Saturday, March 31, 2012

THE NATURE OF GOD – A Pantheist Persuasion

Recently, one of my new followers here on One Man's Wonder (let's call her Lucy) commented on how much she'd enjoyed my post on "screen-bound" kids and their growing alienation from Nature.

Almost as an aside, Lucy asked why I seldom refer to God in my writing. To be honest, I hadn't really thought that much about it, but as I've reflected on her question I realize I have something of an answer.

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WHOSE GOD IS IT?
It's true, you'll seldom see the word "God" in my posts, and when you do it's likely the kind with a small "g." A word you'll see far more often—always capitalized—is "Nature." This is very deliberate.

Don't get me wrong; I do believe in a god. When you get right down to it, I suppose I even believe in the God, whatever that means. But, ultimately, one's notion of what God is and how to portray and follow that idea is a very personal matter.

Still, as varied as our spiritual paths may be, doesn't every one of us who believes in any higher power at all come to that conviction by way of needs, hopes and instincts that originate in exactly the same place? It seems to me that place either is, or has something to do with, what we might call "the" God—a single, universal God.












MESSIN' WITH PERFECTION
Where most organized religions get it wrong is not in their core values. After all, everyone with a heartbeat wants basically the same things: to live in peace and harmony, to experience love, to do something of value, and to be reasonably happy.

What happens, though, is that faiths somehow always manage to lose their focus on those principles, allowing a few of their leaders or proponents and their self-serving agendas to hijack their missions. They fool people into losing touch with love; in its place, fear and negativity start seeping in.

With all those various interests and agendas, religion has gone to seed. At last count there were more than 20 major religions and over 270 subdivisions of those faiths in the world. The Christian moniker alone comprises thousands of denominations; in just the US and Canada some 1,000 of them claim to be the only legitimate Christian denomination.*

I don't know about you, but no god I could worship would have time for all that nonsense.

Religions expend way too much of their resources on defining and defending their differences, and too little on pursuing the values they share. They focus more on what they—or even worse, others—can or can't or shouldn't do instead of who they are and what they can become.

So you see, it's all become way too complicated. Instead of spiritual, it's gotten all intellectual, hierarchical, political. They've squeezed the joy out of being spiritual.




I don't know about you, but I'm confused and disappointed with organized religion. No god I could worship would have time for all that nonsense. This is why I find my god—what I suspect is indeed "the God"—in Nature.

A HOLY CONVERSATION
For most of my life I believed in, and prayed to, what I thought was "the" God. It was a concept I'd been taught as a child—someone else's concept. God was an abstract presence, a faceless, formless, lifeless power that supposedly existed at once everywhere and nowhere. And whatever communication I had with  him consisted of prayers that felt very much like shots in the dark. It was pretty much a monologue.

Since my gradual conversion, though, I converse with my god—Nature—all the time. Like a good old friend, he's approachable; he accepts me for who I am, not for who I should be; he commands my respect not for his power, but for his wisdom, integrity and constancy.

Notice I said "converse." Indeed, I chat with animals and birds; I listen to trees; I touch the wind and pour my heart out to the skies. As with any good conversation, my dialog with my Nature/god is often less about talking and more about listening and wondering.

Every day, I discover new evidence that everything—and I mean everyone and every thing—is connected, and that each creature, thing or place, large or small, is nothing less than holy.

What do I hear from Nature? I hear wisdom in its timeless patterns and rhythms; humility in its power and scale; inspiration in its sublime beauty. I find as much wisdom and guidance in that counsel as I would in any book—including one supposedly written by or through "the" God (though this is yet another bone of contention among man-made religions).

 










The more I practice this Nature-as-God faith, the better I get at seeing that the conversation extends far beyond my dialog with my immediate surroundings. Every day, I discover new evidence that everything—and I mean everyone and every thing—is connected, and that each creature, thing or place, large or small, is nothing less than holy.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Lest you wonder if my Nature-based religion has any place for the human species, let's just say that, for the most part, I see us as just another species of animal, in the end no more or less worthy of God's blessings than any other.

Does Nature care if I get through the day safe from harm? 
Probably no more than "the" God cares if Tim Tebow completes 
the game-winning pass.

Does this mean that Nature doesn't care about me and whether I get through the day healthy and safe from harm? Probably no more than "the" God cares if Tim Tebow completes the game-winning pass.

All my god cares about is that everything fits in the whole, divine Scheme of Things—that magic that explains everything from the birth of the universe, to the great interconnectedness of life, to eternity. In that context, I'm powerful only to the extent of my ability to love and create. To the universe that might not seem like much, but it does matter, and to another human being it may be everything.

CONNECTING AT THE SOURCE
Again, it's all a very personal matter, but for me Nature is a way—possibly the only way—of interpreting God that I know is both immediate and timeless; that both surrounds me and fills me; that teaches me both how small I am in the whole scheme of things and how powerful love can make me. And, as far as I can tell, Nature is the only god I can trust to remain always true, honest and positive.

So, since God is everywhere and every thing, shouldn't we be able to find him wherever we choose? I suppose I could look for him in buildings, on Sunday mornings. I could honor him in doctrine and ceremony created by human beings. I could study him in books—again, a medium of our making, not his.










Or I can experience God at the source, at places that show his true countenance, places where there are no walls around my awe; where the ceremony is life itself, where all the wisdom is written in his own hand;  places where I can not only speak to him, but literally become one with him.

That place, that sacred state of mind, is Nature. That's where my God and I find each other.
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POSTSCRIPT – My new friend, Lucy—that woman who commented on my blog—suggested, when I tried to summarize my religious beliefs, that I might be a pantheist. I looked it up; it's someone who identifies God with the universe and who acknowledges the validity of all gods. I try to avoid labels—they tend to manipulate and/or limit thought—but if I have to wear one, perhaps pantheist is as good as any.

Where do you find the face of God? Is it floating around you in the air, or is it in something or someone? Is it a kindly countenance or a  stern one? Does your god care about you?

And what's the name of your faith? Just in case you march to your own drummer like I do, here's a site that might help you decide what to call yourself: http://www.selectsmart.com/RELIGION/ 


* Source: http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm

23 comments:

Daisy Luv and Light said...

Amazing post Jeffery!! I couldn't agree more with what you have written here!! xoxoxox

OneStonedCrow said...

Great post Jeffrey.

One thing I've learned is that no matter how perfect any system may appear, the joker in the pack is always the human element ...

... and so with religion too, ... greed and power-lust always take over ...

The only thing I know for sure though about god is that I know nothing at all ...

pea said...

Great post. I couldn't find anything I would disagree with. When I am out walking the dog, in the silence on a quiet hill there I feel god/God. When I look at the men in their opulent red robes and funny hats above I feel nothing, except maybe a sense of human arrogance.
I wouldn't call myself anything. I evolve and change with each new idea I'm taught and refusing to settle allows me to remember that I know nothing - only my stupid human opinions and will therefore remain an open minded student.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Daisy - Thanks for your very kind words. THis was a hard, but rewarding, piece to write. I knew it would generate some discussion.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Good morning, OSC -- I like a man who knows how little he knows. There's way too much knowing out there...and too little asking.
Thanks for your comment and your encouragement!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi there, Pea -- I don't think you have to call yourself anything. You know what you are.
Any open-mindedness is a great asset -- don't lose it. Thanks so much for your faithful following and participation!!

John Rocheleau | ZenMoments said...

I really like what you say here. You said it simply and clearly; no frills; just how you feel. And I feel similarly. I try not to overly define concepts as big as "god." When we do that, we limit our unfolding understanding and connection.

Good Stuff
John :-)

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi John -- It's a great honor to have you visit my site. I've noticed your thoughtful comments (mostly on FB, I think) for quite some time.
Thanks for your kind words. I think you've already articulated much of what I was trying to say in your posts -- most recently the one dealing with the unraveling of a golf ball to discover what's there.
All this reminds me that I need to take more regular looks at your great site, Zen Moments!

Robin Easton said...

Dear Jeffrey, this has to be one of the MOST beautiful expressions I've ever read. I am speechless, awed, stilled, calmed, grounded, and feel as if you wrote what lives within my very own, deepest soul. Bless you a thousand times over. This is exquisitely beautiful, the ENTIRE thing. I have tears in my eyes, and strength in my heart from reading this. In fact, my heart is so full, and the reflection so great (that you have given me) that I really don't have words vast enough to express how this makes me feel. Just....Thank you. I see you. I totally understand what you have shared, understand it so well, it could have been my own....IF could have written it this beautifully. I doubt I could. So THANK YOU for expressing what I feel EVERY single day. HUUUUUGE hugs to you my precious friend. R

charlie kimball said...

A lot of what you wrote here reminds me of what Joel Olsteen preaches. He focuses on the lessons, not on the doctrine. good stuff - thanks for sharing it.

Steve!!! said...

ha HA! I love this! I SO SO SOOOOOO love this!
SO simple! SO LASER to the truth of Being!!!
And so relate! Thanks for allowing us to breathe for a moment, and See (without contempt) the divisive nature from most things "human"...and moving us back to what IS in all things Nature/god. To me..that IS our very god/nature....not fear, but love. LOVE!! Our true nature.
Just look at babies!! They know only LOVE as the move/return/birth themselves into this realm! And then? Humans teach, learn, reproduce, and seem to replicate fear under so many well-intentioned dogmas and institutions. (Some of them--not so well intentioned lol). But Nature..or god...our "nature"...the god that is me...that surrounds and I embody and embodies me...is truly love. Love is inherent. It's what we come forward, return, and are borne to and resides within us. Waking up to that, remembering, allowing that to be...seems to be...our Being. You just woke me up again! THANK You so much Jeffrey!
Awesome awesome awesome post. Thanks SO much for taking the effort to put it out there.
SUCH Such sweetness!!! in this realm exists! And blazes SO bright!
I'll close with your BLESSED line:
So you see, it's all become way too complicated. Instead of spiritual, it's gotten all intellectual, hierarchical, political. They've squeezed the joy out of being spiritual.

You bring JOY! JOY! JOY! Keep on Jeffrey! You ARE One's Wonder!
PS--isn't it cool Lucy kind of agreed to be an (unintended) instigator to all this joy!?! YES! Thank LUCY! Thank Jeffrey! Thank god and Thank NATURE! lol!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Robin -- It's so good to hear from you! I've missed being in touch very much.
Though I don't feel I deserve such lavish praise, I'm glad you were moved by my post. I feel good about having stuck my neck out while trying to articulate my Nature-faith, and so far it's met with a good, positive response.
As usual, it's all a work in progress...
Be well, my friend!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Charlie - Thanks much for dropping by here...and for your comment.
I'm not familiar with Joel Olsteen, but it sounds like I could learn from him -- I'll check it out.
Glad you liked the post, and hope you'll come back now and then.
Have a good and wonder-full week ;-)

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Steve -- Welcome to One Man's Wonder, and thank you so much for all that generous praise! It sounds like we're kindred spirits for sure!
Good point about the blessing "Lucy" gave all of us with her question. I'll have to thank her!

Robin Easton said...

Wow!! Look at all the amazing comments here! So good to read them. And yes, You and Steve Appleton (he commented here as "Steve!!! said") are definitely kindred. Steve is one of THE MOST spectacular souls I've ever met. He definitely lives the exquisite insights and realities that you have expressed SO SO beautifully here. If you don't know him, he is on Facebook as "Steve Appleton". He is a healthy and vibrant mix of full-on buoyant life and mind blowing insight.

There REALLY ARE those of us out here Jeffrey who thrive on what you shared here. I am just blown away by this piece you wrote. You just keep being you dear friend. Go out on those limbs and shake all that juicy fruit to the ground, and be YOU!! It/you are fabulous. The world needs what you see, feel, and have to share. So many blessings. R

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thank you so much again Robin for your amazing generosity of spirit. As you know, we don't write for the praise, but it sure feels good!
Also, I want you to know what an inspiration you've been to me and my work. I think of you and things you said in Naked In Eden often.
I'd been aware of Steve before he commented on my post. I've asked him to be friends on FB -- hope he reciprocates ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
I found much to be inspired about in your essay; so much of what you say is lovely and true. You have such an open-hearted soul! But I am sad that you seem to have rejected a whole incredibly rich dimension of life, which is true companionship with God. In discussing why you reject religion, you only talk about “organized religion.” But pictures of imposing cathedrals and cardinals in funny hats are not Christianity, any more than pictures of hospitals and scrub outfits are medicine. Invented by flawed human beings, they have little or nothing to do with Christ’s teachings or God’s message to us in his Son’s life and death. One must consider the message of the religion, not the often-flawed human messengers. At the same time, there are millions of wonderful Christians out there who are truly doing God’s work.

I think perhaps your childhood disappointment with religion has been quite a negative influence. I know many people who were ruined for God at an early age by terrifying hellfire thundering from the pulpit and harsh churchy rules and regs of correct behavior. For sure, some Christian leaders are terribly misguided and obnoxious. But many are incredibly giving,loving people.

Today it is absolutely possible to find a church and a church community of people who know what God is really about. God’s focus is the same as your focus in your post: love. God is about loving us so much that he desires, not only to relate in real one-on-one communication in our lives, but he wants to have a reunion with us in the afterlife. How bizarre is that?

I didn’t understand any of this really until a few years ago, when I started going to some Bible studies with some regular people who have had amazingly close encounters with God. Some have had great tragedy in their lives; some have not. I was struck by their belief in Christ and how their faith and closeness to him and his loving help has been a lifeline even in terrible times.

I began to read and discuss the Bible and to experience what I call God “nudges” and God “wallops.” I found that if I opened my heart to him through prayer and study of his Word, he opened himself to me.

Then I started my blog, www.godsayshi.org, to explore some of the outrageous, creative ways God reaches out and says hi to us – in the miracle of his creation, in events in our lives, even in the daily headlines. And in nature.

So I would ask you, if nature and the creation is worthy of our awe and worship, and certainly it is, how much more worthy is the God who created this nature, this Creation that surrounds us in all its glory? How amazing is the God who exploded absolute nothingness and turned it into absolutely everything in the Big Bang? (I’ve got a post on that, “Science Admits Miracle!” quoting a bunch of cosmologists and astrophysicists who say it has to be God, no other explanation.)

Sorry this post is so long – but this is something I’m passionate about. Your readers seem to be seekers, genuinely curious about things spiritual.I love it when people like that visit my blog, www.godsayshi.org, to have a conversation. This week I compare the Mega-Millions lottery with the Easter jackpot. I think you will find it entertaining as well as thought-provoking.
Thanks for your lovely insights here, Jeff --
Your friend,
Lucy
(my real name is at www.godsayshi.org)

For I know the thoughts I that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dear "Lucy" -- Other readers will recognize you as the new friend who inspired my The Nature of God post.

Thanks for sharing your ideas and your considerable passion about your spiritual journey. I respect it...and you.

The only thing I'd question is your conclusion that, in my Nature-as-God experience, I've "rejected...true companionship with God." Perhaps I didn't describe my relationship with God very well, but it's one of quite a rich companionship. It feels pretty real to me.

So you needn't feel sad for me. As I tried so hard to say, I think you and I worship exactly the same god -- and I have no problem with our calling it God. It's just that we've found different ways of appreciating that incredible, all-knowing force.

And, yes, I understand that there are millions of kind, loving Christians doing wonderful work in home towns and around the world. But wouldn't you agree that there are just as many good-hearted Muslims, Hindus, Jews, pantheists...and, God knows, even atheists, also living good, caring, giving lives?
After all, what does it matter to God what we call ourselves -- or even whether or not we believe in him -- as long as we live in peace and love.

Marghanita Hughes said...

Oh Jeff, what a fabulous and thought provoking post and I can totally relate to what you are saying. As I travel through this incredible, mystical, magical journey, discovering and learning new things all the time, I have come to believe that WE ARE ALL LOVED.... Loved by Mother Earth, loved by the Great Spirit, loved by God....... There is no separation from any higher power, for they are all LOVE...a universal God. And I say "we" because we are all one. No religion is better or less worthy than any other if it is love that is being gifted.
Oh Jeff, just thinking about this love makes we want to dance with you all...how blessed we all are to have this love in our lives.....let us celebrate.......

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Marghanita - I'm happy to see your smiling face here this morning! Thanks for those generous words and for reinforcing them as you always do so well.

So you want to dance? Well, the music's started, at least here: trill of mild spring breeze, brassy blare of sun, rhythm of heart and breath, and cymbal clash of fresh, explosive green. Hope the music's half as sweet where you are.

Sorry, couldn't help myself ;-)

Lucy said...

Jeff, your concept of an all-encompassing God who everyone worships in nature (if I’m correctly interpreting what you’re saying) is very attractive in our modern age – indeed this is the ONLY God which fits today’s philosophical insistence on tolerance and diversity. Doubtless you and most of your readers also believe that all religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. – worship the same God. But the reality is that I doubt you can find even a handful of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists who agree with you! They are believers in these specific religions because they believe their religion, and their religion alone, is truth. Those who believe all truth is relative, that there is no ultimate truth, cannot accept this and thus deplore those who have chosen a faith, often branding them as narrow-minded.

But studying different religions reveals that they are very different, no matter what our desires for that lovely kumbaya of universal brotherhood. For instance, the Buddhist and Hindu religions have hundreds of Gods, though these religions are essentially “paths” of right behavior, with the goal of suppressing human desire so one won’t continue to be reincarnated into this horrible earthly existence. At its core, these are deeply pessimistic religions.

For me, this view doesn’t fit what I know of the joy of life here and the God who gave us all this beauty and the incredible opportunity to know Him. I believe in the Christian God, who I have found to be playful, creative, challenging, trustworthy, and incredibly good to us. And he is also a moral God. In all other faiths, man reaches up to find God; in Christianity, God is reaching down to make contact with us. The best way to find out about him is to read his best-selling biography; he intended this book to reveal himself and his personality to us. And in getting to know him, he draws us into an intimate relationship with him.

For me, it’s all about story. This Christianity just makes sense to me in view of our human lives and predicament. Jeff, you “see us as just another species of animal, in the end no more or less worthy of God's blessings than any other.” But my God says we are totally unlike the animals; he says he created us “in his image” and the entire universe as our playground. He tells us we humans are the apex and the ultimate goal of all his creation. How wild is that.

But we are a fallen creation because we ignore him or disobey him. If you look at the cruelty of people to each other in the daily headlines, you can see that we screw up all the time and thus are in need of redemption. We wouldn’t act this way if we listened to God. We can’t “cure” ourselves (despite volumes by the latest TV gurus instructing us on self-fulfillment) because of our flawed and fallen human nature. So we turn to God who has given us a way for us to get back to him. That way is Jesus Christ, his Son, sent to pay the price we can never pay to be in harmony again with a Holy God.

All we have to do is believe that God loves us so much he was literally willing to die for us so we can spend eternity with him. Does your God want to spend eternity with you? For millions of people, this story makes sense as they look at their own lives. For millions of people, and many people I know, belief in and a radical personal relationship to this Christian God has transformed their lives, change their destructive behavior, and given them hope and peace.

When you say, “All my god cares about is that everything fits in the whole, divine Scheme of Things—that magic that explains everything from the birth of the universe, to the great interconnectedness of life, to eternity” -- yes, that’s what my God cares about too. And that’s why he has created this deeply personal plan involving his Son and salvation and eternal life with Him, a plan that he longs for us to discover.

That’s what Easter is all about – Happy Easter!
Blessings,
Lucy

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Lucy -- While I respect and in some ways admire your obviously well-thought-out and well-stated views, I must admit that mine are still very much a work in progress.

All I can say is that much of what you say makes sense to me, and it's now become part of the ongoing internal simmering of ideas that make up who I am. For that I thank you.

One general thought does rise to the top, though, and that is that I don't see faith and uncertainty as being mutually exclusive. For me, seeking elusive truths -- perhaps even changing or even multiple truths -- is, if not the soul, at least the heart of my faith.

Lucy -- www.godsayshi.org said...

hiya

The seeker in his seeking is usually seeking after truth and ultimately if his quest is successful, will be rewarded when he finds it, with a strong faith. But of course faith always is tinged with some doubt and uncertainty. We are human after all.

Other seekers drift from Buddhist belief system to New Ageism to Oprah's latest guru and never really give their allegiance to any religion. There is no urgency in their search, no belief that it may really be a matter of life and death.

This is typical of those who find in the occasional unfortunate pronouncements of a Pat Robertson, or the fall from grace of a Jim Bakker or a Ted Haggerty, or the sexual abuse of some priests, a reason to reject the saving message of Christianity.

Often as they grow older, these people will have a mortality twinge that leads to a change of spiritual heart.

Here is something that C.S. Lewis, onetime atheist and Christian author (of the classic Mere Christianity among others) wrote about the seeker:

Human or Rabbit?
Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal “sell” on record. Isn’t it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?

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