Einstein for a disillusioned teenager
Here’s a letter I wrote to the wise, poised and highly intelligent, teenaged daughter of my best friend after a weekend retreat with a church youth group that left her feeling frustratingly, painfully aware that the life of an evangelical, whipped-into-a-frenzy-because-I’m-saved, cheerleader for Jesus is not for her.
Your mother and her big mouth told me you spent a horrifying weekend with Jesus and some of his biggest fans. [Yes, I know that weekend was months ago, but I needed time to pray to the lord about what to say to you. I'm lying. I don't pray and I hate the word "lord". I also hate the word "worship". But I digress.] I used to sit in church in the rural outskirts of Charlotte when I was growing up and watch silver-haired Reba Marie in her flowery shift with orthopedic shoes. (The Susan Boyle of the seventies?) She and husband Dan always sat in the pew in front of the pew where my family and I always sat. I also watched plump, giggly, bottle-blond Dolly Smith in the choir (alto); Peter James, a stocky northerner who pronounced the word “worship” as “WAAR-ship”; and a variety of other pew-sitters. Whenever the minister, in his uncharismatic-yet-so-boring-I-would-occasionally-fake-illness-in-order-to-run-outside-and-feel-alive-again monotone, preached Jesus on the cross, I heard sniffles. I heard ugly handbags – my young, but clearly developed sense of elegance could actually HEAR the ugliness of the handbag — surrendering nasty Kleenex. The worst? I heard — almost inevitably – the loud snort of a mucus-filled nostril. Reba, Dolly, Peter? Crying, weeping, snorting. Me? Nothing, nada, sociopathically-unmoved.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about you . . . and me. I sense that we are both seekers of truth. You, however, are gifted with the self-awareness that I lacked at your age. There exists clear, trustworthy communication between your mind and your heart. When an evangelical christian theology, in the case of your weekend retreat, doesn’t “ring true” in your heart, your mind then concludes this is not the spiritual path for you at this time. When I was told that Jesus suffered and died because of my sin, I could only pretend that I cared. Only in retrospect, many years later, could I see that my lack of emotion meant that I just didn’t buy into what was being preached. It didn’t ring true in my heart, but my mind was unable to recognize simple disbelief. (Fear is a terrible obstacle. Hell was a real place in my young mind).
Here’s what I think we’re both seeking:
The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms — this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.
Albert Einstein — Nobelist, theoretical physicist, father of modern physics, genius — embraced that which is beyond the limits of language, the mystery. We enjoy glimpses, if we’re paying attention, in the form of awe, wonder, peace that passes understanding. The glimpses point us to something deeper, a life force, consciousness, truth, beauty, authentic self; some may choose to call it god.
You and I are not seeking a belief system or a creed to recite. Those are only words. We’re seeking the experience of the present moment that lies deeper than words and is Life in its fullness.
I’m tired of writing now. If you want to know more, I’ll write again. If you wish you had never read this, I will pray that you don’t burn eternally in hell.
Your sister-wife in Christ,