page nineteen: A Touch of Providence
I recently came across this quote and ever since, I have been returning to it from time to time wanting to peel back the layers of meaning behind its words and take it all in.
Providence is the faith that nothing can prevent us from fulfilling the ultimate meaning of our existence. Providence does not mean a divine planning by which everything is predetermined, as is an efficient machine. Rather, Providence means that there is a creative and saving possibility implied in every situation, which cannot be destroyed by any event. Providence means that the daemonic and destructive forces within ourselves and our world can never have an unbearable grasp upon us, and that the bond that connects us with the fulfilling love can never be disrupted. Paul Tillich (Philosopher and Theologian)
First off, what is “Providence”? Although I had some idea of what it meant, I decided to start over. I looked it up. Google dictionary defines it as, “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power.”
The idea of some mysterious, pre-existing “other” that co-creates with us is an old one. For me, raised in India with a heavy dose of “Karma” messages, this “other” in my life is One who knows all my deepest darkest secrets and is rewarding me for good behavior on the one hand while waiting for the right time to punish me for my misdeeds, on the other. Owing to the fact that I am fraught with imperfections, I sometimes trust and at other times fear this force, constantly questioning my “eligibility” to receive support from Providence.
Yet this quote expresses Providence as a faith – a deep one, that trusts that “the daemonic and destructive forces within ourselves and our world can never have an unbearable grasp upon us and that the bond that connects us with the fulfilling love (God) can never be disrupted.”
In words that assure us of an unbreakable bond, this quote shifts the focus from good behavior to faith as the link to Providence. God or Grace is enjoined by our conscious choice in the present to have faith and is not a choiceless outcome of our past.
Yet that was not what many of us learned in the Sunday schools of our childhood. My many conversations over the years with people from different faith traditions has revealed to me that every religion has its own approach but has equally created its own punishing/rewarding Superpower. In my study groups we have discussed Catholic guilt, Jewish guilt and Hindu guilt – religious teachings which have placed the center of power up in heaven and filled us with fear, cutting us off from the “deep and fulfilling love” of unconditional faith which starts within.
So when life gets tough or our dreams, both personal and collective, do not unfold the way we hope for, we convince ourselves that we are being served our “just desserts” for some foregone past and hence lose faith just when we need it the most to turn things around.
Losing faith is losing Providence. Choosing Faith is to believe in every circumstance that the future is still open, not pre-determined and that we live in a Universe that wants us to succeed and live a good life despite the imperfect conditions in and around us. This relationship with the mysterious other is vital to living our best life. To quote the great Albert Einstein, "The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe." Faith or Grace is an ever-flowing intelligence like electricity and choosing faith is like turning the switch on, especially after there has been a “power cut.”
Yet, simply choosing such a faith is not all. One must live and act from this faith. For when we do, so does Providence. Here is another quote on the subject. This one is by Goethe:
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
With such a deep and unshakeable faith, we can indeed move mountains. I had long held the notion that Providence moves first and I follow, but these wise words were claiming otherwise. We start and God follows. In choosing such faith we choose the course of our life.
I have often heard and read that Buddhism is a religion without a God. I now wonder if Gautam Buddha, in his time, was merely trying to cut people off from their punishing God outside to connect them with a living, acting, abiding, faith on the inside. If Faith is God, then doing something with faith is God-in-action.
Choosing to act, walk, speak, listen, eat, and be present, relaxed in the complete awareness of “the bond that can never be disrupted,” is the practice of living in Providence.
What more could God want?