Sunday, February 20, 2011
My cousin Sal and I were in the midst of one of our frequent, and deeply satisfying, conversations about the nature of God, how religion does or does not reflect that nature, and our own experiences of the divine. Just naming the topic of our conversation is often interesting. "God" was used in my earlier experience as a weapon and a means of control. It was a synonym for shame and judgement. But after years of trying different names, "God"is the only one that really works for me.
I'm never really sure what I mean when I talk about God. I've mostly shed my childhood picture of the angry old man with the big white beard - sort of an anti-Santa - who was just looking for me to mess up so he could punish me. I've never not believed in a higher power, but in the last few years, my understanding of what that means has expanded to the point of my having to simply accept the mystery beyond human understanding.
In this last conversation with Sal, one of us (or both - we often have some of our more brilliant insights piggy-backing off one another's ideas) said, "You can't believe God into existence. He exists with our believing or without."
I knew right away we were saying a version of, "Bidden or not bidden, God is present." Most often this quote is attributed to Carl Jung and I remember feeling a huge sense of relief the first time I saw it. Partly because I've always thought Jung's wisdom came from a soul-deep place, and partly because it felt safe - like I didn't have to work quite so hard any more.
But it was the believing part of what we said that felt different and significant.
While I chose not to use AA in my path to recovery, when I first became sober I was thrilled to know the only path to freedom from the grips of alcohol involved relying on a higher power. Some being who knew more than I did, who had unlimited capacity for patience and understanding, and who apparently loved me just as I was.
From the time I was old enough for any awareness, I knew God existed because of the colors, fragrances and wild lives that flourished with no human intervention. I wouldn't have named that experience God, in fact couldn't for years, because the name was already taken by the punishing old guy. However, those times when I was outside, warmed by a gentle sun, stroked by a playful wind, watching deer graze in a meadow surrounded by the simple light of daisies - those were the times I felt a certain rightness and connection to life that didn't exist at any other time. That has not changed in nearly six decades.
I have a number of friends who believe in no God beyond their own ability to be good or to live a full and meaningful life. I can't quarrel with that, or even argue them out of that belief. I don't want to. It's not my place. But when I'm in conversation with them, and consider what it might be to live that way, I can't - not really. Any more than I could consider living without breathing.
You can't believe God into existence. But, for me, believing in that existence is what gives life meaning, power and substance. To know that love exists in a bigger and deeper form than I'll ever be able to grasp offers not only comfort, but also a safe place to rest. I can't say exactly what I believe, but when a stranger smiles at me, or responds to my smile; when Walt looks at me with his kind and loving eyes; when the robins return declaring spring has to arrive because they have, I feel without doubt a love far too large to be simple human.