Be sure that you've read Part 1 » here «.
[Note to the reader: "God" is used throughout as a signifier to point to wherever you put your worship. It could be conventional religions as I will mainly address, but you could just as easily replace it with Gaia if you "put your worship" there--if the environment is your ultimate concern. or you could replace it with polytheistic beliefs such as Hinduism. Or maybe you put your worship in the Universe, consciousness, or Community. Consider that whatever your ultimate concern is, the concepts in this article can apply to that thing as "God" for you. Doing this will allow you to get the most from this article. -Jason D McClain]
As I asked in Part 1:
"...was Jesus really born of the Virgin Mary? Was Lao Tzu really born as a 900 year-old man? Is the earth really resting on the head of a giant serpent (or the shell of a giant tortoise)? And of course, the subject of great debate most recently it seems: is the Earth really only 6,000 years old? Are these facts—with belief in them required to enter into the afterlife? Or are they gorgeous and useful poetic metaphors pointing to a greater truth in a way that people at the time could accept, pointing to Divine power?"
These metaphors are a testament to belief in stunningly powerful, mystical, and magical forces embodied in "Spirit". Stories told to good common folk of those eras. Metpahors they could relate to. This was useful and good—in fact, it could have been no other way at the time. However, the vast majority that number themselves among the world’s religions have lost touch with this simple wisdom: that metaphors of their spiritual traditions do indeed hold tremendous aesthetic value and inspirational mytho-poetic beauty, however, they are not the Truths themselves.
Nor should they really matter when discussing spiritual merit. Would we say someone was not a good person if they acted with love, grace and charity all of their life, dedicated to the service of others, but rejected the idea of the Virgin Birth? Of course not.
Sadly, focusing on the details of the metaphoric stories as a basis for “faith” rather than the individual relationship with the Universal Truths results in losing access to Divinity and Spirit. Ending up, in turn, hopelessly (and endlessly) arguing over details of form and presentation-details of stories told long ago so that simple people could easily have access to God. These arguments aren’t just friendly disagreements or intellectual debates engaged in among scholars; they have split families and divided congregations--and sent nations to war on too many occasions for us to want to list here.
The fact that this is so, and that is springs from traditions that were and are meant to free the spirit, spread love and acceptance, and give hope to the hopeless, is no less than tragic.
So that we can attempt to avoid the same pitfalls, let us set aside what is “true” or “false” about these mytho-poetic themes and focus instead on the more personal and individual experience. This is what is relevant for our discussion that is focused on the context of personal evolution.
For that, we need to address not the truth, but the utility of our relationship to the Divine--"to" vs. "with." This “to vs with” business is not just fun with prepositions. It has a very practical impact on our internal life and emotional experience.
The manner in which we relate to anything determines its meaning and importance in our lives. Whether that thing is a significant other, a new career opportunity, a rainy day, traffic on the highway, and/or yes, even “God”. Perhaps we should even say In fact, especially God—not because that is accurate, but simply because of the impact that our personal relationship with God has on our real-life happiness.
Let’s take traffic.
We have all experienced traffic on a highway. How do you relate to it? What is your interpretation of it? Do you view it as a waste of time? A hassle? An increase in vehicular pollution? Or perhaps you see it as a welcome break and use it to unwind on your way home listening to relaxing music or an opportunity to listen to a favorite book on audio? The obvious point is that how you “hold” this experience we call “traffic” in your subjective world will give rise to a specific and tangible emotional experience around it, or what we will call an “atmosphere”.
“It is never the thing it self, but rather your relationship to it”.
Knowing that, let’s take it out another level: it is not just how you relate “to” traffic that will determine your experience. While this is true, we could take one more step and realize that we are not just in traffic--if you are in your car in the middle of traffic, you are the traffic. You are at the very least a component part of it as a whole.
Think about that the next time you are cursing the traffic you are in.
You can see what we have done there, and you are likely already familiar with the importance of and the ability to “frame” your experience described in the above paragraphs. This is nothing new. Most of the wisdom traditions teach that how you interpret an event will determine your emotional experience around it—and with regular practice you can discipline your mind to interpret your experience in a way that leads you to have the emotional experience of life that you desire. Simple. Not easy, but simple.
And yet, when we get to the context of God—we go all whacky. As if it somehow no longer applies.
Just as we examined if your relationship to traffic serves you, we will examine the same of your relationship to God.
I was with a client and we chased the source of his "issue" to a particular construction he has of God—and God and spirituality is very important to him.
His particular construction of God—and one that many people hold as “true”—was that God was an external force or being that he was beholden and subservient to. The source of most of his suffering was that there was a great deal of shame if he did not live up to God’s expectations—or rather what he believed God’s expectations to be. Sadly, this created separation between himself and God.
In his experience, this relationship to God would in turn produce certain predicable results; a pattern emerged .He would engage in behaviors or thoughts (or not engage in them as was the case sometimes) and then as a result of his relationship to God, he would then retreat into the shadows—he would leave the light and attempt to hide away; hiding away from his responsibilities, playing the game of life at a much reduced level of vibrancy, and/or slipping occasionally into darker emotional episodes.
As we rigorously and fearlessly examined this in our session, we discovered that it was not his behaviors that created this negative experience—after all, he was not really engaged in any behavior that was truly wrong or bad; he was not harming anyone. Rather it was his holding God as something external to him and “above/having authority over him” that led to the experience. This ironically, in turn, had him operating out of communion with God; that is to say: his relationship to God was damaging his relationship with God. This, in turn, led to a great deal of unnecessary suffering for him.
The question became: what alternative ways of viewing and experiencing God could we construct for him that would honor the deepest truth of God as he understands him, that would also, in turn, predictably lead to a more joyous spiritual experience more consistently?
Moving from a relationship "to" God to a relationship "with" God
“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
What if “God” were simply a force or light that flowed through you? Or “that which flows through you, which is greater than you?” Or God as a primary and fundamental animating spirit and force? “The light behind—and shining through—our eyes?” How would that framing, that relationship with God change our experience of life?
As quoted above, this idea is not inconsistent with the more mystical passages in both the Old and New Testaments in the Christian-Judeo religious traditions about the nature of God—and it is in alignment with the non-dual traditions of the East.
But again, even if it is in conflict for you, let’s leave the theological debate of ”true” to the theologians and remind ourselves that what matters is what could be true and is also useful.
For you and I who have to live and thrive in the manifest world——our greatest model of who we are to be when we are at our highest, deepest, and best,—the most joyous and inspirational experience possible while forever reaching towards the heavens within us … Perhaps the relationship to God that would most serve us is not one of separation, but rather one of being … One … with God.
For some, this is a radical idea; for others, it is blasphemy. Some understand this intellectually, but are struggling to achieve it fully—as a matter of not just knowing but being -- especially closing the gap between the two.
For still others—including the client I was working with when we experimented with these relationship dynamics in our session—it is a tremendous relief. It can be tremendously freeing to know that we are not beholden to God in subservient worship, but rather invited to become one with God in divine union.
I understand that for many, this is no simple endeavor. We have to shed the very idea of Original Sin and replace it with one of true and full self-acceptance--acceptance of our Universal Innocence. We have to believe, and then accept, that we are “good”. This does not mean that we will not make mistakes and engage in bad behaviors—or that we accept our behaviors that harm others without caring about how it impacts them. Quite the contrary; allowing acceptance allows us to more easily and more rapidly examine our faults.
However, what this also will allow for us a truly healthy relationship with God that will remove any obstacles to our Union with God, and leave only the light to shine on the shadows to chase them away—rather than leaving the shadows as a place for us to retreat into and hide away in shame. This will allow us to be the light.
As we return to where we began in Part 1—return to stages of egoic development—we can examine how stages of development apply in the context of this question of the Divine and our relationship to and with God. From pre-rational to rational to trans-rational; from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional.
From being in relationship to God to being in relationship with God to being in relationship … as God; from Union to Communion to ... Identification.
For many of us, that last stage will simply be too much to comprehend and may be beyond what we can allow ourselves to accept.
But what we can accept—and many of the wisdom traditions and religious teachings will remind us—is that humans will never be able to fully comprehend God. In saying so, we can also reason that the anthropomorphic or external authority-based attempts to give God form have had their uses—but also that God is not that. God is at least far more than that. And we have also demonstrated that those forms produce predicable results. Many of them less than optimal.
Knowing that, let us all turn inward and examine how we construct and hold God. Challenge its degree of health and vitality. Notice its predicable results. And in doing so, engage in the endeavor of living with a wider embrace of existence--a fuller, more vibrant expression of Spirit in the highest and deepest sense. In doing so, we will have access to, and be bathed in, the kind of spiritual meaning and fulfillment we all yearn for whether we believe in a "God" or "Goddess" or not. The kind of transcendent spirituality the world needs to heal fractured sectarianism and to appeal to those with more emergent stages of consciousness. A flavor of spirituality than can and will unite rather than divide.
Let us not stop at having a relationship to God in Divine Communion, but let us go further--delving into a relationship with God, allowing us to be not just a recipient or a servant, but more—allowing us to become a channel or a conduit so that we are not just living for some greater good, but that we are, in fact being that greater good--bearing the full and ripe fruits of Divine Union and allowing it to flow forth--through and from us all.