This is difficult to explain. I believe in God, but I don’t. No, that’s not right. I mean, I do. But not like you do. Or with the same picture you do. Or maybe you’re like me. And I do but it sounds different sometimes.Whenever I try to have this conversation with someone I end up feeling like Susan Sarandon at the end of the classic movie, Chinatown. “My daughter. My sister. My daughter. My sister.” My relationship to God, and my picture and way of communicating with God is different than most Christians I observe in church. This is really important to describe accurately because I’ve struggled with this for so many years, and in retrospect, I see how much I’ve lost out on because of it.
I let this and the idea that I was a bad Christian keep me from church for decades.
Now I learn many people feel like I do - or did.
I could’ve been going to church the whole time but nobody said they felt like this,
and I have SDD - self disclosure disorder - and must’ve thought everyone was like me.
They weren’t. They were busy being good Christians. At least working hard at looking like it.
I was fooled. And now I find out I could have been a pastor it turns out. Women weren’t scum. Aaah.
I’ve been angry plenty, but it doesn’t serve me or those it’s directed at.
Even my understanding that what separated me from other Christians - who actually liked going to church and reading scripture - was either a. they believed it just the way it was presented, or b. they fit in to the culture, meaning the people were their kind of people, or their friends, or the language and other aspects of the general church culture made total sense to them, or finally and best reason of all, c. they had a conversion or spiritual awakening of the Holy Spirit and they were on fire.
All of these reasons are valid. The problem was, more often than not, people didn’t quite know how to explain it. They didn’t not believe in God, after all. They just didn’t relate to the service or to the religiosity. But, God? God they were cool with. That’s how it was with me. I mean, it was deeper than that, but life gets in the way.
Don’t you sometimes wonder what this feeling you have about not going to church is? I’d waffle back and forth between ‘Why don’t I want to go to church, and why does the stuff they say make me squirm?” to “Why do I want to go to church when nobody else does? Why am I not at peace about it when I shouldn’t be feeling guilty at all?”
I’ve lived in the space between these two questions for a lifetime. And the answer is, “Because you’re a human today, that’s why.” These are actually harder questions than they sound. I mean, why wouldn’t you ask them?
If you think about your options, it’s easy to figure out why.
At least I thought it was.
I don’t like normal stuff. You know what I mean, right?
I’m not the one who goes to the Tupperware party even if I really do want to support my friend. But I am the one who throw everyone’s baby shower, or plans their entire wedding from start to finish.
I’m into creating stuff. You’re thinking it’s about control but it’s not. It has more to do with an affinity for creating vision and execution. That’s different than control. Although I do hate when things don’t go perfectly. I like things to feel authentic. And resonate with me.
If my internal meter that says something’s not right goes off, it’s very hard for me to be part of something for long. I just can’t hang in there. It’s like I have ants in my pants. Know what I’m talking about? I realize I have a commitment but I just can’t do it. It makes me feel weird, it’s beyond just not wanting to be there. I just feel icky somehow.
That’s how I feel at churches a lot. It has to be right, but mostly, it has to feel real. Period. That’s what really matters to me. When it feels real, I don’t feel like I need to escape - like immediately. It makes sense.
When it’s real and kind, and you are real and kind too, everything else feels alive no matter what it looks like. I’ve drifted to some pretty strange churches that wouldn’t win an award for being innovative or progressive over the years. They were not where people headed if they wanted to be seen. It makes me laugh now. I also tried out the churches where people did want to be seen. The Presbyterian Church on Pennsylvania Avenue, for example. It was reputed to be a “good” church on this famous Hill neighborhood. Hah.
THE CAPITOL HILL CHURCH LADY
I remember one Sunday morning in 1987. It was the first time I’d attended this church. The Capitol’s dome stood proudly to my left as I walked through the grand wood door entrance. Kyle was nine months old. I’d dressed him in a beautiful heavy yellow sweater, turtleneck, suspenders, and black pin striped pants. It was the perfect Sunday church outfit for a little boy and I’d been saving it for the day I’d have the courage to walk in alone. I popped him on my shoulders and we walked the few blocks from our new home on 2nd Street SE. We giggled and sang the whole way there.
The service was fine. If you like polite. I didn’t sense the Holy Spirit make an entrance or have a good laugh, for that matter, but I couldn’t complain. It was a traditional church in DC so my expectations were limited. At the very least, it was a chance to make some new friends.
I’m sure I looked lost as I stood there, Kyle’s hand in mine, scoping the crowd after the service let out. Setting my sights on someone to approach wasn’t as easy as I thought. It can be so freaking lonely to be the new person. Kyle and I were doing a 360 when a stately looking woman in a black and white checkered suit approached me. She immediately blurted out, “I hope that’s not all you have on that boy.” I laughed and said, “Yes, ma’am. His sweater is very warm and we’re Norwegian.” I obviously took it lightheartedly. It wasn’t all that cold and we were Norwegian. We both had a high tolerance to the cold, and no tolerance for heat.
She looked Kyle up and down, and then me. Scowling, she pointed to a spot on his back where the sweater had crawled up to expose the tiniest bit of skin. Then, in the most shaming voice imaginable in front of the crowd milling around outside the church, she added “You are a bad mother.”
Remembering it now, I can still hear myself thinking, “Kill me now.”
I thought I was going to die.
The shame rose up in me like erupting molten lava. Surging, bubbling, scalding shame that seared the inside of my flesh as it moved up through me. It finally came to a halt in my head where it had nowhere else to go, turning my face crimson as I breathed out the volcanic energy a little at a time. I had to let it escape before it erupted to rage or worse yet, settled in to eat away at me from the inside out.
Her words and the tone of her voice haunt me to this day. They traveled so deep in me that I still feel remnants of that episode of shame. This woman, who I’d had a fleeting thought of reaching out to in friendship, had just annihilated me and my sense of self. How could I let her?
Didn’t she know how hard the last two years had been? DIdn’t she know I already felt like a bad mother bringing Kyle into the world without a biological father that loved him? Didn’t she know Kyle’s father abandoned us before he was even born? Didn’t she know how lonely and scared I’d been and that this was my maiden voyage out to meet people who might be like Christ? For God’s sake, this was the very first time I’d mustered up the courage to come to church. Did she know what it was like to come to a completely new church in a completely new city where I had a completely new career with a completely new baby as a completely new mother? It had taken so much courage to walk in those doors and her words hit me as I walked out those same doors. I wouldn’t be walking through them again. And no.
She didn’t know.
As lessons go, it was a good one. It taught me a lot in the long run, but hell, it stung. Why was that? I’d been through hell and back the past year and certainly learned not too internalize someone else’s problem. Why had this hit me so hard?
Maybe she’d almost frozen to death because, one January evening when she was barely 2, her alcoholic mother left her in the car while she guzzled her beer in the bar. Maybe she was from Florida. Maybe she was cold. Maybe she and her own child were estranged because her daughter’s anger at being neglected by her mother as a child consumed her. And maybe she was simply a bitter, old woman with misplaced blame.
I didn’t know.
COLORADO ACCIDENT ON MTN TO VAIL AND TROOPER GIVING ME TICKET ON INTERSTATE in mtn home
May 14 afternoon and tired
Why do I shy away from Christians? Why does my heart not open to this personal God, to this relationship? My faith is not strong when I think about God as being Abba, Father unless I also visualize God as the Presence, All That Is. It’s only then, when my imagery matches what I accept as possible, that it can move into my being.
It begs the question why God is so personal for one person, and ethereal to another? I don’t sense God as a being that loves me like a father does. I think that’s imagery Jesus described to paint a picture of God so people could move beyond their paradigm of a punishing ruler. It was a smart move too. It was the closest image possible in the experience of humanity for people to shift their perception of God to. It was only in the role of father that God could be seen as one who is loving, authoritative, worthy of respect (because of the culture), corrective, provider, etc. No other imagery would be transferable at the time.
But is that what God is really like? God is expansive, never ending, compassionate love. But is it personal? Does God relate to us like we relate to him? Or her? Is this possible? Does it matter?
If we experience God as the ultimate love, does it matter how we receive and experience that love, or in what way we express our love for God? Is it simply a matter of identifying what works best for each individual?
Just because I struggle with letting myself relate to God as a father, does that mean it’s not the best way for me to relate to God? I don’t know. All I know is I resist it. I feel stupid when I relate to God that way. I get a feeling God is sitting in the balcony, like doctors observing the O.R. on Grey’s Anatomy, and he leans over to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and says, “Oh, my. Look at her. She was doing so well, really grasping who I am , who we are, and now she’s taking a turn for the worst. I had such hopes in her.”
I swear, that’s a snapshot of the feeling I get. It can best be described as feeling like an uncertain idiot. My mind can’t put God in the role of parent. It feels childish. But…as the grand design, that knows all things and is all things, that absorbs and operates out of all makes total sense to me because I feel that kind of power and energy and holiness all around me, in everyone and everything. It is the essence of all that is. This resonates.
Similarly, when we stand to read the Call to Worship, I cringe a little. Just a little, because I’ve usually either written it or picked it for Sunday’s service so I know it won’t be too bad. But I feel embarrassed for God sometimes, kind of the way I do when a stand up comedian isn’t funny, or a man’s wife calls him a sissy in front of people. Sure, All That Is probably enjoys the kudos from his fans but doesn’t he wonder why they’re going on and on when there is work to be done? That’s what I think about. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to worship God and give God his/her due. It’s a very good thing! But I’m not sure God is in the balcony thinking they’d better give me enough credit this week or I’m going to stop the rain from falling on Friday. I think when God sees us loving each other in a way that opens our hearts to one another, and brings us closer, he feels closer to each of us as well. I think God likes that almost better than anything else. I think God knows when we have our hands raised, or not, and are singing self consciously to a screen that
Mainly, it’s the difference between an emotional investment that gives your heart away, or the deep experience of awe and reverence you feel in the presence of the holy. They are two similar, but different, experiences. Both being important to spiritual development, but achieving a somewhat different spiritual goal while still sharing an identity as Christians.
When those who have been on a spiritual path started out in the wide open surrendered heart space, and eventually become more relaxed and less emotional, have their hearts shut down to the depth of vulnerability they first felt or have they simply adjusted to the experience itself? Like marriage does?
Is it normal for most people to arrive at a calmer, more mundane experience or are we cheating ourselves out of a deeper union? Is it wonder we feel from the newness of it that triggers our senses so sharply?
The imagery of a very personal God who is in an intimate relationship with you requires a different type of willingness, a giving of yourself that isn’t as powerful in my memory. Yet, it is most definitely more grounded, more assured. It is more a steady and grounded knowing than an emotional and unpredictable eruption. It’s deeper and more familiar. The words, ground of my being, resonate fully as a definition for my experience of who God is.
From another perspective, we can feel Jesus in us as our guide, perhaps as a spiritual presence that feels literally like its in our heart, or he’s the teacher that shows us the way whenever we ask. Placing Jesus in this particular imagery makes more sense to me God being placed there for some reason. Although I’d often thought it limited and childish that we’d need to use a human image for God in order to connect to God, perhaps I, too, have places where the connection to humanity does personalize it, making it more relatable.
I once read a description of a guru and student. The guru is the teacher and guide, and the student agrees to follow his lead. The guru is to reflect back to him, as if living inside him. This is how I imagine the image of Jesus to be in us, but holier and much more powerful of course. Paul said Jesus is reflected back to us from within, he is in us. I feel this when I put my heart and mind there. The Christ is a spirit that shows up when I acknowledge it, and it ignites within me. It becomes real for me when I allow it, even if it is always there.
Can this be true for anyone even if they don’t think they believe in Jesus? I think it can be. While it’s true that without acknowledgement, the individual won’t feel or recognize it as such, it is still there. But even if someone says they don’t believe in Jesus but they feel it, isn’t that it then? I don’t know.
Needing answers is irrelevant in so many cases, because we have to let the spirit do the work. There comes a point we have to trust whatever we believe God to be, and our own heart’s desire. The desire is what takes us on the journey. Desire is the active ingredient in the fuel.
Why am I afraid of making a fool of myself? Is this why I don’t surrender and talk like Christians? Or is it only my paranoia and desperation to reach for answers to why I’m different than other people? I want that kind of faith. But I don’t want it too. I’m not like them. I don’t want to be like them. I’m not like them. I don’t want to be like them.
Maybe I need therapy. Or a pastor to talk to.
Here’s the question.
Many people say they don’t like Christianity because their God is “out there.” It’s easy to see why people think the Christian God is “out there.” This is how we’re taught to relate to God as children if we went to church. Even if not the intention of the church or clergy, the language we use, and the way we’re taught to relate to God does, in fact, sound like God is somewhere else, or separated from earth - where we are. It occurs to me that I’ve even heard my husband say in a children’s sermon, “when you feel alone or afraid, just ask Jesus to be with you.” Of course, we know what that means, but it sounds like he’s not there to begin with. Maybe if we do it right, he’ll show up. This is a careless, and perhaps lazy, oversight in how we teach people, children included, how to relate to God, and what the spatial reality/relationship is. Of course, the idea of God being ‘in heaven’ adds to this perception.
It’s also a grave misperception that still skews how people, once connected to Christianity, experience it as adults.
God is here now. In you. In me. Out there. In there. All Around. God is All That Is. Although I’m intentionally not using scripture references here, Paul’s descriptions of God are so expansive and clear. How he paints his pictures of God affirms to me that the imagery is that God can only be as big as our imagination from our perspective, but God is so much more than anything we can conceive. It’s so absurd to limit ourselves to what we think we know or can intellectually, or even intuitively process. When I consider the complexity of life itself, it excites me to think about the vast enormity of this Presence that has no end in any way we can understand.
Reference here. PAUL ON GOD
COURSE IN MIRACLES
The Course in Miracles has terrified Christians for years. It’s considered a false teaching because the author claims to have channelled Jesus. It’s certainly understandable that a Christian would be extremely wary, and likely reject, this teaching. That said, God uses all things together for good! I am not a long time student of the Course in Miracles but I did study the Course at different times in my life.
Although Christians will ostracize me, the Course in Miracles is another one of the many places experienced God and Christ met me there. The Course gave me a gift much like EST and Werner Erhard did in 1976. These experiences didn’t destroy my faith or cause evil, they did the opposite. Both took me back to seeing myself - which was not a bad thing - and challenged various beliefs that shaped or formed my twenty year old view and perception of the world. As EST taught me personal responsibility light years faster than I would’ve gotten it on my own, The Course In Miracles gave me an ability to see with different eyes, far beyond what I could see with my linear and dualistic mind, outside of church and couched in religion.
This was a great gift. The fundamental understanding of the Course is that God is everywhere, not unlike most of us, and God is love. If God is everywhere, God is everything, and knowing that God is Love, it concludes that Love is everything and everywhere. As a result, anything that is not love is not real and only God is real. Everything else is illusion in the sense that true reality, real truth is God, is love.
My spiritual experience when young was like this too, even if in a wild Harlem Revival Tent in the 70’s. If I was to take words like ‘indwelling of the holy spirit,’ or ‘born again,’ or ‘slain in the spirit,’ etc., and only describe the resulting experience, it would be how the Course in Miracles defines it. This is not a coincidence in my opinion.
The Course has a particular mode of teaching that challenges one’s ideas of God and the world we think we understand. Whether or not the author was communicating with Jesus is something I will never know, but nevertheless, there is something fascinating about the process that’s extremely challenging to describe. I’d warn that Bible followers will be threatened if they are black and white thinkers, or generally opposed to words that contradict something in scripture, but its so important to remember we are only talking about words and words are only letters. The whole point of The Course in Miracles is to engage the reader in an experience that breaks down the paradigms we have of God that hold us back from connecting to God in the way Jesus did.
It is not something that can be evaluated by the words on the page. I cannot make this clear enough. It is vitally important this is understood. The words are only used as tools to take us outside of our need to control what we understand in order to feel and experience the reality of God without assumptions and explanations. That said, the Course in Miracles does give explanations, but not expectations or rules. It only provides some basic ideas and concepts that are important to frame God and God’s reality as love. From then on, you’re on your own - if you can rise above the words to the experience that brings the understanding.
If someone doesn’t study the Course in some depth, it’s doubtful they will have the capacity or knowledge to criticize it based on its words. But, of course, it will be criticized anyway. It’s been a long time since I regularly studied the Course, but had an opportunity to attend a study group recently when caring for a friend in Santa Fe after her surgery. I was encouraged by it, and it made more sense than ever to me now. I’m not sure if it’s because so much of my life is engaged in a Christian world, or simply because it’s truth is so much easier to grasp because I’m older and wiser. And it doesn’t matter why.
If I was asked for the most concise and pointed description of the Course, from my experience, I’d say it’s a lesson in learning how to release our importance and mental stronghold on the physical, and begin to see the enormity and reality of love, the love that is God. This was a powerful awareness that can only be experienced. It’s impossible to receive this teaching through reading instructionally. The process of studying the Course is that the words and practice lead you through it by using your non-dualistic mind as the catalyst, which opens up the opportunity to give the Holy Spirit room to do the work.
Over the years, when I am frustrated or feeling separate in any way, it’s helpful during prayer to remember that everything is an illusion other than God, God is Love, Love is the essence of God, is God. The Course teaches that love is all that is real…and this resonates as my reality and truth, yet it’s impossible to back up or defend. But just as you might know the experience of being filled by the Holy Spirit when you see it, or supernatural acts of God when you see them, after devoting oneself to this study, knowing only God is reality, and everything else is an illusion will suddenly become the only thing that makes sense. This doesn’t mean we don’t experience the reality we think is real life.
But what is real is God…real in the sense that God is the essence of all that is and the love that God is wants to be known as the only true expression and reality.
When you read the words of Jesus Christ, it’s so easy to suddenly see and understand his intent through his telling of parables. He’s breaking down the linear and logical mind of rational thought that can only follow its own rules to lead his students into the process of releasing reason in order to see the truth. Jesus Christ’s primary intention was for people to know God…and the reality of God as love. Through understanding and knowledge, surely. But ultimately, from my perspective, his primary desire was that we experience the love that God is.
He knew that only non-dualistic thought would allow humanity to experience and understand God. But he also knew linear explanations would only get our minds more stuck in thinking we understand, and we’d be fooling ourselves. When we allow our thoughts to form our experience through reason or logic, we miss all the other dimensions that are simultaneously present because we don’t have the capacity to see them - or our mind doesn’t think we do. As a result, we can trick ourselves into either thinking our understanding is the experience, or we project our thoughts on to our life and call it the experience - and its not.
I see this in churches who talk about the Holy Spirit being present. First of all, I’m not a gauge for whether or not the Holy Spirit is in the house. How could I be? Nobody can claim that consistently. However, in an attempt to ease concerns that the Holy Spirit is not there, they are told the Holy Spirit is there when there’s nothing alive there at all. That said, it IS possible the Holy Spirit is present of course! But if we’re not opening our hearts to the non dualistic and moving beyond linear thought, we’re missing an opportunity to experience the essence of this truth and the experience that accompanies it.
In traditional churches who are more prone to behave politely and believe moderately, taking the risk of looking foolish or wrong is much more difficult. All too often here, our expectation is our comfort zone, while it is only outside our comfort zone that we encounter real transformation. This is why the most powerful spiritual awakenings happen when pushed to the edge of ourselves through tragedy, loss, and other major life events. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can become just as vulnerable and open without having to experience these difficult things. When we avoid taking this risk, it is guaranteed failure; and taking the risk at least offers the possibility for a more powerful connection. This is the choice we have ….to risk being wrong or risk being safe. Only one can also result in a more powerful experience of the Holy Spirit.
The Course in Miracles is not against God. It is for God and of God - and different from Christian doctrine as we know it. All I know is that the Christ Spirit met me there and showed me the way while I was in it and how to use it to glorify God and deepen my own experience as well.
Knowing Christ is part of us is the ultimate goal on the Christian path. That said, it is a powerful faith building exercise to dive into the world trusting that God will meet you there. When you land somewhere totally unrecognizable, and you’re not sure which end is up, there is great teaching in reaching in or out to be reminded that you are of and in God, wherever you are. You choose whether God shows up to meet you because God is already there. You just have to open the door. The eyes of your heart, the soul of your being - without too much thinking.
That’s the great thing about God. God meets you where you are. We’re the ones who forget to do that with others, not God.
In thinking about the Course recently, it’s tempting to liken it to the place the church is in right now. We are moving in and out of an ongoing conversation about allowing doubt, and releasing the need to have beliefs that limit our experience and thinking. This is very similar to the intent of the Course….