The middle path

Several years ago, a sun dancer was teaching me one of the old Lakota sun dance songs. This particular song is said to have been sung first by the White Buffalo Calf Woman as she brought the sacred pipe to the people.

… Ognas mayagna yekilo
He wakanyan iwayelo
Ognas mayagna yekilo…

… Maybe you will doubt me
Though I speak in a sacred manner
Maybe you will doubt me…

The sun dancer explained that the deeper meaning of the song spoke to our own human doubts about the sacred. We may believe, we may doubt, or we may reject the sacred completely. But God’s existence doesn’t depend on our belief; God is, and always will be, whether we choose to believe or not.

I find this lesson comforting as I face the modern struggle between rigorous doubt and blind acceptance. Those of us who try to walk the middle path – that of thoughtful belief – face a daunting challenge. We cannot help but flirt with doubt as we strive to understand what is ultimately unknowable. The great mysteries are, well, mysterious; beyond the grasp of human minds, despite the fundamental assumption at the heart of rational thought today. Yet we stumble if we rely too heavily on the gift of blind faith. We stagnate if we do not question.

We look for understanding and comfort in ancient scriptures and traditions even as we reject so-called “literal interpretations” that are selective of the truths they claim to promote. (Am I the only one who raises an eyebrow at the preacher who thunders against homosexuals in his fiery sermon, only to follow up the next Sunday with Jesus’ admonishment not to focus on the splinter in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own?)

We seek to balance knowledge and belief. We know that the writers of Genesis 1 lacked our understanding of physics and astronomy, geology and biology, as they struggled with the age-old question “why?” Yet we also know that Genesis 1 doesn’t have to be a science textbook to speak its fundamental truths to us. We can accept the demonstrated proofs of the Big Bang and evolution while still celebrating that our Creator continues to maintain an active interest in this creation (despite our best efforts to the contrary).

Humanity has not evolved past its deep need for myth and meaning, above and beyond the raw truths of physical being. I am rather grateful for that. Art, music, literature, philosophy, and even spirituality still have a place in human existence, even as the scientific method continues to exert its power in human affairs. As humans, we need the balance of science and myth, reason and belief, yin and yang. We need them, that is, so long as we want to remain human.

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