Pray to the Right God

Sometimes when I catch myself caught up in anger (at somebody, myself or otherwise), or anxiety, or self-pity, I will manage to recover enough to say, “You’re praying to the wrong God”. I mean that I can make a God out of any belief system; if my firm belief is that I have something to be angry about – somebody deserving of my ire – then that belief, and its expression, become the God I am praying to. Prayers always go toward a God. Thoughts and intentions and words and aspirations and actions are all prayers.

I have made some words here about my Catholic upbringing, either directly or indirectly. I was not hammered with biblical notions when I was young – simply brought to witness them playing out most (though not all) Sundays, and then during the special events: Easter, Christmas, my own Confirmation, and miscellany. I had a Catholic-Lite upbringing. My parents believe what they believe, and simply wanted me to be exposed to belief. I think that was wise of them. They chose Catholicism for me, because that’s what had been chosen for them. I think that was practical and also respectful of them. I have no complaints.

I ventured soon into agnosticism (as far as I understand it), and then called myself atheist for a requisite amount of time as a younger person. This seemed reasonable, and I (now) believe God approved of my leaving home, so that I could find my own way back again. The front door waiting for me was any door to any temple I might choose. Books too can be doors, as can doors themselves – they even look the same, with hinges of their own kinds. The Christian door (like many) happens to lead back to a book, and then a multitude of books written about it, from every possible point of view. All the more appropriate. Things coming home, and always about a Word (or more).

What I appreciate about Christianity (the teeny, tiny bit that I have seen), is that, with some very notable and numerous exceptions, it seems to welcome the constant, curious questioning of itself. The Christianity that I seek is really just about what Jesus was trying to say, and why it impacted so many people, and led to so, so many other things. You can continue to vilify The Church for all of its many sins, but that’s not the God I seek, and so I say, have at it. I am a fan of Jesus, the man. He’s made me think hard about why I’m here. He will continue to do so until the day I am here no longer. Many other speakers and writers have joined him of course, in an effort to assist me to grow – but everybody needs some kind of constant compass, and given that Jesus was given to be mine, I am happy to call him just that.

The issue I’ve now found myself in is the lack of a feminine figure in all of this. Christianity is rightly called out for being highly patriarchal, at least in its language and main characters – notably excepting some Marys and other women, named and otherwise. I do not wish to gloss over those, just to mention that they were not presented to me as being quite as important as the Father and the Son. These are unambiguously male monikers.

I am not trying to be a feminist about this for male reasons – but I suspect I have to fail in having reasons that are not male; I am male, I seem to think and feel like one. There is a spectrum of course, so I get that we all reside upon it together (though at different places, and at different times)… and I know my relationship to the feminine is not yours. But to not have a relationship to the divine feminine (as I have heard it called) is to be essentially incomplete. My greatest recent existential fear is that the male God I have been led to pray to up to this point would not approve of my seeking His feminine side – or more blasphemous still, considering that He might, on any given day, be a divine She instead (or in addition).

This conundrum is a quality of Christianity, as far as I can tell, and quite likely also an artifact of history, being what it was. Many in this world have a much easier time simply grasping this and moving forward than I have seemed to, so far. My cross to bear is anxiety over nearly everything, in spite of having every reason to be full of hope and joy. One small, first-world problem of the soul: How dare I think that God might also hold women up as examples of Himself? What if I’m sent to Hell for even thinking such a thing?

What the hell and the f*ck have I been thinking? This is small-mindedness and a waste of good spirit time. God Him/Herself is poking me in the ribs, and telling me so. Get over yourself – I am infinitely big, and so yes, I have a feminine side too. I have all the sides. Are you going to believe me, or believe the mortal men who tried to capture what I sought to tell them, back when men were the self-proclaimed centre of things?

This is what I fear I am not permitted to think, much less say to myself… and much less write to others. What if they are sent to Hell for reading this, and then considering it might be true? That God might have no gender, or else all of the genders? That God could at once have a Father’s righteous anger (when his children are hurting each other or themselves), but also a Mother’s gracious and unbreakable love? How dare I. How dare you for continuing to read this. We’re all Hell-bound. Right?

Well, to hell with Hell. It might be there, in some kind of metaphor (I think it is on Earth, when we are astray, and then really behaving that way)… but I do not feel that a thinking God would expect his thinking children to act out of love, simply out of fear of eternal punishment. Sainthood with a gun to my head is no sainthood worthy of the name. God would not approve of a good deed done selfishly, like that.

And so I have continued to read about Christianity, as written about by people with greater perspectives and better ideas than I. God would approve of reading about the Bible. There are worse things.

One book I have been slowly moving through is God in All Worlds : An Anthology of Contemporary Spiritual Writing, Edited and with Introductions by Lucinda Vardey. I am currently in chapter 7: Awakening the Great Mother. This could be crudely thought of as the “token feminism” chapter (I know I first thought of it that way), but of course it would be wrong to think that. This is just how I think, which is a different thing altogether. I entered the chapter with some apprehension, as though I would be even less able to understand it – I have had trouble understanding a good portion of the book so far – as I suppose I am still looking for Jesus (and His male Father) and this chapter by its very name seemed to promise stepping further away from the scripture I’ve become comfortable not fully understanding. What direction should I be going in, here? Toward tradition (and then, whose?), or away from it (and if so, toward what?).

But I wasn’t about to skip a chapter just because I felt vaguely unworthy of it, and so in I went. I can’t tell you what affect it will have on me until long after I’m done reading the book, in all likelihood, but I can say this: I went looking for God (via Jesus, and other stories) and this book ended up in my life. By all indications, its title promised I could find God everywhere. This did not seem then and does not seem now to be a sacrilegious act – the Christian God is simply an aspect of God, claimed by Christians. Or something. God wants to be found, and wants to find us. It’s us, looking for ourselves… but a greater version. I don’t know, I’m just making words now. That’s how it goes.

What I have been now given the permission to do (I had to ask for this of myself, in prayer to the male side of God) is to consider the feminine side of God too. Maybe seek God as Heavenly Mother for some time. After all, I have been calling God Him for most of my life. Would it be a mistake (even if it were mistaken) to call God Her for awhile, just to see if I got closer, or else further away? To see if it could better guide me home? Could that possibly be any “worse” than being an atheist for years, for wanting to believe Richard Dawkins had more answers (and better ones) than generations of spiritual seekers and contemplatives? How sexist have I been, in waiting this long to pray to a white-robed woman in the sky, instead of a white-bearded man?

And so I put a toe in the water just the other day (for largely the first time in my 50 years here), and gave myself permission to pray in some new direction (but really, the exact same one): to see God as bigger than gender, altogether. What a concept. I am late to so many parties.

What I can tell you is that my hope and fortune have so far not faltered – my house has not burned, my loved ones are still healthy. I have had no inner demons gain strength, I have had no ominous feelings of having made a grave mistake. I have in fact only felt generally less interested in self-flagellation, and somewhat more forgiven and understood on a fundamental level. Maybe just a little bit. As though the creative source from which I came was at least as caring and concerned as both of my own mortal parents, collectively, have been for me. God is bigger than mortal parents, but I have made Her (and by extension, Him as well) so, so much smaller. Mean, really. What a cruel trick to have played on ourselves.

I don’t mean to invalidate the need for penance, when penance is called for – but it is not a way to wheedle oneself out of some firey judgement brought down upon us by an angry single-parent; it is a way to build character. The kind of character we are meant to strive for in our short time here.

God’s anger has a purpose, like the anger of a parent watching their beloved child almost walk into traffic. I have subtly believed though in the Cosmic Stick rather than the Cosmic Carrot for a disproportionate amount of time. I am not at all done wondering where God is, and what aspects I am supposed to conceive of, and then say my words of thanks and prayers to, but I can see that my conception of God is still very informed by the limitations of human minds – including my own of course, but those of others as well. I can imagine all of the very-human reasons this came to pass, and continues to do so.

God (or whatever one chooses to call the Source, or the Here and Now) made us into beings that could perceive, think, discern, choose, and act. That is what we are and are meant to be and do. It is no sin to consider anew what God we are to pray to on a given day, since God is all of the gods – not a small and localized one, but the One, which includes us as well. This is of course my belief system, at present. What more could it ever be, to me?

If it were a sin to think God might be able to conceive us all on Her and His very own, then there is no escaping sin. I choose to feel I have much to learn still – and I have the permission, freedom, and responsibility to do it. I will let you know if catastrophe strikes, but I’m so far inclined to report that God is still hearing my prayers, just as well if not better, for having had them addressed to His better half, with greatest respect and even greater faith.

How to be a Hero

I woke up the other night and started to write this, and it got big, and I realize I can’t find the edges of this topic. So I’ll post it, typos and all, and then move on, and will no doubt have more to say later, in and among the brambles of my regular days.

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What Part of Jesus do I Hang on my Wall?

QUESTION: Should they, the Early Christians, have chosen something else to symbolize God’s love?

God’s son: rendered in wood, and hung upon a cross – that ancient instrument of intimidation, torture, humiliation, and death. It seems at times to me a bit unseemly to remember and announce a transcendent God in quite this way; a rather poor eulogy for His Saviour Son of Man. Jesus had so many better moments in his shortened life.

And yet perhaps no greater moment than this – his last. Would we have remembered Jesus any better otherwise… or still less, or even at all? What if he had died an old man, surrounded instead by loved ones upon his blessed deathbed, after a long, full life of healing the sick, walking on water, multiplying food & drink, challenging authorities, and delivering life lessons in the form of riddles?

Maybe it was that shocking (and, as it turned out, temporary) end to his story that keeps it in my mind, somewhere. Maybe it is that very image of a man hung high for the crime of claiming a connection to the divine – one that he told us we all share – that keeps me longing to take lessons from one sad story of good news.

My Daily Denials

I keep a crucifix in a bedroom drawer – next to my other unmentionables, and additional random remnants I keep as talismans too, inexplicably: a broken shoelace, a ball of wood from some art supply store, and a bookmark (mentioned in another post), bearing the words of another, differently contentious prophet. A curious trove of trinkets and treasures, from the arguably practical to the I’m-not-sure-quite-what. Strings, stones, boxers, briefs, socks, words, and an eternally dying plastic Jesus Christ.

I wonder at times why I don’t have an image of Christ on my wall where I wake up every day, and then I recall what that image is, and what (I think) it represents. I suppose I owe the man that much, to remember his sacrifice, but Jesus Christ (sorry, Jesus)… who wants to celebrate that moment, and see it every day? Is that what God would want? It’s a kind of macabre celebration of a life, to fixate so fully on its last and agonizing moments.

There is of course the sanitized version of this symbol: the crucifix without the dying Word of God upon it. It looks to me like an inverted sword; it has a practical handle for holding up against vampires too. It has an epic simplicity to it, and works as well in rough-worked wood as it does in gold – probably better in wood, all things considered.

But then… would I carry around a tiny noose, or a rack, or maybe a miniature iron maiden – and any of these out of context – as a symbol of my faith in the good that resides at the very kernel of each of us? Of our collective potential to transcend violence and anger and fear?

No, I would choose maybe an acorn, or a bird, or a cloud. Something light, something fluffier, and a wee bit less gruesome. The cross alone was simply an instrument of death inflicted by mortals upon other mortals (and maybe one immortal volunteer). Jesus upon the cross changes its character and meaning entirely. I have never appreciated the meaning of the word sanctify, but maybe this is as good an example as any example could be of a word-used-well.

I have a problem with the suffering in this world, and a problem with being reminded of the suffering of a man who we have since come to remember for his message of healing, compassion, peace, and forgiveness. This contrast is understandably stark, and itself deeply mysterious. At least, it is those things to me. What is the allure of Jesus hung in pain (and presumably some amount of resigned disappointment), alone upon a lonely post?

Maybe it is sacrilege to ask. But then I think the Christian God at least appreciates questions. Maybe even demands them. As long as we’re asking questions about how to better ourselves and others, I’m not so sure any divine creator worth their salt (and our devotion and attention) would care if we at times struggled around the edges of what our faith and devotion to better ideals should look like.

I don’t know about yours, but my God appreciates effort, and understands human minds are capable of only so much wisdom without a good deal of making mistakes in the process of pursuing it.

Choosing a Means to Remember

So given that I have been given the right to choose how best to remember this man Jesus, what would I have chosen, as a symbol to remember Jesus by, if not his execution?

Would it have been his face? And what arrangement of features and skin tones would be sufficient to give credit to every person in every part of the world who would like to see some of themselves reflected in Him, so they could better reflect Him in themselves? I have no answer. Maybe Jesus could be carved to look like any one of us. But then, how would one recognize him?

Would I have chosen his crown of thorns alone, without the suffering skull? Perhaps with a respectful drop of divine blood? This too would be an appropriate symbol, though perhaps might be conflated with a wreath in these modern and commercial times. Also, the thorns would need to be a bit blunter, were one to expect to wear a smaller crown around their neck. Still, maybe the crown of thorns would be the thing I would choose, at least if pressed to choose quickly.

What about the feet of Jesus (with or without sandals)? The objects of reverent kisses; the very members that moved this travelling prophet around the lands he had come to land upon? The ones that touched the now-holy grounds most physically? Are there stones still in the world that were touched by those very feet? The fleshy surface of Jesus that came into most direct contact with our own world: the feet that could defy gravity, and walk on waves. Maybe those? But who would hang feet upon their wall, and where do you cut them off, respectfully? Perhaps just his footprint… but somehow without making assumptions about his size, in any way. It seems a tall order to celebrate God with a pair of feet, in any case.

Would it be a shroud, or a hand, or the tongue which spoke divine words? A tongue alone is probably taking it too far. The hand, but without identifying fingerprints (an invasion of privacy and personal security to be sure)… the shroud, but then it would need a regular washing, and would that require holy water and/or soap? I cannot know these things.

You might begin to get the idea. It is hard to properly immortalize the already immortal, using the common materials and symbols at hand.

Is it one of the many paintings of Jesus, that I might prefer to see when I look at a given wall? No, those are just paintings, and images are a dime a dozen these days. They are sure to only resolve God into a man with a beard of a given length, and a certain eye colour, and some kind of hairstyle. I think there is something to be said for the Muslim decision (as I understand it, which I admittedly might not) to not characterize such an important figure in such a visually literal manner. It collapses something big into something ordinary, regardless of how colourful one might choose to make it.

But the Christian god – my God – does at least put up with this, and would not approve of violence against those who might wish to paint his Son (in various media), out of love or otherwise.

Even cartoons can be a good way to remember, and continue to consider; remembering and considering are considerably better than discounting and forgetting. I think Jesus had a sense of humour anyway. It’s all good, He might say, I’m not entirely in that image anyway, but you go ahead and try and guess what I really look like I’ll still be waiting when you’ve got more questions.

The Power of an Unfinished Story

The Christian faith to me remains a curious personal struggle with mystery and faith. These and others are the words I have been handed by circumstance to consider and repeat, and perhaps to build upon, in my own life.

Christianity to me does not seem to be an immutable set of pat answers to anything, even though scripture is very often accused of attempting just that, and is very often used in just that way.

Look at the man: he did not settle somewhere and build a temple to himself (or his father, Our Father)- he moved around. He followed the roads available to him, moving at what mostly appears to be Human speed. He retraced steps. He evaded pursuers. He stuck to the ground he was given – but he moved. When not welcome in one place, he shook the dust from his feet and moved on. He told others they should do the same. There was work to be done everywhere, just like today, and too little time to do it all. He even lost his cool now and then, and might have even regretted it afterward. He didn’t carve his words or behaviours into stone or dogma: we did that after he was gone.

Today, we remember this mobile man, by affixing his image to the sawn trunk of a dead tree, re-posted in the ground – or itself hung upon a wall, and most often indoors. We place this symbol of a movement in fixed positions in our homes and houses of worship. The physical tokens of Mobile Jesus still get around a lot, captured in that one fixed moment in time and space.

I could go on, finding other symbols that I would prefer to hang upon any given wall, to remind me that Jesus died for the forgiveness of my sins. One might well roll their eyes at my presumption here. After all, there are as many if not more in the world who do not consider Jesus a given, at all. I am only reiterating what I have been told, and continue to consider.

And still, here I am: the hearing of this story, and my continuing consideration of it in light of the things I’ve personally gone through in my life, has been objectively important to me – in saving me from some dark and downward spirals I might not otherwise have escaped.

The story alone carries with it an undeniable Holy Spirit. Jesus, whoever you feel he may or may not have been, did save me from something, and continues to do so. Call that Magic if you will, or call it the power of Faith, or the power of God, or even the Power of Intention if you must – but it manifests as solidly as solid matter, in my heart and mind, and then in the things I choose to manifest in this world.

So for now I peek at my dying Jesus now and then, and say a very-Canadian Sorry for not wanting to put a nail in the wall, so that I can nail Jesus once again to something stationary, trapped in one place and time.

I carry instead the symbol in my heart and mind, and when the Holy Spirit (or whatever you might wish to call it) is suitably stirred up in me, I can see Jesus (that is, God; that is, Love) in the faces of those around me, and in the animals, and in the water and the trees… and even within myself.

The Word is not a dead word – it is animated and fluid, and living, and works its way through how simple people continue to struggle with their own simple selves, in the pursuit of answers that are continuously given through the active asking for them. Nothing is nailed down.

Happy Sunday! I hope you are safe and well and continue on your own better searches.