“Oh, life. It’s bigger. Is bigger than you, and you are not me.” –R.E.M., “Losing My Religion”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” –Hamlet
I met a man once who said he was an atheist, but that if anything were to happen to one of his kids, he knew he’d immediately pray.
He also spent his Thanksgiving volunteering at a homeless shelter, feeding the poor.
I’m saying this because belief and goodness can be complex. God, or goodness, is not one note on the keyboard of life. Some people who say they’re all about God are often doing weird things, or things that feel hypocritical. While people who say they don’t believe in anything are often working tirelessly to save lives, or giving all their money to charity.
For me, believing in God means I put time and effort into a relationship with something that is vast and large. This thing gives me perspective when the world feels like it’s falling apart. (And also when it’s falling together.) Because my world has felt like it was going to hell lots of times. That was tiring. That hurt. Having something that helps me stand a little on the outside of it all, observing with a larger view rather than feeling consumed by the flames, makes me feel better about being alive. I wouldn’t give this relationship up for anything. I can let go of lots of things, and I have. But this? This search for meaning, for wholeness, for union, for perspective? This is something I’ll never let go.
The problem, I think, with people who say they are religious, or some who call themselves Christian, is that they treat God like a sport, with winning and losing teams.
They say, Jesus is the winning team. So accept him into your heart and your life, and say his name, and you’ll be on the team with us, and we’ll all go to the pearly gates together when we die. We’ll live eternally together. Won’t that be fun?
I wish it all were so easy, but it’s not. You can’t make the sign of the cross and say Jesus’s name and all is good for you, you’re set, you just sit back and rest easy, you know you’re golden.
There are levels to this thing. Levels to life, levels to spiritual growth. There are layers and layers of unpeeling to be done, unpacking, stuff to learn. So while I think Jesus is the greatest guru ever, who can and will change your life, you don’t get to puff up your ego just because you go to church or pray to him. You still have to be open to learning and growing. To listening. To seeing clearly, or at least getting better at it. Anyone who says he’s on the spiritual path needs to open his ears and his eyes, and not let his head be too hard and thick.
I can’t tell anyone what to do with her life, but I can be an observer and a listener in my own, and I can be committed to my own growth so that I can serve and help others. This is how I’m wired. This is what I do, and what I’ve always done, even when I wasn’t aware of it. But what saddens me and frustrates me (and always has), is that people use God like a weapon to suggest they know better and that they’re right about everything. And that attitude is about the least holy, the least loving thing you can do. Love and ego are not the same. They’re like oil and water. So in order to love people, you have to let go of trying to control them, or your own sense of righteousness. Care and concern, you can have, sure. But also, you must be able and willing to let go of your own agenda, your own story, your own desires when it comes to a particular person, if you are trying to love. This doesn’t mean you don’t fight for someone when you feel it’s needed, or do what you think is right in a certain situation. But it means you must be willing, on some level, to recognize that you don’t know the Higher Hand, and you’re just doing your part. You’re doing you. He or she is doing them. You can’t know the outcome. You can’t know what might be at work here, what way this event is important or meaningless. But maybe you are willing to invite some higher presence in so that you can act from a deeper place, rather than a place of control or domination or small-mindedness. Maybe you’re simply trying to act from a place of love, which sometimes gets clouded with all kinds of other thoughts and fears. Maybe you want to act with skill, but you recognize you may not know how, and so you invite something bigger to help you so that you can feel like at least you did everything you could. At least you are willing to recognize your own vulnerability, your own inability to fix everything. You do your best. You walk humbly, but you aren’t lazy, either.
Obviously, I am so not perfect. I am so only human. I can’t run anybody else’s life but my own. (And I often want someone to take that job for me.) Yet I do make time to listen and see. I do try that, as much and as often as I can. And I do invite the Skinny Guy in to help me, because it helps to know he’s there, and that maybe he’ll take pity on my imperfection and work a little magic in the places that need greasing. That’s just how I choose to live.
But if you want to live some other way, and you’re not trying to hurt anyone? If this God stuff doesn’t work for you? If you’ve tried before, and it never seems to help, and you’ve figured out a different philosophy?
You do you.