we don’t have to suffer or be fearful.
“Put aside all doubt and meditate on the pure and holy nature of the regarder of the cries of the world.”
Perhaps my desperation for a label is my doubt that what I believe has no value or truth unless it has a pre-printed sticker on it, unless I can hide among a group of people or take refuge in their building.
For now I stand with my mother, who knows exactly the label she feels comfortable with, and who accepts me without one.