Midweek Faith Lift
September 29, 2019
Looking for God
One of the places I connect with the divine is in nature – in the plants and animals, the forest, under the stars, watching the moonrise and the sunset. I connect with the divine in my ideas, in music, and in my relationships with others. I have been on my own path to connect with the divine my whole life - as have countless others throughout history. Who is God? What is God? Do I even like that word - God? Why do I have the beliefs about God that I have? Would they have been different if I had been born in a different place and time? These are questions I have been struggling with my whole life
My talk today was inspired by this quote:
“Needless to say, church isn’t the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, at any place and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love. A walk on the beach. Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out they are not a stranger’s. If we weren’t blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.”
In the beginning there was—what? Energy? Space? The Big Bang? Where did that come from? For lack of a better term, I am ok using the word God to describe the mystery of the origin of the universe. I am also OK with using the term “the universe” To me they are one and the same.
Of course I was raised with the patriarchal old man in the sky concept of God – Yaweh. According to the Bible, God created Adam in his image. That made sense when I was in Sunday school. I was taught God is a man, so his creation would be a man…
The Hebrew and Greek patriarchies are not that different, it turns out. In both, the most important figures were male. The Greek god Zeus was a god of the sky much like Yaweh. While the Hebrew God created Adam from clay, Zeus gave birth to Athena from his head! In such a male-dominated world, who needs women?
But wait a minute – Perhaps God is not a man after all, but was a woman? Wouldn’t that make more sense biologically? And maybe God wasn’t white at all! The human race arose in Africa. And maybe the first human was really a woman! I’m so confused!
Well, the God I was raised with was not happy with Adam and Eve when they disobeyed Him. And so God kicked them out of the Garden of Eden. Here God is portrayed as an Angel. Notice how magnificent and powerful God is compared to humans, in this contemporary Christian painting!
The God I was raised with was a Jealous God. He seemed arbitrary and capricious. He demanded loyalty. He threw what I would call tantrums – first giving humans free will, and then drowning most of them – and most of the animals of the world – when they used their free will. God appear as a pillar of fire to the Hebrew people as they wandered the desert. The pillar led them at night, and a pillar of cloud led them during the day.
One time, God appeared to Moses as a burning bush. When Moses received the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai, God appeared as a pillar of fire and cloud.
The Hebrew God lived in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. And what was kept there? The Ark of the Covenant, which contained the 10 Commandments. Carried into battle, The Ark was the secret weapon of the Hebrews. So God was not only a God of the Heavens and of fire, He was a War God.
And He was a God who demanded sacrifice. More on that later. The prophet Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his first born, Isaac. So Abraham did what his God asked, and prepared to kill Isaac and then burn his body in sacrifice – only to be stayed at the last minute by an angel of God.
Hebrew society was ruled over by male warrior Priests. It was a patriarchal Theocracy, with the temple as the center of religion and government combined. God chose the kings. The ancient Hebrews lived in a homocentric universe. They believed in a God who had specially created earth as the center of the universe, specifically for humans, and men were the most important gender of the humans. They believed God made man in his image.
Critics have suggested that it was really the other way around, that humans created God in their image. This might explain why God had so many foibles. And of course Deities were created in the image of humans all over the world in every culture and religion. Will the real God please stand up?
The Hebrew culture developed for about a millennia, and then God changed. Of course, He still controlled the stars in the sky. But now God was manifest as a child. And he had a mother, Mary. Jesus, known to Christians as the Son of God preached love, kindness, and forgiveness. He loved all the children. I like to think he occasionally laughed and smiled!
Jesus practiced healing and encouraged people to find the kingdom of God within. Jesus taught his followers to communicate with God the Father through prayer. He asked his followers to remember him when they ate bread and drank wine. In Sunday school I was taught that God sacrificed his only begotten son to take away the sins of humanity. Again, it was the sacrifice of one’s offspring, but now by God himself. This is an aspect of Christian theology that I reject.
But the miraculous nature of God triumphed on Easter Sunday, demonstrating that death has no power over God. Of course, among the followers of this miraculous God were doubters. But I was taught that if I believed in Jesus, I too would go to heaven when I died.
In Sunday school they did not teach me that in the early centuries of Christianity there were other, much more established religions competing for the hearts and minds of the people in the Mediterranean basin. Mithras or Sol Invictus was the Roman – originally Persian- Sun god who was born on the Solstice, December 25 of a virgin, had 12 disciples, performed miracles, sacrificed himself, was buried in a tomb, and rose again after 3 days at Easter- time, promising eternal life for his followers. Likewise, Horus, the Egyptian God has a very similar story.
Osiris, the Egyptian Lord of the Underworld’s birth was foretold by three wise men. He was called the “Good Shepherd,” “King of Kings” “Lord of Lords,” “The Resurrection and the life.” His followers communed with him by symbolically eating wheat to represent his body, and he was also killed and resurrected, offering hope to his followers for eternal life.
By the 4th century AD, the Roman emperor Constantine had rejected these religions, and instead converted to Christianity, paving the way for the entire Roman Empire to become Christian – or else! And with the church firmly under the control of the Roman Empire, it was the Church of Rome who decided what books were in the Bible at the Council of Nicaea. The Roman Church decided what was Christian and what wasn’t, and used the military power of the empire to crush other versions of Christianity, and other gospels were deemed heretical.
There was also a change in how God was perceived. This is when the Christian concept of the Trinity was adopted – Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one. The Roman Empire spread Christianity by force throughout Europe, working to wipe out so-called “pagan” beliefs wherever they were found. Christian apologists might argue that the use of military might to spread the one true religion was God’s will. If so that’s not a God I connect with.
Great Churches were erected over the centuries. The European pagan belief of a great Goddess found expression in Christianity in the veneration of Mary, the mother of God. This is Notre Dame Cathedral named for Mary, Our Mother. But God’s patriarchal representative on earth was a man, the Pope. Only men could be priests, and only priests could connect people to God on a daily basis through the Eucharist, the ritualized last supper, symbolizing the body and blood of Jesus. What about women? Women could become nuns.
God lived in heaven. For centuries, the Catholic Church, via the Pope and the clergy, controlled access to the afterlife for Christians. This was a valuable commodity. With the right kind of donation, the Church could help you get there! Martin Luther led a revolution against this system, which he thought was corrupt, and Luther disagreed that the Pope was the earthly representative of God.
With the Pope out of the picture, how did Protestants find God and get to the afterlife? Through reading the Bible. You had to be literate in order to do that. More on that later. Protestants and Catholics competed with one another to control Europe, and to conquer the new world in the name of God. It seemed to be God’s Will that white Europeans conquer North America to spread progress in Manifest Destiny!
And fast forward to 1953, this is the world I was born into. Here I am at Presbyterian Church with my mom and brothers in Southern California. The Bible was a big part of the lives of Protestant families. By the 20th century, literacy had also become common in Catholic countries. Christians all over the world connect to God through Prayer and the Bible.
Another way people connect to God is through service to others. You don’t have to go far to be of service. For me, singing and music are important ways to connect to spirit. Of course, some hymns have changed over the years… For some Christians, A mighty fortress is their God. The power of church organ music can evoke that by literally making the rafters shake! The power of church music is taken to the extreme at the Mormon Tabernacle.
One of my favorite pieces of music is Handel’s Messiah. Written in just 24 days, some people have said it must have been inspired by God… In essence a spiritual download. In the play Amadeus (which means Love of God), Mozart’s musical rival, Salieri, was angry at God for having bestowed Mozart with more talent than himself. Salieri heard the voice of God in Mozart’s music.
Some people see natural disasters as Acts of God, evidence, perhaps, of God’s displeasure or insufficient prayer on the part of people. And others see God in the face of people. I too believe that to love another person is to see the face of God. Of course, some think we have it all wrong about God. In the first cartoon, the Dog on the throne of God says:
The joyful, loving, eternally forgiving nature of Dogs never tipped you off?
In the second cartoon the angel says “You mean…” and the Dog says “Yes, your
entire species is dyslexic!” I definitely see God here!
Bill W, the founder of 12 step programs, said God is either everything or He is nothing. In Unity we believe we are within God and God is within us. Self-realization is understanding the divine God spirit in each of us. I like this way of understanding God. As Above, So Below. Don’t understand the mystical or heavenly qualities of God? Just look around on the earth plane. God is manifest in everything. The universe is a hologram. What we see and understand on earth reflects the nature of God everywhere else. As above, so below.
The principles of nature that underlie the universe show themselves over and over. If we want to see God, just open up our eyes! Perhaps god is the laws of physics. Energy, like spirit, is neither created nor destroyed. It just changes form. E=MC squared describes the inter-conversion of matter and energy. Death does not exist it just represents a change in form, from matter to energy. Birth is the opposite. I see god in the seasons, the renewal of life that plays out in so many intersecting cycles of birth, growth, death, and rebirth. And I connect with God in healing, in being there for others.
Rumi said: I searched for God and found only myself. I searched for myself and found only God. We’re all on a journey of self-discovery, and connection to the divine. May you find what you seek on your journey. Go in peace. I’m there with you in spirit.
With gratitude to Clark Ford,
Blessings on the Path,