(Written on January 13th 2011)
Religion has always kind of been a mystery to me- any kind of organized religion, that is. I have always desired a relationship with God, ever since I can remember, my heart has always felt drawn to this Higher Power that is responsible for creating such wondrous, marvelous things. I have always understood that I am a part of something bigger. Never in my mind, was there ever a doubt of the existence of a Divine Source, all I ever had to do was look at trees, clouds, the sun, animals, and I would see some mighty intelligence at work- the evidence of something incredibly creative and caring, to provide such beauty for us to enjoy. What always baffled me was the description of this Deity. This one, who apparently loved us all unconditionally, who was always there for us, told us to never fear, he would never forsake us. But the very same one, whose love was conditional, for you only got to enjoy it if you followed certain rules. This one, who excluded certain people, and was going to have a big judging ceremony one day, where everyone would have their dirty laundry aired for the entire world to see.
But the most baffling idea for me was that He created us to worship Him. I couldn’t understand that! That, for me, was the height of arrogance. For a being to create an entire species, just so that they can sing praises to Him for ever and tell Him how wonderful He is. And not only that, but if you refused to do it, He would throw you into a never ending torture pit for ETERNITY! I tried to understand this, I worried about myself because everyone else seemed perfectly fine following this ideas that seemed so crazy to me. They all spoke of loving this Being so much, and finding joy and peace in following His commands. I was sure that there must be something wrong with me! And so, I wrestled with myself, just like Jacob fought with an angel, I fought myself, for a very long, dark night of endless confusion, stomach churning guilt and paralyzing fear. On the surface, I looked sure of my faith, and when asked I would say, without any kind of hesitation, that this was the best place to be. Inside, I was slowly dying. Now, let me just say here, that I respect personal faith and this is not meant to be an attack on religion or anyone’s faith. This is just an expression of my experience.
However, I had moments, short gorgeous ones, where I experienced the feeling of being loved and completely accepted. They usually happened when I was in nature. I would see a beautiful sunset, the way the sky would be splashed with all kinds of reds, oranges and pinks, and how, right at the moment the sun is dipping into the horizon, there would be this incredible silence, almost like the entire world stopped for a moment to honor the day’s end and the night’s beginning. I would take it all in and for a brief moment somewhere inside me, I would just know that the Being who created this was all love. For that brief moment I would bask in the possibility of a God who accepted me just as I was, who wouldn’t need me to follow any rules, who, just like a doting parent, when I made a mistake, would just shake their head in amusement, sigh and shrug their shoulders, then gather me in a warm, gentle hug saying with a smile, “It’s all going to be okay, you silly girl.” And I would feel all safe and secure. I would dream of a God, who waited for everyone, after their death, like a loving mother waiting for their child to come home from school. As, the child gets off the bus, she calls her child’s name and stretches her arms out as the child runs in for a huge hug and spin. And, as they walk home- where the mother has prepared a delicious meal, the mother takes the child’s heavy backpack and listens with amusement at the stories from school. I would imagine living a life where I didn’t have to feel guilty anymore, where I was just me and that was more than enough. Where, I never worried about burning in hell, where everybody was guaranteed of a happy ending, no one would burn forever. The weird thing is, this to me, was a perfect description of who God would be. I’d look at my own mother (a perfect earthly example of total unconditional love), who after all of the crazy things I did to her, no matter how much I disrespected her or hurt her, would still love me and always be on my side. And, I would imagine her, with all her humanness, setting me on fire even for two minutes and standing by and ignoring it. How? And so, how would God, made from pure love, willingly put his creation, who he loves with an everlasting love, through infinitely worse torture, for the sake of justice?
Another thing that I never understood was how, in every kind of religion, the particular group believed themselves to be the right, chosen ones and the rest of the world, the wrong wayward ones who must be told of the errors of their ways. I remember a day, a little over a year ago, when my older sister was visiting from the states. We were in the kitchen, having a discussion about God. At the time, in my quest to find the kind of loving God I had always imagined, I was studying the bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. And I was trying to tell my sister about God, opening the discussion so I could preach to her (as I was being taught to do by the masters of preaching!), and she said something that, she doesn’t even know, changed the entire course of my spiritual life. She said something like, “The problem I have with most religions is that the followers of any particular one, believe that they know exactly who God is. To me, that is such an arrogant statement for a group of people to think that they are in possession of the complete picture of God and the rest of us aren’t!” That statement blew my mind. I couldn’t think of a bible verse or any kind of argument for that! Indeed, who am I to decide that your experience of God is the wrong one, and I have the right one? And why would I ever disregard the experience of God that I’m having, and let someone else tell me who God is to me? If in my relationships with people, I can’t have the same kind of relationship with everyone in my life, if I relate to each person in a different way, wouldn’t it stand to reason that an infinite Being would be infinite also in the ways She appears to people, in the ways He relates to people?
One of my mentors is the author Elizabeth Gilbert- of course she has no idea that she is my mentor, or even that I exist! In her book, Eat, Pray, Love she talks about how to her, religious practices are like transportation to the Divine. They are simply meant to be the means of getting you to God, but we get too wrapped up in them. She tells of a cautionary tale that the Indians around the ashram she stayed in during the “Pray” part of her journey, tell about religious practices. There was a saint and his devotees who would meditate on God for hours a day. The only problem was, there was an annoying cat that would wander into the temple and start purring and meowing, interrupting the meditation. And so, the saint decided to have the cat tied to a pole, during the hours of meditation. This became a habit- tying the cat to the pole and then meditating. Eventually, it became a spiritual ritual. The followers of the saint would not be able to meditate without first tying the cat to the pole. One day, the cat died, and they were at a complete loss as to what to do now. Religious practices are never meant to be the point of spirituality, they are only a means. Just like there are different modes of transportation, you can get to God in very many different ways. Whether you’re Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant it doesn’t matter. Every religion carries within it threads of truth. Personally, I don’t believe that any one has the absolute full picture of the vastness of God, but I also don’t believe that’s the point of spirituality. I think that just as in life, there is always something more to learn, somewhere deeper to go, because God is infinite.
I believe that we’re all parts of God experiencing Herself, each of us a part of the whole of Him. Perhaps if we just honored the different parts that we are, recognizing that we all make up the whole, that none is more right than the other, we would begin, by our unity, to put together the pieces of the puzzle that God is. Then we would see that God is us, we are God.