One of my favorite yoga teachers talks about connecting with “the God of your understanding”. Aside from wisely noting every person has a different conception of the Divine, I hear Seane Corn as pointing to something I increasingly find True: Whether we’re a theist, atheist, agnostic, or all three, our mental image of God greatly shapes who we are and become. While a disapproving and judgmental deity makes us afraid, worried, and divided, an absent Creator biases us toward hopelessness and meaninglessness, and a conquering warrior God forges violent people, a Spirit characterized by Light and Love heals and calms us, while infusing us with oceans of kindness and joyousness.
While I certainly see this play out in friends, family, our country, and beyond, I’m going to do my best to just share my own journey and experience, plus a few general observations. Growing up Christian, I’ve loved Jesus for as long as I can remember. My earliest church memories are filled with wholehearted singing, a spirit of celebration, and a sense of God’s nearness and favor. What a gift this was!
As I grew and entered middle school and high school, my body and hormones weren’t the only things that changed. While it certainly wasn’t the only message about the Divine conveyed to me, what hit me and impacted me the most during this time was the ongoing communication that from the moment I was born God was displeased with me, regardless of what I did or didn’t do God didn’t like me, and my default destination was hell, unless I prayed and believed in the exact right way AND was sure to thoroughly confess EVERY sin I committed.
Now that it’s 2020 and I can see things clearly 😉 I realize the deep anxiety and insecurity this put in my soul. While I knew I was supposed to Love people by tangibly helping them with my time, energy, and money, this stingy view of Reality left me largely uninterested in and unable to do so. It also played a big role in my disconnecting from my heart/emotions and, at a deep level, disliking myself. After all, if God disapproved of my being, who was I to disagree? Plus, all that really mattered in this paradigm were beliefs, so why connect to anything other than my brain?
While I don’t recall explicitly thinking it, another thing hard-baked into this view I had was that God played favorites. There were good people (my group) and bad people, and since this vision of the Creator also approved of violence, torture, and severe punishment, in my mind it was okay to invade nations, torment enemies for information, and lock people away for decades or life with no thought of rehabilitation or healing.
Alright, let’s pause for a deep breath … or two. Before moving on, I’d like to note, while I don’t think I’m exaggerating the impact of my experience, I am leaving out the good amount of beauty regarding God I also was told and held in my mind’s eye during this time (which shaped me positively). You know how life is messy, complex, and NOT black and white, but full of ALL the colors? It strikes me that perhaps our views of the Divine can be much the same, I know mine was.
While I certainly haven’t “arrived” and wouldn’t claim to have the 100% accurate understanding of the Source of this all, I’d say what has transformed me the most deeply and profoundly for the better was the shifting of my image of God from the distant, strict, and disapproving deity up in the “sky” to Jesus … which may sound odd coming from a person who has been Christian his whole life. The “interesting” thing is, certain aspects of politics, history, and culture have led Christians, like me, to think of and relate to a divinity who looks and acts more like Zeus than Jesus.
While I could write volumes on what Jesus the Christ means to me, I’ll just share a few highlights:
I believe Jesus both gives us the fullest and clearest picture of what God is like, and gives the Divine a face, revealing our Creator as near, intimate, and relatable.
I believe Jesus shows the Spirit is with us, for us, likes us, and is wildly, deeply, and madly in Love with each and every one of us.
I believe while words can’t capture or contain the Ineffable One, Jesus’ life, teachings, and doings say Light and Love are arguably the best words we have for characterizing, understanding, and reflecting the Divine.
Each of these realizations have been incredible gifts that continue to revolutionize my life and my being. Recognizing, for instance, the Christ is the full and clear revelation of our Creator means other images, even ones in the Bible, are incomplete, less accurate, and perhaps beyond. Thus, while a warrior God may be who I needed for a time, as I’ve encountered through Jesus, the ultimate way of God is peaceful and harmonious.
In Christianity we often emphasize the importance of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, meaning right beliefs and right practices. While these are both helpful, I’ve experienced Jesus as showing us the primacy and fundamental/foundational importance of orthoschesy. What the word I just made up 🙂 means is “right” (Ortho) “relationship” (Schesi). God, in my understanding, desires you and I to be in deep, intimate, and profound relationships with God’s self, others, and your and my self. Part of the beauty of this is it’s messy, like life, in that there’s no cookie cutter, singular answer to “what is a right relationship?” That said, I’d venture to say right relationships are characterized by togetherness, vulnerability, understanding, curiosity, giving, compassion, healing, mutuality, kindness, and joy.
Words can’t express how wonderfully this epiphany has (and continues to) transformed me! You know how the ideal of marriage is to go through ALL of life, the triumphs, the tragedies, and everything in between, TOGETHER, supporting, helping, and encouraging one another through thick and thin? I believe we’re collectively meant to do that, walking hand-in-hand through life with one another and the Spirit.
I point to Light and Love as pinnacles of our understanding of the Spirit because that’s what the author of The Gospel According to John, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John in the Bible did. Numerous scholars I’ve read or heard say the words and wording used when John writes “God is light” and “God is love” are unique in that they declare the very nature and essence of our Creator is Light and Love, meaning everything the Divine does shines Light and showers Love.
The thing about Light, especially from our Source, is it reveals and heals … at least when we accept and work with its blessings. God is Light in that God shines on and reveals ALL of us, from traumas to desires to joys to hurts to weaknesses to strengths to faults to darkness and beyond. Needless to say, this can be quite painful and unsettling. Over the years I’ve been shown my selfishness, my emotional and relational disconnectedness, my codependence, and need to be right. Each turned my world upside down! Yet, when I accepted and worked with these insights, I’ve found nothing but healing and wholeness.
“God is Love” is the sweetest, most life-changing blessing I’ve ever received, because being Loved beyond measure, no matter what, from the get go frees us, feeds us, reassures us, heals us, and allows us to be conduits of heavenly Love in the world! While thinking the Divine was distant and disapproving shaped my reality one way, the way Jesus has opened my eyes to our Creator’s beauty has made life beautiful. How have you seen your understanding of God shape and change your life and reality?
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