DO YOU EXPERIENCE GOD?
LOOKING AND FINDING GOD WHERE YOU MIGHT LEAST EXPECTClick thumbnail to view full-size
MY EXPERIENCE OF GOD
"I have a hard time believing there is a God....I pray, but really devastating things continue to happen to me....I don’t know what I could possibly be doing wrong, but life continues to kick me in the ass....I look at the mean people in my life and they have it all. How does that work?"
Or even more disconcerting,
"I can’t really complain, you know, I’m healthy, have money, but the important things I’m looking for, like a relationship, never show up for me, and I’m getting older, and well, I work hard at living perhaps not a religious life, but certainly a spiritual one, and I just always assumed that God would send the right person, but I’m beginning to realize that I don’t experience God anywhere in my life. I mean I make a place for God, but God never shows up."
I could hear the emptiness in this person’s soul. It was like dropping a rock into a deep well and never hearing it hit the water.
I’ve never been much of a believer in the reward and punishment God (except when I was young) who sits around waiting for me to be good so God can send me blessings, or bad, so God can send me plagues. Nor do I believe in the slot machine God. You know sometimes you luck out and God gives you a "jackpot" and other times you walk away empty-handed. No rhyme or reason. It’s a mystery! Actually these are the notions of God that most people hold to be true, but unfortunately represent a three or four year old level of moral development. http://www.aggelia.com/htdocs/kohlberg.shtml
At age sixty five, I can tell you that my own experience of God has definitely evolved. I thought I would share that evolution with you in this hub as well as some thoughts I have about what might be conducive to experiencing God in your life. And it has nothing to do with behavior, the golden rule, penance, flagellation, abstinence from all pleasure, saying the St. Jude prayer every day, reading scripture, saying the rosary, going to church, tything or teething I know all of that seems helpful to some folks. But I want to explore some other elements of one’s life that may set one up ahead of time to experiencing God or NOT.
And I have no particular credentials for talking about God, except I live on this planet with the rest of us, and I keep asking all the same questions that everyone else does, and I enjoy asking the questions and exploring for--answers? Insights? More questions? Well, those too, but again, I’m looking for ways to experience God. And my hub is just a personal sharing which hopefully may "inspire" your own thinking about God and perhaps some revelations about where God banks, whether or not God is vegetarian, and maybe even whether or not OJ is guilty. But seriously, I hope the hub inspires you to do your own reflecting.
I thought I would first share with you a little of my actual life experience of growing up in a family with a Mom and Dad being what they used to call "staunch" Catholics. Do they still use that term? Well, yea, I know, they use it politically all the time, staunch Republicans. But do they still use it in reference to your religious denomination? Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. The fact is we were staunch Catholics, so staunch that my Mom insisted that we were THE Catholics in the neighborhood. And I never questioned her. We were THE Catholics in the neighborhood even though I walked to Catholic school every morning with dozens of neighborhood kids. But I guess they were JUST Catholics. We were staunch, THE Catholics!
We were so dedicated that we chased Jehovah Witnesses off our front porch by throwing Douay Version Bibles at them and squirting them with a hose and shouting out the words of Baptism as we sprayed them! If my Mom was born in an earlier time, she would have been Joan of Arc. My Dad probably could have been Thomas, the Apostle. Yes, doubting Thomas, but heck, you still have to give Thomas credit. He was, after all, an apostle and not only followed Jesus, but preached his Gospel. We all have our doubts! It’s okay, Dad. Not a bad comparison really. I still love ya. My Dad is dead, you know, but I think he keeps track of the things I say about him, and has a way of haunting me every once in a while to get even.
To set the record straight, my Dad got up every single morning at the crack of dawn, not exactly an inviting image, and not exactly a fun thing to do, especially in winter. So up he was at the crack of dawn and off to St. John’s Cathedral where he served 6:30 mass. For those of you who are not Catholic, just figure, it’s a big deal and quite a spiritual practice. The nuns, who also attended the same morning service, thought my Dad walked on water. And when I was suspected of engaging in some hanky panky (unfortunately, I wasn’t) with a girl at the Catholic school I attended, Sister Jean Frances, the principle, said to me. "How could you even have an impure thought? Your Dad goes to Mass and Communion every morning."
I had no idea what she was talking about because I did not know I was suspect of messing around with Sylvia. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to, but I wasn’t. And not only did I not know what the heck she was talking about, but I did hear her imply she knew I was having impure thoughts, and indeed I was. My God, I was twelve years old. Of course I was having impure thoughts. But I kept it a secret, for crying out loud, especially from Sister Jean Frances. And it made me very nervous that she knew, and that made me wonder what else she knew I was up to. Did she also know about....hey, you gotta know what I’m talking about. Gotta keep a few things private here. Maybe God doesn’t know about that yet, and why should I go to hell or even purgatory on a press leak?
Okay, so back on track here. So I grew up in a very CATHOLIC family. You gotta understand, my Mom was also very ecumenical, and it didn’t take much, after Vatican II, for my Mom to get very involved in the charismatic movement. She spoke in tongues, she did. It was nothing new to my Dad. He never understood her in English, but again, I just want to give you a flavor of what I grew up in.
When I was three years old, I was helping my Mom feed the hobos. We lived across the street from the railroad tracks, and I think our house was marked. So the corporal works of mercy was just par for the course in our house. Of course, my Mom would only crack the front door when a hobo came knocking and wanting food or money. Then she would prepare a very nice lunch and send me out the back door to go around to the front door to give the hobo his gourmet brown bag lunch. Isn’t that funny? She worried about the hobo attacking her, but never worried for a second that I might get kidnapped or harmed!
My Mom, God bless her, and I think he has, was constantly ministering to someone, other than my Dad. Poor Guy! He should have dressed up as a hobo and came to the front door for a handout and then pushed his way in!
Anyhow, I grew up in a home where service to others was a big deal and just a matter of course. There were also plenty of CRAZY and UNHOLY things in my family, things that didn’t make sense, but there was still this overriding value that we are here to serve other people especially the needy. We had a lot of "strange" people showing up at our house for dinner, for hospitality, for a barbecue, and it was all out of seeing other people, no matter who they were, as somehow part of the Body of Christ. I didn’t understand that theological principle as a kid, but I knew something was a foot because there was almost no one who got turned away from our front or back door.
When I was fourteen, I went off to seminary to study to become a Franciscan priest. Kind of young, right? But that’s how it worked in those days. In some ways, those were the best days of my life. You have to understand, I was the only boy literally in between four sisters. So when I went off to study to be a priest, I, for the first time in my life, had brothers. I enjoyed being with lots of other guys, and I enjoyed doing all the crazy ass things that adolescent males do to the point of almost getting myself kicked out of the seminary. But I finally settled down.
After ten years of pursuing the priesthood, I realized that I would never be able to remain faithful to the vow of celibacy. I knew there was no way. A very very close family friend was ordained a priest in the mid fifties, and then married in the mid sixties, and as we said in those days, "left the church." In Jay’s case, he didn’t really leave the church, but obviously, the church didn’t want to have anything to do with him after he got married. But I could not forget the devastation my parents experienced when they found out. I could go so far as to grow a beard, be a hippy, and register as a conscientious objector, but I could not go on and be ordained as a priest only to later run off with the church secretary. I could not bear my parents being interviewed on Nightline by Ted Koppel. Well, the truth is, I could bear it, but they couldn’t!
"So Eleanora and Harry, can I call you Harry and Eleanora? What was it like when you first found out that Father Vernon had run off with Sylvia? Did you know they had had a thing when he was in seventh grade?" That would have killed them, so I thought.
Probably one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life, which changed my whole relationship with God, was my first sexual experience with another real live human being. It seemed absolutely natural. It was very warm, loving, ecstatic, and anything but sinful. It seemed as Godly as an experience could be. I was twenty two.
The following day, I realized that there had to be something very erroneous about my notions of God, particularly the notion that God was just sitting around, waiting for me to transgress sexually so God could punish me. Who would or could ever punish me for such a wonder-filled experience? I can hear some of you saying, "Well, I hope you’re right." If you’re saying that for yourself, cool. If you’re saying it because you already believe I’m dead wrong, then you don’t get to say that. Only I do, because I’m the one running the risk here!
Anyhow, from that day forward, my notion or, you might say, my mental model or you could even call it, my mug shot, of God changed forever. And my notions, my mental model, my mug shot of God continues to change maybe even every day. But I am relieved that I am the one in search of God. He is not looking for me. I no longer fear God like a convict being hunted. That doesn’t mean I cannot relate to the Song of Songs or the Hopkin’s poem, The Hound of Heaven. In both of these poems, God is a lover.
So what the heck am I talking about, mental models, mug shots? Well, from seven months in the womb forward, our amygdala (part of our limbic system in our brain) can begin creating mental models of life experiences. Mental models are created by repetitive life experiences which have enough similarity in neuronal firing patterns that our brain begins to generalize the experience and creates a mental model or template of the experience.
The simplest example I can give you without getting too complex is my own mental model of a fire truck. My mental model says that fire trucks are red. To this day, I can remember my toy hook and ladder. I was somewhere around three or four years old. I was fascinated by fire trucks and was thrilled to have my very own. And my toy fire truck, like ALL fire trucks, was RED. By the time I was four years old, my brain had it in cement. Fire trucks are red. So now, when I see a white fire truck or a yellow fire truck or a green fire truck, I have to stop and stare. My brain cannot automatically compute fire truck. Instead I say to myself, "Is this a fire truck? Well, maybe, but it’s not red. Let’s check it out to be sure." Yes, I back up traffic because I practically come to a stop as I pass the fire truck very slowly. And even when everything else about the fire truck looks like a fire truck, I am still hesitant to conclude that it is, because it is NOT red! By this time the cars behind me are honking up a storm! So I stop my car, get out, and shout "Hey, see that truck. You tell me what you think that is....!!!"
Well just like with the fire truck, we all have a mental model of God or you can even call it a mug shot. My earliest mug shot of God was someone very demanding, unforgiving, but also someone so vulnerable that they would actually cry if I misbehaved. Someone who would not only consider, but who would actually send me to hell for my transgressions. Damned, I was only a little kid and curious and playing show and tell with Tina down the street. Didn’t make sense that I could end up in hell for such a fun activity. Mom was forever telling me not to touch myself down below and at first I thought she was talkin Australia! She didn’t say anything about touching Tina! But I soon learned, don’t touch any down below, no matter whose it is. And as tempting as any naughty behavior might be, sexual or otherwise, that Big Guy in the mug shot had a way of knowing and keeping track!
I like the mug shot metaphor. You know, just like the police when they canvass a neighborhood and they show everyone a picture of someone who is missing or a wanted criminal. We kind of do the same thing with our mug shot of God. We walk around our life looking for a God who matches our mug shot and even asking others if they have seen this person in the mug shot. And chances are you can find someone who will tell you that they have seen the God of your mugshot. The only problem is most of us have a picture of God that is not very inviting. I’ve met plenty of people, even in my adult life, that have told me that God is exactly like the person in my mug shots from childhood. "Yep," they tell me. "God is as mean and as punitive and as just, as the picture portrays." Wow!
So, as I was sharing above, in my early twenties, I began to realize that my mug shots and mental models of God from my youth were not matching up with either beliefs about the Creator or my experience of life in general. So I began to try my hand at some composite drawings. The old man with a beard, an old angry man sending down bolts of lightning, a judge holding up the scales of justice, a Jesus crying over my transgressions, a powerful person keeping track, a powerful person who could possibly be hurt by anything I did and then would hold me accountable not for my behavior, but for the hurt I caused this infinite being, no longer fit. I was looking for a God who was infinite, loving, patient, kind, held no grudges, and to top it all off, is the Source of everything.
Are you kidding me? No, I haven’t yet come up with a good composite drawing. Thank God, no one is holding their breath or counting on me so they can find God. But I think it’s a good thing I haven’t come up with one yet. Yea, you got it. That way I keep searching, keep discovering, and not settling. God’s too big for a mug shot, anyway, BUT maybe the pictures on this post give us a hint.
When I told a person the other day that I no longer look at people and get stuck seeing them as fat, ugly, mean, cruel, loser, crazy, idiot, untrustworthy, out to get me, selfish, self centered, and on and on and on, they said, "you’re lucky." I think I am. Note, I did not say I don’t see people in these ways, but I don’t get stuck in that vision. So what keeps one stuck in such devastating visions of people and life? Well, a lack of anything else to fall back on.
Obviously, when I am little, I have little or no control over my life experiences. I am totally dependent upon the big people to provide my almost total experience of life, which then creates my mental models of what to expect.
As an adult, I have choices. I do not have to surround myself with people who are standing around waiting for me to fail, people who love me only on their conditions, people who have no commitment to me, people who love me only when I have something to give them, people who rather than celebrate my successes are jealous of them, people who constantly blackmail me with the threat of abandonment, people who actually physically abuse me, people who can’t drop everything to come to my rescue, people who can’t bathe me in pure affection, people who can’t literally hold me, people who can’t tolerate my hurting them and always have to get even, people who can’t exist without me, people who can’t feel whole unless they are leading me around by a nose ring, people who can’t tolerate my imperfections, who can’t tolerate my cracked mirror. Yes we have a choice. We do not have to surround ourselves with folks who tend to thrive on being ungodly. To the extent we do, it is going to be very difficult to experience God in our lives let alone recognize God in our lives. In fact, we won’t recognize God because all of our mental models of relationships, our mugshots all look like the people we hang out with.
How to get beyond these front lines, beyond the war zone, beyond the land of rejection and abandonment? Start by acknowledging, humbly acknowledging, and it’s not a blame game, just humbly and gently acknowledging, I hang out with people who are ungodly. And it’s not even a judgment of those folks. We can all be ungodly for our own good reasons.
I remember many years ago, agreeing to meet each week with an old woman who was being trained to evangelize in our neighborhood. She was close to eighty years old. She was so cute and so sweet, and I was impressed with her desire to be an evangelist. I was not a member of her church, but I wanted to be her cheer leader all the same.
One day, she asked me to read some articles from her church and I did. When she returned the following week and asked me what I thought, I told her that I enjoyed reading the articles and that they contained a lot of helpful information. The articles were about relationships in general and marriage in particular and how to get support when your marriage is in trouble. She wanted me to read this material because I had shared with her that I am a licensed marriage family therapist.
I told her I really liked most of what the articles offered, but I was also concerned about an underlying element of hate in the articles. I told her I didn’t really understand where the hate was coming from or what its purpose was. It was subtle, but there.
She instantly responded with, "O yes, God hates those who do not follow his way." I was stunned and even more stunned because I could feel "God’s hate" emanating from her and directed right at me. If she had a gun, she could have shot me without blinking an eye! What’s interesting is that I did not say "I don’t want to meet with you anymore." She just stopped coming. Maybe she could also feel what was inside her, but did not make the connection that she was a tad ungodly. She thought it was me. And I’m not trying to deny that I am as ungodly as the next person. But I am making it a practice to be godly with the people around me, whether it is a person I don’t know, who is in line in front of or behind me at the checkout stand, or someone I dearly love. And yes, I don’t do that perfectly, NOT at all. I’m working at it. I’m swinging the bat and maybe batting .300
Here’s something else to look at. If your mental models or mug shots of God only tell you where God is NOT, then you will not look for God just where God might be after all!
What? Here’s an example. Everything in my traditional Catholic Christian training tells me that God does not exist in trees. That is what some Christians call Pantheism, yet when I stood next to a 2500 year old Redwood tree in Northern California for the first time fourteen years ago, I instantly experienced God in the tree. And subsequently, I began hiking the Vivian Creek Trail here in Southern California every Friday morning for a year. I experienced God on that trail in so many different ways it would take a million billion hubs to share it all.
When I hiked, I intentionally hiked alone and early in the morning. I was a tad afraid of bears which roamed freely, but I fortunately never came across one. But the fear was an important part of the journey. I had to rely upon the goodness of the bears, the forest, the universe, GOD, to take care of me. I had to rely upon something or someone that was beyond my self. It wasn’t easy to wrap my brain around that. I suppose if I had been attacked by a bear, I would consider what I am telling you now as totally lame. But I wasn’t. And being that reliant seemed to take me to a place where I experienced that part of God we cannot touch. But somehow you know God is there. Try it on for size.
I did see many a family of deer, and it was interesting they way they watched me and communicated with me. I also saw trees that were alive and trees that were dead and each had something to tell me about God. I saw rocks by the zillions and they often called out to me, just like in the Psalms, "Pick me up." No drugs, just an openness to Mother Nature and all she has to offer. Dan Millman in his book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior describes these kinds of experiences as well as Wallace Black Elk in his story of being chosen to be a Lakota Medicine man.
Hiking the trail also seemed to make time stand still. It was experiencing what Jon Kabat Zinn describes in his work, Wherever You Go, There You Are as living in the NOW. Zinn invites us to live our entire life as a meditative practice without ever having to take time to sit on the floor, hum, and contemplate our navel! His invitation is to live literally in the moment rather than in the painful past or worrisome future. And guess who else lives in the eternal NOW? So when you tune into the NOW, you’re opening yet another door to experiencing God.
There is a saying that really makes you think. Silence is the cup that holds the music! Say it out loud several times till you experience it sinking in. Yes, it is one of those "what?" sayings, but just let it sink in. It will eventually make sense to you. Our brain has the intuitive and imaginative capacity to get it. If you’re a musician, you probably already get it.
SO, in my experience in recent years, Silence is often the "cup" that holds God’s breath, God’s voice, God’s touch, and the knowing of God.
That is not to say that God is not in the noise, but we have plenty of that, and it might be a little more challenging to hear or recognize God in the noise. So I make silence a part of my day. It’s not a big deal. I just stop every once in a while and sit or walk as quietly as I can, and I listen to the silence. It doesn’t take much to lose the connection with the silence and to begin thinking about every and anything. When that happens, I just stop again and come back to the silence. Hiking that Vivian Creek Trail early in the morning was an "easy" way to connect to silence. The silence was so profound there that it seemed like the entire universe could hear my footsteps hitting the trail.
Another place to look for God is in the darkness. What am I talking about? Well, some of you probably already know, but my experience of God in the darkness began when one of my sisters started going blind. She was absolutely terrified and extremely depressed as the darkness gradually swallowed up her vision till there was literally no more light at the end of her tunnel. Because of heredity issues, I knew I might also lose my vision someday, so I thought it could be helpful for me to learn to be at home with the darkness. So I began closing my eyes and going into the darkness that seemed to exist behind my eyeballs. At some point, the darkness became very peaceful, a friend, a place I was even tempted to go while driving! But I’ve always resisted! Hey, I have to keep you on your toes with such a long hub.
One final suggestion is to experience God in your personal practice of SELF RESPECT, and make sure you include this in your composite sketch or your mug shot. Yes, self respect. If you can look at the way you live your life and you can come to the conclusion that you, in fact, respect yourself, then you have opened the door to experiencing a connection with God.
A few paragraphs ago, I talked about the choices we have as adults, particularly choices about the people with whom we hang out and surround ourselves. In Power of Intention , Wayne Dyer also talks about choices. He tells us that we have two choices: to be a host to God, our Source, or a hostage to ego which is our personalized notion of who we think we are. Our ego leads us to believe that we are separate from everyone, separate from what is missing in our life, and worse separate from God. We judge ourselves by our successes and failures. Ego’s insistence on self rejection is what captures us and prevents us from being a host to God. When we are a hostage to ego, we have lost self respect.
Apply that paragraph to this very hub. When I acknowledge that I am eternally connected to the Source, then I become conscious that the intention to write this hub, for example, is not about ME, but about allowing the Source to write through these fingers so you can read this hub on your computer screen at this moment. On the other hand, when I begin to doubt that I am worthy of fulfilling my intention to be a successful writer, then I block my connection to the big Writer in the sky and I disrespect myself.
If you think you are unworthy to attract God’s blessings, then that is exactly how you perceive every thing that comes into your life. The flip side, when I respect myself, then I see myself as worthy to attract an abundance of all that I yearn for. When I disrespect myself, I say no to God, and I stop the potential for good things to show up in my life.
And none of this is about so-called positive thinking. It is about staying connected to our Source and taking the risk to believe such a connection is real. It is as real as my belief that I am not worthy of good things happening in my life. It is as real as believing that there is no connection.
Dyer also tells us that when we stop believing that we are alone, then we can believe that we have a Senior Partner on our life journey . I’ve been listening to Wayne Dyer talk about this Senior Partner for about five years, and it has always sounded attractive to me, but I was stuck in unconsciously thinking that I was not enlightened enough or good enough or worthy enough to have God as my Senior Partner. As I began to connect self respect and all the challenges involved in respecting myself, I realized I needed a Senior Partner and finally allowed myself the honor. It was just there for the taking.
The most concrete way for me to "assess" whether or not I am practicing self respect is to look at the way I am taking care of myself on a daily basis. Do I get enough sleep? What foods am I shoving down my throat? What kinds of addictions am I having affairs with? How am I carrying my body? Am I walking tall? What is my breathing like? And am I taking care of my voice? And what am I giving voice to? Am I giving voice to absolutely everything I want to say yes to and absolutely everything I want to say no to? I’m not talking about getting my way here. I’m talking about simply giving voice to my yes’s and no’s so the people with whom I live and work in relationship know clearly my needs and boundaries and can then respect and respond to them.
Carolyn Sloan has a wonderful read for us in her work, Finding Your Voice . It is both a workbook for singers as well as for anyone who wants to explore the spiritual pathways available to each of us thorough our voice.
Not giving voice to our yes’s and no’s may leave us at everyone’s mercy and it is next to impossible to experience God in that place. Sometimes what appears to be the focus of Christianity (turn the other cheek), can keep us from giving voice to our yes’s and no’s. And picking up your cross and carrying it is not the same as being crucified. There is only one Jesus and you and I ain’t he. There is no line here. "Okay, you’re next. Up on the cross you go!" But if that’s what is in your mugshot of God or Jesus, then you will experience being crucified over and over again. And granted, those experiences may earn you sainthood, but they may also be the disillusionment that robs you of your faith in a God that looks like nothing else on the face of the earth and simultaneously may looks like everything on the face of the earth. Living in that paradox is like walking a tight rope, but it is also vibrant, as vibrant as the tight rope itself and provides us with that connection that is always there, but the experience of the connection too often eludes us.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING TO THE VERY END. PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT. WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT AND VALUABLE VANTAGE POINTS ON THIS TOPIC.
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INSPIRATION IS ALIVE AND WELL
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