My friend Jay shared a new take on the old adage of the finger pointing to the moon. That’s the idea that the constructs we create to understand reality are not reality itself, just as the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. Jay talked about walking outdoors with his newborn great-grandchild and pointing out the full moon rising in the twilight sky.
“Then I realized the only thing he would see is my finger, not the moon,” Jay reflected. “I looked at the moon and I looked at his face and I thought, ‘What am I doing?’” Jay realized that the baby in his arms is every bit as sacred as the astral body that lights the sky.
That’s a beautiful reminder of what we have right here, right now. And of the impossibility of trying to contain that miracle in any kind of words, or thoughts. Yet that’s what religion does, with the best of intentions. Every world religion is a finely tuned system, the product of centuries of deep thought as to what constitutes reality and how we may best participate in that. They’re valuable guides. Our only fault is getting so identified with them, with the finger pointing to the moon, that we forget about the moon itself.
The seminary training I’m receiving is all about making plain the way we identify with the finger. We deconstruct our consciously held beliefs, examining how they formed in the context of their times. We study bone, muscle, ligament, tissue, and say, “See? It’s only a finger.”
Yet that examination is a finger of its own. It’s another system of belief that forgets about the transcendent More. Academia is so wrapped up in its own concerns that it overlooks the wonder. The heart of faith is conspicuously absent from many of the classes I take.
I’d like to venture a guess, from this admittedly rookie position, that this is largely what is wrong with mainline Christianity. Liberal churches have been bleeding members for years. I wonder if this clinical, cut and dried approach isn’t part of the problem. I like to quote that line attributed to laconic country dwellers in New England: You can’t get there from here. You can’t get to faith from a purely analytical stance. It requires a leap, as Kierkegaard said.
I’ve spent recent weeks struggling to remember that the moon exists. Glimpses of a larger reality penetrate my malaise: the face of God in my friend Jay’s arms, the sound of nuns singing their evening prayers, the vibrant grey and russet tapestry of the winter world.