Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On Religion

            Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                  Praise him.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).

In a Romantic sense, I love religion. Stripped of its Classical side, which is about laws and dogma and predictions taken literally, religion can be beautiful and inspiring. I'm drawn to and inspired by Romantic figures of all kinds, and many of them -- artists and poets, mystics and caregivers -- are quite religious. Many, too, are not.

Even as an atheist, I'm moved by beautiful cathedrals and good religious art. Some of my best times in high school were spent sitting with large groups of friends and classmates, singing zemirot (Jewish songs.) I once visited the kotel (Western Wall) at two in the morning on a Friday night and was very moved. Many religious rituals, stripped of the Orthodox (and Classical) obsession with doing it "right" rather than meaningfully, were beautiful as well. Although I was not yet an atheist, the feelings I had then were not dependent on my belief in God.

Like theists, I have moments which could be considered "spiritual," although I interpret the term metaphorically. For a long time when I was moving away from Orthodoxy, my Friday night "service" consisted of running in the woods. I remember in the Fall, when the leaves were turning, the sun was setting, and I was in fantastic condition, just running -- flying almost -- along this beautiful path near my campus, living in the meditative rythm of my breathing and footfalls, and finding peace. When I finished my run, I'd shower and join my Orthodox friends for Shabbat dinner.


At 8:30 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Funny. I had the same habit. for some reason there's nothing better than a pre shabbos run !

I think many theists veiw athiesm as the end of intuition and experiential joy. As you point out...not so !

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also a formerly (somewhat) religious Jew, and I noticed that same sort of spirituality running in the woods at twiliight on a gray summer day, like today, even though it is a Thursday :). I have always found spirituality in nature, but I had thought that this was a pagan concept, and therefore foreign to Judaism. It is good to hear from other Jews who also find spirituality in the natural world.

Good blog. I look forward to reading more of it.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Both of you,

Too funny. Maybe we should start a group blog called Running Jews. ;-)

At 4:38 PM, Blogger UberPropagandist said...

The Running Wanderers

At 3:39 AM, Anonymous Bryce said...

May I alter one of your sentences?

Stripped of its Classical side, which is about laws (of not gossiping, of giving tzedakah, or supporting the widow and the orphan, and of pursuing justice) religion can be beautiful and inspiring.


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