Monday, December 31, 2012

"Do you believe in God?"

"Do you still believe in God?"

It's been a popular question I've received since leaving church. I've never been able to settle on a solid answer, and I usually offer some sort of explanation...listening to myself as curiously as the one who questioned me is listening, because each time I answer it comes out differently. I've decided that part of the reason it's so difficult to answer is that the question itself is not clear.

So from now on if you ask "do you still believe in God?" I will ask what you mean. What is it you are really asking...?

QUESTION: "Do you believe there's one man, whose form is solid and never changing, with a white beard that is in charge of everything?"

ME: What is it you're really asking here? Why does this matter to you? How does your experience with this belief influence you?

QUESTIONER MAY REPLY: Well, it seems that it's important for me to know this because it helps me feel like I'm loved by a personal being.

ME: Yes, sometimes I feel that same need. To know I'm loved by something that makes sense to me. This is especially true when I feel like I'm facing problems I can't make sense of and/or I don't have another human that day I feel understands me and I can be close to. Because I sense that whatever/whomever "God" is is much bigger than I can make sense of, I Sometimes like to visualize it/he/she in form. I practice both using a form that has always represented pure love to me, as well as opening space for a feminine form that also can represent pure love to me. The picture or story seems to give me something to more clearly relate to from my own form-based experience. Other times, it feels more helpful to feel this omniscent love and knowing in all things...the smile of a friend, the stars and greater universe, a plant, animal, piece of furniture, bite of food. Sometimes studying science feels like God to me. Sometimes, it feels like it's within me. Since I've found that I can experience that love and support in many ways, I no longer feel it necessary to assume that the picture I grew up with is an absolute and literal truth.

The Baghavad Gita (a Vedic scripture) explains that the impersonal nature of "God" is the absolute and unmanifested, but that we can't make sense of that through our manifested self...our senses, and it can be helpful therefore to have a connection to something that feels personal. I think the problem comes when we assume our story of meaning & truth, or "God," if we call it that, to be literal and the only "true" or acceptable story (ps. everyone has a story...whether we call ourselves Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, etc). From that place of having to be right and absolute, we have no option but to compare our story with others, becoming judgmental as we have to assume that ours is more right and we know more, have more answers, or are happier than others.

OR QUESTIONER MAY REPLY: It's important to know I can become like God...that my mortal self will be able to take up its body again, that the end is not really the end.

---Ok, so I just wrote out a long response to this under "ME:" based on possible replies to this, but it got way to long and convoluted, and complex, so I deleted it. I realized that for me there are enough hidden meanings, and fears, in this statement that I would need to break it down more. Maybe one day I'll take time to do a post on this, but for now I'll just list one follow up question I have to this statement.

- Why does it feel scary that who you think you are (your gender, motivations, family, career, church testimony) might end or change forms?

My FOLLOW UP RESPONSE: This feels so difficult to address with words because it's still a newer experience for me so I don't have much language to explain yet, but I was pleasantly surprised when some things I thought were ME had died, and I found that I was still there...not the "I" I had known before, but a deeper, older "I." It was like a memory of the me I had long forgotten. And it didn't seem to have anything to do with being human, my gender, my relationships, my beliefs, and so on...

OR QUESTIONER MAY REPLY: My belief in God as a man in form motivates me to know there is someone actually aware of when I'm doing "good" things & "bad" things. If there wasn't someone there I'm afraid I wouldn't have any direction and would not be as fulfilled in life. "If I didn't believe in God I don't know where I'd be."

ME: In that case, experience with a form-based God may be very helpful. I think it's why religions have been such a helpful part of the healing process for so many people. They've given a story of love and forgiveness that one can (maybe) wrap their head around. Example...If you see God as a father, and you've been a father, or know how your father was with you (or at least how you wanted him to be) it may help you bring in attributes of protection, compassion, understanding, strength, etc. to your own process of learning/healing to visualize a "father God."

The flip side is that whomever you would see a "parent-God" to be, would be a projection of your own experiences of who your own parents were, who you wanted them to be, and who you yourself, as a father or mother, want to be. So, again to believe that your perceptions signify an absolute can be problematic, esp. for someone with an abusive parent. But, even for those of us with "loving" & "safe" parents, this can prove problematic because all human parents have their own humanness, and we may assume some of their attributes to be the best or right way...not knowing there even could be another way. When we put these attributes on God believing that is what judges us, it can get quite sticky.

So, while believing in a "loving father God" for the majority of my life did prove a way to "keep me in line," it didn't leave room for the whole process of building trust with myself. Because in the areas that I just couldn't "keep in line," I was feeling guilty and beating myself up, or just numbing out (which is precursor to out-of balanced behaviors, and addictive cravings). Thinking...I just needed to try harder (read more scriptures, pray or fast more). I felt weak, inadequate, and was always petitioning something outside myself to give me more strength. When my belief in a literal "man" as my creator and judge began to drop gave me a chance to sit in my "weaknesses," "cravings," etc. without judgement and see what it was they were really all about. It also gave me a chance to begin to watch what I'd judged others for (drinking, coffee, sex before marriage, secular sundays, etc.) without judgement so that I could watch what my own fears of these things were really about, and begin to think about making choices based on understanding cause and effect (which are often circumstantial and based on intention).

I'm learning that I can choose health for me, because I love myself and honor my life. I don't need to love and appease someone outside me (though again...a helpful part of the process when we're going through moments that we don't remember our goodness or that we're worthy of self-love). So I thank all of those that have been my "Gods" (and sometimes still are) when I feel empty inside and am in process of rebuilding from a hurt or parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, boyfriends, teachers, mentors, healers, pets, clients, the picture of my mormon God, yoga, the mountains....thank you all for remembering who I am when I didn't know how to remember myself.

If you were to ask if I believe in God I would look into your eyes. I would want to see all the things that made you forget that you were "God" of your experiences. Maybe then we'd remember each other, and there probably wouldn't be anything to say.

"A medieval Christian proverb says, 'To search for God is to insult God.' This saying implies that God is always present and any search for him is a refusal of this fact. We are westerners and have to search in order to learn that there is no search."

- Robert A. Johnson in "HE."

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