This is a critically important question for anyone pursuing spirituality, for it is what spirituality is all about–your relationship with God. There seems to be as many definitions of God as there are people, and perhaps that is all for the good.
Beliefs about God are a way of shaping a piece of that infinitude that is the Divine into a piece that we can grasp ahold of and relate to. Those beliefs become a structure, a form that we hold God in. In living within that piece of the divine demarcated by our beliefs, it eventually becomes a constriction rather than a liberator of ourselves, of our growth as a spiritual being. That’s because God is always more than whatever we can imagine.
Considering that, perhaps your beliefs about what God is tell more about you than about God. Beliefs about God shape culture and history, for example. In the east one common conception of God has been that God is everything and nothing, a vast void, and reality is an illusion, individuality is an illusion and the goal of spirituality is to end the false sense that you are separate, from anything. The cultures that have developed around that emphasize the collective, the group, with a de-emphasis on the individual.
Christianity has traditionally pictured God as separate, sitting up in heaven casting judgement down on sinners. If you want to join God in heaven you must not sin. God is framed as separate from you. If you are good then you as an individual will go as you are to heaven. No group sort of oneness to get lost in.
And Western culture, including and especially American culture, has been all about individuality, from the Magna Carta, the rights of the individual before the government, to the American Bill of Rights–of the individual. Western culture is very individualistic compared to eastern, it is all about developing yourself as an individual, and creating individual success. The ultimate individual success? Going to heaven.
Atheists? There are a lot of atheists who subscribe to naturalism, which is a belief that the cause of reality is due to natural, i.e. physical causes. But there is a great order in nature for them, and often a sense of being a part of that order that calls for responsibility to it. Do good, because we are all we got. They are often strongly environmentally oriented. Their belief in God is the denial that there is one, which results in a strong sense of responsibility as humans to make things work.
“Naturalism teaches one of the most important things in this world. There is only this life, so live wonderfully and meaningfully.” Greg Graffin of Bad Religion.
Native American Indian cultures had a similar belief to the east in that they did not see themselves as separate from reality at all, but they didn’t even maintain the idea that they had to learn that, to end the illusion of separateness. They lived it in a way that they were never separate from it to begin with, and they also believed that they were subject to the will of a variety of Gods and ancestors that they were entirely subject to. No one owned anything, because it was all of one part including their own bodies, including their own wives, husbands or children. This made them very vulnerable to an invasion of white culture, because they never fought for land because no one owned it anyway. The white person’s idea of purchasing land from them was bizarre, it was a question that did not make sense, because it did not fit their belief systems and is one of the reasons that they got run over so badly.
In my life I have gone through several definitions of what I think God is, and more recently as I have come to know God better and better, through a constant redefining that may never end.
I started out as a boy with a Christian church, taken by my mother each Sunday, but even by the age of 10 I was having serious doubts about how true it all was. I got baptized at age 12 out of fear of “what if I am wrong and end up in hell, and is there a down side to getting baptized anyway?” More than that, looking back I realize that I got baptized mainly out of social pressure and so as not to upset my mother. Had to keep my disbelief to myself.
However, boredom with the whole thing drove me at age 16 to refuse to go to church any more. Sunday mornings my mother would wake us up to get ready. That particular Sunday I stayed in bed and pronounced I was not going. My mother came in and said oh yes you are, and proceeded to grab the blankets near my feet to pull them off of me. I grabbed them at the top and a big struggle ensued. Being far stronger I eventually won, my mother huffed off, and she and my brother went to church without me.
That was it on church, the next week both my brother and her quit too. Guess no one was really too interested after all.
All through college I was interested in growth and started meditating at 19, exploring inner worlds and being open to all kinds of ideas without really having much grounding in any system of belief. I knew I did not like Christianity or religion at all, and my beliefs about God then were if he existed no one knew anything about him and that it didn’t matter anyway. I just left it at that for a long time.
Being a meditator and involved in spiritual growth and yet not believing in God per se at the same time strikes me as odd now, yet that is what I did without thinking about it all through my twenties and into my thirties.
My first encounters with the Divine were in meditation with the Goddess. I was far more comfortable with that aspect of divinity and for a long time I worked mainly with the Goddess. I believe she healed my relationship with God, which is an ongoing process.
When I finally came to a point where I did believe in God I was so angry at him that I had a hard time allowing him in my meditations, but he just showed up. I also had a fear that if I let God in, that he would somehow overpower me. The vengeful God of the Bible was hard to shake.
Over the years since I have had many meditative experiences now with both God and Goddess, and call the totality of that beingness God Goddess All That Is.
In fact, as many religious traditions tell us, we are all one with God, we are all the creation in fact of the Goddess, who first created God and together they have created all the universe that we know, and all of the universes that we don’t know.
What I experience with Goddess and God is the love. To me, they are the love which is at the center of all beingness, and that is one thing that I have come to experience more and more as my life has gone on.
All of reality is one great big being, part of which is you, and we are all connected together in an absolute way, it is our ultimate beingness itself.
So that is a definition of what God is, which for me has gone through many changes in my life and is still changing. One thing that I believe is that God is so big and so mysterious that we are never going to fully know or even begin to fully know what God is. Our awareness is constantly expanding, and God Goddess is growing themselves all the while. As you grow, they grow because you are inseparable on one level, on another they are constantly expanding on their own. And on and on with even more complications.
So most of reality is a vast mystery, and no matter how much you grow and expand your awareness, it will remain a vast mystery. Better get comfortable with mystery! But then again, that is the great joy in life, needing to know, and then finding out, and then seeing that there is so much more to discover. It never ends!
Going back to where I started, then, what does happen is that one’s expansion of awareness of what God is, and therefore the system of belief that one creates around it, at some point becomes brittle and confining. A sort of explosion, or crisis, happens and you bust through those beliefs and create a new, expanded definition of what God is. That’s called a spiritual crisis and it happens to anyone who is trying to grow at one point or another.
I have recently reacquainted myself with Christians and observed where some of them are at these days, and boy have they changed, at least many of them. I think many of them have gone through the issues of God as a judgmental dominating figure, and rejected it as the nonsense that it is. Sending people to hell for an eternity is maybe not the most loving thing to do.
There are big changes afoot throughout the religious world, as people grapple with allowing beliefs about God to change and to search for new and expanded belief structures. At the same time, perhaps sadly, some are heading backwards and reaching for a past of beliefs that are more constricting, more fear based at the same time. In every case, there is a lot of movement and even chaos going on.
The fact is that there is a continual process of developing a system of belief about God, living that until one hits the limitations of that structure, and then busting through into a less constricting, more loving, and expanded version of what that means.
Religion is the form that is placed around spirituality, spirituality in that sense the actual experience of the divine. Religion attempts to give meaning and order to that experience, but eventually it turns into dogma and limitations no matter what, no matter how beautiful and expansive it seems to be at first. That is because soul and spirit, God and Goddess herself, are always expanding and becoming more. That is the nature of spirituality, God Goddess is infinite and changing and there is always greater love, greater awareness, there is always more, more to grow, more to become. Whatever beliefs you have now are the next barrier for you to overcome.
One frequently hears lately of those who are spiritual but not religious, those are people who are seeking a new spirituality unbound by past dogmas that just don’t fit any more. It is time for a new spirituality, time to break free of the constraints that most religions are already straining to the breaking point.
Seeking a new spirituality….