I passed two priests in front of the Catholic church on Mt. Diablo Boulevard in Walnut Creek on Christmas morning. Christmas was on Sunday this year and they were greeting their people as they entered for morning mass.
I nodded to them and said “Merry Christmas” and kept trotting along with my daughter in our jogging stroller and dog pulling us both along. I’ve jogged by this building dozens of times, but on Christmas morning I felt something different as I jogged past the big church and crowd of people. Church is important. I get that, and people find it and define it in different ways.
If going to church is what you do to reconnect with yourself, your family, and your faith, then me jogging in the morning with my daughter and dog is about the closest I get to religion.
On the surface, my church has eight feet and three wheels and sometimes sings “Baa baa black sheep” over and over again. But dig a little deeper and it’s what brings me closer to my family and my community. On these jogs I meet my neighbors, I say hi to the regulars at the Peet’s coffee shop I sometimes loop around to, and I get familiar with the heartbeat of our town.
It also gives me time to think deeply. It’s the closest I get to meditation. My jogs are probably the most peaceful time in the week for me. I love hearing my daughter’s voice as she talks and sings to herself as I push her along in front of me. I think about my job, my plans for the future, and friends I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s also when I wax philosophical.
On my jog today, since it’s Christmas, I thought more about religion and what it means to me at this point in my life.
I start at the beginning: birth. I don’t understand it. It blows my mind when I really think about it. Two little humans formed and grew inside my wife for nine months and then came out as living, breathing people. Life is a miracle.
There’s a huge oak tree in my backyard that’s probably over 300 years old. Humans are far more capable than trees are, but trees live longer. I believe all life is miraculous. You can’t compare infinities.
I also can’t comprehend the Earth, the universe, or where we came from and where it’s going. When I think about how, as I write this, we’re actually soaring through space at 17,000 miles per hour around a gargantuan star, everything feels insignificant. It’s weird to put this view out my bedroom window in that perspective.
The feeling of insignificance leads me to God. I think we have struggled with feeling insignificant and incapable of understanding fundamental questions about life forever. Since the first homo sapiens became self-aware, I bet we’ve despaired over the questions of the origin of life and the consequence of death. The answer to these and all unexplainable questions is God. We anthropomorphize the answers to these questions into the modern God so we can understand and relate to them better.
So do I believe in God? Well, yes, I believe in the magic of the things I will never understand, like the creation of life and the passing of time. That’s the “God” concept that I can appreciate and relate to.
When I think about religion in this context, it makes sense. However, if God is in all things, then he is in good and evil. I’d expect of my deities the same that I expect of my leaders: you can’t cherrypick what you take credit for.
If God is in birth then he is also in death. If God is in the flicker of sun in the morning dew, then God is also in bone cancer and beheadings.
Most monotheistic religions shrug off the tragedies as “God’s plan — we can’t understand it” — but praise God whenever something wonderful happens. I think that’s cheating and it’s one of many things that keeps me drawn away from religion.
I wouldn’t use the word “magic” to describe painful, tragic deaths. I don’t understand them either, just the same.
This is just what I think. What do I know about any of this? Nothing.
There is beauty in knowing nothing, too.