The existential theme of faith is a slippery one, requiring more than professed piety and church participation, but instead finding within oneself a passion for God, despite what your mind, community, or society at large have to say on the matter. Søren Kierkegaard began the rational exploration of faith in the 19th century, a time when mankind as a whole was dividing into those who had stepped away from a creator for failure to perceive His power in their lives and those who professed love and fear of God in accordance with the religion provided or supported by the State, despite its veering from the early Christian beliefs and practices.

Faith is one response to the eternal questions of life. Why are we here? What is our purpose? How did we become? How should we live our lives? If we can but flip the switch of the intellect, the Ruach or thinking soul, then we can slavishly or foolishly believe anything based on a spiritual apprehension rather than quantifiable facts.

Kierkegaard told us that we cannot find God within the bricks and mortar of the prevailing church, that there we could find only community, not passion, and passion is required for God is love. Only through turning inward into ourselves can we find the capacity to believe in God, to accept His plan for us exists and know our own duty to pursue it, baring all else. External piety will not serve here, only the enflamed spirit within.

Like Kierkegaard, I have never been able to make that leap to faith. For him, he could not accept it, for me I could not understand it. How does one suspend disbelief enough to accept the existence of a higher power beyond proving? How does one reconcile the teachings of the leaders of faith, when they are full of contradictions, self serving platitudes, and omission of sacred traditions?

Kierkegaard objected to the exclusion from sermon or the exegetical whitewashing of “Luke 14:26 [which] offers a remarkable teaching on the absolute duty of God: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (“Fear and Trembling,” Problema II). He felt strongly that the knight of faith must walk an individual path, single-minded and devoted by choice or even calling.

I have come to a similar place in my life, where I am more mindfully devoted to my chosen path, or Will, and have thus limited social relations and restrict interaction to those of a similar mindset, which bolsters rather than hinders my work. But hate is contradictory to other messages of love and compassion. As Kierkegaard said, “God is the one who demands absolute love” and those who “believe that this love is demonstrated by becoming indifferent to what he otherwise cherished is not merely an egotist but is also stupid…But if I regard this task as a paradox, then I understand it – this that is, I understand it in the way one can understand a paradox. The absolute duty can lead one to do what ethics would forbid, but it can never lead the knight of faith to stop loving. Abraham demonstrated this. In the moment he is about to sacrifice Isaac, the ethical expression for what he is doing is: he hates Isaac. But if he actually hates Isaac, he can rest assured that God does not demand this of him. For Cain and Abraham are not identical. He must love Isaac with his whole soul. Since God claims Isaac he must, if possible, have him even more, and only then can he sacrifice him, for it is indeed this love for Isaac that makes his act a sacrifice by its paradoxical contrast to his love for God” (ibidem).

It is through love that we unite with the divine, whatever our path. I did not always feel this way, or really have a grasp on what I felt at all. Raised by secular-seeming agnostics in the Deep South, I grew up in a state of fascination with the religions around me, which I could not begin to comprehend. How, with all the misery and suffering in the world, could people believe so strongly in the love and good intentions of God? What signs had they received that He existed and that He cared, plotted, and planned on their behalves? Was there something wrong with me because I could not muster up the love and faith required?

I pursued faith like an alcoholic does the next drink, with inexplicable need and no reasoning thought to cease my self torment. I observed everyone. What did they have within them that allowed this all consuming love? My parents did not have it, nor their close friends that I could see, but the guy down the street, the teacher with her crucifix, the woman putting on their best dresses and white gloves filled with the light of belief, they had it and I wanted it.

I attended the churches of my friends from the age of six, a time when I was trying to come to grips with my parents’ separation and eventual divorce. People were always talking about finding comfort and solace in the love of God or the words of Jesus, and this I sought in my childish way. I attended every church I could, from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic, from high mass to snake handling to falling on the floor with the incomprehensible words of God upon their lips. I best liked the gospel churches with their songs and unified passion, uplifting them from their hard times and common cares. None of this helped me to leap the gap from curious observer to believer, however.

I only became more confused and fascinated, as parents divorced and friends died in senseless accidents. I could not come to believe in God’s plan or really anything outside of myself. I sought certainty not faith; I just lacked the vocabulary and experience to grasp this.

As a teen, I first discovered the existence of Søren Kierkegaard and fell into a romantic misunderstanding of him. He was said to be a god-fearing yet rational man and he had developed the concept of the leap to faith. Here was the way to understanding the deep, abiding love in my friend’s hearts. At some point, I had to follow his lead, and take that step, like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, where he found the courage to step off the precipice into empty air, but I had no ancient transcript instructing me, “only by leaping from the lion’s head will he prove his worth”, and my father did not lie dying in the antechamber waiting for me to bring him the holy grail from which to drink. That Kierkegaard, a man of reason and intellect, could take that step, accepting the existence of God and His infinite love and wisdom, inspired me. I must turn inward and find it within me to have faith without proof, to love without obvious reciprocation, to believe in the ineffable.

Years were lost in a hollow pursuit, bolstered first by other people’s alleged faith, then by my own desperation, and finally by entheogens. Then I knew a bit about the divine, but could not know it when I came down, only hearing the faint echo of that which was greater than myself, and even having known this taste, I could not believe in something my rational mind could not prove, and I could not grab the divine and bring it back with me. I wrestled but did not grapple.

I was surrounded by people who lived their lives in the light of God and I could not fathom their faith. It, in fact, seemed ridiculous to me, finally becoming, to my mind, a crutch which the less intelligent used to get through life because they could not just face the reality that we are without something greater than ourselves. I went from longing and envy to disbelief and scorn.

Years later, reading Kierkegaard for class, I find I had turned him into a romantic hero, which just teems with irony. He did not make the leap. He did not understand the sacrifice of Abraham, said himself that he lacked the courage to believe, that he was too shrewd to find faith. He never had the key I sought, but I did, in my own way, though I had not realized it per se, until forced to reexamine faith and my pursuit thereof.

I am the light and love of God, as are all men and women, young or old. The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham was needful to Abraham’s understanding of his purpose in life. He did not have to believe in the voice of God, but in the act of making Isaac sacred to his God, and that one life, whether his or his son’s, was a small price to pay to achieve his own divinity. Through this sacrifice he upraised himself from man to God, making choices over life and death, making himself more than an old man leading a bunch of ungrateful people. Kierkegaard could not say if he was murderer or Saint. I say he was neither. He did not murder his son, whether he had the ability within him or no, Isaac lived. Nor was he a Saint, for he did not leave some great legacy for us to follow. He was no bodhisattva, choosing to stay behind and educate the masses when offered divine immortality. He was one man who had an ordeal, we all have them, and how we face them determines our own holy nature and no one else’s. But he was a god. God did not make man in His image, man made god in their own. We are each the force of nature impacting the world about us, the divine will made manifest, the conduit by which the universe experiences itself.

Kierkegaard was not a role model, acting within the world, but a casual observer, commenting upon that which he saw but did not understand. I am struck now by the depth of his sadness, at not being able to participate fully in the dance of life, trying to call men back to simpler times because he could not make the movement himself. His lack of courage calls to mind the soliloquy of Hamlet from Act III:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause—there’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn

No traveler returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action.

Was he never faced with a moment of choice: To live or die, to kill or no? Without this choice, to make something sacred or profane, how could he find it within himself to do anything other than transcribe the success or failures of others or his own untested theories? He lacked the individual’s courage, talked of what he could not himself do, and thus accomplished nothing. As he said:

“…for it is not what happens to me that makes me great but what I do…” and “anything that can be great only at a distance, that someone wants to make great with empty and hollow phrases–is destroyed by that very person.”

Certainty is now my watchword. It is through experience that I have come to a belief system of my own, which requires no blind faith, but may sometimes prove worthy of it. It was years of experiencing my ability to triumph over my pitfalls and personal demons that gave me the trust in self to toss aside the life that was not truly mine for the one of which I dreamed to participate in. Not a blind faith in the will of God, unless that god was me: a trust that I can take care of myself, even if it is not always easy…certainty of self.

As we say in the creed of my church: “And forasmuch as meat and drink are transmuted daily into spiritual substance, I believe in the miracle of the Mass.” I know, scientifically speaking, that meat and drink are turned into the very substances my body needs to live and go and be. This occurs through a once magically seeming process or chemical reactions within the body, and I turn this into the energy I need to accomplish my will upon the earth. There is not faith in a creator outside of myself necessary to process my food stuffs. Nor do I require that to love every man, woman, and child as gods coequal and coeternal with me. We all represent the divine on earth, some a little more elegantly, or clumsily, or piously, but still it is all of us. We do not have to withdraw from community to travel inwardly; only take time for the inward journey of self between visits with our fellows.