I often go to the Friends Journal website to take a peek at the upcoming topics. As a member of the Religious Society of Friends and a very irregular attender, I like to use the topics as prompts for meditation so I can get my Quaker on when I’ve been away too long. I sit much like I’m at Meeting for Worship and ponder these topics and let them go where they lead. I recently read an upcoming topic, Concepts of God, and chewed upon it for a while. As I can’t stop chewing, I feel compelled to rise and speak.
In my faith, I am a constant seeker. I am forever searching for greater connections to my source. I have found my deepest connections in Quakerism. I love the SPICES. As I chew on the concept of God, I feel I need to sprinkle it with Equality. I do believe, no, I know it to be true in my experience that there IS that of God in every one of us. And I can just as wholeheartedly declare there is that of Buddha in everyone, that of Allah in everyone, that of Odin in everyone.
While I am speaking from my own Truth, typing it now I feel a bit conflicted. It is actually very difficult for me to say God is interchangeable with Buddha and Allah and (insert your God’s name here). Not because I don’t truly believe what I’m saying, but because I honestly do. I was introduced to God by way of Jesus. Jesus is the way of my ancestors and I am rooted in my faith through Jesus. And any good Christian knows there is no way but through Jesus. But it is not what I know to be true. You see, my grandfather, Frank Hansen, was a man of great faith. He took me to church with him. I recited my Bible verses, read the stories and listened to the preacher’s message each week. I took it all in. My grandfather was held in high regard at his church and in his community. He was kind to everyone, always respectful and considerate. I don’t recall but one time seeing him lose his patience. He never pushed his religion, but could school anyone on the subject.
Once, as a child, I told my grandfather I felt uncomfortable going out to evangelize as the youth group did from time to time and maybe that meant I wasn’t a good Christian. I knew he, at least for himself, believed there to be only one true way and would tell me if I was missing the boat. He told me I was okay. He told me how he had always thought it was better instead to be like a lighthouse. Let your light shine so it is there in case someone needs it to find their way. And that is how he lived his life, like a brilliant, beautiful, shining lighthouse. It is his life that speaks more purely to me of Jesus than the Bible ever will. I can see clearly that Christ, in scripture, in words, in death, isn’t the way; living as Christ, in peace, in compassion, with love for all, is.
I eventually left the church that seemed so preoccupied with “saving” everyone. I believe no faith holds a monopoly on salvation and righteousness. It isn’t the words I use, the name I speak or the images that hang in the church I visit that connect me to God. It is my practice. And not my practice on Sunday mornings (which I’ve already said is lacking), but my life as my practice. I developed my practice starting with my rooted beliefs, the beliefs I inherited. My grandfather introduced me to my source through his connection (J.C.) and allowed me to become familiar with God so that, I believe, I may recognize Him when I see Him in this world. As I have my own life experiences, I have compared what I have learned to what I have been taught. And one thing that jives with my own experience but perhaps is not so harmonious with what I was taught is that my God is not exclusive. My God, that Divine Light my grandfather introduced me to, is not limited to one point of access. I have connected to my God leaning my back on a pew in a meetinghouse and leaning my back on a great oak in a fairy glen. I have heard my God speak in the scriptures, in a bird’s song, and in a fortune cookie. I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit at a mass, at a yoga class and at a basketball game.
If I could call him nothing and be understood, I would. Religion, to me, is like a language. I may speak only one language, but if I cry, or I laugh or I smile, chances are good that I will be universally understood. God is the smile and the tear, the expression of our deepest emotions where there is no mistaking the meaning but neither are there words to truly convey it. Religion is the concept, these ideas that try to capture and contain into words, into one cohesive language, what can only be experienced. I can’t fathom defining the divine source of all life, all of life’s expressions and manifestations, the same way as anyone else as no one experiences life the same way. Everyone comes from a different point of reference.
But while I know everyone expresses their connection to their source differently, I absolutely accept that I glimpse my source most often in other people. I find God in the common experiences of life that aren’t exclusive to one culture or faith. And when I find that connection, I don’t know nor do I care what their dogma is, what name they pray to, or how they eat their Reese’s peanut butter cup. Because I know there is more than one way to come to the Truth.
I know that what serves to separate me from my brothers and sisters will also separate me from my creator. So I don’t sweat the names given to the source. I know the light shines in each one of us. It is glorified when I bask in the light of another and reflect it back out to them. As I’ve thought and listened deeply on this topic, I’ve come to be okay with simplifying the great religious debate down to potato/potahto in my mind and knowing it does not disrespect my grandfather’s faith. Everyone must find what speaks to them, and then they must let their life speak to what they’ve found. Me? I have found loving-kindness and compassion speak the truth. I strive to master these sublime tongues first and will go on from there.