Thursday, October 6, 2011

more on god

What do I know of the divine?
I have been reading a lot of stuff for my systematic theology course, and learning that the machinations I am going through now and have done in the past did not happen in a vacuum. It seems that other people have had similar thoughts, and arranged them in far more orderly fashion than I have done here. They have written books and papers for journals and gotten their doctorate degrees based on the work. Me? I'm just trying to figure out if there is an image of god that I can carry around with me that does not offend my person or my intelligence and still feels safe.

I heard a friend talk about a guy who was grappling with the notion that god could be either all-loving or all powerful, but not both. For a god that punishes people and sends floods and plagues of locusts and all that hellfire and brimstone stuff could not be the all-loving god who forgives all offenses. Turns out the guy opted for the all-powerful version of god instead of the all-loving. It worked better for him. I don't know that I can do that.

Like my Universalist forbears, I need a god that can forgive when I screw up. I need a god that is capable of loving me beyond my own limitations, even when I cannot love myself.

In a conversation yesterday with my supervising pastor, I remembered that my therapist had said that our mental image of god is that of our father when we were two or three years old.

Well no wonder I have not been able to feel safe enough to submit to this understanding of god. When I was two or three, my father was an angry and unpredictable presence in the fringes of my life, present only occasionally at suppertime where he tried to exert parental control but I was deferring to my aunt and grandmother, with whom I spent all of my days. I did not recognize his authority then and he resented it, and was angry and I got scared when he shouted. Hell, we all got scared when he shouted.

Yesterday afternoon I met with one of my professors to see about finding some alternative readings for me for this class of meditation and prayer. The biblical stuff is often too much like that old church stuff I left to be useful in meditation. Imagine reading and repeating and writing about texts that focus on our own inherent unworthiness as humans. That is not healthy for me, so we dug around and found some that are more affirming. We settled on one by Rumi and one by Maya Angelou for my lectio divina practice.

Lectio divina is a way of reading and meditating and praying on and around a chunk of text to see what message might be revealed within it. Like sifting sand looking for gold, it takes patience and practice to calm one's mind to the point where it is open to the musings of the inner being (or god). What we learn in that quiet meditative space can be quite profound. Provided we can get to that quiet, meditative space. For me that's still a challenge.

Here's the Rumi one:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~
(The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)
And here's the Maya Angelou one:

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

Sitting with text is not as hard for me as sitting with silence. My brain does not want to rest and let the quiet flood in. That's still really scary, and I'm not sure why.

I need to find a therapist that is local here. Skyping with my one from Maine is not ideal. The technology is not great and it's not the same as sitting in a room with a breathing person. I am exhausted thinking about what it will take to get a new counselor up to speed on this thing that is my life. Urf.

So anyway, this thing about god. What do I know of god? I don't know. Much of what I come up with seems to be what is called negative theology, meaning that I am defining god by explaining what god is not. I say that god is beyond words to describe because words are limited and human experience is limited. Our words cannot describe something that is beyond our experience or beyond our imagination. Our words are finite, and as such cannot begin to describe an infinite god. Well great, that explains something about me and my situation, but not much about god or how I understand the divine.

What do I need god to be I guess might be a better question. I need god to be loving and forgiving and nurturing and kind. I need god to be strong when I need support and patient when I try to do things my own way under my own power. Damn. What I need is a parent. But not like the ones I had. Well hells bells. That's not where I expected this to go. OK, my instinct right now is to shut down and stop writing. I look at the clock and can see that there are things that I ought to be getting to, but truthfully, nothing is urgent. Except my need to get away from this realization and the words I write. I need god to be the parent I never had. The one who is there when I cry, the one who holds me when I am scared, the one who loves me even when I fuck up.

Healing is tough work. The little girl survived the trauma; the grown woman will survive the healing. But damn. It hurts. I guess it's ok to mourn this stuff. I think that's what I am doing. I don't like to think that I am simply revisiting old traumas for purely recreational reasons. No, I need to see clearly where I came from and what I survived and what I lost and what I never had, feel it all fully, let it burn and scream with the pain, and then let it ebb away, having done its worst, so that I can begin to reassemble the pieces of my heart. This is hard fucking work. I'd be a little less freaked out if everyone I talked to didn't keep asking if I've got a therapist to work through this stuff with. That lets me know that I'm in pretty deep when they do that. It also lets me know that what I'm talking about that is my life is beyond the skills of those folks to handle -- also a thing that gives me pause. I deal with a lot of ministers and stuff. I suppose it's good, though, that they recognize their own limitations and don't try to give me advice they're not qualified to hand out.

And there. I have successfully navigated away from the uncomfortable truth that I have uncovered this morning. I need a god who is a parent who loves me unconditionally, and I have no experience to know what that feels like. This is not "the magic Santa god" that Kate Braestrup talks about in her books, the one we pray to for a new job, new lover, new car, or any other of our "needs" here on earth. No, I need a god that just loves me, full-on, no questions, unconditionally. Like I love Quinn, maybe? Is that something I can get my brain around? I am sort of a parent for her. I love her no matter what she does. I would do everything under the sun to protect her and keep her safe. I am happiest when she is curled up in in my lap and we are snuggled together while I read. Is that the kind of love I want from a god? Hell, I'd take it, that's for sure. And maybe, it is just the thing I am describing. I don't know. This will take some more days to parse out, I think. We'll see where it goes. Enough for this morning, though. Later.


Miss Trudy said...

I have this notion that if there is a God, he or she is not perfect. Perhaps part of the difficulty of grappling with an image of god is the rigid idea of perfection. Why perfect? Just wondering, of course. I send greetings and hope you are well.

Miss Trudy said...

PS: I meant to question the general idea in Scriptures of a perfect God, not critiquing your meditations. They are heartfelt and lovely. :o)

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