The word 'God' will never express what it's intended to communicate. No word can. It can only result in worshiping our ideas and conceptions. What we conceive is shaped with our limitations - and against how we see ourselves. The reality is more humbling - far beyond our created and limited ideas.The Jewish directive to never speak the name of God makes more sense all the time. The more I realize how the word God can never come close to defining, describing, or naming what God is, the more I understand this revered Jewish tradition. If we truly grasp this, it becomes uncomfortably clear that we worship our own idea of God, not YHWH - which cannot be conceptualized. Meister Eckhart prays, 'God rid me of God', meaning he asks God to help him let go of his own ideas that limit his understanding of God. The reality of God cannot be explained which, in turn, far surpasses any notion we can hold of God. That said, it doesn't mean our ideas about God aren't sincere. We simply think we know more than we do. This might bother some, but it has strengthened my spiritual understanding. Everything makes more sense.
The more we claim to know about God, the more we worship our ideas of God, rather than the holiest of the holy. Even Paul, when saying God is Love, or when the Bible refers to God as Spirit, these characteristics are attempts to describe God, but limited to our understanding, language, and preferences. It is certainly my preference to use the words Love and Spirit because they contain my imagery of God. My preference clues us in to how we draw our idea of God from our personal imagery.
Even if we can't claim to truly understand God, we can be connected and reverent towards God. We can love God, and also experience God's love.
It is in this understanding that we might grasp the idea of a mother and child. This image repeatedly comes to mind when questioning something in the Bible, or find myself resistant to adopt or believe what it sometimes says. There have probably been times I've had more questions than church was comfortable with. But the more their expectations said I believe every word out of their mouth at face value, the more I wanted to explore the content. I wasn't trying to be difficult or rebellious. I simply needed to place it in a context that made more sense or brought more life. I needed to dig deeper. The interpretations I heard seemed over-simplified and limited for the depth and breadth of what I read.
And there were far too many contradictions for something some people had such deep certainty about. I didn't concern myself with contradictions in scripture itself because this made sense on so many levels. We were talking about countless people interpreting, many different witnesses and storytellers, and thousands of years, not to mention languages. Contradictions and worldviews that made little sense to our paradigms didn't seem far fetched if we understood culture and the changing of humanity within the construct of time. What was more baffling to my mind were the contradictions of people today, in this culture, with varying degrees of certainty who imposed it on others with the same degree of certainty, often measuring their value and pressuring others to make decisions about their life based on these interpretations and worldviews. We were talking life and death, wars and violence, life loves and personal oppression for a gender, etc. This mattered.
I directed my mind to my son as an infant and also as an adult, and myself. My mother was lying in bed, blind and suffering from late stage Alzheimer's. Her memories were vacant and non-existent, but her love and joy was fully alive.
When I looked to my son in my mind, and asked what mattered most - was it that he knew the exact details of my life and passed on my story; or that he knew I loved him and that he loved me? Then I turned to my experience of my own mother, and asked the same questions of her and of myself - to view both contexts, in different generations and cultures.
In all cases, it was the experience of love. The experience of dynamic, reciprocal love and joy mattered. Whether my son knew or believed I was devastated when his father wanted me to abort my baby was irrelevent to my relationship with him. Whether my mother had suffered on her journey from Norway to America on a ship alone was of interest to me, but irrelevent to my experience and memory of her in my life as a whole.
Her story shapes her image for me, but in no way defines the relationship and mutual experience. She wouldn't care what I remembered or believed about her story, as long as the love we shared is real. That said, the story still has value. It helps shape our family history, and provides continuity and legacy. And, most of all, the story contains valuable teaching for those who hear it. This is an extremely valuable contribution, but not essential to our relationship. It is how we love, how we show up in the world that guides our future.
What I've learned with my mother and Alzheimer's is it isn't the need to have all the facts about her past or to know if they can be fact-checked. It matters that we love. Even in her weakened and childlike state, it matters to me that she experiences. I know she does because it shines like a beacon from her heart. I don't need to understand everything about her, or know that everything she said was true. I like knowing she was chosen specifically to be my teacher - as I was to be hers, as mother and daughter. It also helps to remember that she loved us the best she could.
Knowing this, and paying it forward is my primary job. Passing her story on, and sharing the experiences I have of her, and the lessons she taught me also matter. Remembering to spread the values that added to my life and the life of others. To remember her fairness and absolute conviction that all of her children be treated equally. Her compassion and love for a child that treated her with violence and hatred as a result of a mental imbalance - her trust that in the midst of this hatred lived love. This was a great teacher in my life. These are the things that count.
Her stories of the war during the occupation. The soldiers who sat reading letters from home in the hills directly behind her house. Tears streamed down their cheeks and she comforted and befriended them in compassion. She didn't see them as Nazi soldiers, she could only see their humanity. She saw how clearly they didn't want to be there but felt a civic/nationalistic obligation, not a moral one. This was her first real awareness that we are only mirrors, they were no different than her. They were too young to understand what was really happening, what laid at the core of this war.
Her relentlessness for justice when the Nazi cut down her prized Birch tree.
Her love of God when she played the mandolin as a young girl, still remembering the presence of the Holy Spirit when the string broke in mid performance.
These are the things I will remember and pay forward. But not because it is through them that her life has meaning, but because through the stories her life is remembered, my story is made more complete, and humanity's story continues. It is through the love that she gave me, and I pass to my own child that pays forward meaning. It is in knowing that each of them, mother and son, are embraced by my heart as I am by theirs - even when I cannot feel it or it appears non-existent.
I imagine this is how it is with God. It is the essence of who and what God may be, and how it is passed to us - and reciprocated that I imagine where the power and the truth lies. At least the power and the truth for what I see today. This will likely change tomorrow when I see something else - fresh and new.
I also imagine that truth will shift and change and grow as I do, as humanity does. God hasn't changed since Moses and Abraham, but we have. We have come to see and know and understand differently - the more we can see. The possibilities that lie before us in our children's children are difficult to imagine. The awe inspiring thought of how the life of Christ changed the world and how humanity experienced God inspires me. To think of what will be possible as life continues from Christ's teaching alone - growing more loving, just, kind, and authentic each day as the generations continue.
The experiences she shared from her story were my teachers and, on some level, extend into my own understanding of myself.
Seeing the Nazi soldier as herself taught me unconditional love and compassion.
Demanding justice from the soldiers who chopped down her tree gives me courage and taught me foundational principles of justice.
Standing in love and fairness while being consistently abused by her own child taught me unconditional love and sacrifice.
Going blind and living alone with grace taught me acceptance and strength.
Always experiencing me as a good and kind human being and tell me that gives me gratitude and faith in myself.
Her solo journey on a ship across the ocean as a single and very young woman taught me not to fear adventure and to remember my inner power.
Her stories are real, but what if they weren't? What if some were but some were made up or had changed over time? Would it change how I experience her? Would this change what I learned from each of her experiences that helped to also shape me?
This is just how it is with the Bible. Whether they are literal fact, or something that has morphed and changed over time; they have taught me, inspired me, and shaped me. Sometimes its teachings have made me question God, and disgusted me too. This is also my teacher. This taught me to think critically, to question, and to learn there's more to a story than what I know.
I feel more hope for the world right now than I ever have. My deepest prayer is that Christ's message of love and seeing with new eyes, as opposed to law and religion, will continue to change and expand human consciousness far into the future.
I personally release Christ from religion, and give his life its proper place in understanding what love without boundaries means. Love cannot be held within a have-to, a law, a command, or prescription. It can only be purely itself within its total freedom to express itself authentically. It is only then it is true to itself and we can come closer to experiencing a manifested God.