In many posts on this blog, I have been exploring the concept of God. I hope to help us to move past old rigid images of the big man in the sky with a beard and white robe, the judge, the king, these all too human inventions that people have created in the quest for understanding, or often, in the quest for power.
The mystics of almost every tradition tell us that our images cannot come close to what divinity might be all about. But the mystics also speak to us of something, or no-thing, that is not a being, but more like a process, more like an energy that permeates all beings, an energy of which we are a part, and of which we can come to greater awareness.
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh invites people to do an exercise, to begin to grasp with our minds the symphony of the larger whole. He invites us to think about an object—it could be any object. He talked about a table, but I like to reflect on a piece of bread. Find a piece of bread and hold it in your hand. Then, let yourself imagine what has conspired in order for this bread to be here in your hand.
First of all, think of the wheat. In order for it to grow, it needed topsoil, with its fungal and bacterial components, its minerals and small worms. It needed the decomposition of the plants of many years, decades, and even centuries to create this fertile soil. You can continue to let yourself follow in this line of imagination, or if you want to follow my imaginings, go to this link to an earlier post.
One could keep talking all day to follow all the threads of connection linked to just one piece of bread. Paraphrasing what Thich Nhat Hanh would say:
If you grasp the bread’s reality then you see that in the bread itself are present all those things which we normally think of as the non-bread world. If you took away any of those non-bread elements and returned them to their sources…[the honey to the bees, the metal to the mines, or the farmers to their parents], the bread would no longer exist. A person who looks at the bread and can see the universe, is a person who can see the way.
As long as we think of God as “up there” somewhere, like a father or a king or some other kind of person, we imagine that we are separate from God, we imagine that we can think or not think about, believe or not believe in, pray or not pray to that God. But in a spirituality of connection, the gaze shifts to understand that there are no truly separate things, that there is no separate self or separate God—that our “own life and the life of the universe are one.”
I have been wrestling in recent years in a mighty way with the whole concept of Christianity and “the great father.” I have to say that often when I fall into praying to “God,” I find I am in a place of fear and naturally desire to lean upon something other than myself in this hard world. It does comfort me but only in the short term. And I sometimes find a pool of anger inside me that I hadn’t discovered before. I do feel angry about the patriarchal system that has oppressed females in our world, and that whole silly notion of some old guy who knows everything. Yes, there IS something greater than ourselves here. I am not sure what it is, unless it is what Khalil Gibran called “Life’s Longing for Itself.” But I am convinced that we must change, if we are to survive and let our beautiful planet survive. And to do that we must evolve, and learn to rely on ourselves to propel that process. We are capable beings. We can be ethical, moral, compassionate and wise. We have to want to. I do agree that meditation is so very useful and healthy, as our sensory bodies can be a great distraction. With all the violence and pain in the world today, I am feeling very ambivalent about “religion” itself. I understand that there are multiple frameworks that can serve as a path to human spirituality. What is it that goes so wrong then, and leads to intolerance and hatred?