This is a piece from my daily writing practice that I cleaned up a bit and submitted to this magazine.
You can find it here.
In the city, it is easy to think about man. In the desert, mountains and on a night at the beach, it is easy to think about God. Last night during my prayers, I wanted to search for God, so the image I brought forth in my mind was me, at seventeen, in Cyprus, walking the beach at night.
I can remember looking at the black sky filled with distant lights and thinking, “What did our ancestors think when they looked up from where they were sleeping and saw this vast and endless sky?” “Those lights hold the answers,” I told myself into my pillow. And that is why while I pray, I imagine that beach, that half moon, those stars that will always be countless.
“Some people think schizophrenia is the same as demon possession,” I say as I imagine my toes, bare, sinking into the wet sand. I know that can’t be true because if it were, it would mean doctors had learned how to silence demons.
I wonder as I imagine the light of the moon reflecting on the water, “Can you disregard the Ten Commandments, seemingly lining up to break every one, and still come back to the title of daughter or son?” The stars blink, winking at me from this Greek Island where I imagine myself walking while I lie in bed.
My cousin has cancer. Several of my friends have cancer. I have lost people to old age, tragedy, and hard living. “I’m not unique in my suffering; it is so important to remind myself,” I almost say out loud. If I die at fifty-three, I will have lived more years than many, and far less than others. It is not a curse I carry but the story of the reality of life.
A cloud covers the moon. The beach becomes darker than before. I say to myself, “So many people criticize Christianity, so many people say it is all fairy tales, and call those of us who believe ignorant, hypocrites, and fools,” but I can’t go on each day without knowing I can call to you, question you, run to you from the world that is harsh, violent and sometimes painfully beautiful.
The lights in the sky are shining, and I don’t hear you, but I see you all around. Each star, millions of them leading me to the answers I seek on a beach and ocean far away while the covers on my bed surround me and call me to sleep.
I don’t usually talk about my faith or politics here. I have strong feelings about both, but this blog has never been about that. So, if you are uninterested in issues of faith, then skip my latest article on Patheos: No Matter How Smart They Think They Are, Atheists Don’t Shake My Faith. If you have an interest, pop over there and let me know what you think – either way, I hope you are healthy in body and mind.
I saw a three-year-old boy in a red shirt and blue shorts, and baby shoes on his tiny feet. He was face down in the sand on the beach with the waves the only life left near his body. And I wept because his death was man-made and with no consequences for the world that let him down.
Several of my nieces and nephews are atheists and we have had many discussions about Christianity, religion in general, faith and belief in God. So often, people will say “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering?” And my response is always the same, “The majority of suffering is man-made.”
I believe that God gave us most of the resources to prevent suffering, but we choose greed, politics, hatred, self-interest and a number of other things as a reason not to respond. There is no good excuse for anyone on the planet to go hungry. We have the resources to feed the world, and yet, there are people in the United States who are hungry, and people starving in various places of the world. We have the technology and money to provide clean water, and sanitation to the world, and yet it doesn’t get done. We have the means to vaccinate children to protect them from so many diseases that cut their lives short. And then there are the unspeakable tragedies of war – man-made killing and suffering at its most extreme, violent, and hateful.
Of course there would still be death and suffering even if we used our resources to truly help one another, but how different those deaths would be, and how different the experience of suffering would be if the person who was ill, or injured, or who had lost their home and family to an earthquake or tornado, knew that the world was a caring, gentle place, and that people would work together to ease their pain as much as possible.
Open arms. Open hearts. Open wallets. Action. Dedication. Compassion. Love.
You can tell me that “A Good God wouldn’t allow so much suffering.” And I will tell you that humanity is responsible for most of that suffering.
I saw the father of the three-year-old weeping. At first he held his three-year-old son, and then when that boy drowned, he held his five-year-old son, and when that boy drowned, he held his wife until she too died in his arms. There are only people to blame for the suffering of these lost lives and for the survivor’s grief. People created this tragedy.
God gave us the resources to ease each other’s suffering, but the resources are divided unevenly causing injustice, tragedy, and war. No matter how much you want to blame God, it would be more accurate to point at people, and in some cases, a mirror.