Just to make it clear from the outset here, this isn’t the post I wanted to write today. It wasn’t part of the plan. This isn’t a topic I have any interest in poking at publicly and this certainly isn’t the territory I want to stray into on this blog. Nope. But with Typhoon Haiyan and the attendant devastation to our world neighbors, all the old quandaries have come screaming back. Suffering. Spiritual conundrums. Searching. Try as I may to pull the flow in other directions, it kept dragging me back here. Finally, all I could do was surrender. This is what I have today. So without further procrastination, I’ll go ahead and open this can of worms.
What is God?
It is with great resistance that I have been reading Marianne Williamson’s book The Gift of Change. I’m not sure why I picked it up in the first place. It was just sitting on a stack of books at the nonprofit I work for. Marianne is a bit of a guru in the self-help movement and has written several books, a few of which have been New York Times bestsellers. She’s also currently running for political office. Apologies to Ms. Williamson if this is a gross oversimplification, but from what I can tell, her main thing is interpreting the well-known spiritual guide A Course in Miracles and applying it to contemporary issues. If I’m understanding correctly, the major premises are these:
I’ve never been in the “everything happens for a reason” camp. I believe we live in a random universe and all kinds of crazy shit happens to good people who don’t deserve it. It seems our best bet is to somehow find a little grace in the madness. While I do believe that we can make our own experience easier or more difficult depending on how we choose to react to any given situation, I have trouble with the notion that we create our own reality. If I believe that then I have to believe, for example, that a 6-year old child would choose to manifest a brainstem glioma. I just can’t square with that.
I should probably be clear that I am writing this post from a significantly biased perspective. In January of 1992, my first child was stillborn. At the outset of labor that day, I asked God for protection and care during the birth of my son. I remember that moment so vividly. I was standing by the crib that my husband had made, holding on to the rail as the first contractions rolled through my body. I whispered my prayer. But God turned its back on us. That was when I ceased to believe that God was a benevolent entity or that it existed at all. Ultimately, I gravitated to Buddhism which, in my mind, is the only tradition that addresses human suffering in a way that makes any sense to me. Tonglen practice has been especially meaningful. It cultivates compassion and it helps me get out of my own stupid head.
I do agree with Marianne on one very important point: It’s all about love. On the cold February morning of my son’s memorial, I stood on the front porch and stared at the infinite blue sky. In that particular nanosecond, I had what I guess can only be described as a profound spiritual experience. I had a glimpse into some kind of bigger consciousness. The message was that love is the ultimate. It’s the only thing we’re here to do. And there is no separation between us. We’re all connected. The gift that day was this seemingly unshakable truth. But now, twenty-one years later, I find myself questioning even that. Love does not seem to be enough to solve global problems. Too many loving people are perpetually digging out from underneath the rubble of natural disasters, painful life circumstance and their own tortured psyches. How is love helping? What is it?
What is God?
Perhaps it is easier to define God within the constructs of religion. But doing God free style is much harder. When I think of human misery like is happening in the Philippines right now – or as it has in Fukushima, Thailand, Haiti, Sandy Hook, Boston, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Jersey… the list goes on and on– it’s extremely difficult to see God’s glory in that. On a good day, I’m a skeptic. Most days, I’m a nonbeliever. This doesn’t come from a place of vehemence but simply one of resignation. It’s perhaps a little comical but I remember very well the day I realized that I’d become a bit of a cynic. I was filled with despair. Even now, I want to believe that miracles are just around the corner and there’s a loving God running the show. But world events and my own life experiences point to the contrary. This is not to say that I haven’t felt moments of wonder or instances of almost transcendental synchronicity. When I look at the blazing colors of the autumn trees or gaze out across the vast beautiful mesas of New Mexico, it’s hard for me to dismiss the sense that there is some kind of divine artist at work. Every inhalation is a sweet miracle. I know this and I’m grateful. And of course, there was that morning on the porch. Maybe there’s still hope for me, if “hope” is even the right word. For now, I am at odds with myself.
Let’s get back to The Gift of Change and Marianne Williamson. I’m about midway through the book. I like what she’s putting out there but I still don’t know if I’m buying in. I’m slightly taken aback by the strong Christian overtones but to be fair, she’s not peddling that or any religion per se. She makes this pretty clear in the introduction. As I started to kick around some thoughts about this post, I figured it would be a good idea to visit her website. I didn’t know if I would like her. I am usually leery of people who speak on God’s behalf or claim to have the big answers. However, after looking around her site and watching a few of her talks on You Tube, I found her to be intelligent, compassionate and earnest, at least as much as I could tell from an online video. One thing she brings up in both the book and her talks is the question as to how the paradigm of fear and struggle is working for us. The Gift of Change was written in 2004, just a year after the start of the war in Iraq, when terror threats were still color coded on the nightly news. But I think it’s still a legitimate question today, both culturally-speaking and personally. She makes a good case for trying something different. It does make me stop and consider. Maybe we struggle more than we have to. Maybe things could be much easier. Maybe there’s a better way. Perhaps it starts by having a little faith…but in what?
Thank you for hanging in there with me on this one. It’s a weird subject and kind of a tender thing to put out there. Let me reiterate that I didn’t want to write this post. Sometimes all I can do is honor the current of words. At any rate, I want to hear about your experience with God. The comments are open. The can is open. Bring on the worms.
If you are interested in contributing to the Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts, the Huffington Post as put together a list of aid organizations. You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/o5s7y6t