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Robert Lax

Some Unusual Religious Views

I think most Catholic readers would read The Way of the Dreamcatcher from a very different perspective than I did. Instead of focusing on Lax’s religious views, I focused on his inter-religious views and how those are manifested in his poetry. At times it almost seemed to me that S. T. Georgiou was trying to fit Lax into the Catholic mould even though Lax seemed not to be anything but a typical Catholic. Perhaps, however, Georgiou was asking those question to illustrate Lax’s particular viewpoint, that his roots and his studies had enabled him to draw from many religious sources without losing his Catholic faith.

Knowing how close Merton and Lax were, Georgiou asks Lax if he ever wished to join a monastery:

Since you knew that you always had a strong spiritual and contemplative inclination, did you ever wish to enter a monastery, as did Merton.

No, and that’s because of the three monastic vows: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Poverty, I was familiar with. Chastity I could get used to. But one thing I could never get used to was Obedience. I don’t like being bossed around! Being obedient to a superior really wasn’t a part of me. I remember when I graduated from grade school, my mother wrote in my autograph book, “To thine own self be true.” So she brought me up, right from the beginning, to be true to myself, and that’s an important lesson to get early in life.

I immediately identified with Lax’s answer. I’ve never liked taking orders, especially not on spiritual matters. For me, at least, there’s no higher truth than “To thine own self be true.”

The Christian Scientist/Unitarian in me tends to believe, like Lax, that all faiths can lead to their own form of salvation.

But exactly how do we share, especially when so many faiths differ? Do you believe that all paths to salvation are valid.

Well, I think if you live gently, honourably, focusing on the cultivation of your heart, good things are sure to follow. And I have posted a note on the wall up there which might help to answer your question. It goes like this: “There are as many paths to salvation as there are people willing to be saved.”

That sounds faintly like the Japanese Zen poet Ikkyu, who said, “Many winding roads and paths lead to the top of the mountain, but at the peak, we all gaze at the single bright moon. “

Very good, yes, I’ve heard of that. I do appreciate the ecumenical and interfaith approach. We were meant to connect with each other, to take care of each other, to check up on each other. It’s all about communication.

I’ve never felt a need to justify my own religious beliefs or to convert others to my view. I’ve seldom had the chance to get to personally know anyone who’s not Christian or Jewish, but I suspect people deeply involved in their faith tend to be happier than those that aren’t. I do know that some of my favorite students over the years were quite religious. I’ve even envied other people’s absolute faith at times, though I seem to moe of a “doubter” by nature.

As an artist, Lax finds many ways to celebrate his religion:

What if one can’t pray?

Then go to some quiet, scenic place and rest. Listen to a bird’s song. Take in the stillness. Or do something creative. Sing, dance, paint, smile. Help somebody. You know, feel the morning’s presence in every leaf. Share your joy. I feel all of that counts as prayer, especially if it proceeds from a joyful, loving heart.

I think I’ve mentioned previously that in many ways poetry served as my “religion,” particularly poets like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson or even earlier English Poets like Blake or Donne. Later in life, I’ve turned more and more to Taoist and Buddhist poetry for inspiration. On the other hand, I know many birders who consider “birding” their church.

I’ll have to admit that I was a little shocked when Georgiou made this statement near the end of his book:

In his quiet, poetic resonance, he reminded me of an Eastern sage, the “True Man” of Chuang Tzu, the Man of Te who in motion is like water; at rest, like a mirror; in response, like an echo; who in his stillness, remains pure. Lax naturally possessed what the Asian mystics term “Beginner’s Mind,” wherein all things are possible. Like Patmos itself, his presence was a place to start from, to be reborn and begin a revitalized understanding of the world.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with that assessment, but I’ll look for those elements when I re-read some of his poems. Perhaps it was an aspect of his writing that subconsciously attracted me and I just wasn’t aware of it.