People find religion as they age because with time, reality becomes otherworldly. Or maybe paradoxical. Or transcendental.
So much is invested in the notion of “the real” that the concept takes on a kind iconography of its own in the church of the Enlightenment, but this is not the religion that begins to creep into life as you age. In fact, it is the opposite—and the impulse.
Age and circumstance invariably lead you to question the real.
© Aron Hsiao / 2004
At first, you do this in a circumstantial way. Which account of what’s just happened represents reality? Which of the instances of ‘me’ over the years is the real one, all the rest necessarily being dreams? Is reality to be found in the memories that I have of the past, in one from a multiplying number of interpretations of the present, or in visions of the future? Does reality lie in the daily routine or in the ever-present possibility that it will be interrupted?
Over time, these reflections become less concrete, less situational; you begin to suspect the very idea of “the real” as something that is both too stingy and too generous, too arbitrary yet also too inflexible.
Then, one day, it begins to dawn on you that you can’t conceptualize “the real” any longer; the real has overflowed its bounds, has outgrown itself. It can’t be contained in a single concept, because it does not maintain self-consistency. Every version of yourself is real. Every version of yourself is false. The mountains are concrete reality; the mountains are mere misconceptions. The sun and the stars and the grass and the trees are real; the sun and the stars and the grass and the trees are ephemeral, literature rather than substance, poetry rather than material-as-prose.
You don’t leave reality; reality leaves you, bit by bit, until you realize that you walk, breathe, are born, and die in a space that is already transcendental, not by fiat but by nature, by the ontological compulsion of a nature that is beyond comprehension and conception. Aquinas was right; Occam was wrong. The image of God as a sovereign agent exercising will is impossibly crude, mirroring the same naive belief in “reality” that possesses the young. Such a God can only exist in an empirically consistent universe.
Once reality leaves you, Occam is dead to you as well.
Then, it is yours to quest. Not for the key to the real, but for the key to whatever lies beyond it; not the real, but the actual, as the two are very different things. At first touch they feel the same to the uninitiated and the blind, but then so do the cheeks of an infant and a dying man.
— § —
To sit for two days in silence is a kind of pilgrimage to the core of things.
Moment by moment, you peel away the layers of what is—car keys and mailboxes, projects and assignments, dishes and brooms, blankets and jeans, hunger and thirst, awareness of breath—even presence—until nothing remains but time and actuality.
Here you hear the numinous call to you, from nowhere and everywhere at once, as nowhere and everywhere, too, have faded.
There is nothing more to be done; you can’t interrogate or share pleasantries with the numinous; it is not there for you. You are there by virtue of it.
First everything sensed becomes art. Then, everything sensed becomes iconography. Then, sense gives way and icons are rendered moot, like the concepts of telephone and letter, speech and writing in the unity of the singularity.
© Aron Hsiao / 2005
This pilgrimage is not to be taken lightly, nor is it available to those who aren’t ready. Like the portals to other states of being that are archetypal in all of literature, they appear only to the chosen.
In this case, chosen by time.
— § —
This is also why, as people age, they begin to take pleasure in “the simple things.”
A book. A pen. A watch. A plant. A view. A pet.
Because on the far shore of the actual, there is a special kind of amusement and delight to be found—a kind of quaintness—in the apparently real, not unlike the aura that hangs over a childrens’ tea set or teddy bear.
That is to say that you know that you are called to seek, that you have crossed over from the real into maturity, when “having tea with bear” is no longer a matter of tea or of a bear per se, but rather a matter concerning everything in the universe and, at the same time, nothing in particular at all.