The “Right” Kind of God Experience?

I began this collection of thoughts last night and have been sitting here all day with that infamous gloved hand hovering over “Publish Post,” but since I want to put myself out there through my writing, here you go:

I am continuing my long, joyous journey of gratitude and have been reading varying perspectives on religion and spirituality. I am grateful for the ability to read, pray, write, and experience God in a variety of different ways.

Lately, I have been checking out writers like Garry Wills, referring back to some of the writers I read in my early seminary career (Karen Armstrong, Placher, Otto, Kierkegaard), and reviewing old favorites like C.S. Lewis. I remember sitting in my favorite seminary class (Knowing God, taught by the inimitable Dr. Lee Barrett) and discussing the various ways in which people over the course of history have experienced God. We ventured into groups and discussed our own experiences and how they related (or didn’t relate) to those we were studying. There is little that fascinates me more than this type of discussion. The wondrous ways through which God reaches out to each of us speak of just how great, powerful, and good God really is.

So I’m studying these experiences and learning a great deal about opening oneself up to the possibility of encountering God anywhere and everywhere. Yet to listen to some religious leaders, you would think there is a singular set of practices that define or allow one to have the “God experience.” To listen to these assertions, you might get the idea that if you aren’t experiencing God in that way, you probably aren’t really experiencing “Him” at all. This harmful thought process may be driving people away from the church and religion all together, but that’s a discussion for another day.

On the face of it, a singular God experience strikes me as absurd. Who are we to tell anyone that their experience of God is wrong? It does not make sense to me that a God as omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, good, and personal as the God I pray to would put limits on how God reaches out to any being in the universe. I have long held the belief that God reaches us all where we are. God is capable of doing that, created us all to be unique beings who can achieve great and terrible things, and thus finds a way–God’s way–to reach each individual.

I have Christian friends, non-Christian friends, and atheist friends. While I cannot really relate to the line of thinking that insists there is no Supreme Being (primarily because I don’t know how one can “know” that there is not a god anymore than I can “know” that there is one), I can understand why someone might have questions and doubts. I have them myself, in fact, and I would be a dishonest Christian if I said I did not wonder and question. Among other things, the point of faith, I think, is to believe in something greater than oneself and broaden one’s perspective in order to see a greater meaning outside of the self. What faith is not, however, is an excuse to accept, at face value, all of the assertions made by this religious leader or that. The search for answers should never really end and we should all look deeper. In the interest of academic and theological curiosity, I cannot simply sit back and take what I’m being told without a spirit of conjecture. This may lead me to discover things and think about things differently than you, but it does not mean one of us is more right than the other.

So it makes no sense to me that God would not have a plan to reach people in third world countries or in areas of the world where the Holy Bible is not present. Doesn’t it seem a better fit to believe that God might be bigger than that? It strikes me as a contradiction to put human limits on a Being that is in no shape, manner, or form human. We may well have been created in God’s image, but we don’t know which part of us reflects that image (physical? personality? capacity for reason? spirit?). God is beyond our human comprehension. I mean, we do the best we can with the abundant tools we are given (intellect, biblical and other texts, reason, historical and anthropological studies, prayer, worship, whatever), but ultimately, if we are framing our entire concept of God solely around our own human understanding, maybe we do not understand God at all. Maybe that’s the whole point.

 

Look for Goodness

What do you do when you begin to have questions about assumptions and beliefs you’ve held onto for the majority of your life? Do you push down those questions, swallowing them so that change cannot shake and rattle your world? I did. For a few years anyway, but that curiosity for answers to pressing questions can only stay hidden for so long before it begins pounding and kicking at the doors, demanding to be let loose. What do you do when that happens? Read. Learn. Think. Write. That’s how I am handling it anyway. The past few weeks have been the beginning of an eye-opening journey it is likely to take me years, decades, or perhaps the rest of my life to travel. More on this later, however, because today I want to talk about gratitude and optimism.

All who know me well, know that I firmly believe in God and, for me, Jesus has been the way. I wrote last week about Glennon Doyle’s gratitude project and am happy to report that I have spent each day in silent reflection on three things for which I am particularly grateful that moment. These have ranged from the very specific to the very broad, from personal to cosmic, from theological realms to the physical, and from the profound to the seemingly superficial. I suspect that will continue to be my approach.

The greatest outcome of this practice (that’s what it is, in fact, not an exercise, but a common practice I plan on continuing long after the 40-day commitment I have made) is a change in my attitude. I do generally try to find the good in all persons, places, and things. I succeed most of the time. Yet worry, doubt, and fear do sometimes seep in and try to overtake the good. Beginning or ending my day with purposeful thoughts about those things for which I am grateful has focused my soul, purpose, and energy on hope. Hope for the world, hope for my day, hope for my kids, hope for my husband, hope for our marriage, and hope for our life together as a family. It has put into perspective the news items of the day and allowed me to view it all through a lens of faith and love. Faith in God’s purpose for all the people of the world. Faith in people’s genuine goodness. Faith that, no matter where you are, God is speaking to you in some way, shape or form. Faith that no matter who you are, there is some good inside of you–there is some good outside of you, too.

You see, I have this sneaking suspicion that gratitude, goodness, and love are in some way involved in defining the very meaning of life for which philosophers, theologians, artists, and the average person have been searching for millennium. I also firmly believe that meaning and some questions won’t be answered until we reach whatever afterlife we are headed toward. That’s why I am inviting you to read more, learn more, and reflect on that for which you are thankful and to make a purposeful effort at facing this journey called life with an eye toward goodness, gratitude, love, and faith. Faith in whatever it is that makes sense to you, however that Supreme Higher Power (Universe, God, whatever) is reaching you today. And hang in there through the tough times. Everyone has them and even when we cannot change what is happening to us, we can change how we react to and think about it if only we work at it.

God bless!

Abandon Ingratitude

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Yesterday, on her Facebook page, Momastery blogger, Glennon Doyle made a suggestion for the season of Lent from which we will all, Christian or not, benefit greatly. Quoting directly from the post on her Facebook page:

 

Lent starts tomorrow. Traditionally this is the time that Christians “give up” something for 40 days in order to prepare for Easter. I’d like to invite everybody- Christian or not- to give up something with me this year. Together – let’s try to give up ingratitude.
I have a hunch that gratitude is the key to peace. I’m not sure we need to change our circumstances, but I think we might need to change the way we SEE our circumstances.
So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to open this little journal I’ve been holding onto, and each night of lent -before I go to bed, I’m going to write down three things for which I felt especially grateful that day. Anybody want to join me? 40 days is a spiritually important amount of time for experiments – and not surprisingly, it’s the amount of time many psychologists suggest that it takes to form a new habit.
I want to wander out of the desert of ingratitude and into the paradise of gratitude. Anybody want to join me? Maybe we could meet here each night at nine. I’ll post something on my list and you can list one of yours on the thread. We’ll create a nightly waterfall of gratitude for forty night and then expect miracles.
Join me?
 
As many of you know, I decided at the beginning of the year to make “joy” a theme word for for year 2014. I vowed to “find the fun” in the every day. For the most part, I have been successful despite an uphill battle with a new steroidal medication and the added stress of getting my little superhero settled into the proper routine and services to enhance his powers. In the spirit of “joy,” I am adopting Glennon’s suggestion. Each day, I will make a conscious effort to abandon ingratitude and record three things for which I am particularly grateful. The very act of doing this feeds the soul and mind with rich, life-sustaining fruit from which much goodness can grow. In fact, focusing on gratitude does lay waste to a spirit of ingratitude.
 
I have never really given anything up for Lent. The various Christian denominations whose church buildings I populated growing up did not encourage this. In fact, I believed it was solely a Catholic thing until I studied my first semester at seminary and learned differently. This year, I have decided to leave behind something and add something to the betterment of the three areas of the self: body, mind, and soul. While the gratitude pledge above can be seen as a combined improvement for the mind and soul, I have additional things on tap as well.
 
While I have silently made major strides in the last several weeks already in the area of physical health, I want to formally make this declaration: in the spirit of bodily (physical) improvement, I am abandoning refined sugars and adding some form of light exercise every day. Dancing, biking, resistance training, jogging, running after the boys. All good.
 
I am the type who has the television news on ALL THE TIME. It is great for being informed, but detrimental to my mind over time because it assumes that nothing is more important than what is deemed newsworthy by the major media outlets. Thus, to improve my mind (and sanity, actually), I have decided to significantly limit the amount of television news I consume (to maybe an hour a day) and add writing, music, and reading in its place.
 
Finally, to encourage and enhance my spiritual health, I pledge to put aside my assumptions about God, religion, and theology, and really dig into how God is speaking to me this very day. I traditionally considered myself unchuched as a child and very much feel that way right now (not unspiritual, mind you, but not in active attendance at any church). It is difficult for us to attend anywhere because I worry about our little guys being patient or even wanting to separate from us for too long in an unfamiliar place (though my mind tells me they’d be okay, it is my anxiety that speaks otherwise). Until I overcome that worry, and even after, it is vital that I am receiving and seeking spiritual food from some reputable source, something which I have been very bad at doing with consistency since taking this extended break from seminary. Thus, on the recommendations of a few people I trust with these topics, I plan to set aside time each day in study of and reflection upon God’s word and various theological subjects, and perhaps most importantly in meditation and prayer.
 
So that’s “it,” that’s “all” I’m going to subtract and add. That sounds like I will need a whole lot of time to do these things, but the little guy naps from 1-3 hours a day and both boys reliably sleep through the night these days, so I can squeeze it in.
 
For my health.
 
For my sanity.
 
For my spirit.
 
Won’t you join me with some additions and subtractions of your own?
 
Bless!