During recess duty at La Cañada Elementary School, I overheard a child lecturing other children regarding their belief in Santa Claus. With a rather scolding tone he said, “There is no Santa Claus!” I watched the reactions of the children. All but one quickly dismissed his proclamation as nonsense. However, one little girl became distraught. With beseeching eyes she stared motionless at me as though she wanted me to save her. I stepped out on the limb, as I knew that she wasn’t ready to stop believing. “I believe in Santa Claus,” I told her. “He’s very real to me.”
We are shaped by many and varied nuances of life, some are subtle and they quietly transform us into that which we weren’t; others shake our awareness as though we were grabbed by the strong arm of divine intervention. We are a product of our thoughts, words, gestures, ideas, a simple poem or a passing glance.
I ponder this perspective especially at this time of year because is it the season of believing. However, skepticism looms like a dragon and nullifies that which is basic to the human condition, faith. All too often life’s nuances shape us as rationalists who in order for a belief system to be accepted, it must be proven to be true.
Truth is subjective and requires no leap of faith. In that dimension the possibility of faith does not exist, thus the words believe, mystery and faith have no basis. Perhaps that’s why John Locke said, “Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.”
Skepticism freezes the ego into intellectual poverty that never reaches or diversifies the resources of imagination or understanding.
Although doubt is a useful and significant test of one’s critical powers, by itself it bears little significant cultural change or enlightenment.
Beliefs are our most important human commodity. They shape our morals and ethics, enhance our relationships and deepen our spiritual connections; however, they can also be used to manipulate and control. Beliefs are responsible for the rise and fall of civilizations, the creation of music and art, the formation of religious groups, and whether we are led to fall in love or driven to hate.
I contend that we are biologically driven to create meaning and beliefs throughout our lives, so perhaps the single most important question to us is, “What do we believe?”
I believe in mystery. I believe we are surrounded by it, immersed in it, and, occasionally but inevitably, confronted by it — in jaw-dropping encounters that leave you wondering for the rest of your life what the hell just happened. And I believe one of our highest spiritual pursuits is the cultivation of an openness in which you stand ready to walk down that suddenly illuminated path, to find — well, that’s always the mystery isn’t it?
Faith is not exclusive to religion, but is a general part of human life. Since human knowledge is imperfect, faith bridges the gap between reality and possibility.
What kind of a world would we have without possibility, without myth? For they symbolize human experience and embody the spiritual values of culture. That’s why we believe. It’s sort of akin to self-preservation.
Henry David Thoreau tells us, “Not till we are lost in other worlds do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”
I recall an illustration by Mary Engelbreit. It was picture of Santa Claus carrying his traditional bundle of gifts while negotiating the peak of a roof. Santa, smoking a pipe, is about to enter this house by way of the chimney. One simple word embossed in bright red ink symbolizes the essence of my thoughts. It simply reads BELIEVE! They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and I think it is.
First we have to believe. And then we believe.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor specializing in helping students transition to college. He is a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com or write him in care of the Valley Sun, P.O. Box 38, La Cañada, CA 91012.