God was introduced to me in a small Congregational Church with Wedgwood blue walls and a plain wooden cross on the north wall. He filled my starving belly with the home-baked ginger cookies and apple juice they served as part of Sunday school, the Bible stories mere backdrop for free sustenance. Jesus was delivered upstairs in small plastic cups of grape juice and soft cubes of bread, his blood and body having been purchased at the local Grand Union. When I was around six, my mother stopped taking my siblings and me to church, because the minister was “too liberal” (code for against the Vietnam war.) In reality, her life, and by default ours had taken a decidedly non-Christian detour. God began the fade shortly thereafter.
Many years later, I sat down next to a stranger at a family gathering and in five sentences we were talking about God. It was one of those rare meetings in which all pretexts and contexts were ignored or dropped. He said people seem to position themselves in relationship to organized religion based upon their comfort in response to three basic questions: 1) Who am I? 2) How do I find meaning in my life experiences? 3) What will happen when I die? He believed that people are more or less attached to organized religion based on their comfort with mystery.
Or maybe God is in the details. The daily grind. The nitty gritty of showing up. Maybe God isn’t male. White. Privileged. Or co-opted by denominations, ethnic factions, or a simple act of renaming: Allah, Yahweh, Muhammad, Buddha. Maybe men don’t get to define God, even if they have written most of the stories and all of the rules. Maybe God is simply an excuse for community, a source of comfort in the face of the enormous losses and suffering all humans face at some point in their lifetime, no matter how privileged. Maybe he’s an insatiable longing, the unfulfilled wish for 24/7 parenting or safe homecoming that we carry unconsciously out of childhood.
Or maybe over the scope of human history, through all the religious stories and irreverent conflicts in his name, God’s the ultimate paradoxical joke. “I keep sending wise people to teach you how to get along. You keep fucking it up.” Does God swear? If they don’t, maybe they should seriously consider taking it up. Think: Iraq. And torture. Or Afghanistan, post-twenty years of permanent war at the sacrifice of our soldiers and their citizens, for the benefit of American war profiteering dressed up as anti-terrorism. There’s a lot of mystery for you.
After the free church snacks ended, God became suspect. First of all, my dad died. At eight and a half, I did not believe this was “God’s will” or even a very good idea of theirs. Then a mean-ass bastard terrorized my family. I couldn’t see a benevolent God in the details of that. By the time I hit adolescence, I had an ingrained distrust of dogma. Oppression was overly familiar to me and any church telling me the right and wrong ways to live my life beyond the Golden Rule was intolerable. I strongly suspected that I had been given a competent mind, a decent heart, and the related inclination to figure some things out on my own. It wasn’t meant to be black and white; I was supposed to sink into the grey. So I did.
As I lean into the gift of another day, in this ever-grinding pandemic, I have some short notes on God. God isn’t gender specific or hanging out in heaven. Why would they be when there are neat places like Switzerland or southern California on a smog-free day? With 7.9 billion people on the planet, God doesn’t keep a moral scorecard or a designated birth and death list and they aren’t particularly interested in whether you called in sick and headed to the beach. God doesn’t have sister Goddesses, who are radical or homegrown feminists, that imagine they have a better way to handle this teetering world, simply because they’re more in touch with their feminine side. These are our concerns and work.
God is personal and specific. I have my version and I don’t expect it to match anyone else’s. While I think it’d be wonderful if people stopped killing each other over differing opinions, apparently it’s a lot to ask. Note the proverbial Big Guy’s lack of success to date. However, I would like to ask some people (you know who you are) to lighten up about who gets the “special status” of God’s love (i.e, “You’re in Our Club.” versus designated to the hot room.) It’s not only arrogant, but hypocritical and tedious.
To me, God is the infinite, invisible connection between all forms of life. It’s a short word that stands for an enormous community spread across the ultimate living being: earth. God lives in the scent of peonies cascading tipple-topple toward the ground and in electric blue butterfly wings. God greets us in the cries of a newborn baby and in the final whispers before death. God is the grace of love and deep intimacy, that if we’re lucky enough to nurture in our relationship to others and the natural world, connects us to something bigger and beyond ourselves. Reclaiming this overly burdened name, God exists within everyone and everything that lives, grows, and eventually dies. God is light, breath, and essence; not beard, robe, and moral tyranny.
At least that’s my God. What about yours?