Kyriaki Yozzo

The aversion to religion that plagues modernity is not something I find myself particularly interested in or inspired by. Sympathizing with people’s disdain for and opposition to organized religion is easy enough, yet the apathy and rejection of religion’s value as a whole feels immature and unproductive. On a societal level, we have not mastered the art of responding as opposed to reacting, correlating with not having mastered mindful engagement or humility. Think of shifts in societal trends — like how sexuality and sexual activity went from absolutely taboo and deeply related to morality to propagated as entirely casual and devoid of emotional content. It’s true that the old framework for approaching and contextualizing sexuality needed to change, but is that to say there’s no value at all in the content that existed? Can we only work in these nonunified opposites?

A man named Yunis that I spoke to extensively told me that faith is supposed to make you capable of answering these questions — Do you know who you are? Do you know where you are? Do you know where you’re going? If you were suddenly awake on a train with no idea of how you got there would you find the answer? How do you go about finding it? The train is life, is what he said. One Thanksgiving, my aunt cornered me in the bathroom to tell me that God is always on the other side of the door. She said, “You may not believe it, but he’s just waiting for you to be ready to knock.” And then there’s my mom, who all but abandoned the Greek Orthodox Church and says her connection to divinity feels stronger than ever. Or my dad, who won’t take communion if he hasn’t been to confession or gone to church in awhile, but will walk up to me first thing in the morning to tell me that he doesn’t think a personal God is possible and that, no matter what he does, he can not envision God as human.

Religion is fascinating. I cannot think of religion as an inherently negative phenomenon or innately producing harmful dynamics — just forceful ones. It has the ability to bring out a beautiful sensitivity, strong delicateness and severe intensity. It is powerful. Religion and religious thought can be prosaic, analytical, fluid and defined. Tell me how God behind every door, how the anthropomorphizing of God has seriously skewed our perceptions of self and unity and that God is a circle and the fixed point of the circle. There is a way to approach it that can be rejuvenating and transformative, and that’s expressed in the rich tradition of religious and mystic thought, a practice of and in perspective humility and love that earnestly seeks out understanding and truth, that wants to devote itself to a way of living that is honest and nourishing. It shares the same underlying queries and interests as any other human pursuit — the human condition, the configuration of the external world and life, the nature of consciousness, etc. The motivation in pursuing God or faith can be noble and dignified.

The end of April had me reading a comprehensive and analytical overview of the works of Meister Eckhart, a Dominican preacher and scholar who was active from the late 1200’s to the early 1300’s. Tried for heresy toward the end of his career and life, Eckhart’s line of thought challenge all of these stale and oppressive images associated with religion that people find themselves stuck with. Eckhart’s works are just one example of the imaginative and provocative capacity of religion — the fun and fruitfulness that lies in the act of interpreting. His use of metaphor, analogy and paradox creates potent instructions and declarations, such as man’s need to become a desert in order to achieve unity with God, his proposition that God’s distinction lies in his in-distinction, that God is immovable motion, that man, God and spirit share the same ground and that man’s aim should be to put himself in the ground and live in a state of constant potential. Reading his work stimulates me and makes me explore questions of unity and separation, conceptions of self and how they influence the way I perceive and relate to the external world and the limits of language and knowledge. These questions have real-world relevance, implications and applications.

My dad is of the belief that religion originated as a way of explaining, but I like to think of religion as a way of interacting and seeing. Religion, like early mythologies, makes the experience of living in the world far more intimate and connected, and, when rightly approached, asks us to live with intent and deliberateness as we strive to better ourselves and overcome our flaws. It doesn’t have to mean dogma or doctrine or judgment. About two years ago a very nice taxi driver told me “The sun comes up every day. God never stops breathing.” I think we would all benefit from feeling this way about the sun.

Kyriaki Yozzo is a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.

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