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