God Only Knows
My father awoke from his cancer surgery. It was 1972, seven years after he’d lost his wife to the same disease. I sat with him and we started talking, and I tried to convey something to him — what I had done while he was under the knife.
“I think I know, “ he said with half a smile. “It begins with a ‘p’.”
It was not just that my dad was an atheist; it was that in my secular Jewish family anything truly reverent was so embarrassing, my father couldn’t at that moment even say the word “pray”. And indeed, many religious people, and many religions, are an embarrassment. And for the longest time I didn’t want to be associated with them. It’s sort of the same reason I was a closet vegetarian for years –- I didn’t want to be associated with so many of those smug people who thought their stool didn’t stink because they only ate what grew in the ground as opposed to what walked upon it.
But I do believe in God. I believe simply because I have experienced too many small miracles, answered prayers, synchronicities and tastes of the eternal to not believe. What I am unsure of is the exact nature of God. The gender; the appearance; the character. But ever since I started praying daily back in 1998, after something of a spiritual awakening in a California stream, I’ve experienced prayers answered a multitude of times. I often don’t get what I want when I want it, but I get what I want eventually. A wonderful book called “Conversations With God” taught me how to pray, and it seems to work, at least for me. Especially the part about thanking God for something as if I already have it. This is why the so-called Law of Attraction has become part of my cosmology: It just seems to work, that’s all. Not always, and not on my time schedule, but things seem to have a way of turning out the way I want them to when I pray for them. And I’m just not that competent enough to have made all those things happen by myself.
So I’m grateful for all this. And I’ve come to find gratitude such a joyful, empowering feeling. And it just makes more sense to me to feel grateful for my blessings if I believe in a Blesser – some One to thank.
In the end, it’s a choice, isn’t it? I believe in God because life and the world make more sense to me this way. And I receive more comfort this way as well.
Look — we arrive in the blink of an eye, and can go out the same way at any moment. So to honor the between time, I find it most meaningful and gracious to thank He, She or It that doesn’t die.
And if you’re wondering, I use the masculine pronoun because that’s the tradition I was raised in, and I have no problem seeing the Eternal as male. I kind of like the idea, actually. (Now, why would that be?)
So yes, I believe in and pray to God. Religion of course is another matter. Religion tends to divide the world into Us and Them, a most ungodly distinction. In far too many cases, religions and the religious give God a bad name. Too often, as the hangout and refuge of the ignorant and intolerant, religion is our modern day golden calf.
It’s also the hangout of the judgmental. Funny thing about being judgmental – religious people judge me (like my mother in law, who’s now a Baptist and certain Shelley and I are going to hell), so I in turn find myself judging them. It’s contagious.
And speaking of judgment, here’s something else I notice in myself: Sometimes I have the urge to — I believe the proper phrase is — lord it over atheists and agnostics. I notice the impulse to ridicule them self-righteously. What is it about believing in the One who exhorts us to be humble, compassionate and tolerant that tends to bring out the condescending bigot in us? For me partly it’s because, well, it’s just fun at times to feel superior to others. (And those who refuse to? Well, they think they’re above it all. The dirty little secret of so many so-called spiritual people is their unacknowledged sense of superiority – unacknowledged exactly because it would belie their claim to being spiritual.)
But getting back to atheists, it seems absurd to me to not believe in God. Indeed, to believe in a meaningless, accidental universe that just happened to have evolved phenomena like you and I and the human eye and orgasm and memory and turquoise and empathy in humans and animals and Nora Jones’ voice (and face!) and how waves breaking on sand mimic breathing and how atoms mimic galaxies – all this a random accident? That just seems silly to me.
In addition, half the atheists I’ve known are that way because the idea that there exists something bigger, wiser and more powerful than they appalls them. Or they can’t stand the idea that something may hold more authority than they. And those who call themselves “spiritual – not religious” (the “God is you and me and all that is” folks) all too often fall into this category as well.
Of course, Does God believe in us? may be a more interesting question.
Another question I find of interest: Do we really need to believe in God, or is it more important to follow the godly impulse within us? Isn’t it more important to recognize the sacred – and the sameness – in each other, and in all that’s alive, and to act accordingly?
And here’s one more: Did God create us in His image, or was it the other way around? Considering how egotistical we are, I wouldn’t put it past us. What I notice is that those, for example, who see Him as a vengeful Jehovah, tend to be those who aren’t very merciful with themselves. Another example I’ve observed is that many who reject the idea that God is male also tend to disown their own inner aggression, and would find themselves incapable of hurting another, even if their own life, or the life of their family, depended on it.
In other words, to paraphrase Anais Nin, we don’t see things as they are; we see things — God included — as we are.
So I believe, but I still have more questions than answers.
Meantime, I pray. Sorry, dad.