I’ve not posted a response to a UU Salon Big Question for some time, but this month’s poser caught my attention: What do you believe about God? Note the wording. Not, “Do you believe in God?” but rather “What do you believe about God?” Here’s my response. Take it to be my view today, and while informed by my yesterdays it’s not a predictor of what I’d say on any given tomorrow.
I was born when my parents attended a Baptist church, grew up attending a Methodist church for Sunday school followed by a Catholic Mass at the University of Detroit’s very liberal, very atypical, and very Jesuit chapel (yes, that’s two church sessions on Sundays). At 12, I decided to be baptised Catholic, a choice I made while attending Catholic school and dutifully working on the task of fitting in. Call it an informed choice or not, but I was then (and remain) satisfied with the decision I made. Fast forward to marriage to a non-Catholic at age 25, our search for a Catholic church that resonated with us, the birth and Catholic baptism of two boys in two different churches, my ex-husband’s joining of the Catholic church, and our subsequent leaving of Catholicism, some 6 years ago. We found temporary shelter in a liberal Episcopal congregation, but soon left. The question of the nature of God was part of that choice to leave.
I’d always believed in God. As a child, I believed in the Guy in the Sky who knew all and loved me. I believed in Jesus, his son, who came to earth to tell us more about God. For a number of years in my late teens and early 20s, I believed in a literal resurrection and was deeply attached to the idea of a personal God, always accessible , a comfort during some otherwise rocky and lonely years.
And then I wondered.
I wondered the usual wonderings. If there is a God, how could God allow suffering? How could there be a God who answered prayers if so many good, believing people’s prayers seemingly went unanswered? How could God be three beings in one? Beyond the God questions, I struggled with the basic tenets of Christianity. It was time to stop church-shopping and start letting my mind work at the questions. Three years later, I found my current church, a mid-sized Unitarian Universalist church with a minister with an active spiritual search which he willingly shares with the congregation. The word God was used sparingly my first months there, and references to Christianity were even less frequent. All the better, I felt. I wasn’t ready to approach the God question.
Over the next year, my understanding of world religions grew. My boys and I had explored origins and major teaching of many world religions through our history studies, and we’d all learned quite a bit. Their religious education classes at the time focused on the same, and the messages from the pulpit were often designed to broaden the congregation’s appreciation and understanding of the many spiritual paths of the world.
Gradually, the God question returned to my conscious mind. But more than that, I learned how to quiet my mind a reach a place both inside and outside of me through meditation. As I’ve posted before, this practice has been a struggle, and I’ve yet to practice on a daily basis. But it has opened a part of my self that approached the issue of God on a different level Over the past three years, I’ve come to the following understanding about God.
God is not the Guy in the Sky pulling the strings. God is not the property of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or any other religion. God is not there to do our bidding, rescue us from our human condition, smite our enemy, protect our country, or help our sports team win.
To me, now, God is the energy of the universe, a palpable presence if we still our minds and feel the connection we have to others. God is what is in each of us, regardless of creed or lack of creed. God is ever-present but more easily sensed in those quiet moments or when we connect with others. God is within is, around us, between us, over us, under us, to our right and left, in front of us and behind us, to borrow a Navaho prayer.
But I rarely call this presence God. I’ll refer to the divine, a larger presence, my ground of being (gob, for short), the energy of the universe, and other longer, more convoluted expressions, but almost never as God. Why not? I’m not sure. While I don’t feel, as some UUs and other former Christians do, wronged by Christianity and angry at religion in general, my reaction to the word God is muddled. That Guy in the Sky comes to mind, and moving from that to a broader definition takes mental effort and distracts from my understanding of what this divine being or presence is. The word God engages my mind and my feelings, but this isn’t where the divine resides. Hindus refer to “the cave of the heart,” which refers to that in us that is not body, senses, feelings, or thoughts. It’s what is left when we leave all those behind. When I reach that spot, I am in contact with the divine, within myself and beyond myself. And I can’t reach it when my mind is contemplating the meaning of the word God and my feelings whirl around those meanings.
While searching for a link to a better explanation to the cave of the heart, I found this poem, written by Quiong practitioner, Satya, and her words are the clearest explanation I can find:
In the Cave of My Heart
by Satya Kathleen Dubay
In the cave of my heart
I am silent
In the cave of my heart
I am still
In the cave of my heart
I am the breath
of the One
that is breathless
Spiritual practice, meditation, prayer, or other, can take the willing to this cave of the heart, where the divine by any name resides in each of us. At least that’s what I believe.
Addendum: Thanks to Rev. Alex Riegel for today’s sermon on the heart . I’d written most of this post prior to hearing this message this morning, and, upon finishing this reply to UU Salon, found the cave in the heart applied to this topic. This sermon and others from the Universalist Unitarian Church of Farmington can be found at uusermons.com. The divine can be found in the cave of your heart first. Once you find it there, you’ll see it everywhere.