“Dear God, I want a hobby horse (or a doll) for my birthday.” (Today it might be Play Station 4.) A child’s prayer, yes. As young children, our understanding of God was simple. “Our Father who art in Heaven.” This holy, powerful old man way above us, who could reward or punish us, although we were generally safe if we listened to our parents. Unfortunately too many expressions of religion have maintained a similar image of God. Instead of obeying parents, as adults we are supposed to obey the priestly class and their rigid reading and interpretation of the holy books. Apparently designed more to maintain control than develop a closer relationship with God, it is no surprise that so many people have drifted away from religion.
My understanding of God has changed over time. For many years I found Buddhism, meditation, and the written teachings about them particularly those of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Thich Nhat Hanh and Suzuki Roshi, my source of spiritual understanding. God, if such existed, was at best irrelevant in a world that seemed intent on learning new and more destructive ways to increase suffering. One strived to live morally, and by that I mean with compassion, generosity, and honesty, because this is a better way to be, not in hope of some imaginary after life reward.
While this remains a core of my understanding of how to be and act, God has returned for me over the last few years. I have written about some of this already. Exploring becoming a prayer chaplain at Unity opened my eyes to a different and more personal understanding of God as the inner connection with the Divine. Yet even in Unity, I suspect many do not really believe in God. They engage in understanding and practicing the principals Unity expounds upon such as affirmations and denials, without any need or recognition of God.
Nevertheless the first of the five basic Unity principles is that God is all good, active and present everywhere. Initially I suspended belief in this statement since I found the other teachings and practice so useful. I understand that people mean different things by God. Yet an all good, powerful, knowing and present deity is hard to reconcile with all the suffering in the world much of it created in his name.
The prayer chaplaincy came to me when I was feeling drawn to get more involved with Unity, but could not regularly attend nightly classes. I heard about an orientation meeting for those interested in becoming prayer chaplains. Realizing I didn’t really know what prayer was, I figured at least I could learn what Unity meant by prayer.
I remember driving over that evening, having a conversation of sorts in my head. “What am I doing? This seems absurd!” Yet there was this inner response that laughed away my anxiety and confusion. “But I could be doing something better with my time.” More laughter knowing I had nothing to do that night. “Well, what do I have to lose? It is only one evening.” Then I got there, and wow was I surprised.
What surprised me was that what they were calling prayer was something I had done on and off my entire life, never thinking of it as prayer. Even the laughter I felt in reaction to my objections in coming to the meeting, was a place within where I knew with a Higher sense what was right in the moment. For me, that inner laughter is an expression of God; it is the place from which at times I ‘just know.’
So back to the question, why God? If Unity principles are useful, positive ways of being in the world, why add God to the mix? Just follow the principles as you grow to understand them. Adding a God who is supposed to be all powerful, knowledgeable, present and compassionate requires a real stretch in belief, given all the suffering and injustice in the world. Rationalizations such as “God knows more than we can,” or “suffering is for our deeper growth or to test us” does not cut it particularly in the extreme situations. Young children being harmed, mass murders and even natural catastrophes as a damn test? Doesn’t sound compassionate to me.
The only answer I really have at this point is that It just is so. There is a Presence I have become more aware of over my lifetime. I continue studying this seeking more clarity. Yet I doubt that logic is enough to find God. Faith involves learning by a different means, paying attention to what is and is emerging within, not without questioning but with a willingness to trust. As I trust It more, my faith deepens. Not blind faith. As Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche once said, “Blind faith is simply blind.” Even if it is not based on ordinary logic, faith still needs to be based on knowing, not just closing your eyes and ears and jumping off into a void.
So I acknowledge this place of Knowing. Is it God, a higher expression of myself, or just some hormonal rush? Guess what; none of these choices exclude the others. Indeed Unity would unify these options. God is both our highest self and something that is more than merely us. And how we react in the body to Knowing is a bodily function. Not every chill is a sense of the Divine; sometimes it is just cold out!
Finally, at least for me now or this will never get published, I want to emphasize the need to Question what this is. It is only through questioning not just others’ beliefs but my own that I have deepen and enriched my understanding of existence. If believing in God (or a God head) enhances your life, go there. If not, don’t. Just keep your mind open. Life is change, sometimes subtle sometimes not. As I get older, I do understand more things. But what I understand most, is how limited my understanding is, as well as that of others who all too often assert otherwise.