Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sam Waterston: Why I Believe

From: Newsweek On Faith.

My faith urges me to spread the good news, by example (“You shall know them by their fruits”) and also by word.
My nature readily gets the example part, but the word part demands I not ‘brag on’ belief, and shrinks from seeming to tell others what they ought to think about faith (I’m not defending this, just reporting). My upbringing says, “Don’t talk politics or religion at dinner parties, or anywhere else, if you can avoid it.” Faith mixes awkwardly with the news/entertainment media.
So, as I work on this, I hear in my head the wonderful Louisianan and novelist, Walker Percy, and the wonderful novelist, Frederick Buechner, in Vermont, chuckling away at me, out of their long experience wrestling with writing about faith for general consumption. This is not easy.
At the center of faith is a mystery beyond understanding, which is to say, beyond expression. Mystics worldwide and all across time recommend silence as the best route to that mystery. “Be still and know that I am God.” I believe that: meditation, even by an amateur like me, is immeasurably helpful there, as well as yielding all kinds of side-benefits, like better blood pressure and clearer thinking. However, communicating in words about what is revealed in silence is the province of poets and prophets.
But I can point. So, with apologies for their lack of grand sweep:

1. Faith is in our nature, like an appetite, or an instinct. You may be able to live without religion, but faith, you can’t choose to do without. Faith in the day gets us up in the morning. It's that basic.

2. Religious faith helps me, and I especially recommend meditation and prayer, which sometimes seem, at least in the West, to be poor cousins to preaching and ritual... or maybe it’s just that they make less noise.

3. Practice and community help faith, make it stronger, and channel it to good uses. At the same time, as everyone knows, faith is regularly used to mobilize people for mischief (Anyone thinking this is reason enough to do without faith altogether, should reread No. 1.). I expect we’re all in for big surprises, whatever we think and believe about the ultimate things, so, intolerance is dishonesty. But faith on the loose is dangerous, too. My suggestion: Have a practice. Watch it like a hawk.

4. Faith makes Truth available, especially about Love, that can’t be reached by another path.
I can’t think what else to add. It may be as Shakespeare said, “The rest is silence.”

Sam Waterston is an award-winning stage, screen and television actor who has been nominated for an Emmy Award several times for his role as Jack McCoy on "Law & Order.

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