Monday, July 03, 2006

When I say "God".....

I don't think I mean what most people mean, I don't even know if I mean God.

Hello from Gathering! I am giving my voice a rest from my shape note singing workshop this morning. There's free internet access in the student center, which is quite popular and quite handy! (though perhaps not terribly simple)

Anyways, I just commented on Rich's blog with an extensive use of "when Jesus asks us to..." and "if you hear Jesus...." and am realizing that I may sound severely confused to many people.

Having been pretty sensitive on the issue of Jesus and quakerism (I acknoweldge and honor that it has its roots in Christianity, but I also feel that it's important that some Friends have moved on to something else - that is not exclusively christian, that is broader) I feel a bit strange talking about "what Jesus wants" or anything of the sort.

I do not believe that Jesus was super-human in any way.

I do not believe that God "created" the world, universe, life, etc.

I do not believe, actually, that there is a personified energy that "wants" us to do anything - be it Jesus or God or Allah or Brahman or Pele, or..... I could go on an on (especially if I had some sort of religious encyclopedia)

I believe that christianity owes its longevity not so much to any surpreme lock that it has on the truth, but mostly to its usefulness to various political rulers throughout history. I don't actually KNOW if it had the "staying power" to still exist if there had been no Constantin (I'm blanking, was that his name?), if there had never been a catholic church, but I think at the very least it would look RADICALLY different, even to quakers. We aspire to "primitive christianity" - but it's a long game of whisper-down-the-lane (or telephone, or whatever whispers.... that game, you know?) and with a LOT of intentional interference by enemies of what I would suppose to be the "true" message and value system of early christians.

So, with that in mind, I do experience a something - I mean, I'm a quaker, there's something that I wait upon in meeting for worship, there's something that helps me feel whether something is "rightly led" - much of our quaker language resonates with me, but the "God" part is sort of a stand-in for mystery, for something I (we?) don't have the "right" word (or understanding) for yet. ("yet" because it is something that we reach for, hope to move towards, while knowing that there will never be a time when we say now we are done - we no longer see "through a glass darkly".

So, for me, when I say that Jesus wants me to reuse my coffee cup (as I did on Rich's blog) I dont' really mean that the risen Jesus even exists let alone that he's sitting around worrying about what I drink out of. In fact I often make such silly-sounding statements both because they speak to a certain truth, and also because I assume that no one would think that I really mean exactly that .

What I do mean, of course (?) is that that is the course of action that is, as far as I can discern right now, the "best". I do not know if what helps me to know this is study of environmental issues, a simple adherence to my own integrity, compassion for the world around me, some sort of pure energy (unobstructed and unsullied) that I can tap into occasionally, or actually the voice of Jesus (and I simply don't recognize that it's the same guy)

But what's more, actually, is that I don't care too terribly much. There is something beautiful in meeting for worship, and in what happens when we manage to really live into quaker testimonies, and it may be the God of the Bible, it may be Allah of the Koran, it may be Brahman, it may be life force, it may simply be the joy of community for me, a member of a social species.

I find I can talk about "Jesus" pretty easily now - I'm not angry at him anymore, and I'm not afraid of him (I used to worry that fundamentalist christianity would eat my brain if I let my guard down for even a moment!) and because often I really feel like I know what people are talking about (at least some quakers) when they speak of their life with Christ. Not all of it, but some. It's a bit, I suppose, like travelling to another country and learning their words for things, and using them, to make communication easier, even if you have your own words too, or even if you don't.


Christopher Parker said...

Many of the things Jesus says and the innovations he introduced into the Jewish tradition are reministant of Indian gurus. Not surprising, considering Galalee, where Jesus lived, was on the trade routes from Palastine to India. (The three wise men were mentioned for a reason . . . ). The kind of devotion that many Christians have strikes me as a similiar energy of devotion I've seen toward Indian gurus, some of whom are claimed to have divine parantage as well.

I mention that to introduce a potentially new way of seeing Jesus for you. A combination of Jewish prophet, pointing towards God, and an Indian Guru, embodying the divine for his followers. The uniquely Christian element is the claim that Christ occupies a central part in God's relationship with humans. To me, that's the most questionable part.

Andrew said...

I also find that my experience of the Divine is more vast than any way I might conceive of God as a person or being that is independent and seperate or a subject.

You said "I do not believe, actually, that there is a personified energy that "wants" us to do anything".

I do,though, experience God as personal in the sense of showing tenderness and care and giving guidance. Some of the old gospel songs express this (Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Coming or Precious Lord, Take My Hand).

I have also on a couple occasions felt God's loving in me. I say it that way because the depth and fullness of the love for others was so great and so beyond how I can feel as an individual. Once I felt God's love and acceptance of humans just as they are ... all of them, just as they are.

On another occasion, I felt God's concern and desire that the world should be healed and saved from impending environmental destruction.

So in some ways it does make sense for me to conceive of God as a person or individual that has feeling and wants. I guess there are aspects of how we experience the Divine that can be articulated by comparing God to human life, but in other ways the Divine is so much fuller and complete and just present that a human comparison is unhelpful and misleading.

Sarah said...

I always get so horribly rambly when discussing these things becase, like you, I feel like what I mean when I say "God" or "Christ" isn't at all what other people think I mean when I say them. I don't worry when I'm with folks who use those words comfortably, because I know they won't feel excluded, but I'm very worried that I'll make other folks, who aren't so comfortable with those words, feel excluded, when what I mean is something much more inclusive.

I don't think Jesus the dude was superhuman, either, not in the 'fabulous! Look at me change water into wine with one hand held behind my back!' sort of way. My faith isn't in the man Jesus; he died long, long ago, and all I have are these stories about him. My faith is in the risen Christ, because that's what I experience. If that makes any sense at all.

I do believe that God created the world, but not in a way that implies God was sitting 'out there' and somehow spoke the world into being. I'm a panentheist . . . I suppose I see Creation as a manifestation of God . . . God taking corporeal form.

I do believe in a Divine will, and that might be the biggest difference between our beliefs, but again, I don't think I believe in a Divine will in the same way I think you think I think believe in a Divine will . . . I believe in a More, to snag William James, and that's about as far as my concrete belief goes. But I believe said More has a will for our lives: namely, that we live them with as much love as possible. ANd I can choose to do things that follow this will or undermine it.

I don't believe that God is actually at all like a person. God is, as you put it, mystery. But I do believe that that's how I can best approach God, being dreadfully limited in my own understanding, and that's why Jesus is critical to me- less because I believe he actually was God- I find that almost irrelevant- but because studying his life is how I can best understand and approach God.

My point: I think I understand a little what you mean when you say "God," and it's really not so far from what I mean when I say "God." In the end, as fascinating as I find the entire discussion, ontologically I don't care how anyone else sees God or Jesus or whatnot, whether one identifies as atheist or pagan or Buddhist or Christian. I don't think it's a critical point. I think the critical point is in how we live, not what we think.

earthfreak said...

Sarah -

thanks so much for your comment, and sorry it's taken me a while to respond. Sometimes it's like that, when something's significant it takes a while to come to a point where you can say anything.

the critical point is in how we live, not what we think
yes, exactly. That I think is my greatest frustration. It seems to me that Jesus was clearly asking us to act out of love, rather than fear or greed, and that many other ethical and religious traditions ask the same. I believe that this would be a good thing to do even if no one had ever thought of it before (just think!)

I guess "will" is where we differ the most. I think there is something that calls me to act from love rather than fear, but what? jesus? God? my conscience? trial and error experience? all of the above? and more? yes! but it might well not be a "more" but simply an "all" - how I am called to act when I am most "in tune" with the whole of what is Again, though, to me it matters much less who is calling and mus more that I answer.

I am a pantheist. I believe that God is everything and everything is God (except I don't believe in God......)


I can see a way of seeing that "God created the universe" that would be analagous to "I created my body" - by breathing, and eating, and sleeping, and growing, and trying and failing and trying again. Perhaps the universe is the body of God - but for me it is not imbued with a God that transcends it, but simply God. As I am simply me, a body that includes a mind, a heart, a soul, but not simply a vessel that "channels" something supernatural.


earthfreak said...

PS -

I understand that reading about Jesus can be a good way to figure out how to live a "godly" life.

I find myself concerned about giving that more weight (or, more specifically, a different quality of weight) than other writings - Gandhi, Rumi, Mary Oliver. I think that all living beings, and probably rocks and water, know God, and have things to tell us.

I also find that jesus' image has been exploited and abused and twisted every which way, and I even find that the idolotrous (or potentially so) aspect of the whole thing serves a power that Jesus himself would not have wanted us to serve....