Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thoughts on redefining the god of my understanding

Thinking about how my understanding of god has radically changed through my life, I am left to wonder how to share this with people.  Most people live in a world that god helps them make sense of it all.  Given the things I've experienced and come to understand, this doesn't work fo rme, but it does for others -- those that conform to the comforting norms of religion and society.

Sometimes I wonder if it is good idea to pop the baloon of conformity.  Not everyone responds well to it; perhaps they are walking around in the matrix as happy as can be, without wondering what is behind it.
Others of us cannot help but wonder what is behind the matrix, and somedays that isn't always a happy place. 

When the god of our religious upbringing dies, there is a hole in the support network.  From the vast history of god, gods, and religion, it didn't seem to matter that none of that was real, people of faith thought it was, and that was good enough.  filling that hole is an immense challenge.

Confucius didn't speak of faith, but he did participate in the ritual faithfully.  Here is a snippet of the Lun Yu - the Analects:
Some one asked the meaning of the great sacrifice. The Master said, “I do not know. He who knew its meaning would find it as easy to govern the kingdom as to look on this;— pointing to his palm.
He sacrificed to the dead, as if they were present. He sacrificed to the spirits, as if the spirits were present.
The Master said, “I consider my not being present at the sacrifice, as if I did not sacrifice.”
Wang-sun Chia asked, saying, “What is the meaning of the saying, “It is better to pay court to the furnace than to the south-west corner?”“
The Master said, “Not so. He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.”
Some of this language is hard to understand. The bottom line is that he did not know the nature of god (the great sacrifice), did not think the spirits or ancestors were actually present -- yet he worshipped and prayed with sincerity.  Given a choice between the furnace (symbolic of the practical aspects of life) versus the south-west corner (the area of worship in the house), he chose the place of worship -- prayer has a purpose, and to reject god entirely leaves one without a god to pray to.  So, a rational man, Confucius prayed, went through the rituals with all respect to the spirits he knew were not present.  Yet in his mind, he did the actions, and prayed to god regardless, and found personal benefit thereby. 

Elie Wiesel lost his belief in the god of his religious upbringing in Auschwitz, forced to look upon the face of a child being hung slowly to death.  His 'god' died that day.  He relates a very interesting account about why he continued to pray:
There is a story that one day in Auschwitz, a group of Jews put God on trial. They charge him with cruelty and betrayal. Like Job they found no consolation in the usual answers to the problem of evil and suffering in the midst of this current obscenity. They could find no excuse for God, no extenuating circumstances, so they found him guilty and, presumably, worthy of death. The Rabbi pronounced the verdict. Then he looked up and said that the trial was over: it was time for the evening prayer.
I'm not sure it's a geat idea to kill the god in our understanding.  In walking through the Holocaust Memorial in DC, I felt nothing at all--blackness.  The 'shoe room' brought home the magnitude of the evil of the holocaust.  The sheer efficiency and productivity with which holocaust was conducted speaks to the idea that any god who would allow such evil to occur is not worthy of worship.  My naive god died there and many other places.

Yet I still have felt the spirit after this realization as strongly as I did when I was a naive believer in the magical god of my upbringing.  Defining what I believe is defintely part of that spirit, and many times it carries me to spiritual heights.

Not this morning though.  I feel pretty lonely and worthless.  I have no happy face to put on today, probably because of god knows what.  The monster I have come to know as depression is often alive and well in me.  I once thought that was because of sin.  Now I understand it's just part of being human, and that's ok. 

I think it's time to pray.

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