By John Pendall
No irony, sarcasm or excessive wit in my writing today. Today, I’m Gentle John.
About a month ago, I was having breakfast with a close friend at a local country restaurant. Country music emanated from the radio, the wood paneled walls were decorated with paintings of mountain streams and weary deer. Sounds of clinking glass, warm conversation and sizzling eggs filled the air.
I was famished after indulging in two or 10 drinks of rye whiskey and cola the night before. Yes, I’m by no means the model Buddhist; Ikkyu is my hero. If I can’t walk the Middle Way while buzzed, then that means I can’t walk the Middle Way. If it’s any consolation to ye conservative Buddhists, I usually only drink booze of the highest purity. “If I can’t run my car on it, then I don’t have much interest in it.”
Alright, maybe a little excessive wit is scattered here and there in this column.
Anyway, I digress, I was eating breakfast at a quaint country restaurant. Nestled at a table a few feet away was a group of smiling church goers still coming down from their Sunday morning high. They talked about the sermon, the Bible and day-to-day life. What interested me wasn’t what they were saying, but the energy and delight that they embodied.
I may be a Buddhist, but I’m also a friendly agnostic.
Agnosticism isn’t just a theological disposition for me, but a way of life in itself. The same abductive reasoning and lack of faith in absolutes that the agnostic applies to theology can be applied to all aspects of life.
What troubles me is that many in our culture have the innate belief that theists have a monopoly on the sublime. A few weeks ago, we invited Rev. Darren Chittick to join the podcast. Toward the end, he mentioned that what many call God is their personal interpretation of the sublime. His point there really inspired me.
One doesn’t have to be a theist to experience the sublime, it’s available to all of us.
Whether standing in breathless awe of a majestic sunset or lying comfortably on a driveway while immersed in the celestial play of stars and galaxies in the night; whatever that feeling is, it is available to theists and non-theists alike.
I can’t imagine a life lacking in those sublime moments—those instances when thoughts fade and I am immersed in something that a name would stain; open to a majesty and wonder that feels just right. Most of the religions, philosophies and practices I’ve studied tend to focus on accessing the sublime—even Zen. Since the sublime is even available to agnostics, I’d like to stain it and pen the term “Agnosis.” I can’t imagine a more consistently satisfying and worthwhile endeavor than experiencing agnosis on a daily basis.
For me, agnosis stems from mindfulness. Whether one accepts Buddhist philosophy or not, mindfulness has benefits that can be enjoyed by anyone of any creed. Agnosis never happens while ruminating, pondering the past or worrying about tomorrow. It can only happen in the present moment, and mindfulness is the most practical and beneficial technique I’ve stumbled upon to dive oneself into the present.
I’ve met many hate-filled agnostics and atheists.
This is understandable since we are a minority and we are constantly berated by theists. Yet when I experience agnosis, there is no hatred, no envy, no yearning and no fear. I can even understand how theists could deify it and anthropomorphize it. The first clear memory of agnosis I have actually occurred during Communion as we were all sitting silently, kneeling in a dimly lit church. The candles were flickering and the air smelled of warm wood and frankincense. The morning light was dazzled by frozen images held in stained glass. The pain from my aching knees faded away and the present moment revealed itself in all of its splendor.
So I get it, I really do. I don’t necessarily accept theistic interpretations of it, but I do acknowledge that it is indeed a glorious experience.
It could be that there is some kind of pantheistic presence that we tap into during those moments. It could be that it’s simply a marvel of brain chemistry. The theories behind it aren’t important either way.
What’s important is that it can enrich one’s life and can be experienced by anyone—even atheists and agnostics.
Editor: Dana Gornall