Since I was 8 or so, I’ve wanted to be an author. At times the dream has faded under the pressure of thoughts about career, commitments to study, or even just under the time I’ve spent reading. In the past year or so I felt the need to “get back to basics,” to re-engage with the dream of my childhood. In doing so, I’ve realised one thing – in trying to realise a career-oriented goal like “writing,” passionate though I am about it, I have found something else – God. Sometimes I struggle to remember what happened in a book, but what doesn’t fade about the best literature is the impression it leaves on you, like a memory that continues to paint real life in ever more vibrant colours.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman taught me the value of hard thinking, of wonder in the natural world, and how precious love and knowledge and life really are. It was one of the things that spurred me to love and to write poems for people. But I wasn’t ready to relinquish the idea of God. I thought: maybe it’s just too limiting a word, maybe I should be saying “the Absolute” or “the Highest Reality.” For a while I felt more comfortable using a term that didn’t lend itself to an anthropomorphic idea of the Divine. Yet eventually the sheer mystery of the world impelled me, if anyone was to ask, to call myself “agnostic.”
Studying modernist literature a few years ago was one of the catalysts for a period of anxiety, in which everybody felt like a stranger, including myself. I realised I couldn’t find a stable self with my body, mind, attitudes, even family, locality, nation – all these things were, and are, transient. I found the only permanent thing was the awareness of my awareness. In a sense even this is not stable, as it is difficult to habituate this kind of consciousness. Now I think of my body and mind as the changing forms of my Being, and the universe, a multiverse even, as the manifestation of a mysterious and infinite God.
Yet modernist literature had lasting effects on my writing, mixing with studies on literature and philosophy until out of the concoction I thought: why be a writer? Words always mean different things to different people, they fail to express a reality within me, or to fully apprehend the feeling of something higher. Italo Calvino, my favourite Italian writer from the 20th century, said that “the struggle of literature is in fact a struggle to escape from the confines of language.” I thought: perhaps this is where the beauty is – in the struggle to express the ineffable. I could do that if I continued to be a writer, and besides, I owed my own understanding of the Divine to the wisdom of other writers, other artists, and to the kind people I’ve met on my journey of self-discovery.
All humans share language, and so all humans have the same struggle to articulate God, yet God is universal. If God were not universal, and infinitely awe-inspiring, then God would not be God. Many traditions see this, there are many names, many stories and signs pointing towards the Absolute, and I endeavour to see this richness and to experience it as much as I can. When we come to the great mystery of God, we do not reach an impasse in our understanding, but we arrive at the beginning of the way. The mystery humbles the limits of knowledge, humbles the self, and helps us open our arms towards the divine and toward one another.