UU Salon Big Question: What Do You Believe about God?

Finding the cave of the heart takes no more than yourself, but a singing bowl, candle, and chimes can inspire one a bit.

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.

Namaste

The Soul

This post is my response to UU Salon’s May 2010 question:  What is a soul?

What is a soul?  I smiled when I read the question, the first for the UU Salon blog’s open invitation for UU bloggers to address a Big Question each month.  I’d been poking away at a  post on our essence of being, and this question helped me frame my thoughts. 

I’ve never given much thought to the soul until the last few years, despite a childhood steeped in church.  My Methodist and Catholic upbringing and six years of Catholic school followed by seven years at a Jesuit university didn’t lead me to consider the soul.  So why, now that I’m a Unitarian Universalist, does the idea of soul become so central?  It’s certainly not part of the seven principles or six sources, although I’d argue the soul is at the heart of all those UU lists.  We’re a religion without creed, so of course there’s no guidance using the word soul.  But it’s the underpinnings to our shared philosophies, I’m sure.

As I see it, the soul is the essence of our being.  It’s the “me” under me, what’s left when I strip off my ego defenses, upbringing, wants, desires, and all that I’ve always identified as me.  My soul’s been with me since my start and will continue to accompany me on this journey of life.  It’s not the part of me that’s UU, white, middle-class, homeschooling mom, divorced, liberal, free thinking, tactile-sensitive, or introverted-yet-sociable.  It is what remains when all that dissolves.  It’s the part of me capable of great compassion and love for those my ego-self finds hard to find worthy of compassion and love and the part that yearns for a community of peace for all, not because I want it to be so but because it’s what humans should have.  It’s unselfish, kind, patient, undemanding, unassuming, endlessly loving, and deeply in touch with my divine nature and therefore in touch with the divinity of the universe.  It’s me with all the “me” left behind.

It’s in every one of us, a gift of the universe.  I don’t know (and, at least now, don’t care) where it goes when my physical body returns to the earth.  I believe it is with our soul that we connect to one another, to all that came before us and all that carry on after us.  Can we bury our soul?  Definitely.   Can we work to remove the shades covering our soul, thus increasing the time we work from this divine being within us?  Certainly.  But it’s not an easy road.  The more I work to let my soul lead, the more tender I become:  the more I risk in this world. It’s a vulnerable way to live, soul exposed, and I know I’m only living there a small fraction of my life, although I’m working on increasing that time.  It’s living with the soul that leaves me most fulfilled as human, most compassionate and loving of life around me.  And that’s worth some pain.

Are you searching for your soul?
Then come out of your own prison
Leave the little stream and join the river that flows to the ocean.
Like an Ox, don’t pull the wheel of this world on your back
Take off the burden, whirl and circle
Rise above the wheel of the world
There is another view

Rumi