Archive for January, 2007

Why I heart Winifred Gallagher

So I’m on my couch reading Working on God, and suddenly I came across an explanation for most of my experiences of God. Get this: it was from an interpretation of a story of Elijah from the First Book of the Kings. That’s right, people! Check out your Bible getting all interactive with me!

Anyway, the author (Winifred Gallagher) was talking about her experience at B’nai Jeshurun, a Conservative synagogue that shares its space with a Methodist church and takes a rather unusal perspective on community life and on the application of religious pluralism. While she was at one of the services, a rabbi talked about the story of Elijah, particularly his retreat after killing 50 of Jezebel’s priests. He described how God was not in the earthquake, the wind, or the fire, but instead in the quietness.

To us, says Rabbi Omer-Man, the wind, fire, and quake seem to signify God. To the Jewish mystics, however, they stood for speech, imagination, and emotion. For them, God was in the silence, he says, “because that’s the thing that allows you to reevaluate your life and make the necessary changes. Elijah had to be quiet before he could figure out that he needed to stop being so aggressive.” As it was for the prophet, so it is for us. “Only in silence can we find forgiveness,” says the rabbi. “We can’t change our past deeds, but in quiet we can reflect on them, and then change our future course.”

Wow, do I ever love that. Every moment I described in my previous post was a moment of real silence, not just not talking. And I think that’s why I have a rough time feeling God in church, unless music is involved: I can’t get to real silence there.


Reason #4: My experiences with God have not been in church.

I don’t know that this is a reason to reject any specific religious tradition, but it has made traditional religion of whatever type seem extraneous. As I said in a previous post, most of my God-experiences have not been in church. The one exception I related in an earlier post happened in a Catholic church, but it happened while Mozart’s Requiem Mass, and I attribute what happened to the haunting yet soothing music, not the service.

Examples. One year when I was living in Laramie, Wyoming, I was walking down Grand Avenue. I forget where I was going, because I looked off to the east and saw a massive, ginormous, totally out-of-hand thunderstorm forming in the sky. (If you’ve been out west, you know how those big skies can be suddenly filled with thunderheads that seem miles wide and tall.) I watched this sky as I walked and suddenly I was blocks past where I had been heading, because it was so beautiful yet ominous yet powerful that I couldn’t look away. Somehow, it wasn’t just a thunderstorm, or just clouds, and I was overwhelmed by it, then felt a remarkable sense of peace afterward. I figure that’s God.

Another: I was driving south from Laramie to Colorado on Highway 287 with a friend. (Note the Wyoming connection. Start the pilgrimages!) We had gotten a much later start than expected, and it was both dark and cloudy by the time we got going. Now, there’s a stretch of 287 near the Colorado/Wyoming border that leads through a mountain pass, and all around you are cliffs, low scrub pine, huge boulders, and dropoffs of 40 feet or more right at the edge of the highway. (One of my friends went over one of those dropoffs in an ice storm. She survived, but I don’t know how.) Anyway, I had only travelled this passage in the light before. But now, in the dark, it was looming and strange.

Then the full moon came out from behind the clouds, and this eerie and threatening landscape became magical; bathed in silvery light, it hardly seemed real that we were just driving through it. When my not-overly-emotional friend stopped the car to get something out of her bag, I stood on the edge of one of those dropoffs I mentioned and watched the argent shadows shift over the rocks and trees and even the prosaic two-lane highway. I remember wanting to jump off, not because I was suicidal, but because the only thing this seemed to call for was flight…flight to Something, I don’t even know what. I didn’t speak until we reached Fort Collins, nearly 45 minutes away. I figure that was God too.

Do other people have experiences like this? If so, where and how?

Alien Drums

Folks, I highly recommend the Alien Drums blog, also mentioned in my blogroll to the right. The sense of wonder and amazement for matters spiritual is inspiring.

It occurs to me that more than anything else, the sense of wonder and mystery is what I love about religion. Someone asked in the comments whether I was agnostic because I wondered where God came from. Oddly, I haven’t thought much about that, but the origins and pre-origins of things have always fascinated me. When you go that far back in time and mystery, religion and philosophy and even physics all start to sound very similar.

But I love more that the mystery isn’t and probably won’t be solved. For example, I love the story of Atlantis and I hope they never figure out whether it was real or a myth. (My bet: It’s a little of both.) I love that nobody knows how on earth the Egyptians were able to move those massive blocks of stone into the Pyramids, or how Stonehenge could possibly have been built, or why the Maya believed the world would end in 2012.

In fact, in some ways, to wonder at the mysteries of God’s creation is my way of praying.

Quote of the day

From Gary’s comment below: “Scripture is inclusive…boneheads are not.” Ha!

This should be a bumper sticker. I have spoken.

A break from reasons…

Gary’s comment on my Reason # 3 post pointed out to me that I haven’t clarified my religious beliefs lately. So I thought I’d declare that a little more directly. I believe in God, and as such am not an atheist.

As far as I know, atheists are people who don’t believe in God, and agnostics believe in God but don’t know the nature of God – or whether the religions know what they’re talking about when they say they do. Hence, I call myself an agnostic – someone who doesn’t know the nature of God but does think there is a God out there.

 All the religions generally seem to have some belief or fundamental precept that I can’t agree with, and my agnosticism is in part due to that and in part due to the fact that almost all of my experience of God has happened outside of formal religious practice.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Reason # 3: Women’s troubles

So far, the reasons I’ve given for my agnosticism have been related to my upbringing and surroundings. But a girl likes to mix it up, so here’s a scriptural difficulty I have with organized religion: It’s highly patriarchal.

I am not a man-hater, so relax. I can have a male boss or a female boss; I can have a male doctor or a female doctor. I have male friends and female friends. I’m not a hard-core feminist who wants women to run everything. But the monotheistic religions are pretty man-centric. Islam may not be anti-woman at its core, but women primarily don’t have the same status as men. Judaism seems better in this regard, but it’s still very patriarchal even if it’s come a long way. (If I remember right, Orthodox Judaism includes a prayer men recite that involves the words, “Thank you, God, for not making me a woman.”)  And Christianity includes the lovely words of St. Paul, who said that women should keep silent in church and just mind their men.

Being a woman and all, you might say I have issues with that. Continue reading ‘Reason # 3: Women’s troubles’

Reason #2: Mein upbringing

Next up: Specifics about my upbringing. Now, my parents rock. They were good to me and my brother, they taught us right from wrong, and they kept a roof over our heads and three square meals in us every day. They drilled it into our heads to brush our teeth after every meal, wear our seatbelts every time we rode in a car, and not to litter. When I was very young, I threw a cup out the car window. When my mom realized I had done it, she turned around and drove slowly until we found that cup, so that I would learn not to litter. (I did.) We learned about the golden rule, sharing, being nice to other people, and working with others to make things better.

I say all that to make sure nobody misunderstands me. My parents did everything they could to prepare me and my brother for a productive and decent life. I think some people might disbelieve that based on how they chose to raise us in terms of religion. But that’s wrong. Period. Anyone who suggests in the comments that they didn’t raise me right is going to be met with a frosty stare.

Anyway, Mom didn’t emphasize religion, and rarely talked about it, in fact. She explained, when it came up, what church was and why people went. She also taught us in no uncertain terms to respect the people and the doings that went on in church. I said in an earlier post that I worried a great deal about whether to take communion when I went to church, and that worry comes right from mom’s insistence that church and its participants were to be respected.

Mostly, mom liked church (when she was growing up) mostly for its social aspects. Mom’s a people person, as am I, and for her the appeal was seeing everyone and the friendly feeling of assembling regularly. She rarely talked about God, and when she did, it was usually oblique – say, when she would say that she hoped Hitler was in hell. (Can’t argue with that.) Continue reading ‘Reason #2: Mein upbringing’