How has God become offensive?

VATICAN SISTINE CHAPELI am part of a non-profit in St Augustine called Unity & Peace.  It is an organization that is committed to promoting the consciousness of Peace and the understanding of Unity – that all religions, peoples and cultures are one family of humanity.  Yet I find myself struggling with how to speak of the Oneness that binds us all together.

As part of Unity & Peace I am both writing material for the website and leading meditations for World Peace, and I find myself shying away from any words that point to God. I love God. I think about God all day long and I pray to do God’s Will in as many moments of the day as I can – and part of that for me is being an Interfaith Peace activist. I am an Everything – I love God with every name I can think of.  But if I say God and I don’t also say Allah and Jehovah and Shiva at the same time will I fail to be all-inclusive and honoring of the Unity I profess? If I refer to God as a He will I offend the feminists among us (myself included) and be accused of perpetuating the patriarchy? If I speak of manifesting God’s Peace on Earth will I exclude atheists or humanists from joining in our intentions for a world of harmony? If I call upon foreign Saints and Masters will I alienate those Christians who are joining us? If I invoke Christ or the Holy Spirit will I offend the yoga enthusiasts who have bad memories from childhood?god-2

I came across the perfect expression of this grappling with the name of God in the book ‘Eat Pray Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. She writes of the loaded word – GOD – and sets out to explain what she means by it, “just so people can decide right away how offended they need to get.”

Let me first explain why I use the word God, when I could just as easily use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus. Alternatively, I could call God “That” which is how the ancient Sanskrit scriptures say it, and which I think comes close to the all-inclusive and unspeakable entity I have sometimes experienced. But that “That” feels impersonal to me – a thing, not a being – and I myself cannot pray to a That. I need a proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this same reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe, The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God’s name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels: “The Shadow of the Turning.”

I have nothing against any of these terms. I feel they are all equal because they are all equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the indescribable. But we each do need a functional name for this indescribability, and “God” is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that’s what I use. I should also confess that I generally refer to God as “Him,” which doesn’t bother me because, to my mind, it’s just a convenient personalizing pronoun, not a precise anatomical description or a cause for revolution. Of course, I don’t mind if people call God “Her,” and I understand the urge to do so. Again – to me, these are both equal terms, equally adequate and inadequate. Though I do think the capitalization of either pronoun is a nice touch, a small politeness in the presence of the divine.

It is strange to me that God – the Presence of Love that is pure goodness, pure peace and infinite Light and that unifies all together as One – can be such a contentious word. It seems to me that it’s just another out-picturing of all our bickering over God – is God male or female, personal or impersonal, infinitesimally small or omnipresent, Caucasian or Arab or Indian?  It is ridiculous to think God is any of these things and yet equally ridiculous to think God is NOT these things as God is everything.  In the end, what is important is simply that each person connects to that Power of Love inside our beings, by whatever name works.  Maybe it’s time we stop worrying about offending each other, stop worrying about the pronouns or what word we each use. All words are equally adequate and inadequate to describe the indescribable eternal infinite lovingness. So, let’s just focus on the Love.

Sun light love

Are Meditators Cooler than Other People?

vinyasa-yogaNo.

I know when the question is asked so bluntly the answer is obvious, but judgment can be a sneaky thing and it has been known to crawl into a spiritual community or two.

When I lived in the New Age mecca of Asheville, NC I had a friend who whenever I would mention someone I met he would ask “is he a meditator?” as if that is the question that divides the worthy from the unworthy. The same friend made a pact with an equally “spiritual” friend that they were going to be enlightened in 6 months – yes, they set a date. His reasoning was that “I Am God” so I can decide and I decide to be enlightened and if I decide, then it will be so! They also felt that Christ or Angels or Masters or any “intermediaries” were an unnecessary distraction because “I Am” and therefore I can go direct to the Godhead!

At the same time I was taking classes in “energy studies” and going to group “awakening activation” circles (parts of my spiritual path that gave me a great deal and that I am very thankful for). My main teacher at the time was my massage school instructor, Craig, who also taught Merkabah meditations and beautifully shared his passion for how the physical anatomy of the brain corresponded to ancient Vedic poetry about awakening. At one Tibetan bowl ringing circle we were meditating in the midst of the sound waves and the Divine Presence was palpable. The moment I remember the clearest was when Craig walked by me and leaned in and said “There is the God that I Am and then there is the God that I ain’t!” It was his way of saying that there is a God that is more glorious, more benevolent and just more friggin AWESOME than we could ever contain!

I remember that moment often. And I feel that one moment taught me something vitally important.  I feel that humility is such an essential quality on a spiritual path, and it is very rarely talked about. Maybe that is because it’s hard to point out humility or you end up looking very Uriah Heepish calling attention to how “umble” you are. Or maybe humility is just by nature a meeker spiritual quality and doesn’t call attention to itself as much as courage, knowledge or rigorous self-discipline.

Or maybe it’s because it’s not a very popular concept in the Westernized spiritual talk of being “co-creators”, of “manifesting abundance” for ourselves and “I Am God” consciousness, or even the slightly removed “I Am One with God.” And yes, of course, in absolute truth we are all the “I Am” – but when that deep spiritual truth is co-opted by the small ego self, it’s not pretty. And sometimes “spiritual” people can behave just as judgmental and petty as high school teenagers.

It’s a strange dichotomy in our culture. On one side we have this struggle to feel worthy of our Divinity, worthy of God’s Love and Benevolent Grace and all the beauty and peace God wants to shower upon us – the “not enough” that is engrained in us. And on the other side we have this over the top spiritual arrogance of claiming we are God before we have purified our consciousness enough to have that be an actual manifested reality. Because even if something is true in absolute reality – i.e. that we are One with God – it doesn’t mean we ACT that way – and acting that way is how we ACTUALIZE it.  And actually doing that takes a lot of emptying, surrender and well, humility.

And that is the goal, isn’t it? That is why we meditate, contemplate, pray and work on ourselves – so that we can embody more of the qualities of the Divine – love, compassion, joy, light, peace and bliss – so that we can really act like we are made in God’s image. But it is very important to remember that loving kindness and compassion are what matters, and if you get there by meditating or by praying or by just being a good person with a loving heart, so what?  Who are we to judge?

sistersI look at my sisters and their families and they are beautiful people and I think they wouldn’t mind me saying they have never meditated a day in their life. I always thought of myself as the “spiritual one” – but I see how much good they create in the world and I am humbled. They have both created lives of harmony and good families – lives where their kids don’t know what yelling is. When they had their children they decided they didn’t want to re-create our upbringing of yelling and screaming and “not enough.” They applied themselves, read books, really thought about the choices they would make as parents and became conscious mothers. Their kids feel loved and respected and are being healed of the “not enough.”

My sisters do not have any pretense about being spiritual, yet they are changing humanity! The generational shift is amazing! They did not say – “I Am consciousness itself, I am going to change the world” – their only motivation was loving their children and wanting to create a better emotional life for them, and it IS changing the world.

So, I have decided to redefine what being “spiritual” means to me. It’s easy to get attached to this thought of being spiritual, almost as if spirituality has become a status symbol as much as a Mercedes or a Gucci bag. But it’s not about being the person who does yoga on the beach at 7am or who meditates for an hour every day. It is more about being compassionate. It is more about just making conscious loving choices in daily life. And I thank my sisters for not even trying to be spiritual but just being part of the evolution of the human race! It is humbling and beautiful to witness.