Your image of God creates you. Not to Prove Anything, but to Experience Someone, Richard Rohr
The holiday season has always been a reflective time for me, but this year has been particularly so. Whatever the reason, much of my reflection has centered on my experience of God. As I have mentioned in other blog entries, I was raised in a very conservative Lutheran denomination where dogma reigned supreme. How one encountered the Divine was defined by doctrine, not by one’s own experience. If one’s encounters of the Holy ran contrary to the denominations teachings, it was the individual who was wrong. Such a perspective can be very safe if one is looking for a religious experience where little or nothing is required of them. However, for the person seeking a deeper understanding of his or her faith life, it is difficult to abide in a spiritually faithful and genuine manner in such an environment. My increasing unrest and distrust of the teachings and doctrines in which I was raised has led me on a journey of searching what it means to encounter or experience the Sacred.
(T)here is something about the way God is presented in America that gives us reason for worry. The way God is depicted may exacerbate rather than alleviate the violence that is all too common. This American God has a way of encouraging weapons, death, war, and even torture…all for good cause, of course Death, Violence and America: Is God the Answer or the Problem?, Craig M. Watts
Throughout this recent holiday season, my senses concerning the presence of an Infinite Spirit were heightened through the tragedy of Newtown, the emotional diatribes concerning mental health care and gun control, as well as the overly dramatized and eminent financial fiscal cliff. I listened and read as various individuals opined their perspective concerning how the Omniscient was intertwined in these matters, as well as what this meant concerning the state of our society or culture. In a season that has historically been defined as a time of peace, of self-reflection, of demonstrating kindness and generosity towards others, the focus was on pronouncing judgment, enabling fear, and raising suspicion of our neighbor.
I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing,
Just prayed to a god that I don’t believe in . . . Breakeven, The Script
So, how was my sense of God’s presence heightened by all of this you may ask? (Okay, maybe you aren’t asking the questions, but I am going to answer it anyway.) Because all of the posturing, all of the tantrums, all the proclamations reflect Tillich’s focus on the God beyond God. None of what was being expressed concerning the Holy and the Sacred demonstrated any encounter or experience of that which is truly Divine and Mysterious. Instead, the conversation revolved around an intellectual exercise of defining who the individual thought God was and what he or she thought God was doing. The focus was on god (little “g” intentional), but not on the grander, more mysterious “that which is greater than ourselves.”
“You are accepted!” … accepted by that which is greater than you and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask the name now, perhaps you will know it later. Do not try to do anything, perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. –Paul Tillich
From Luther to Kierkegaard to Buber to Jung to James to Tillich, one’s personal experience of that which is Holy is what gives meaning and hope to the individual, to the community, and to the society. To experience the Divine is to open oneself to ‘be’ing in relationship with another person, another group of people, nature, art, music, symbols, and life. To experience the Holy is to ‘be’ present in this very moment and ‘be’ with all that is happening in this moment. To experience the Sacred is to acknowledge that nothing before or nothing after this moment matters, it is simply to ‘be’ in this moment and to accept that this moment is an acceptable moment and that one is accepted.
Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Jews got their own version of the truth. There’s a line in the sand, there’s a war going’ on. They forgot to remember you might be wrong. Why do we argue? Why do we fight? Everybody thinks God’s on their side. You Might Be Wrong, Paul Thorn
It is my humble opinion that every issue or concern a client brings to me has a spiritual root. In other words, at the core of the problem under discussion is the question, “How does this individual experience the Divine in his or her life?” What does it mean to this individual to relate to the Universe, in what ways does he or she interact with that with is greater than him or herself? Too many people have been taught for too long that there is a right way and wrong way to relate to the Holy in their lives, and in many cases it has caused them to separate themselves from the Sacred and Mysterious. Such a separation creates alienation, loneliness, and hopelessness, and desperation.
Neither a space station nor an enlightened mind can be realized in a day. How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life, Dalai Lama XIV
Whenever I am given permission, I encourage my client to explore his or her experience of God (whatever that means to them). In what relationships, settings, and environments have they encountered the Divine? Through what types of art, music, images, and symbols have they experienced the Sacred? As they begin to identify these encounters, we explore how these experiences might be influencing his or her current situation. Clients are often surprise to discover that when freed from dogma, stale traditions, and poor teaching, he or she is able to identify new options and possibilities for coping with the issue at hand.
Our personal encounters with Universe and our individual experiences of the Divine shape who we are—we cannot allow others’ perspectives, ideas, or teachings to interfere with that Sacred process.
— Steve Fehl