In Search of a bigger God

​“Our highest knowledge of God is nothing close to that which God truly is.” Attributed to St. Thomas, paraphrased

I have a confession to make: I am in search of a bigger God for you see my current one is too small.  that’s right, the God that occupies my thoughts and heart has shrunk in size and scope, even divinity. Honestly, I need to get rid of him or I’m doomed to a small life in a small world with all hope suffocating to the point of death. I have made numerous attempts to give this God the pink slip, even writing him out of my life, but to no avail.

You see my God is too small, but he is equipped with a rather large “Ego” – this God I have currently is petty, pithy, and pedantic at best.  The God that resides in my heart is an idol, one made up of fairy tales and freak outs passed down to me from my drunken fathers’ presence and absence.  This God is narcissistic, needy, omnipotent, tyrannical, and just like my father my God is an Almighty Drunk. It is frightening.

I thought that decades ago I had been loosed of this Divine Schizophrenic but circumstances as of late have left me reeling in disbelief at the very core of my beliefs and just how small my God has become. Doctrine, dogma, stigma and stain all have left the remnants of a child-like faith based in innocence smashed and tattered by a full out frontal assault of FEAR. I am scared of my “oh so small God”

My current God cannot handle my pain, my emotional outbursts or my constant neediness. Nor can this God handle my questions or queries, leaving hope suffocated by the minutiae of daily life, questions big and small.

In fact, this God is too small precisely because He IS a He – a Zeus like old man resembling my Pops. Why can’t this God be a She? Or be like my mother? My mother was such a strong, lovely, regal woman who had wits and wilds about her…why can’t she be the source of my image of God instead of my alcoholic dad?!?

Here is something that piques my interest in the feminine face of God: one of the most oft used words to describe God’s wondrous glory in the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament) is the word “Shekinah” – a feminine Hebrew word.  And much like the French language and other Romance languages, gender is ascribed to words rather than leave them neutral and therefore neutered. Shekinah, to be more specific, is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew name of God in Judaism. The original word means the dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem (search Wikipedia for more on Shekinah).

In Abrahamic faith traditions, your name denoted not only your character, but your destiny as well.  So, Shekinah, a word implying the very dwelling Place of Presence of God is a feminine word.  So maybe just maybe my God can be She as much as He as much as neither.  For the sake of my own sanity, my oh so small God can grow and I can acknowledge that the great traits of my mother (and all the amazingly strong women in my life) can be divine reflections of the God I need in my life: One Who is strong, faithful, creative, beautiful, tender, and compassionate (a Divine Mama Bear not to be reckoned with when one of her cubs was in danger).

The search for a bigger God continues…

I can cash in this Peon God for one much larger than me, truly a “Power greater than myself” or I can stay stuck in the minutiae of a miniscule God and drive myself into insanity.

It is for this reason I love the 2nd Step of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous when it says “we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  A Power greater than me…” That can be understood in many ways, for me it can mean a Power greater than any limitation or fear I could ever have of God; it can mean a God Who is a Power that is Pure Love and desires unbroken intimacy with me, loving me no matter my foibles and frailties, no matter how needy or poor I am.

I am truly searching for a bigger God: not a health and wealth pie in the sky God; not a Polyannish one who never sees the darkness of life; not a Santa Claus God who gives me my wish list.

I am in search of a God whose Love is beyond being meted out by human restraint.

I am in search of a God who is holy – wholly other – yet dwells within me.

I am in search of a God Who is beyond dogmatic and doctrinal delineations; a God Whose very Being and strength is pure Love, infinite Mercy, holy Hospitality…a Liberator and Healer who is Radically Compassion.

I am in search of a God Who in turn is in search of me…

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“On Doubt” (Frederick Buechner)

Some Musings on Doubt from Frederick Buechner:

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.

There are two principal kinds of doubt, one of the head and the other of the stomach.

In my head there is almost nothing I can’t doubt when the fit is upon me—the divinity of Christ, the efficacy of the sacraments, the significance of the church, the existence of God. But even when I am at my most skeptical, I go on with my life as though nothing untoward has happened.

I have never experienced stomach doubt, but I think Jesus did. When he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” I don’t think he was raising a theological issue any more than he was quoting Psalm 22. I think he had looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed him. I think God allows that kind of darkness to happen only to God’s saints. The rest of us aren’t up to doubting that way—or maybe believing that way either.

When our faith is strongest, we believe with our hearts as well as with our heads, but only at a few rare moments, I think, do we feel in our stomachs what it must be like to be engulfed by light.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

“May a Good Vision Catch Me” (David Abram)

“May a good vision catch me
May a benevolent vision take hold of me, and move me
May a deep and full vision come over me, and burst open around me

May a luminous vision inform me, enfold me.
May I awaken into the story that surrounds,
May I awaken into the beautiful story.

May the wondrous story find me;
May the wildness that makes beauty arise between two lovers
arise beautifully between my body and the body of this land,
between my flesh and the flesh of this earth,
here and now,
on this day,

May I taste something sacred.”

—David Abram, Alliance for Wild Ethics

Musings on Love…

Big day today, big religious day today, big letdown day too: it is Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.  Generally, for millions of people this a day where we fantasize about Love as it does not exists; for 1.2 billion Catholics (and all people of faith) it is a day to ponder the ways of God’s love – love as it was truthfully meant to be.

Either way you look at it, it is a day to celebrate, seek and give LOVE, so I thought I would offer my two cents on LOVE.

According to Christian scripture God is love and that love is the law we are supposed to follow.  So, what does this whole “God is Love” thingy look like?  How are we to love people? What is love supposed to look like, and what does God say about this “crazy little thing called Love?”

My take on it is that if God is love (1 John 4) then I want to know what love is so I can either take the long way – read the Gospels and look at how Jesus lived – or I can take the summarized version – read 1 Corinthians 13 substituting the word “love” with the word “God.”

For today, I chose the latter.  Read this with the knowledge that this is precisely how God loves you, and me and the entire world.  God is love which means that:

God is patient.
God is kind.
God does not envy.
God is not boastful.
God is not conceited.
God does not act improperly.
God is not selfish.
God is not provoked.
God does not keep a record of wrongs.
God finds no joy in wickedness.
God rejoices in the truth.
God bears all things.
God believes all things.
God hopes all things.
God endures all things.
God never fails.

Dark Like a Root

“…I need more of the night before I open eyes and heart to illumination. I must still grow in the dark like a root not ready, not ready at all.”

Denise Levertov, “Eye Mask”

True confession here: I am in love with poetry.  I adore poetry as one of the great spiritual guides in my life.  There are many reasons I love poetry – its ability to say much with so little, its deep spirituality, it intimacy and delicacy, to fill and to empty, to flourish and fire. Denise Levertov is another one of the reasons I love poetry particularly the poem with a stanza from above.  Denise Levertov has a way of capturing the deeper truths I am embodying without it being a Faulknerian novel; crisp, concise. It is good meat for my spiritual life as well. I too must remain still and rest in the dark, like a root not ready for the world and all it contains. I must gestate longer in this womb of God; much like the Christ child in Mary, I too need more time in the darkness before I am at fruition.

Most people are speak ill of the dark; they lambaste it as a place of bad or evil.  My guide poetry reminds over and over again to not fear the darkness.  Through the words and wisdom of poetry, God reminds me not to fear the darkness for many good and wonderful things happen in the dark, more than just things that go bump and boo. In the darkness, all manner of vegetation, flora and fauna take root and take hold of the Earth, clinging to her like a babe to a breast finding life in the suckling darkness; then so lovingly and compassionately turning from what they received in darkness and to fill and feed.

What I know is that darkness is a good thing. It is not something to be feared, to run from, or to see as negative. Far too often in western culture, and specifically “white” western culture all things darker are considered negative, from skin to spirituality. But darkness is necessary for any authentic spiritual growth. In darkness, come dreams, fantasies, hopes, inspirations…God spoke in the days of old and still does speak in the dreams that come in the darkness (the prophet Joel reminded us that our young would see visions and our old would dream dreams).

I need to go deep into the dark like a root, so that God can water my soul, give me the tenderness of damp, earthy shadows where I can remove all pretense, drop my skin and shell to the floor like old rags, and lick my wounds and set them free to roam in God’s healing freedom.

As a dark root, I let God touch my selfishness, my anger, my chards of rage, my fears, self-pity and my resentments towards all. In the darkness, God heals me, feeds me, molds me, and breaks me, loving me back to my humanity. So, like Denise Levertov, I am not ready for the illumination of the day.

I am in need of darkness, the emptiness of gestation where the Divine Love that comes from nothingness, will be with me. I must still grow in this sacred darkness, a little holy root of God.

Fear or Faith: what’s it going to be?

I used to look at the world in black and white, extreme black and white at that. It went something like this: “either you were or you weren’t; either you did or your didn’t; either things (or you) were good or bad; black or white; in or out. Fill in the blank at the end but the meaning is still the same: life was made rigid; exclusive self-righteously all bundled up in neat, little packaging (socio-cultural/economic/political/religious MREs if you will).

It seemed to make life safe for a twenty something who was new to faith and scared of almost everything in life.  In my twenties, I so desperately needed the world to be black and white because it had been so painfully colorless and empty as the fourth son of a tormented alcoholic father.

At 50 years of age, my life and my view of the world is more an appreciation of the entire color-spectrum of life: the kaleidoscope of God’s very Being reflected and deflected in, through and off of all of creation – us included.

But…and there’s always a but. But there is one area of my life I am still a bit “black and white” with and that is about the dance between fear and faith. The way I look at it either I live in fear or I live in faith; I live by fear or I live by faith. Now granted, I know it is not so neatly packaged, far from it.

But it seems to me those two choices are the existentially paradigmatic choices of our lives.

And depending upon which one I choose, determines in all likelihood the quality and maybe even the quantity of the direction my life takes.

If I choose to live (mostly, say 51%) by faith, then the world is just more beautiful. God is more present in all things and in all Ways and I feel connected to all that is – the Creator, the creation and the created.

But if I choose to live by fear (let’s stick with the 51% option again), the scales of life and my perception therein seem to tip and tilt towards the darker, sadder, painful parts of living – the “less” ness of life (as in there seems to be less of everything I desire if I perceive and experience life through the lens of fear).

By choosing (and yes, I do feel at the core, it is a CHOICE) to live by faith – faith in God, faith in myself, faith in other people, faith in love and service, and faith in the healing process – a miraculous metamorphosis begins to take place within me and in all those with whom I share life.

Life gets bigger.  Life gets more abundant.

Life gets fuller of, well, almost everything: joy, suffering, emotions – the veritable messiness of it all.

Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, or prettier, or more neatly packaged. In fact, it’s quite the opposite because looking and living life by faith involves such things as crazy leaps, pain, heartbreak reckless abandon and ruthless trust. Living by faith involves fearless looking at the person I am, all of me, and embracing it as I am not as I want to be. For that is how God does it.

And here is something I am learning slowly and deeply: not only is living a life of faith all of the aforementioned, a life of faith means living with the ever growing knowledge that God actually has faith in me!

That may seem like heresy to some, but if we all step back and look at the gifts, miracles, roles and responsibilities we are blessed with, those things that we seek after and get and those things that seemingly fall into our laps throughout the days and years of our lives, Someone must indeed trust and believe in us to endow us with such abundance!

So, today although life on the outside is a bit scary, I still find myself a bit more relaxed, nestling rather than wrestling into this life of faith over fear, hoping against hope, trusting even as my eyes are still getting accustomed to the Light, that in the end (and at the end) that by choosing a life of faith, my life becomes a valuable gift both given and shared to this wonderful wounded world in which I live.

Remember this…

In your darkest times, in your most desperate moments, when all is lost – sometimes literally, sometimes spiritually – you can still bear witness to God’s presence in your life.

In our brokenness, in our addictions, in our depression, in our lostness – as much if not more so in our joy – we can still know that God is present in all things, as crazy as that seems.

It is when we can learn to experience God in the absence and darkness, the moments when grace breaks through our walls of despair, that we can share the Hope that God is indeed among us.  As we grope our way into God’s future, we can know that even in the most unchartered waters, we are being led by a luminous God whose name is grace.