Tonight I hit the big time: telling my spirituality story on a Facebook Live stream! I’ve been working on this talk for months, and it’s full of things that have hurt me, things that have touched me, and things that have saved me.
The first thing I noticed at St. Stan’s was the highly visible mission statement, that “Holy is any place where it is safe to tell your story. Holy is any place that creates justice.” I’m taking a risk sharing any of the hard stuff – and doing it on the blog is one thing, but doing it with my face and voice on camera is a whole other level of vulnerability.
But I think we help each other save ourselves when we tell each other stories. I can’t save you with my story, but I can give you a little nugget or tool that might help you save yourself. You can define “save” however you want to. That has tremendous value to me and makes the risk worth it. I still second guess the intimacy and openness, but then the universe reminds me to stay open. Most recently, I listened to Brandi Carlisle’s excellent memoir, Broken Horses, where she describes her rejection by the church she grew up in and how she came full circle in her faith. (Along with how she attained such amazing success in her career and artistry.) At the end, she said, if you have a story to tell, tell it. I figure she was talking to me, right?
As I step into this evening, I’m grateful to follow Father Clay’s storytelling example. He shared all of himself in his letters and homilies. His dark and his light. Here’s an excerpt from his story, which he shared in 2012.
Here’s the recording of my talk. I start around 1:06:00. The other speakers are pretty fantastic, too!
One Christian’s Story
Everything starts and ends with God. The way that we image God has a profound influence on the way we live. My image of God has changed through the years. Our images of God all fall far short of what God is, but some images are more helpful than others.
Jesus called God Abba. This reminds us that Jesus knew God loved him as a good mommy or daddy loves a little child. He taught his followers to pray saying “Our Abba”. This tells me that Jesus believed that God was Abba…not just for him but for everyone. The scriptures echo this by saying “God is love”. This is more than saying that God loves us. I understand this to mean that to be God means to be love. That is why I like to use the word Love to refer to God.
This is how my journey has changed through the years. When I was young, I thought of God as a great super being far off in heaven which was up there beyond the sky. From talking to people, I realize that that image is rather common for a start.
I also thought that God was a stern and strict judge. God knew everything that I did and even everything that I thought. God would punish me for every bad action and every bad thought. If I was good enough, I would go to heaven when I died and would be happy forever. If I was not good enough, I would go to hell when I died and would suffer the torture of flames forever and ever. There would be no end to the punishment.
As I look back, I was motivated to be good, not because it was virtuous, but because I was scared not to. Love has little chance to grow in such a situation. Fortunately, I did experience love, but it did not come from religion and church.
Somewhere along the way, I gradually came to believe that God loves all of us. There was no specific moment. I can’t pinpoint anything. It was a gradual evolution. This made a great and positive difference in my life. At the same time, God was, in my belief, a powerful being somewhere out there. Still distant. God (distant) loves us.
The next shift took place about 1971. I was reading the book Man Becoming by Gregory Baum. I realized that even though I believed that God loves us, I was still imaging God as a great powerful human-like being. I began to realize that God was not a being, that all of these “being” images were not very helpful. It was a very fuzzy notion in my mind, but it was striking. It shifted the way I was believing.
About ten years later, I was saying night prayers from a little prayer book that I would use. At the beginning was the phrase: “God is light”. As I said that phrase, I entered into an altered state of consciousness. No words. A way of knowing that did not involve thinking. I pursued that. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had stumbled into centering prayer. That is the way that life usually is with me. I just seem to bumble along.
Next, I remembered that Scripture says, “God is Love”. I had always thought that that meant God loves us. I then realized that that was a superficial understanding. I realized that it was saying that to be God meant to be Love… to be infinite, mysterious, compassionate, understanding, merciful, forgiving healing love. Love is not a being. Yet it is real. Love is spirit, not something. This love is not someone like we are someone. This spirit is knowledge and love. This spirit is so much more than someone. This Love is not a person, but is personal. The word personal points to a reality that is so much more than a person.
Remember that all the words we use can only point to what God is. They cannot plumb what God is. The traditional way of understanding this applies to all of our words. To use the word love. God is like human love. God is not like human love. God is far more than human love.
Love (God) is not a being. Love (God) is the source of all beings. Sometimes the phrase used to express this mystery is pregnant void. God is no kind of thing. Pregnant. This no kind of thing is infinite fullness from which all kinds of beings come. Perhaps a curious phrase, but I find it helpful.
This reminds us that God is not the universe and that the universe is not God. Also, it reminds us that Love is sustaining the universe at every moment. So we might say that while God is not the universe, God is intimate to the universe. When we speak of Love as the source of the universe, we call God Father.
Also, remembering Love (God) as source reminds us that we are dependent and can’t control everything. Furthermore, if Love is the source of who we are, becoming love must be what we are meant to be.
Excerpted from the letter “One Christian’s Story” by Father John Clay