I am learning how to respect my spirituality and how to plumb its depths. None of us has the one true belief; we are all equal in our spiritual longing and determined in our quests.
By Thom Hawkins
Every human is spiritual, the essence of love in community and connection to all life. We are separate in our searching yet connected by our loving. Love gives us the power to transcend our separateness and act as one when we join together for a common purpose. In this very moment, all we have is love–our interconnection is established scientific fact, as is our separateness. Carl Sagan, the highly regarded astrophysicist, put it this way in 1997. “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
I am an atheist who believes in something like God, something science has established as the interconnection of all things, something I experience as love. I consider myself a devout realist: what matters most is how things work.
What keeps the cosmos humming along? What is the nature of life? Why am I here? I no longer have to speculate because ancient wisdom has been confirmed by advanced technology and research in quantum physics, astrophysics, astronomy, cosmology, genetics, paleontology, anthropology and evolutionary biology.
These and many other physical sciences, as well as the social sciences, are telling us that everything is separate, yet interconnected and interdependent. Not by oneness, such as a god, but by the physical structures of life.
When I accept this universal connection to all things and all creatures, I feel the highest form of love. It’s the way I feel camping alone beside the Kelso dunes in the Mojave Desert or writing poetry with my two grandsons. I evolved to be connected, and that means I evolved to be loved.
I taught my son about the interdependence of all species. When he was growing up we often spent time together in the wilderness. Sitting around the campfire, just the two of us, he would ask, “If there is no god, what happens to us when we die?” He had heard me say many times that this is all there is, so we’d better make the most of life. “What you see is what you get.” Sometimes we would howl into the night and the coyotes of Northern California’s Yolla Bolly Wilderness would answer.
Stop speculating and enjoy the loving
The cosmos, on the other hand, is indifferent. It gives and takes life whenever it pleases–mostly it destroys. It doesn’t care how much love we put out because we are insignificant in the grand scheme, the larger picture beyond our planet, the dance of creation and destruction, the mystery we are unable to fathom.
One early spring, my son and I found a meandering stream deep in the Yolla Bolly. A sunbeam warmed perfect round stones that fit in the palms of our hands and drove out the chill. By the side of the stream we basked in the sun and entered another realm together. I felt something greater than what I could see and touch.
My conscious, rational, atheist self believes there is no god, but my sub-conscious, seeking self believes there is something that feels spiritual. We evolved to have this sense of the spiritual, this connection.
I have grown more at ease with not having all the answers. I don’t have faith because that depends on a past I cannot change. I don’t have hope because that’s the future I cannot know. All I have is love in the here and now, confirmed by the scientific evidence of interconnection. There will always be some mystery in the cosmic details, but science has shed light on many mysteries of life on this planet. I can stop speculating and enjoy the loving.
And when my grandsons ask, “What happens to us when we die?” I tell them, “Something wonderful. The love goes on. All the love we’ve given and received and the connection between all things and all creatures, these continue. We are always part of it. Love never dies. Connection is eternal.
> An earlier version of this essay was a national finalist nine years ago in the popular NPR “This I Believe” series that was heard from 2009 to 2014.
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