Tag Archives: God

What’s in a name? We have all been complicit in bastardising the word ‘God’

It’s a name I love, and it’s a name others love to hate. We have all been complicit in some way, whether misguidedly or deliberately, of bastardising the word ‘God’.  Since the beginning of time, the word, or the name, has been fraught with tension and conflict.  No other name, in all of history has been as misused, misapplied or mishandled, as has the name, God.  The word has become empty of meaning says spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle.  And he is right. But I am hoping it’s a misunderstanding that will eventually be rectified.

It was a life altering moment for me when I realised everything, I perceived God to be was a lie.  After what seemed like years of unproductive spiritual searching, I made the decision to dump God for good.  I was spiritually battered and tired of trying. No more, I thought.

My spiritual journey - the way I see it.

Through my eyes. (Painting by Louise Taiaroa)

But sometimes life has different plans.  My spiritual journey was not over.  At the precise moment of my dumping God I was struck by a thought I was, at the time, incapable of thinking.  A question.  Loud and clear.  “What if everything you perceive me to be is a lie?”  And it was.  A big damned lie.  The God I had created, was indeed, a figment of my imagination.  A crutch I had been clutching for most of my life.  I let that God go, a huge relief to do so.  But although the God I thought I loved turned out to be a lie, it was also the beginning of a new happening.  An awakening.  Ten years later I am still discovering new things about this awakening.

Like me, I wonder how many of you, look at God with eyes tainted by the imagery and experiences of your past, and of the past of others.  When you create God based on personal, cultural and life experiences, it is little wonder the name God has become outdated.  Eckhart Tolle says the word God has become a closed concept.

“The moment the word is uttered, a mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard but still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost inevitably a male someone or something.”

Which brings me to religion. Throughout history, the name of God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.  Mention God and people start talking religion.  Mention religion and people say, ‘Oh, I don’t believe in God’.

Like a taut, tight, woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. But in order to reclaim the name of God we must untangle God from religion. Seeking God and identifying with a religion are totally different experiences.

Religions are human institutions.  They are an outside experience between you and other people; full of interpretation, theories and opinions. But God, experiencing God, is an ‘inside-out’ experience just between you and God, or whatever name you best identify this feeling with. A feeling in your chest – it’s a matter of the heart.  Your mind is not involved. God happens when you allow yourself to wander through the chasms, abysses and crevasses of your own heart and pay attention to what is happening. Religion is not necessary for this.

After I became aware everything I believed God to be was a lie I experimented with new names to replace the word God. A name to fit the source of sheer wonder happening inside of me. At the time the name ‘God’ felt too small and limiting. I tried using names such as Universe, Designer, Creator, and Mother God. In his book, The Power of Now, Tolle uses the name ‘Being’ to describe the source within you. He says it is an open concept, impossible to bring a mental image to the word. But as the shackles of my fabricated God gradually fall away, I find I am returning to using the name God. But that’s just my preference because as Tolle says,

“Neither God nor Being can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points…”

What’s in a name?  Well, quite a bit if your name is God.  A name shackled and controlled by human interference and perception; a name shrouded in lies. From the avid believer, to the ardent atheist, we are good at telling our self lies about God to justify our actions, beliefs or non-beliefs.  But we can become equally as good at restoring the name of God.. The decision sits inside each one of us. Take a moment and ask the question – what if everything I perceive God to be is not true? Then let that God go…. and wait.

Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung describes what can happen in this inside waiting space beautifully.

‘Who looks outside dreams.

Who looks inside, awakens.’

Hopelessness … why not try God?

The only yellow flower growing out of parched, cracked soil.

The ‘wait’, every damn second of the ‘wait’, is consumed with survival, yet survival, is the one thing her Motor Neurone Disease (MND) cannot give her.

With her days numbered my visits with Kirsty are much quieter. Our conversation more intermittent as she rests from the effort of trying to live.  And while the disease continues to wreak havoc on every muscle in her body, despair and hopelessness also hover in the background. Like vultures. Persistent in their quest to ravage her soul.

The dictionary describes hopelessness as an emotion characterized by a lack of hope, optimism, and passion. From my perspective, as a bystander to my friends’ illness, the English language completely lacks words to describe the intensity of emotions encircling the dark, shadowy wasteland of this thing called ‘hopelessness’.  Fear, despair, helplessness, powerlessness, pain, loneliness, and ‘I feel so useless’, are words Kirsty has used at various times during my visits as she confronts her death – a death forced upon someone wanting to live.

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Out, loud and proud – Coming out of the God closet (Part 2)

In Part 1, I talked about fear being a constant companion of mine, in my self-imposed God closet. How scared I was to openly love God, and the doubts that plagued my mind. Fear and doubt – what a paralysing concoction.

Fear does not travel alone. Anxiety and doubt always accompany fear and once fear takes hold of your thought life, you see everything through the lens of fear. In denying the truth about my love for God and my faith in Jesus, doubt become my master.  Oh Yes! Morning, noon and night my thoughts sat with me like best buddies. Here’s a little sample of just how messy the inside of my God closet looked.

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Coming out of the God closet (Part 1)

When I turned sixty, my mortality taunted me. What the heck happened? Where did those years go? What is, and what was, my purpose in life? To placate a rising panic, I self-published a collection of short story/essays about moments in my life that had taught me some valuable life lessons.
Not long after the book was published, I began to feel an inside-out niggle that something wasn’t quite right. I kept seeing an image in my mind of the Disney character, Scrooge, emptying his bag of coins. Then I would see myself emptying my bag of coins, except a couple of my coins were stuck fast. And no matter how hard I shook and pulled the coins; I could not dislodge them. The coins represented two untold stories that should have been in the book. Today I rip the first of these coins from the bag. I am coming out of the God closet.

A note to my family: 
When I die, I want to be remembered for the story of my soul. Currently you are not that interested in my soul. Understandably, you are busy with the busyness of your own souls. But I know, once I am gone, you will be curious to know more about the person behind the monikers of Mum, sister, wife, Aunty and Nana.

If I were to ask you what was most important to me, you would probably list a variety of outside-in activity – running, yoga, family, friends, coffee, excitement, and my love for adventure. And you would be correct.  They have given me great pleasure in life. But what you cannot see is the excitement and adventure of my spiritual life. Nor can you hear the thunderous, persistent never-ending hum of yearning saturating my inner life. I’ve always known the ‘yearning’ is somehow linked to God, and I want you to know God, is very much my adventurous inside-out, every minute of the day, activity.

It shames me to say, I have deliberately kept the extent of my relationship with God quiet. You see, I’ve become pretty adept at skirting the peripherals of God. Good at perfecting my ‘safe from ridicule’ image. Comforting myself with small peeks from within the security of my closet while withdrawing when I sense any sort of opposition. The reason? Fear!  I have been consumed by fear. Terrified of being thought of as foolish. Scared of being different in a society that demands uniformity.
Yes, fear has been a constant companion alongside my hum of yearning. Fear is so powerful. It lurks in the dark, so I want to bring it out into the light. Declaring loudly my love for God, stating ‘I am a Christian’ is my way of bringing my fear into the light.  In a way I’m facing a bully. Because that’s what fear is, a crippling, debilitating bully.

I know some of your painful life experiences will have you doubt a loving God. ‘Why did, and why does God allow bad things to happen to me?’ How I wish I could make your pain just disappear with a swish of a magic wand. Just make it go away for you. But I can’t. I don’t have a magic wand, and apparently, neither does God.  But I know this one thing.  You will continue to find many ways to soothe your pain and you can choose to do this with, or without, God. From my experience though, there is no better way to rant, rave, sob, shout, swear, laugh, be angry and pour out your pain, than doing this with God by your side.

Alongside the cacophony of noise in my soul are the doubts. How do I know you are real God? Can you believe this – professing my love for God, and then my doubt that God exists, in one breath? Yes, I do doubt. But these doubts are very much a loved part of my God journey.  I read somewhere that ‘when your faith has no room for doubt, then you are just left with—religion, something that takes its place in your life among other things—like a job or a hobby.  Doubt is God’s way of helping you to not go there.’

When I doubt, is when I seek God the most. And questioning has always been a part of my seeking – never forget this, and never forget to do this.  Questioning helped me dismantle the myths, perceptions and misconceptions that have, at times, plagued my inside-out life.  Believing just by ‘faith’ or because someone tells you to, without questioning and challenging what you hear, makes you a slave to religion. In Part 2 of my ‘note’ I explain my proof that a living God exists.

But please don’t call me religious. This terrifies me.  I do not believe in organised religion.  Separating God from religion was big me. God and religion are very different. Oh, you should have heard the melody in my soul when I realised everything, I perceived God to be, was a lie.   When I finally understood there was nothing I needed to do, or belong to, to experience God, or God’s love.

Oh yes … love! We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. People carry such wrong notions about love. And most of us journey a long way to find what is near. We look everywhere for our perception of love. For years I bought into the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. I searched for it everywhere. Did things I am not proud of, in the name of love. Tried to love according to my own, and of others’ expectations. Love was a never-ending battle of effort and, of course, failure for me.

The aching for love is a strand of yearning that links us all. And if you are seeking this love, then be sure of this one thing, this love is also seeking you. You see, what I’ve come to understand is, God’s love is inside me, not outside. Love cannot come into you; it can only come out of you. God’s love has a completely different look, feel and outcome, than the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. And it is this love that lures me out of the God closet for I cannot fully serve the truth, or follow Love’s footsteps, with one foot in the God closet.

To seek love is to seek God, and that is the story of my soul. My pondering, wandering soul in my ragged, ragtag body.  It is God. It is love.

The fight for my feminine soul

I need to rethink my life as a ‘man-made’ woman. To take back my soul. [Sue Monk Kidd].

Did you notice my new blog category? Feminist Spirituality.  Just writing the words, and I’m shaking my head not quite believing what I see.

Feminism – it’s not a term I thought I would ever use in conjunction with spirituality or God. Never in a million years.  I’m a bit of a coward. A closet sympathiser. A secret fist pumper. Cautious about attaching myself to the word ‘feminist’ in any sense, let alone place it side by side with spirituality.  I’m scared of the backlash and outrage that occurs when old, or new ways, are challenged or questioned. A hostile response and I’m easily silenced. But no more.  I’ve been silent far too long. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be able to change the words ‘Feminist Spirituality’ to ‘Feminine Spirituality’, but at this stage. I am just at the start of my fight – the fight to get back what has always been mine – my feminine soul.

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What matters most … is a matter for the heart

Love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you. [MC]

The last day of the year and, like every other year, the endless wandering of my soul ‘ups the ante’.  When my yearning and longing reach their crescendo. It’s noisy, creative, anticipative and full of fire in the belly.  It also dumps with it, a bunch of melancholy. A restlessness. An ache. Of something I cannot quite see or grasp. It’s like waiting for that bus you know should come, but never comes, but you keep waiting for it.   I feel a bit like a ping pong ball – pinging and ponging my way between the fire in my belly and the stormy blues of melancholy. But today, round one, goes to the fire in my belly – the ignition point at the heart of my yearning and longing … love.

We spend a lifetime searching for love and acceptance.  A friend of mine sums this up beautifully. She says most of us are limping along in this life with deeply buried inner pain, facades of confidence, with no idea how to make it right. Love has always been at the core of my search.  The chasing of futile dreams in fantasy places, happiness in external pleasure, love in religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that has plagued me. The irony is, the only place I ever needed to search was within. How fabulous is that!

Most of us journey a long way to find what is near.  People carry such wrong notions about love. We look everywhere for our perceptions of love. But love cannot be found through external influence. Not in people, power, wealth, beauty, legislation or status. Love is not about performance or doing or going anywhere.  No-one can learn to love by following a manual. Love does not force its will on anybody. We cannot control it.  And contrary to how the world portrays love, love has no economic value, it is impossible to measure. You can’t love to order – love’s steps are experienced not constituted. Author Mitch Albom says,
“Love is not revenge. It can’t be thrown like a rock. And you can’t create it to fix your problems. Forcing love is like picking a flower, then insisting that it grow.”

I have talked in previous blogs about the way the truth hits you – both hard and gentle at the same time. How it punches you in the stomach as it puts a loving arm around your shoulder. [Anne Ursu].  A few years ago, at a time when I was mentally at my ugliest, I had one of those moments of truth.  I love to run. I find the action of putting one foot in front the other calming when life is in a turmoil. On this particular run, when my thoughts were anything but calm – full of self-pity, anger and confusion, I heard the words, ‘Margaret, love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you.’ Wham!  It still sends shivers down my spine. I literally stopped dead in my tracks and looked around me to see if anyone else had heard anything. What a truth!  ‘Love can only come out of you.’ Those words of love literally changed and saved my life.

We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. The aching for love and acceptance links us all. To truly understand love, we need divine help. People don’t like to hear this, because we tend to want to be in control of love, dictate love on our own terms, but we won’t get there without God, because God is love – nothing more, nothing less. To seek love is to seek God. And that is a matter for the heart.

I want to finish the year with a quote I used at the beginning of my blog journey. I’m hoping you may take this into the New Year with you.  It’s by the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Rumi, he says,

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The greatest weapon we have is love.  And love starts with you, from the inside-out. You must be the love. It’s what you feel in your chest.  Your heart knows the way so run in that direction. The alchemy of love can only come from inside you. Oh yes, what matters most is most definitely a matter for the heart. Happy New Year.

Religion and God – making sense of the nonsense

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. [MC]

Religion and God. Oh, my goodness! This is one of those articles that will not go away.  As I sat browsing through one of my journal writings from the eighties, I noticed my first words, “My pen is the mouthpiece for my unspoken thoughts”.  It’s a quote that remains true for me today. Until my unspoken thoughts appear on paper, I’m stuck.  At a standstill, neither moving forward or backwards.

Unfortunately, I’m also a bit of a coward. It’s easy to write about the outside-in stuff. Regale you with stories of my interests – running, yoga, friends, family, memoirs, or even a work of fiction. However, I am drawn longingly to write about life from the inside-out. But religion and God? I’ve read enough bitterly scathing, caustic, vitriolic criticism from others to scare me from writing about the subject for a lifetime. But I need to move forward. As my outward life unravelled so too did my inner life.  I make no apologies about the fact that a central spiritual theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings –– God, religion, love – all have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life. And all were littered with myth, perception and misconception. So I began the process of unpicking and discarding. Questioning everything about my spiritual life.  And part of this process was trying to make sense of the nonsense that surrounds God and religion. Here goes…

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. In a previous blog, Love in three minutes, I mentioned how, we use the words love and commitment as though both words have the same or similar meaning when, in fact, they are quite different. We do the same with religion and God. Mention religion and people start talking about God.  Discuss God and people start talking about religion. Seeking God and identifying with a religion are totally different experiences.  Throughout history, God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.

Religion has done a huge disservice to God. Not long ago I received a curt email from an acquaintance. The one sentence email read, “This is why I don’t believe.” Underneath was a link to a YouTube clip featuring Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) lecturing from his bestselling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens was a controversial, thought-provoking British-American writer. He was a serious atheist.  In the YouTube clip he was witty, funny, riveting, confident and clever.  And I had to agree with most of what he said. I did not believe in the God he was talking about either. But the problem I had, and have, with the atheist argument is how they mix God with religion as though they were one and the same, when in fact, the two are very different. And it wasn’t until I explored the question, ‘what if everything I perceived God to be was lie?’, that I realised I had been doing the same thing.

Jeff Goldwasser, a rabbi at the Temple Sinai in Cranston, says our society, it seems, has become so confused about religion that we don’t really seem to understand what a religion is. Because of that, we don’t really seem to understand what it means to experience God, either.

“Seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. Yet, many people seem to think that a person who does not identify with any particular religion must, therefore, be an atheist. That is an insult both to God and, I suppose, to true atheism. Religions are human institutions that, at their best, help people to experience and be close to God. At their worst they can give people an excuse to hate, control and be greedy. However, the relationship between a religion and God is like the relationship between a radio and music. Just because you don’t have one does not mean that you can’t experience the other.”

Goldwasser says seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. He is right. Religion is an ‘outside-in’ experience, between you and other people; it’s full of interpretation, theories and opinions. But God, experiencing God, is an ‘inside-out’ experience just between you and God. A feeling in your chest – it’s a matter of the heart.  No one else is involved. God happens when you allow yourself to wander through the chasms, abysses and crevasses of your own heart and pay attention to what you feel. Religion is not necessary for this. Someone once told me ‘going to church makes you no more a Christian than going into a cowshed makes you a cow’. So true! There is nothing, you need to achieve, belong to, or go to, to know God.

Can religion be found in God? No! Absolutely not. Can God be found in religion?  Yes. But as a stepping stone, not a stopping place. Religion can one of the many, many ways we use when we are seeking that something or responding to matters of the heart.  But religions don’t work for everyone. They are not necessarily the ideal way for everyone to experience God. No religion, and no human institution has a monopoly on the truth. Because that’s what this is about. It is not about having the best argument or winning the debate. It’s about truth. You do not have to have a religion to find that truth. These days I tend to tell people, ‘If the by-product of what you believe is love, then go for it’.

Freeing God from the shackles of religion has been a liberating experience for me. When I began the process of untangling the web that ensnared religion and God, I noticed how my attitudes towards others changed. The people I met, their stories, became incredibly precious. Everyone’s life mattered. Love, peace and tolerance take on new dimensions when you separate God from religion and religion from God. Especially love, because we are all searching for that place where love has hidden itself away.

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