Because I’m in a new place my brain is open to everything, like a child on her first day at school, perhaps looking a little lost. It invites people in.
I was in the great hall, talking to a man at a table about laughter therapy and the possibility of organizing a group on campus (I’m keen to do as much laughing as I can these days) when a youngish man joined us. We, the youngish man and me, decided to hook up to get things going with the laughing group.
We exchanged details and then got talking. Quickly the conversation arrived at god, well Jesus to be more precise.
I don’t mind talking about God. I’m always fascinated by people’s god stories. Intrigued that so many people seem so certain of their god. I have more of a god of uncertainty in all things, a bit like a mad auntie with wild hair who cackles all the time at some private joke that no else knows.
It turns out this youngish man was selling god, his version of god that is.
I told him that I envy anyone with faith. But I don’t envy their certainty. I didn’t say that. Certainty stops people listening, stops them wondering, kills curiosity, and curiosity, as you know, is at the heart of brain change.
(And while we’re on the brain I wonder, and have wondered for some time, if the brain is the real god of all things. But perhaps that’s a god-brain-story for another time).
I don’t like anyone selling me his version of god.
I had that as a kid. I was sold a punitive god, always watching over your little shoulder to make sure you were being good. I never understood the contradictions between this loving guy called Jesus who laid down his life just for me, or so they said, and this big bad daddy who pointed the finger at my small muddled heart when I was only doing my best.
The outcome was a thick coating of guilt and shame.
But there were some good bits to the god of my childhood, if you were good. Good god! There were great stories of parting seas, and food from heaven, saints and sinners lost, stories than made you tremble and grind your teeth. And of course there was Jesus the magician. They called them miracles. I called it magic.
That old god story worked well enough till I was in my teens, and then that good god clashed with my desires. It seemed the higher I took up my skirts and shorts, the smaller god became. Less skirt = less god, more skirt = more god, or more leg = less god. Perhaps the equation needs a bit more goddess in it that might change the formula and the outcome?
One of the main things I dislike about people selling god is that they think their god is right, the only god, and no one else has a right to god. People fight wars to prove their gods, and god stories, are right. That doesn’t make one bit of sense to me, especially when most of the gods I’ve come across speak of love not war.
The other thing I don’t like about a lot of gods is that they are all old men. No, it’s not the old thing, I think old is ok, denotes wisdom.
I just don’t know why anyone thinks that god is male.
I mentioned this to the youngish man who was selling his god. His answer was that god created the world in seven days. He went on to say that if god were female, she would have given birth to the world. Hmm, I thought his argument was flawed but I know you cant change the mind of people who are stuck in a god story so I saved my words for later, for this.
I quietly suggested, as I was taking my leave, that the creation story was only one version of god and that many older cultures have versions of the goddess giving birth to the world out of chaos or nothing. We left it there. I left.
I prefer my muddled heart to listening to people who are so certain of their god that they try to sell it to me.
Perhaps that’s why I like some of the Eastern versions of god. You can pick and choose your gods to match the occasion. There is a feast, or fiesta of gods, one big dysfunctional family, like all those Greek and Roman gods in mythology.
My particular favorite in Hindu is Ganesha, and oh yeah Lakshmi, she’s the goddess of money and abundance, and the embodiment of beauty, so she’s worth getting to know if you haven’t met her.
Yes, I prefer a dancing god to an old man sitting in the clouds dealing out retribution, like an nodding priest, “say three Hail Mary’s and no chocolate for a week, and say sorry to your mother and …… “
Perhaps all of this is why I’m drawn to Buddhism. The first version of Buddhism I encountered in Sri Lanka didn’t mention any gods, it was all about practice, understanding direct experience and how we cause ourselves suffering, simple, unadorned, no gods to argue with, or to rescue you. No god required to reach Nirvana. A good teacher helps, but isn’t essential.
But as I sat to write about god stories, and what I call god, it’s not an organized religion or practice that comes to mind, but beauty, yes perhaps with a capital “B,” that is my true god.
Finding the beautiful in the ordinary, or is that the ordinary in the beautiful?
The beauty in Nature is like a sacred ecstatic dance. I am the dancer and the danced. I dance with the goddess of small things, leaning in to see a drop of water sparkling on a leaf, evening light kissing the gnarled trunk of tree, a bird singing his morning hymn. Yes here is my god.
And, the god of music.
At a recital on Sunday in Madgwick Hall by the New England Ensemble, I was listening with my eyes closed. Yes I was in heaven, like floating-in-a-sonic-stream-of-cosmic-consciousness, carrying-me-up-and-out-and-into-other-worlds, beyond time and place.
As they played I was transported to Europe and Russia, and the wide deserts of this ancient land, I went waltzing in Vienna on a starry night, drifting on a river that shimmered in the moonlight, and soaring over ragged mountains.
As the piano called to the viola and each string sang back to the other with the cello bending low in noble bow, the violin wept in the woods for something lost or never found. I was carried on the gliding swan of song beyond time and words and into the realm of the gods, Orpheus seeking his Eurydice, Apollo and the muses, and all the dancing gods and goddesses in gardens greening sleeves.
I listened. I became the music. There was no divide. The music was in me, with me, through me, in my bones and under my skin, curling into my ears like a delicate shell.
We are born in music. The first beat is a mother’s heart, the timbre of her voice through the pink-soft-shell-walls, the sound of oceans rolling warm and ebbing through our growing cells, a call to life.
The god of music danced among us. This god asked nothing and gave everything. It didn’t incite war or hatred or division, but called us to beauty and joy and wonder. It made our skin tingle and our eyes water with its loveliness.
And, the beauty of words
…. so many beautiful words, to read, and speak, and to make something new, or new again. So many ways to hold the words and shape them, hone them with loving dedication, until they shine, and the ordinary comes alive, animated by a soft verb here, a sharp nuance of delight there… oh yes, the play of words is a pastime for the gods and goddesses who dare that ancient Odyssey.
Yes the god of the creative is my god of wonder. The arts, music and words, and images, and listening to nature’s glorious streams makes me fall to my knees in awe and lift my head to pray my wordless prayer.
To find the spirit of beauty in the ordinary is an incantation divine.
For me the greater challenge is to see the beautiful in everyone I meet.
Yes that’s my challenge. Sometimes the beauty seems buried deep. Like the drunk last night coming home from the bar after midnight who kept shouting, “I am dead, I am dead.” At least that’s what I think he was shouting. And for a brief moment, as I longed for sleep, I wished it too. But then I thought he might be a drunk, narcissistic philosophy student with a god complex, and what he really meant to shout, was, “god is dead, god is dead.”
I’m sure he’ll wish he were dead this morning, so there is a kind of beauty in that natural rhythm of cycles and consequences, a cosmic order, or cosmic joke, god the joker?
Yes please, I’ll take the funny, dancing, laughing god-goddess, with a side of Muse peppered with beauty.
And you can keep your warring gods of hatred and retribution, and your god of certainty, whatever name you call it.