It's a blessedly lazy Saturday. I try to keep all Saturdays free so I can hide in my room and read, think and sleep to my own cycles, no one else's. Eventually, I'll wander down and check fb and my email, write on my blogs if so inclined, make myself some coffee, and just *be*. And much as I love my housemates, it's even better if I have the house to myself.
So I find myself on the sofa today, slanketed with my hands around a steaming mug of coffee, writing this.
It all started a couple of days ago, as I was awaiting the arrival of the latest instalment of the Matthew Shardlake series, Revelation. (I'm not sure Heartstone is out yet.) In the interim, I picked up an old favourite, Exile's Honour by Mercedes Lackey, part of her Valdemar series that I fell in love with many moons ago. Definitely a universe I would want to live in.
It tells the story of how Alberich of Karse, Weaponsmaster for most of the series, comes to live in and serve Valdemar, his old enemy. Demanding, incredibly tough, intimidating, challenging, relentlessly hard on his students, yet fair and even gentle, a man of action, honour and a moral code that would place him amongst the saints. Not perfect, of course - there's a darkness in him that means he spoils for fights when he can't act, he broods, he's terribly impatient and fools don't last long around him. He's one of my absolute favourite characters in the series, and as I told one of my friends who would get it, "If I ran a seminary, let me tell you, I'd run it like Alberich. You'd be doing pastoral work within a month, including midnight phone calls/callouts - being able to handle that has to be reflex, like good sword work. And the discipline - you'd be seriously f***ed if I found out you were in places I knew you shouldn't be, on websites you shouldn't be, doing things you shouldn't do. And ja, you'd better believe I'd find out."
I expected it to be a pleasurable re-read. What I didn't expect was how it would help me with my current struggle between what I believe and the organisation I've chosen to belong to. This morning, I hit a passage I'd completely forgotten, between Alberich and his Sunpriest, Geri. And it's really helping me get to grips with things:
[Alberich] "I'm hunting for answers."
Geri regarded him with a somber gaze. "You, of all people, ought to know that you aren't going to find many of those here. Questions, certainly, but precious few answers. Ours is a faith, Alberich, not a map or a guide, and certainly not a set of certitudes. At least, that is the way it should be -"
"Not what it has become...We are the mirror of Valdemar-"
"More like the twin. Or we were, before things disintegrated." Geri sighed. "I've had this discussion with Henrick, actually. He is of the opinion that the long slide began with a will to power. I think it's more complicated than that. I think that the priesthood was corrupted by the congregation."
Alberich blinked. "How, exactly?"
"The laity wanted absolutes, answers, and the priests finally elected to give them answers, the simpler the better," Geri replied. "The Writ took second place to the Rule, and a poor second at that. The answers took away all uncertainty, and what is more, took away the need to think."
Alberich frowned; not for nothing had he spent so much of his childhood under the tutelage of a priest who knew - and lived - the old ways. "Above all, the Writ demands that a man - or a woman, for that matter - learn how to think."
Geri nodded. "You see? The old ways require that each person come to the Sunlord having thought through everything for himself. The current rule requires that men become sheep herded in one direction, following one path, pastured in one field, ever and always, so will it be."
"Sheep." It occurred to Alberich that it was no coincidence that the Sunpriests of Karse had taken to calling their congregations by the name of 'flock'.
"Sheep don't have to think for themselves, do they?" Geri made a face. "The Sunlord was reshaped from the Unknowable into the remote but predictable Patriarch, from the Whirlwind into the windmill that grinds - exceedingly small. Do this - you are gathered unto His bosom. Do that - you are cast into the outermost Hells." Geri shook his head. "Answers are terribly seductive. The simpler they are, the more seductive they become."
Alberich turned that over in his mind, and found it certainly matched some of his own experience. "But that isn't the whole of it," he objected.
"Of course not. I just suggest that this was where the corruption started," Geri replied. "Then came the will to power, power that came from giving people what they wanted instead of what they needed, and power is just as seductive and even more addictive than any drug. Now - I don't know, Alberich. I don't know how it can be fixed. Or even if it can. It would take the Sunlord Himself in manifestation, perhaps. And someone as the Son of the Sun who is willing to hold the hard course and be disliked. Even hated."
"And loved." --Exile's honour, pp. 239-241
And not hold the hard course by protecting the status quo, or blaming non-believers for the state of the world, by insisting that those who will not follow the easy answers offered them are guilty of heresy and should be ostracised.
That is the easy course, and has been followed for far too long.
The hard course is insisting that the laity learn to think for themselves; that they come to the temple to find more questions that will help them grow in their faith and come to their own decisions, not easy answers or dependence on a priest; develop their own relationship with the Creator - one that changes, ebbs and flows as all relationships do. That they develop an organic faith capable of growth and able to deal with all situations - from the mundane to the life-changing.
As my current status says, The Truth is not afraid to be questioned. The Truth wants you to question it, so it can remove all your doubts. Only then can you be free. ~Stephen Edwards
Absolutely. So if someone has issues with you asking questions or challenging them, then you know one thing: no matter what they claim, they do not have - or are not sure they have - the truth.
But even if they do, they should offer you only these instructions:
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. --Alfred, Lord Tennyson