Who Is My God?
I’ve puzzled over this question for as long as I can remember, and the definition continues to shift. At different times in my life G_d or Godde, or God, or Goddess has been defined in dramatically different ways.
There was God the Father. As a child I feared God the Father. My own dad was the punisher, and God and Jesus got all wrapped up in one neat package. God is love they would say, but if you aren’t careful, you will surely go to hell. My momma discouraged that sort of hell talk, for a preacher had “preached her into hell” when she was 17, and those many years later that incident still burned inside.
There was God as the old man in the heavens, sitting back watching every move I made. I know I gave THAT God plenty to think about. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
What a prayer to say when going to bed. In my dreams Jesus was chasing me and I surely knew that if he caught me I would die. I related God and death pretty early on.
So I was raised Methodist, but had an entire section of the family made up of pastors in the Assemblies of God Church. I enjoyed the quiet reverence and ritual of the Methodists, but I have to say, the AOG beat their pants off when it came to music. But then there were the sermons. End of times. God’s wrath. The rapture. Now I had been around family all my life, so there was a real contradiction. My uncle carried me in his arms when he preached hell and damnation when I was only two years old. But I knew my uncle perfectly well and saw him to be a bit of a stinker from time to time. Over the years, I pondered that his hobby was writing advertising jingles.
Yet there he was, treated reverently almost as a God himself by the people he preached to, and the same for his wife my aunt who was certainly more saintly than him. Another uncle was a preacher too, but he was so strict with those kids that three out of four had speech impediments. I think it was from fear. They gathered ministers around the country and took them to the holy land every years and walked where Jesus walked and were re-baptized in the Jordan River. Halleluyah.
Clearly that was not for me either. As I entered college, I questioned it all, and became a devout atheist. I jokingly referred to myself as an evangelical Atheist. It was then I found the Unitarian Universalist Church. But I must admit, my motives were more about debunking religion than anything else. When I moved away from Tyler, I just stopped going to church at all. There was simply no God during this period, or heaven, only what the rational mind could perceive.
At some point I began to hunger for a spiritual life, and decided to explore the Jewish God. I poured myself into my Jewish studies. I make no secrets to being an all or nothing personality and rarely do things half way. It was an amazing few years, and I prepared to go about the process of conversion. Looking back, I still could be very comfortable living within a liberal Jewish tradition. The ritual, the marking of the passages of time all were appealing. But it was interrupted by another pressing need.
I had been a practicing alcoholic since I was 15 years old. The effects of this abuse were taking their toll, and I reached out for help. In the process of becoming sober, certain key critical spiritual lessons were learned. Whether I look outside myself for a sentient G_d, opt for some Pagan rendition of Goddess, find power within a group of people or within mystery, it was critically important that I look outside myself for that something strong enough to make me stop drinking when all else had failed. I also learned that with my good I also could be a stinker at times, and that confession to another human being could be very cleansing.
So where could I find confession? I became a Roman Catholic of course. I immersed myself in Catholic studies. I found much that was good in the Mass. The ritual is powerful. Prayers like the Rosary can sustain when all else fails. I was to learn that from experience. I made a really good Catholic, much like I would have made a very good Jew. I am drawn to ritual observance and marking the passages of the season.
There was only one problem though. The Roman Rite does not appreciate gay people so much. When I met Skip, I was no longer welcome in my quite conservative parish. We attended a gay and lesbian Catholic group called Dignity. But when I began to transition, we were shunned there as well. Honestly there were other problems too. One is I don’t do well with authority. Two I don’t like the way women in the church are treated. Three, I had serious issues with the dogma as well as the portrayal of God and Jesus for that matter. As I studied scripture and relevant archeology and recent translations literary exegesis, it was increasingly clear that much of the church as it is constructed today had more to do with power and control and much less to do with the individual spiritual journey.
Then there was the problem that would not go away. How could anyone define God and heaven and what the hell was this hell for anyway. If God is love, then no loving God is going to send people to burn for an eternity. How do we even now this God or Gods are sentient beings. They are all constructs out of our own heads after all. Someone saying it is so does not make it so.
I left the Catholic Church, or more accurately was pushed out. I attended a gay lesbian group called MCC. While they studied the Bible as the word of God, they were not doctrinaire about it all and folks could legitimately differ, even on belief in Jesus. Everyone had a role in the church. Around this time, my beloved Skip had died and I needed a community and that is what I found. There was so much variety there. Ethnically we were probably about 50% white, 35% black, and the rest Hispanic. The services matched the diversity of our church. One day we might hear a more formal choral service, the next might be traditional black gospel, another time perhaps music in Spanish. We had old time gospel and opera. Church was a joyful celebration with clapping, shouting, hugging. The pastor opened each service reminding that we all are beloved of God, and we were worthy of that love. No breakdown along narrow dogmatic positions, but joyful worship. I could continue my own search while being nourished by community.
We moved to Minnesota. For a short time I attended a very liberal Methodist Church here, but ended up at a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, First Universalist. It was a good fit, for my own concept of God and spirituality had evolved.
I am not certain of a sentient being called G_d or God. Nor can I be certain there is not such a being. I cannot define what will happen after I die. I don’t buy that the Jesus story was about him being a sacrificial lamb at all, but about spreading a belief of love for one another. I’m not Trinitarian at all. So what if there is nothing? Does it matter in the overall scope of things? Isn’t there a perfectly good argument for behaving in a loving giving way whether or not there is a reward afterwards? You may have one opinion of Deity or lack of, and I may have another. Both are just as valid for neither of us can prove our belief. That is the nature of faith.
There are experiences upon which I can draw which defines a perfectly good reason for practicing spirituality. I can see that if I behave in a loving manner, more often than not, it is returned in kind. I don’t have to prove it to notice the correlation.
I find comfort in prayer, to anything that is outside of myself. It was after all the realization that there was something outside of myself that led me to sobriety and saw me through the loss of a lover and a good friend.
I find spiritual exuberance in praise music. Never mind the dogma. It is another form of getting outside of my own ego and experiencing pure joy and love.
Isn’t it amazing how often these little synchronicities occur in our lives? I call it the mystery. I could call it G_d. Time after time, the right person is there in my time of need, and I feel pure gratitude, both for the person and for the mystery. It is another reason for gratitude.
There is a feeling, a transcendent moment in the face of good music, the beauty of nature, treasure of a loving act. That experience goes beyond the rational mind, once again into the realm of the indescribable. There I enter into the realm of the spiritual.
Physics offers some amazing theories. String theory, and one where all the strings are connected by one single strand, from which creation took place. It’s only mathematical now but this union of gravitational theory and string theory is intriguing. Even more so All the matter and all the energy we perceive right now, according to my physicist friend, is only 5% of the universe, the rest being composed of something called dark matter and dark energy of which we know absolutely nothing.
What does all this mean to me? It is enough to sing, to praise, to pray without defining G_d into a box. I can practice Pagan ritual or meditate or sing gospel music or dance or practice whatever brings me to that place where description fails. God need not have a gender or a human face though I am free to construct such if I feel the need. For me G_d is an archetype, a mythological construct that allows me to embrace what can’t be put into words. Together in community, it can have profound repercussions, not only for me, but for community as well. I do these things because for me they work. If they did not work, I’d try something else.
Perhaps when I die, there will be big Golden Gates. Perhaps I’ll be reincarnated. What I have power over are my actions today. My G_d has no name, and may not even be. It doesn’t matter.