Letting Go to Move Ahead

Sunday Morning Musings:  As far as the church is concerned this week is often referred to as “Holy Week”, that is to say, the week before Easter.  For some, this week begins with a parade known as Palm Sunday and culminates with the celebration of Easter and the resurrection of the Christ.  In between these two celebrations we often hear the stories of “fake news” about what was said and when; as well as betrayal and denial by close friends; and mocking and death on a cross. In some instances this week is also known as Passion Week.

Needless to say (but I will say it anyway), my musings have been all over the place.  Truly, for many without Easter (the story of the resurrection) there would be nothing.  Even in the scriptures, Paul is convinced that without belief in the resurrection our faith is in vain (I Corinthians 15:14).  It would almost seem natural that the scientific minded among us would want proof (as did the disciple Thomas).  But proof does not exist. Such a statement has led many to the decision that seems so simple – either you are in or you are out.

I have to wonder though, whether or not if life is that simple. As I have remarked many times before, we seem to be a people who want answers.  There is no doubt that we have lots of questions, questions about nearly everything.  We want to know who was at fault when something doesn’t happen the way we think it should; we want to have explained (usually in simple terms) what things happen when they do.  I am told that a good detective doesn’t like to use the term “coincidence”.  As I mentioned previously in my musings, like Stephen Hawking, we want to know the “reason for everything”.

One of the most difficult tasks I have found is that of letting go.  More than nought, I want to control the outcomes of those things in which I find myself involved.  For some, such control issues affect one’s mental health – one of the conditions experienced by some is called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  To some extent we all feel the need to determine the outcome.  Sometimes it can be as simple as feeling that anything less than a “home run” is a failure.  (Trivia fact:  did you know that Babe Ruth struck out three times more than he his home runs?)

Of course, due to the society in which we live, words and concepts can take on different meanings.  Letting go or surrendering is often viewed as a negative action.  Yet, time and time again we are told in one way of another that “in losing our life we shall find it”. Too often when the outcome is not what we expect we will play the blame and shame card – blame someone or something or feel the shame of not being good enough.  Letting go often means stepping back from “judgment” and then we can begin the journey to wholeness with all of creation.

The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, wrote in her book, When Things Fall Apart (Shambhala, Boston, 2000): If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path. (p.38).

Letting go feels risky.  On the other hand, how will we know unless we do?  Letting go means to stop judging our actions or those around us and find a way to move forward.

Faith is Searching

Sunday Morning Musings:  It has been quite a week – even though I have about the furthest thing from a scientific mind, I was moved like many others to learn of the physical death of Stephen Hawking.  Like other great people with the thirst for knowledge and understanding, Hawking may have originally hesitated to speak of a connection between science and spirituality, but he was also willing to search the mystery. (I used the word spirituality” instead of “religion” because they often become confused in any discussion with science.)

Far be it from me to even begin to understand the full extent of the connections, other than to say that I admired Hawking greatly for the simple reason that he chose to explore and think beyond himself.  I have been told that to constantly ask questions is a sign of my lack of faith.  I admit that I do lack a faith at times, but it is not in what I call “God”, but in those that try to tell me or anyone that they have all the answers.  Even the Bible that is a record of man’s experiences and their attempt to describe such encounters throughout history is limited.

To limit the recording of these encounters to a time frame of six or seven thousand years is beyond incredible to me.  It doesn’t take a mindful-genius like Hawking to realize that the universe was present millions of years ago.  Nor does it take any stretch of my imagination or mind to realize that God was, is and will be a part of it all.

The difficulty arises when we try to put God in a box, no matter the size of that box.  God is beyond time and space, beyond matter. God is both “singularity” and in all things, both nothingness and everything. Will some great mind ever fully understand this paradox?  Even Stephen Hawking whose physical life was fifty years longer than most expected was still searching for answers.

One of the most admirable features of Hawking for me was that he never gave up (and those who loved him never gave up on him) his learning and seeking for understanding.  To me, that is faith.  One of my favourite Hawking quotes has to do with a somewhat controversial idea within religious groups as well as outside them.  Hawking is quoted as having said:  I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.

Besides the implications of which he spoke, his sense of humour was incredible.  Despite the hand that he was dealt, he lived his life fully.  When I begin to feel sorry for myself and the situation in which I am at that time, I find people like Hawking very inspirational.  As I mentioned above, I am far from him intellectually, but I believe Hawking would be the first to remind us that searching is the key.  I have always felt that “if I have all the answers, then I haven’t asked all the questions” and the journey continues.

As the title of the movie about Hawking’s life reminds us: The Reason for Everything, we all are part of something greater than what we see and even know, and it is our calling to keep asking the questions.  Yet, the great paradox in this search also involves learning how to “let go”.  Which is likely a good topic for further musings.

God is not Mr.-Fix-it

Sunday Morning Musings:   As I write these musings I find myself listening to the news (maybe too much).  It seems that everywhere I turn I find concerns.  There are concerns about the effects of tariffs; there are weather concerns (too hot, too cold, too much snow, not enough snow); should the POTUS meet with the leader of North Korea and why; pundits wonder who will win elections and movie awards and what people will be wearing.   The list of these concerns seems endless.  And as much as any or all of the above will have an effect on us personally, the list doesn’t even go into individual concerns about individual health.

Even more important, is the effect that all of these concerns have on us spiritually. (May I remind you, that I do not necessarily interchange the term spiritual with religious?)  Religiously, I have been told that there is no concern to worry about.  God is in control and that is all we need to know.  An old bumper sticker tells us:  If Jesus is in your co-pilot, you are in the wrong seat.)  I can accept this concept of God to a certain degree.  No matter what happens in the world, in my community or in my own personal life, I have no doubt that there will be a presence with me.  I may not know how or even why, but I know it, I believe it, I live it.

Of course, the question is often raised as to why an “all-present” God could or would allow terrible things to happen.  (If you haven’t read Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, please do).  A god who controls life, and blesses and curses our behaviours is not a god worthy of our worship.

I am not saying that belief in “God” is not good.  Rather, I am suggesting that for spiritual growth to be helpful in difficult times we need a fuller understanding of our own spirituality.  I will admit that when we encounter difficult situations we first look for a cause.  We ask:  why is this happening?  Even if we don’t add the “to me” the thought is likely present.  As if we were to think that it should be happening to someone else?  Too often when we can’t find someone else to blame it must be “God” punishing us and so we rail against whatever we can, or passively accept our punishment.

When I allow myself to continue to grow spiritually, I can still have questions but they are not a frantic searching kind.  Nor is my belief a simplest one that leaves it all up to God.  True spirituality grows toward an oneness or unity with “that which is beyond understanding”.  Such an understanding does not mean I will not experience “tough times”.  It does mean that I am never left alone to face whatever comes my way.  Spirituality means that I am a part of life and no matter what life throws at me, I don’t have to face it alone.

What is God?

Sunday Morning Musings: This week there were so many things running through my mind, it was difficult even to narrow down my musings.  I was very intrigued by a question I saw recently asked nearly 20 years ago by the late Marcus Borg.  Instead of the more tradition question, Borg asked: “What is God?”

At first I wondered how I might have a personal relationship with an object (i.e. a ‘what’ and not a ‘who’).   Almost since we began telling and recording stories about God, we have personified “God”.  At the very least we have given God the traits of a person (after all, man is made in the “image of God” so why wouldn’t God be more human like than anything else in creation?)

Oh, oh, I’ve done it now. Half the popular is going to be after me – let me tell the story I once heard about God creating man and having done so looked at this creator and said “I can do better than that and so created ‘woman’.  – Hopefully that should do it, or is everyone now upset with me?  Maybe I should just stop thinking.  Where was I?

What is God?  I have to admit that the more I mused about this question, the more I began to comprehend what I think Borg was getting at.  God, for many even today, is still up there in heaven and is seen as having very masculine traits – God is an old man with a long beard in the sky surrounded by angels.  This God looks down upon creation and sees and blesses the good while cursing and causing bad things to happen – sometimes without us even knowing what we have done wrong.  Even if we have been good (like Job) we still must have “sinned and gone astray”.   We were so bad that God knew that there was only one option left (even the flood wasn’t enough).  Jesus would come and be crucified for our sins – atonement was the only way.

Now that makes me ask: What is God?

Because I do not follow the theology of atonement in the sense that I have been taught – that is to believe that the only way to be at one with creator and creation is to believe that Jesus died because I was unredeemable, I have a lot of re-learning to do.  Firstly, I had to stop taking the Bible literary and wrestle with it (like Jacob) and how to understand it.  As an example, I can refer again to Jacob and Jacob’s ladder.  To me when I read this story the ladder represents the relationship that exists, that I am not separate from God.  Again and again the Bible tells me about the on-going connection of creator and creation.  When Jesus “cleansed the temple”, I feel that we are being told that God doesn’t just dwell in the temple or our churches, but everywhere there exists any attempts to marginalize anyone – which by the way is everywhere, even in our churches and mosques and synagogues…

After yet another mass killing in a school in the USA I say a t-shirt that said something along the lines that it couldn’t be God’s fault because God isn’t allowed in schools anymore.  I agree that killing is never God’s fault, but whether we want to admit it or not, God was there.  Not as a ‘who’ but as love and compassion.  God was there, God is everywhere good needs to be.  Without love there is nothing (1 Corinthians 13).  Without love there is no God.  What is God?  God is love.