It’s Okay to Say “God”

God the FatherI’ve been a spiritual seeker for decades. I grew up in a religious (Catholic) family. Religion was not a bad thing. I went to church every Sunday until I was in college. Soon after I graduated, I followed the path of many twenty-somethings who become disillusioned with their religious upbringing. In my case, it wasn’t that I saw no value in religion; it was that I needed to go beyond the religious practice I’d known as a child.

God is an Experience

Around the time that I took my first yoga class, I spent some time exploring Christian Mysticism. I practiced centering prayer (similar to Eastern meditation) and read about the lives of Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross and other mystics. I was fascinated with “The Cloud of Unknowing” and a little booklet someone gave me called “The Hound of Heaven.” The basic idea behind this mystic journey is simple. God is in us. God is part of nature. God will call us in subtle and not so subtle ways – and if we really want to understand our connection to God, we have to go within ourselves to experience it. This, of course, was very different from the traditions, rules and practices that I’d known as religion until this point. To mystics, God is more of an experience than a being you can figure out by thinking, reading and following a particular dogma.

BuddhaAs I continued to practice yoga and learn more about Eastern traditions, my understanding of spirituality and what it means to be a spiritual being or seeker continued to expand. I began to learn about Hinduism, then Buddhism, Taosim and other Eastern traditions. Fast forward to today, and my spiritual life is alive and well. I sometimes go to church, but I’m open to anything that brings me a genuine experience of “something greater than myself” (something which I also happen to believe I am a part of). I no longer try to define it or analyze it or intellectualize it. I just try to experience it and be it. But I’ve noticed something interesting as I’ve come to know many other spiritual seekers on a journey similar to mine. It seems that the word “God” has become taboo. And many with Christian roots seem very eager to throw the baby (Jesus) out with the bath water. Why is this?

If you’re a Christian (and even if you’re not), the point about Jesus is that he came to show people the way to God. This is no different from the reason for any religion. Of course, there is a difference between Christianity and other religions, but it’s not the religion that matters most. As human beings, we need to start out with a set of rules that point us in the right direction toward anything that we want to understand. And in trying to understand spiritual matters, various groups have established different religions.

Rules, Rituals and the Fact that We’re all Human

I hear a lot of people complain about Christianity because it supposedly encourages us to see ourselves as sinners. But maybe a better solution is to consider a less harsh definition of sin. Sin is anything that keeps us from God (so if yoga is your spiritual practice that can mean that harming another being instead of practicing ahimsa is a sin; it can even mean that skipping your practice or practicing half-heartedly is a sin if your practice is what keeps you connected to a higher power). It’s a fact of human life that we’re not always perfectly focused on our spiritual goals.

Is it too many rules and rituals that cause people to cringe when they see a crucifix? Well… there are lots of rules and rituals in any religion if you follow it “religiously.” Maybe, like the rules you learned for solving arithmetic equations or driving your car, you don’t have to be so rigid about them once you’ve come to understand what your goal was in the first place. In other words, it’s the spirit of the law, not the law itself that matters. If you’re getting the answer right, the steps you take may not be as important as you were led to believe they were when you first found the question. Just be honest with yourself – are you really getting the answer, or is it just easier not to do your homework?

God will find you

I had a conversation about this very topic recently, and it was suggested that another reason people become disillusioned with Christianity is that they don’t like the idea of being eternally accountable to an invisible God. If, in fact, there is an invisible God who is watching and taking note of our sins, I doubt that we have a choice in the matter. But I don’t think we need to worry about that either. There are probably eternal consequences to any choices we make in life, but the thing to remember is that eternity starts now. It’s not some final payment (or penalty) that will happen in the future.

The point I’m hoping to make is that if you are truly honest about your spiritual life and your reasons for choosing your own form of spiritual practice, you will find your way back to your source – and that is God. But just in case you need more perspective on this, here’s a clip from “Saturday Night Live” that might help explain it all – or at least put a smile on your face (especially if you grew up Catholic). Namaste!

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