An Atheists Unexpected Leap of Faith

Please Note: The story called "Myriad Gifts" is really a prerequisite to this piece.

When I'm asked how I would "define myself spiritually,", I say I'm part atheist and part mystic. The atheist (humanist) part does not believe in a personal God that cares about each of us. The mystical part has felt that there is a power in the universe, a flow, as I call it, beyond our simian level of intellectual comprehension.

It seems that this power can only be felt, or intuited, as a feeling of oneness, transcendence or deep connectedness, when we are immersed physically, mentally and spiritually in this flow. We are at once both outside ourselves, yet deeply within.

I have been able to touch this feeling of transcendent connectedness at various points in my life. Examples include being outside engaged in exercise (kayaking, bicycling, hiking, skiing) for an extended period of time, achieving an almost meditative state, the competition of sports, where the individual or team flows as one, almost without any thought involved at all, or through the power of poetry in the form of beautifully crystallized truth, or by loving and being loved by another, or music or through experiencing the most sacred birth of my son or being fully present with my father as he passed.

On October 5th, 2009, just before my father passed on, he opened his eyes, looking into the distance initially, but then looked directly at me with his one eye that was still alive and we locked together. As I spoke to him I could see my father was there, but there was more, something beyond, as if I had a connection to another being looking at me too, seeing me for who and what I am, both the good deeds and all my failings. I was momentarily uneasy, but then faced it all and moved into it fully, not averting my gaze at all. Something happened with me here, I was given a glimpse, a deep momentary insight, I knew I had been changed somehow and felt a shifting within.

My father then closed his eyes, took three more labored breaths and then his body completed his long, and oftentimes, hard journey. Although my guide and hospice nurse Vicky told me he was gone, I kept holding his hand, my other hand on his chest, feeling for a heartbeat, until he was checked with a stethoscope and I was told his body no longer lived. As I finally stood up I was moved, not with sorrow and pain, but a joy and feeling that I had somehow come through a passage, a transcendence of sorts.

My wife, Barb, is a funeral director. Barb came to pick up my father's body and brought our 11 year old son, Stephen, with her. While she went inside with the stretcher I sat outside in the evening twilight and talked with my son, with my arm around him. I asked him if he believed in God and he said yes. I said I was happy to hear that, because Grandpa is with God now, he is in a loving place, his suffering here is over and this is good. He cried slightly, quietly, I held him, told him I loved him and that it was ok to be sad, but there comes a time to go, and that's ok too.

The unusual and striking part of my interaction with Stephen is that my wife and I had vigorous debate many years ago regarding him attending Parochial school. She looked at it as giving him a faith foundation, I looked at it as a brainwashing. This sacred, twilight evening, as I held Stephen close, I was deeply grateful for this foundation and for the gift of this transcendent experience my father has just given me.

I wrote "Myriad Gifts" shortly after this evening, realizing I had been shifted, but not yet realizing quite how, or to what extent. Through a series of bizarre circumstances I was in a potential situation where I knew I could be shot and killed. Although my first thought was that I can't leave my son in this world without me, and I wasn't particularly looking forward to a bullet ripping through my chest, I realized I was not afraid to die. This shocked me and brought home for me the full extent of this passage. Obviously the danger passed and all turned out fine since I'm writing this.

My spiritual path has always been crooked, exploring many options, integrating pieces that spoke to me, but the 80% atheist always beat the heck out of the 20% mystic. This ratio is now reversed and my hope is the mystic will gently envelop the atheist over time. Although I have developed my own spiritual belief over time, I've never been able to fully embrace it. It is said that a tentative approach, yields tentative results, whereas giving oneself fully opens one to the law of attraction and that flows forward all kinds of synchronicities and "Myriad Gifts."

I believe I am here to co-create and contribute, tapping into the full spectrum of my "given" gifts and capacity, in all the roles of my life. I also believe that the meaning of life is to give life meaning, that this is our individual task and responsibility, through developing our gifts and choosing to manifest our gifts into the world. Through this, we become enveloped in abundance, by making some good of our life, so that the final tapestry of our life is beautiful, harmonious and whole.

My father's "Final Gift" to me was a transcendence of my fears, an utterly unexpected leap of faith and, finally, now, the ability to fully embrace my path, for which I am profoundly humbled and grateful.

From "The Faith of a Physicist" by John Polkinghorne:

"....ideas they are attempting to discuss are not presented to us for our detached perusal. Their acceptance implies consequences for the way we live. We all know that Marx said that the point is to change the world, not simply interpret it, but the two activities are, in fact, inextricably related. There is a practical circle relating understanding and activity: we must interpret in order to have a discriminating basis for action; we must be prepared to act in order to demonstrate commitment to our belief."

Helpful Resources

Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-death Experience

By Kenneth Ring


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