Or as Albert Schweitzer put it when asked to name humanity's most pressing question, "Is the universe friendly?"
More and more people question whether anyone or anything is watching out for us on a cosmic level. The "new atheist" authors are convinced that any belief in God is sheer foolishness. The complexity of life and the overwhelming suffering in the world leave many of us beset by doubts. Yet doubt is a part of life. Many years ago I heard the rector of the St. Paul Seminary say, "Anyone who has never doubted is either a liar or a fool." While I know a few people who've been gifted with an unwavering faith, most of us wonder, especially when times are tough.
Often the debate rests on what appears to be a logical argument between science and religion. I would hold that science and religion ask different questions. Science can tell us that rainbows occur when light is refracted through water droplets, perceived by our eyes and processed by our brains. Science can't explain why 99% of the human race call rainbows beautiful, and why our first response to a rainbow is to catch our breath and stop in wonder - at the beauty, not the physics.
The God/science discussion is obviously way more complicated than that simple summary. My point here is that the scientific method has its limits. We make the biggest decisions of our lives - who and whether to marry, whether to live a generous or an exploitive life - on something other than logic and careful measurement. Our best life decisions don't ignore logic, but they are heavily influenced by intuition and the heart. So an intellectual debate about the existence of a Divine Being is only part of the search. Another path is the road toward encounter.
My husband told me this morning he saw what he thinks are fox tracks in the snow in our back yard. A debate about the existence of foxes and their usual habitat will not tell me whether he's right. The only way I can know for sure is to keep watch - quietly and patiently. If I don't see a fox, it doesn't mean there are no fox in our neighborhood. If I see a fox tonight, there is no guarantee I will observe a repeat tomorrow night. The fact that fox are unpredictable does not mean they don't exist. The fact that spiritual experiences are not as predictable as gravity does not mean they're not real.
My purpose is not to try to prove that God exists. I do want to suggest that by watching carefully, over a period of time, we may encounter something unexpected. I also suggest that, barring an outburst of grace, without a patient search we can't arrive at an answer.
We can argue the Sacred out of our world, or we can set up camp and watch for its presence. Spiritual practices up our chances of catching a glimpse of the fox in our woods. Some practices equip us to watch solo. Some offer us the benefit of other seekers' wisdom, experience and company. The percentage of people in the world who know how to track an actual wild animal has dropped dramatically over the last century. Linking up with skillful tracker can increase my chances of seeing an elusive fox.
Industrialization has taken a toll on our spiritual as well as our physical environment. We are short on space in our lives to notice God's action, and we've found some of our guides to be seriously flawed. Yet true guides are abundant, especially if we look back into our spiritual history. Saints and heroes like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Francis of Assisi, Desmond Tutu and Badshah Khan would all say they could not have achieved what they did or become who they were without strength that came from beyond themselves. We have nothing to lose but a little time if we decide to learn some of their techniques for following tracks in the snow.
Photo credits: Christopher Michel, Flickr; Peggy Cadigan, Flickr