It is worth the effort to discover and then study those people who have come close to “getting it” during their spiritual lives. Some of the best known and most lucid are certain monks in several of the brotherhoods (now mainly associated with the Roman Catholic church), chiefly because we have the greatest of exposure to their writings. They go back to the earliest centuries after the church was begun and they continue through such “mystics” as Thomas Merton in the 20th century.

Some are almost angrily intolerant of worldliness, believing that, unless you shut out the world altogether, you are eternally corrupted and damned by it. For those who believed that, perhaps it was true. But how can you dismiss a Mother Teresa? Am I serving God better by involving myself in the world and pausing occasionally to yield to its temptations, or would I serve better by joining a monastery and immersing myself in constant prayer? I think we’re both needed. Incidentally, it was the monasteries that preserved the codices over the centuries that now comprise our Bible.

Each of us has to determine for herself whose testimony she will believe about what she has not seen herself. When she can believe no testimony at all, she must rely upon empirical evidence. Either route to truth, enlightenment, or merely daily decisions, is respectable and valid. When she resorts to emotion and divination, others have every right to reject her conclusions, because she cannot expect everyone else to proceed on the same internal hocus-pocus that she uses.

I have decided over the years who seem to me to be valid, reliable, honest, learned witnesses to history. They usually attract me by their consistency in findings, independently of one another over time, and by their level-headedness. I have not asked for signs from God, but I’ve had them.

Tertullian (A.D. 155-225) wrote: “It is to be believed because it is absurd,” and “It is certain because it is impossible.” Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) paraphrased it as: “I believe because it is impossible.” Voltaire wrote: “To believe in God is impossible; not to believe in him is absurd.” Yet another (for the source of which I’ve searched in vain for years after hearing it) expands the thought with: “I have said what I have said, not to have the last word about it but because I cannot remain silent in the face of so great a mystery.” (I think it may have been Saint Augustine in his Treatise on Trinity.) Tertullian was a delightful early thinker on the church (which, recall, was neither Roman Catholic nor Baptist nor Lutheran, but merely the Christian church), and one of his more cunning lines was: “It is certainly no part of religion to compel religion.” You hang it out there for the world to see, you set the example, you let them come find out what is different, you share, you care, and you let them choose. And you leave the judging to God. Plutarch: “It were better to have no opinion of God at all than such a one as is unworthy of him; for the one is only belief -- the other contempt.” From Brother Roger of Taizé: “It is never our faith that creates God. Nor is it our doubts that put an end to God’s existence.”

Faith is trusting in things hoped for, believing in the unseen. Most importantly, perhaps: Faith is knowing that God is with you. If knowing is too strong a word, then faith is trusting that God is with you. If trusting is too strong a word, then faith is hoping. It’s okay if you aren’t that confident, at first or ever. Are you willing to hope? God looks for your willingness. It helps to recall the two magnificent verses from Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

This from a sermon I heard recently: Believing without following is possible. Following without believing is impossible. The Bible is about faith, duty from faith, and following.

I am not concerned with getting to heaven. Either I am worthy or I am not. I expect to learn more throughout the rest of my life and as I learn, to be more humbled by what I learn and by my unworthiness. When death removes me from this realm, I have a modest hope that I will next find myself becoming conscious of kneeling or lying prostrate before the actual altar of God. How will I know I’m there? Perhaps I’ll know because the music will be so incredibly beautiful, or the light so incredibly intense that I dare not open my eyes, such as they may be in that setting. But I’ll know. And I can envision only one reaction on my part, and my response will be to weep. If, though, I am counted unworthy of God’s eternal kingdom, I believe I can go to hell singing God’s praises, for even though I may be turned away from heaven, I know he was right and good and just.

From him to whom much is given, much is expected. I have been given too much to comprehend. In all the history of mankind, no one I’ve ever heard of has been more blessed than I am. No one. People have had more money, more things, more leisure, more “fun.” Kings have had palaces and slaves (and slept in drafty rooms and eaten grain left by the rats). And not everything is right for me, but this isn’t heaven, either, so who has any reason to expect that everything will be rosy?

From me, much is expected. I don’t congratulate myself that I am fully delivering. My consolation is that I am working continually to the point of exhaustion, I am offering my home and my spirit to one or two desperate humans at a time, I am creating things on the side that, if read by anyone, I believe will be of substantial influence.

The essential things are one’s purity of spirit, honesty with oneself and others, and faith like a mustard seed – the simple acknowledgement that there is a creator. These comprise the basis of humility. If one has been fortunate enough to have been introduced to the Gospels of the Christ, then it is wise to study his teaching and realize his position, for if the first essentials are met, it will be plain that he too met them. It will be plain as well that only as ordained, commissioned, and born of God could he have been so pure as he is depicted, and only by being so pure, so divine, could he have earned the following he achieved in his own time and thus been depicted as he is. The most convincing of his advocates, I think, is the brilliant, eloquent, almost arrogant Paul of Tarsus.

Not in the context of getting into heaven, (for nowhere do I see the Bible chiefly purporting to be a roadmap to heaven), but in the context of our relationship with God, you find the Old Testament admonition in Micah: “The Lord has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But that you act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.” (Roman Catholic translation, I believe. I found it in those words on the wall of a convent.)

Being smitten with the Spirit, “confessing the Lord, Jesus Christ, as your personal Lord and savior,” or being “saved,” as some describe it, is not a one-time abracadabra. Some seem to believe that if you fit their special category in this world, undergo their special conversion, you have been admitted into the kingdom of heaven right then and there and you’re invulnerable ever after. You’re in, you’re special, and you can tell who isn’t going to make it. What’s worse, they believe that if I haven’t done it their special way, they can speak for God and assure me that I’m not going to get there. Well, let’s each one of us wait and see where we lie when we “open our eyes” after we’ve taken our last breath.

I was “saved” when I was about 13. (I didn’t get to that when describing the Evangelical United Brethren Church background I had in Ohio.) But it was a very shallow salvation. It was a moment of great realization about Yeshua’s sacrifice for me, but by the time I was 30 I had become smarter than the God I believed in at 13. That one-time fix hadn’t assured me a place in heaven. Or if it had, I would no longer want to be there anyway, if that’s all it took. Imagine how corrupt it must be…

Does it take deeds? No! It takes love. Deeds are done spontaneously and happily and abundantly out of love. They flow almost effortlessly. (Although love sometimes leads to an ultimate sacrifice.) Love doesn’t flow from deeds done grudgingly. (See LOVE.)