is made of god’
Is the source all of these things? Does it matter?
All I have experienced is that a place soaked in holy life is a place soaked in holy life and I have felt this by the tomb of St Bede in Northumbria, in a Hindu temple in India, in a Dojo in Bristol, outside a synagogue, and under a few certain trees.
Some say that this undeniable experience is evidence or proof for tenets of belief. Faith doesn’t need proof, but people still want evidence.
A church soaked in prayer is not a unique thing. Places seem to reverberate in all sorts of ways and all sorts of traditions. Why, for example, are the Ancestors so powerful in shamanic journeys? Journeys often start or finish with our human ancestors around fires in the bush landscapes of our origin. That’s a reverberation in the universe stretching back to our own common source.
The singing that TIbetan Buddhists do (from memory, ‘maha bekhundze, radza samudgate soha…’) reverberates so well that after joining the song for a few months, the song can stay with you in your head for days afterward.
Some say that the source is Christ and always has been. If that’s true, then why does centering prayer feel just like Zazen, which stems from traditions 500 to 1,000 years older.
I think I all I can say, for one, is that reverberations are felt and that there is IT. The something. Life itself.
The difficulties I experienced as a child with the strong, Biblically literal, and bigoted opinions of those in my family and community being at odds with my own experiences of living in the world resulted in several things. One was that God, made in my own image, was a heavenly parent with whom to share favours; if I did favours for God and was a ‘good Christian’, God would keep me out of harm’s way and help me survive in an evil world. Another was that God could not be trusted.
Now that my self-made image of God has self-destructed, because nobody is ever safe from harm’s way, I am left not knowing the nature of God. There seems to be a life energy in the Universe. An energy that is life and gives life to everything. And one aspect of that is that the universe wants us all to be well. Beyond that, I do not know if God (if this life energy is God) answers specific verbal prayer requests, or responds better simply to us living in a way which embraces, harnesses, shares, and reflects the life energy that is in us and all things.
But in the absence of a heavenly Parent God, the world is as beautiful as it is vile. There are no crutches, and this mysterious life energy does not seem to intervene in my affairs the way I want it to intervene. My constant experience is that the more I open up to living in tune with Spirit, the more I realise my requests and wants are the wrong requests and wants; I am listening more than I am talking. In fact, in zazen, I am not talking at all. “Just thinking ‘not thinking'”, in the words of Dogen. In the absence of a heavenly Parent God, what has come back to me is this second aspect of my experiences as a child – that God can not be trusted – simply because I could not trust the advice of my elders growing up in a fundamentalist community.
So where I stand today is that I have unearthed another block on the Way. Another piece of duhkha – to use a Buddhist word. Or an illusion, to use a Hindu word. The block is this: I am afraid of fully letting go, and surrendering, and living ever more fully in the harnessing, sharing, and reflecting of Spirit. And I am afraid because I do not trust Spirit, because I did not trust God.
My challenge today is to embrace Spirit fully, and let go my distrust. My distrust, at its root, has nothing to do with Spirit or what I comfortably call the ground of all being. It was a distrust of my elders.
So, perhaps as Muslims might say, mine is to let go fear, and surrender to the will of the divine.
This poem is at the start of the book ‘Forever Free’ – the second part of the trilogy ‘Peace and War’ by Joe Haldeman. ‘Forever Free’ was first published in 1999. The first part of the trilogy, The Forever War, was first published in 1974.
Men stop war to make gods
sometimes. Peace gods, who would make
Earth a heaven. A place for men to
think and love and play. No war
to cloud their minds and hearts. Stop,
somehow, men from being men.
Gods make war to stop men
from becoming gods.
Without the beat of drums to stop
our ears, what heaven we could make
of Earth! The anchor that is war
left behind? Somehow free to
stop war? Gods make men to
be somewhat like them. So men
express their godliness in war.
To take life: this is what gods
do. Not the womanly urge to make
life. Nor the simple sense to stop.
War-men make gods. To stop
those gods from raging, we have to
find the heart and head to make
new gods, who don’t take men
in human sacrifice. New gods,
who find disgust in war.
Gods stop, to make men war
for their amusement. We can stop
their fun. We can make new gods
in human guise. No need to
call to heaven. Just take plain men
and show to them the heaven they could make!
To stop God’s wars! Men make
their own destiny. We don’t need war
to prove to anyone that we are men.
But even that is not enough. To stop
war, we have to become more. To
stop war, we have to become gods.
To stop war, make men gods.
There is no ‘god’.
OK. There’s _something_. A force of nature. A power in the universe. In every being, but something which has a life of its own as well.
But I don’t have faith in it. Or any belief. It’s all about experience now.
If I can experience something, then it is real to me. If I can’t then it isn’t. And what I experience doesn’t seem to want to be ‘worshipped’ in the way that god is worshipped in most religions. With songs, hymns, rituals, traditions. All of those behaviours seem to be white noise; static which gets in the way of experiencing the divine which is already within each of us, and beyond each of us.
When it is felt, it’s just there. It is no more there or less there if I pray diligently, sing well, repent of my sins, go to church, read a holy book, and so on. All that is required is submission to it. In the submission there is an opening up to it inwardly, and a recognition that it is both beyond me/ beyond being knowable, but yet an intrinsic part of my being at the same time.
If I call it ‘god’ then I am starting to model it to my own preference. Starting to anthropologise it. Giving it a character like that of another human being. A character which judges, has preferences, has mental positions like I do, and so on.
It is not god. It is i am.
If we all have a mental place, a place in our minds, representing ‘others’, that is probably because it helps us to interact with other beings. When it comes to thinking of God, wanting to interact with God, it is all too easy to use that same mental place.
This is what James Alison, a Catholic theologian, means when he says that God is always the “other beyond the other”.
In other words, God is always beyond the mental place we have for God. Always beyond our own projections. God does not function like another human being, does not make decisions like we would, does not have needs and wants like we do, cannot be persuaded, cajoled, bargained with, or emotionally manipulated, as we once did with our parents.
What is not revealed to us of God cannot ever be known.
To have a mental place for the unknowable is dangerous. It is a void into which we fill our own psychological projections. A self-made image of God returns. And when faith and trust are given to that self-made image, a false religion has emerged.
In time, this false religion will fail anyone who believes in it. And this is because it is a belief (belief being the reserve of things we cannot know for certain) in a God that is more like a projected version of ourselves than it is an experience of divinity in a boundless, undefined, unlimited, empirical praxis.
Or in other words, we may be able to convince ourselves that we can strike a deal with God, have some kind of economy of favours going on, or demonstrate what we think is a spotless faith (which in reality is nothing more than manipulative behaviour), but it is all in vain. God does not function that way, and functioning that way ourselves does not lead to an experience of divinity. Quite the reverse, in fact. It obstructs the path.
The God that I once believed in only led to pain and suffering. I did not realise it at the time, but this is because the God I once believed in was – almost completely – a self-made image that I had a relationship with. I wanted God to be so real for me, that I ended up inventing one to have a relationship with. This God would never let anything bad happen to me; never let me come to any harm. And that was a return on my faithfulness.
Harm came in a big way. It was only a matter of time before it did. As a result, I thought I had lost my faith. I had indeed. Faith and belief went out of the window. The God I believed in disappeared too.
Eventually I came to realise that this faith, this belief, and this created God, were all blocks to a greater understanding. Once removed, that greater understanding was free to emerge on an experiential level.
Theism is a belief in an external god. All I can now know of God is that which is revealed to me; which feels like very very little and absolutely all of it, both at the same time. It is revealed to me because divinity is a part of me and of all beings. It is the source. It is the “one life force in the ever-present now” (Tolle). It is the source of all wisdom. Being all wisdom, when I experience it, it feels like having all wisdom myself. But of course that is to make a dualistic distinction between myself and divinity when there is only One. This is why it feels like very little and all of it both at the same time.
I tend to talk in very certain terms these days about my experiences. Like on this blog, for example. But all I can now be certain of is my experiences rather than articles of faith or belief. And that is where the certainty starts and stops. Beyond that, there is nothing I can ‘know for sure’ in terms of good science, intellectual positioning, or modernist or theological discourse.
Another way of putting this is that the source of all life has a life of its own. It is possible to talk in certain terms of an experience of the source of all life, and at the same time know that this is where certainty must end. Beyond the certainty of that basic experience, the only thing I can be sure of is that this energy, this One, this divinity, is a living thing. Unpredictable, untethered, beyond words, beyond time and space, beyond our dimensions.
But that basic experience of ‘something’ is all I need. When I am at one with the One, wisdom begins to penetrate my understanding of my own life position, my actions, my words. To call this ‘God’ is to begin to limit that experience.
And this is what marks out a nontheist from an atheist.