To grasp God in all things — this is the sign of your new birth. (Meister Eckhart)
Most individuals have found God most clearly in and through others. The Love of others is the Love of God Experienced in this life. (Wendy Wright)
What if God was one of us? (Joan Osborne)
There is an old story I am particularly fond of in which a boy goes to try and play a trick on a minister, and approaches him and says, “I will give you an orange if you can show me where God is.” The minister thinks for a moment and replies, “Tell you what: I will give you TWO oranges if you can show me where God is NOT.”
A great many people today, in my opinion are like the boy in the story; cynical, needing a specific black and white pinpointed location where God is, wanting to either put God away into a box for safekeeping that dare not challenge their preconceived notions about what life and God are, to attempt in vain to completely disprove the existence of God in order to avoid all of the messy unanswered questions, or to exhaust all of the possibilities they long to believe but which they feel are “too good to be true” and therefore too optimistic in their eyes. At one time or another in my life, I fit all of those roles, but now I take the reply of the Minister in that story to be real for me: There really is, at least for me, nowhere where God is not.
I am a very open minded person when it comes to individual thought, beliefs, and opinions, and I am always as respectful as I can be when I encounter individuals with thoughts and beliefs very different than my own (although in some cases, I find myself praying for the strength to maintain that resolve) but there is one instance where I tend to find it more difficult than others, and that is when I encounter someone who is completely closed to, and often vehemently opposed to the idea that God is a reality of Life to be embraced. It is not because I consider myself to be superior in any way – belief or otherwise – to them, it is because in my life, in my reality, there is absolutely no avoiding what I feel to be the reality, the very real and tangible Presence, the actuality of God everywhere I look, in everything I feel, in any instance I encounter.
But that did not come immediately for me, partially because for the longest time I was unwilling to allow myself to see God, and partially because when I was looking, I was looking in all the wrong places and as a result, looking directly past the Divine in a desperate search. Learning to embrace God in the life I know was truly a process of discovering and cultivating that awareness. And it was developing the ability to be able to see God in a different fashion that I was conditioned and accustomed to, lifting the limitations on my spiritual vision that I had created for myself, allowed others to create for me, or simply absorbed from others who did not want to bring God that close to their daily lives.
For me, God is not limited to the confines of words written in the Bible, in the Church, or in places most might consider as “Holy Places.” God to me is the great “I AM” – present and residing in everyone and everything, and there are no real “Holy Places” or “Sacred Places;” there is no difference in one place or another. People often speak of “finding God” as if God were somehow lost, yet I do not feel that this is even a possibility; God is always there, it is we who can at times allow the awareness of God to become obscured.
I see God everywhere, and there is no way I can forget God. How is this possible? On a personal level, anything that brings me joy, anything which assists me in being more alive and aware and connected to others, and the things I have accomplished are my testimony to the things God has done for me. I recall once thinking how well I had done something and immediately, it came to me that were it not for how God created me and gave me the knowledge and ability, I would not have been able to accomplish what I had.
Even if at times I cannot see simple things such as that, I look at life itself, regardless of how much scientific study about the nature of life I read, about the evolution of life as we know it (yes, I am one of those who views the concept of Evolution as God’s Creative Design), about the way life as we know it developed over time, I feel that there had to be Intelligent Design responsible for it all. Although many others may have used science and psychology to attempt to rationalize God out of the equation, perusing knowledge and facts and studies does the opposite for me, it reinforces my faith and belief. In my opinion, whoever says that Science and Faith cannot coexist has a rather limited imagination; I truly feel the two work in support of each other. As I said, there is no avoiding it, at least for me.
So why is it that we, as people often are either closed to acknowledging or cultivating the reality of God in everyday life, whether that is accomplished by placing imaginary limitations upon the reach of God’s Love, trying to rationalize God away with detailed scientific explanations, or, at worst, acknowledging the reality of God but seeing God as some type of imagined adversary to our own lives and the desires of our heart (which some all too often do)?
I feel that one reason people will be closed to the desire or even the idea of knowing God fully has to do with the fashion in which some who profess to be “God-fearing” (an oxymoron if I have ever heard one!) or “Godly” have thrown the name of God, and often of Jesus as well, around. It seems a little odd to me that God has to some become re-created in their image, and God can become their big bad buddy in the clouds who, oddly enough, shares and in their minds seems to vindicate and support all of their human-created prejudices, political views, and fears. To them, God seems to be an external force to live in constant caution of, only accessible by a certain rather narrow path, often which is impossible by human standards to walk. When things go exactly as they wish in their lives, God is happy. When they do not, God is angry. God in their eyes is limited to one very primitive, literalistic and narrow understanding and interpretation of the Bible, and therefore limited to a time in which humanity was still seeking to understand the very nature of God and life itself. As a result, a sense of true spiritual intimacy is difficult to maintain.
These people often claim that they truly know God, and that only they know God. With such narrow parameters, it is to me not possible. When they are of the understanding that God is some external, and often capricious force, how can they begin to feel intimacy with the Divine? As anyone who has lived in an abusive relationship will tell you, there is a vast difference in a relationship one stays trapped in out of fear and familiarity, and one that one stays in out of love and devotion.
When one establishes in their mind that God is an external force which has a rigid set of demands which denies most human beings from being allowed to be fully human, and is a force which can only be approached certain times and in certain ways with a specific set of restrictions and conditions-and only by certain people who meet a strict set of requirements, or whom wallow in self hatred for lacking them, it is no wonder that so many are terrified of the concept of such a “relationship” with such a God. This to me represents a clear example of humanity attempting to recreate God in a human image that represents some of the most distressing aspects of human fear; I can tell you from personal experience that such as view does nothing to create an awareness of God other than an awareness which drives one further from wanting to know God. A personal relationship with God driven by fear rather than love may seem real to those in it; however, it does little to cultivate a sense of God in everything when such narrow parameters are created.
I feel that this type of understanding of God is borne of three things: First, conditioning. Those who possess this view often were indoctrinated into it, and told that the very idea of questioning the foundations of this thinking was a serious offense to God, and at worst, not “Loving” God. While it is possible to break down the walls of fear and escape into a healthier relationship with God, it takes time and patience, as well as ultimate trust and openness.
A second would be that old devil, that old adversary, fear, which I feel is the “devil itself.” Fear and Love are both powerful, yet opposite energies, Created in all of us. Yet in all of the attempts God has made to converse with humanity, through the teachings of Jesus and through others, we are told that love, for God and one another, is the truest path and the one to embrace. It seems to me that those who embrace a fearful image of God are often very fearful people to begin with and they are embracing an image of God which supports this; whether this is due to a fear driven culture or not, I am not certain. I am not suggesting that those who “fear” God do not believe. I am merely opining that those with a fearful image may have a far more difficult time being able to see God in the everyday, at least in a way that affirms a loving, guiding relationship.
And the third and final reason, which could very well be the cause of the first two, would be an inexplicable need for “black and white” answers in a world filled with such diverse colors, shades and hues. There are those who honestly feel as if their faith is so fragile that upon the slightest variation of interpretation or understanding, it would crumble like a house of cards. When things are spelled out in certain, black and white terms, it offers a sense or feeling of security to them, even when often those terms seem tailored to them and not respectful of others. The rigid understandings seem to negate, or at least ignore any semblance of unanswered questions. But I saw a quote the other day which I feel definitely applies: “Unanswered questions are not nearly as dangerous as unquestioned answers.” And I feel this is true; by setting a certain set of limitations upon God which come with harsh, unquestioned dogmas, we can prevent those who would fully embrace the reality of God from doing so.
Then there are those who seek to dismiss faith as a “crutch” and insist that there is a “rational,” “scientific” and “logical” explanation for everything, insisting that the very idea of God is a human construct and that science, psychology, biology and other “-ologies” can provide an explanation for anything others might attribute to faith. This is often referred to as a “thinking” approach to life and denies what I feel to be the reality that God and science are completely compatible. I do not see how this is possible, again, because I honestly feel that those who have studied and begun to unlock the mystery of exactly how God has put everything together are only doing so because God made that type of understanding possible. Yet, no matter if I state this they choose to believe that life as we know it was a random series of “happy accidents” and occurrences. I fully respect this, and if it works for others to deny the reality I know as God, I respect them as people equal to me, even though I feel they are really missing out on something wonderful, even though that is not my judgment to make. I still allow God’s Love to shine through me to them, and although I never impose my beliefs or values on them, I let them know that I feel the God I believe in loves them just as much as everyone else. I will say this: if I ask them about what their experience with God and faith are, sadly, I often find that they were only presented with one narrow and fear-driven understanding of God, where they were not presented other possibilities as being real, and this has resulted in them being closed to the possibility of God altogether.
Finally, I also find a great many people who believe there is a God, but feel that God just kind of set everything in motion, set the Earth spinning and then took a Sabbatical, aside from stepping in from time to time to play havoc in their lives. I will cite a recent example of the latter. Friend of mine and I had plans to go out for a hike and picnic, where he even took the day off work to go. The day we were supposed to go, after months of no rain, the clouds open up with a deluge of precipitation. He called me that day furious that “God was wrecking his plans” and talking about how “angry at God” he was. He did not believe it was because of anything he did or did not do, but rather that it was God doing it “just because.” On a different occasion, this same person referred to a positive event as God “giving him a break.” Any other time, talk of God was not even spoken, only at major events; what I found most interesting about this is that when something bad happened it was (to paraphrase) “God messing with him” and when it was something good, it was never “God blessing him” but rather, “God cutting him some slack once in a while.”
Where this point of view acknowledges God as a (sometimes present) reality, to me this is not a really healthy relationship either. Again, it reduces the Divine to an external Presence, one that is on vacation most of the time, but steps in to see how things are now and then, sometimes with positive and sometimes negative results. I am glad that my friend believes in God, and I have tried to refer to the idea that when the positive things happen they are blessings and not “breaks,” but this to me seems more like allowing God into one’s life at their convenience, depending on the situation. Pardon the expression, but to me this seems more like seeing God once in a while rather than an intimate relationship!
At various times in my own life, I have done all of the above. It took a lot of time and soul searching, as well as prayer, reflection and just the lessons of everyday life to arrive at the place I have now, which is the blessing of being able to feel, see and recognize God in everyone, and everything, every day.
In his book “The God We Never Knew”, the liberal Christian theologian Marcus Borg defines “panentheism.” He calls it “a way of thinking about God that affirms both the transcendence of God and the immanence of God. For panentheism, God is not an external being ‘out there’. The Greek roots of the word point to its meaning: Pan meaning “everything,” en meaning “in,” and theos meaning “God.” Panentheism means “everything is in God”; God is more than everything (and thus transcendent) yet everything is in God (hence God is immanent). For panentheism, God is ‘right here,’ even as God is also more than ‘right here.’ To put it a bit more simply, it is the belief that “God is more than everything, even as God is present everywhere. God is all around us, and we are all within God.” Contrary to what one might initially surmise about the concept of panentheism – which is not the same as “Pantheism” (God IS everything) and in no way related to polytheism (belief in many gods rather than one God) it does not trivialize a personal relationship with God the Source – but rather, enhances it and makes that relationship, at least to me, closer, more real, and even more tangible.
While it is nice to see someone put this into words, and have a “technical theological term” for what I have discovered in my own life, my own coming to this realization was not merely reading about such an idea, but how things happened in my own life, and one of the ways I came to realize that I did not have to seek God, but that God was always there, waiting for me to acknowledge God’s Presence.
It was not always an easy task for me to be able to find God in everyday life. For me, for so many years, God seemed so distant and so separate from me, at least from my perspective, my understanding, my vantage point from the way I had been programmed and indoctrinated to understand a relationship with God. For me it was always about barriers and obstacles rather than actually being and feeling as close to God as I know God is now. Imagine my surprise and the blessing it was for me to discover that it was partially due to the aspect which I felt kept me the furthest from God – that of the realization, acceptance and integration into my life of my own bisexuality-that delivered me to the glorious revelation and understanding that God is, in fact present in all things, all parts of life and all people.
Shortly after I had been what I now feel to be led to the church and denomination which was the one where I was able to have more of an openness to the reality of God and the idea of personal relationship with God based on the teachings of Jesus, which was a church which was Open, Affirming and accepting of LGBT individuals, I began to revisit the possibility that God Created and loved me as I am, a bisexual man who feels the need for relationships with both genders, a possibility which fear and indoctrination had prevented me from embracing for so long.
It was not easy for me at first. While there are a great many progressive denominations which are inclusive of gay and lesbian individuals, I found very few that had progressed beyond black and white, homosexual or heterosexual, either/or types of thinking and who were willing to be inclusive of and listen to a representation of the bisexual, let alone one such as myself who has chosen to be faithful to both a female and a male partner simultaneously. I felt as if there were some who could attempt to understand my being bisexual, but who were either unwilling or not open to understanding the type of relationships which worked for me, and felt right to me; relationships that did not make me feel distant from God or separate from God, but somehow closer in being able to live as I was made to be.
At the time, while I was blessed with those who had come to the understanding that the dogma which much of Christianity has built against any type of same gender relationships or sexuality was merely a human construct borne of fear and misunderstanding, I was not able to find those within the church who understood and who were accepting of a bisexual in a committed and honest relationship with two people. Right at the point where I was terrified that I was forced to make a choice between who I knew I was and my faith and relationship with God, I refused to give in to either option. After all, I had for many years feared that merely having within me same gender attractions as well as opposite gender attractions forced me to choose being myself or being close to God.
I recall vividly some of my fervent prayers during that time of my life. I recall once going alone into a church alone, and instead of seeing God as an external force that was to be bargained with to look further into the idea that perhaps God was within me, and could guide me to where it was that I needed to be. My prayer and introspection was, looking back, not so much one of knowing but asking. I honestly felt that God would not require of me to choose and censor a part of who I am and that there had to be some way in which I could express myself and live the reality of who I was in a way that was loving and respectful of all others; in my heart, I did not feel that my desire for a dual relationship – provided it was honest and sincere was a “sin,” but I had made the error of allowing fear and the opinions of others to speak for God once again. Yet I felt myself asking God to show me, guide me, work through me to show me what to do. I felt that was an honest prayer, if you will; and the thought that washed over me and seemed to calm me was “Everything you need is already there, be still and know, keep faith and most of all keep an open heart and mind and eyes, and you will find the answers and the peace you seek, perhaps in places you least expect.” I held on to this, as this was different than the types of answers I had in the past felt that answers to prayers should be. It was not clear and solid to me, not a defined “yes” or “no,” but somehow this felt more real.
There were little things at first, such as the time I read an article online by a bisexual married woman who was also a Christian, and who had been blessed with a marriage to both a woman and a man. There was the time I was searching online for an article on Liberation Theology, and ran across a different website with a story of a bisexual man, also a Christian who was in a committed relationship with a wife and a husband. I was in fact blessed with communicating with a few other Christian bisexuals in my situation, who had reconciled their spirituality and sexuality. This began breaking down the inner mental walls I had allowed fear and conditioning to build between myself and God.
Around the same time, I began to see ads in a local LGBT magazine advertising open discussion groups designed for bisexual men and women. These were not church groups, and at times, I often found my talk of God and belonging to a Christian denomination met with raised eyebrows and skepticism. More than a few were of different faiths, and religions, and some no religion at all. Yet even those who may not have agreed with my spiritual views were totally accepting of me, as a person, not allowing any opinion or feeling about my beliefs to interfere with their support of me.
While these were not spiritual discussion groups, I did find a real sense of “spirituality” within. I did find God there in others, some of whom may not have acknowledged God but who God shone through in their love, support, acceptance and kindness. Other individuals who were living happily in the types of relationships and interactions with others that I had longed for. As I left there one night, I recall thinking to myself, perhaps I am trying to hard to find God, to acknowledge the love and acceptance I seek, and perhaps I should learn to see God in more of the places where I have been conditioned not to expect God to be.
Shortly thereafter, I attended a conference of bisexual men and women, much of which was seminars and round table discussions, where people shared openly about their lives. While I expected much discussion about politics and religion as far as it related to LGBT Civil Rights, I was in for a most pleasant surprise. One of the discussion workshops was a two hour discussion on “Religion and Bisexuality” and I felt drawn to that. It was there that I actually met other bisexuals who had been able to live lives that fully allowed them to be who they were, in the types of relationships that worked for them, and this too was a blessing to me. Outside of just that group, I also found a lot of other supportive and accepting people-some of who were spiritual people and some who were not of any spiritual faith. Yet even those who were not were there for me to talk to, to help me to understand that I was not alone, and although they may not have acknowledged God, I feel that through their compassion, God spoke through them, whether they were fully aware of it or not. In this group of people, there was such a sense of love and acceptance, a sense of peace about everything and in my heart, I had always thought that is what God was all about even when my fears had tried to prevent me from doing so.
Driving home from this conference I was reflecting on the amount of new friends that I had made, and the overwhelming sense of meeting other kindred spirits, and the sense that I although I had not attended expecting to find God at a convention of bisexuals, God had shown up. I recall an overwhelming feeling washing over me with the rain that had started around that time of feeling loved and accepted by God for exactly who I was, and that there really and truly was a place and a purpose for me, no matter how different I felt or how unacceptable I had allowed others in the past to make me feel. I cried tears of joy. I knew in my heart that my prayers had been answered. It was at that point and time that I began to learn and embrace the fact that God is not only present in the church, or religious groups or places or the places we would expect, but really is everywhere. It is we sometimes who are not allowing ourselves to be open to and who place our own imagined limitations on that Love.
I feel in my heart that it was God who led me to those people who helped me to better accept myself and develop the awareness that I was acceptable to God and to others. God led me to do as I had with my spiritual thinking and understanding and my interpretation of the Bible to seek beyond the printed page and the dogmatic thinking I had allowed myself to become entangled in, and to cease allowing myself to put any type of limitations on God’s Love, which is freely given to all, regardless of sexuality or sexual orientation. God enabled me to stop looking beyond or externally and begin to recognize the Divine in all places, and in all people. It was not that I could not find God, it was that I was not being open to where I was going to experience God and that I had placed so many limits in my mind as to where and how that could happen. When I ceased only allowing myself to see God where I had traditionally expected to, a funny thing had happened: I was able to see God everywhere. God was no longer an external idea but very real in my life.
Even now I find little traditionally Christian support for bisexuals, let alone for those of us who have chosen fidelity to two partners, and understandably so, as this is often a difficult arrangement for a non bisexual or someone for whom monogamy is the only way in which they feel a relationship can be Sacred and blessed to comprehend. I completely respect that, and I always will. Bisexuality to many is a myth or a phase, but it is real and it is different, and I know it and the way in which I experience it is part of the unique way God fashioned me and I by no means expect others to be as I am, nor to try to change them to be as I am. I don’t expect others to understand any more than I would understand one interpreting the Bible literally, nor would I ever say that what works for me is the right way for everyone.
But when I no longer place limitations on God as to the manner in which I feel loved, accepted and supported, I find all of the support I could ever have prayed for and more. And feeling that love and support makes me want to reach out and be the support which others who feel as I do may long for and need as I once did, it is passing on the gift I was blessed with to others. If I know that just one person has felt a seed of hope from something I have said, that helps them to be open to the possibility that God Loves them with an Unconditional Love as they are and wants to help them to have acceptance and inner peace as I have been blessed with that is a gift to me.
An interesting observation that I learned then and that I have found to be true for me over the years is that God can quite often be found in the unlikeliest of places. Today I am able to see God in every person, in every thing, so long as I do not allow limitations to be placed on where and how God shows up. But it can sometimes become all too easy to forget, to become jaded with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, struggling to make ends meet and interact with others who may not share the same faith that we do, to deal with all of the complexities – some quirky and amusing and others irritating and frustrating that arise from dealing the wide spectrum of diversity and personalities that are all somehow part of God’s Infinite Wisdom of Creation. And at times, we may allow fear or fatigue from such to allow our image and awareness of God’s Eternal Presence and love to be obscured by clouds of doubt.
For me, even when things are at their most difficult, and my knowledge of God’s Unconditional Love for me can get obscured by stress, fatigue, and the complications that this life can often bring, it is important to be able to recognize God’s Presence in things that would seem to some simplistic and far from being magnificent, and in places where many would not see God or situations where they may not initially imagine God to be. My personal theory is that when one cannot see God in a given situation or place, it could be that either they are not looking for God, not open to God’s Presence there, or perhaps even trying to look too closely. Even in bad situations, God can be found; God is there whether we feel that way or not. It is our choice to acknowledge and allow ourselves to feel that love to comfort us and see us through those difficult times, or to succumb to fear and struggle, or attempt in vain to substitute other things for God.
For many years, I did the latter. Not being aware or allowing myself to be open to the reality, or even the possibility that God was there and real and loved me as I was, without having to change and live a life of heterosexual monogamy that was not true to who I was Created to be, I turned to alcohol. It was not that God was not there for me, I was simply as closed to the possibility or the idea as I was to the idea of accepting and embracing my own true sexuality. It took sheer faith to overcome the fear and embrace God’s Love instead. And many others in different situations may do the same thing; when presented with difficulty, rather than allow God to shine through in often the unlikeliest of places, they turn away.
All of this may leave you saying, “Well, it’s great that someone has been able to recognize God everywhere, but how do I develop the ability to see God in everyday life, all the time?” It may not seem that easy, when in reality it is. It is merely a process of cultivating that awareness. Again, I can only offer what has worked for me from the unique perspective life has given me, and as with all things, I feel that one size or one way does not always fit all. But here are some possible “seeds” to get started:
Learning To See And Recognize God In Others
Jesus Himself demonstrated in His life and teachings that God is fully present in everyone. To cite one example, Jesus in His time walking among us often walked among those whom society of the time found no sense of spirituality: In Luke 7:34, The Pharisees charged that Jesus was “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet Jesus Himself knew that regardless of social opinions that God was fully alive and present in all people, and I feel He was teaching us the lesson of not allowing appearances or prejudices or preconceived notions about a group of people to prevent us from being able to see God in them. It is an area where I feel we as humanity still have much progress to make in.
Although we may most commonly associate seeing God in people with a person such as Mother Teresa, or a pastor or minister, or someone who devotes their entire life strictly in service to others, I suggest a different possibility; that anytime someone practices a random act of kindness or compassion, we are quite literally-regardless of that person’s faith or beliefs – seeing God work through them. Although some who may not acknowledge God have God’s Love and Christ-like compassion flowing through them, when one openly invites God to work through them the results can more often than not be nothing short of miraculous.
I am reminded of three “pop culture” references to this idea of God in others. One is the movie “Dear God” where the con artist played by Greg Kinnear whose punishment was to work in the “dead letter office” decides to try and “answer” the letters to God and ends up being a miracle in the lives of people around him, another being the admonition of Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of God in the more well known movie “Bruce Almighty” encouraging people to “Be The Miracle” rather than asking God for a miracle, and the song I referenced in the beginning, “What If God Was One Of Us?” Granted, these are all Hollywood interpretations of the same concept, but when I saw and heard them they reminded me of how God does work in mysterious ways through us, if only we are open.
The reality I have come to discover in my own experience is not that God is one of us, but that God IS all of us, and IN all of us; it is we who must make the choice to be conscious to that Presence or remain under the illusion that we are separate somehow from God or can go it alone. God is fully present in that person who went out of their way just to let you know how much your friendship means to them, or in the co worker who may have seen the stress on your face today and asked what was wrong and if there was any way they could help. God is fully alive in the person who thought to drop an email to you to ask how you are and how you have been and to show they care, and God is present in the words of the author of the book you are reading that may have given you new knowledge and hope. God is alive in the inspiration for the words to a song or poem that touched your heart and brought you a smile, and in the words of hope and encouragement you may have gotten from a stranger who felt inspired by you.
And when it seems very difficult to see God in another, or if their actions seem to be contrary to God’s Love, or the Way of Jesus, sometimes the best way to feel close to God is to let God be in us:
Learning To See God In Ourselves, And Showing That To Others
Sometimes where God and Love do not seem initially as if they could ever be present, and it seems as if any seeds of love we sow will be on stony ground, it is all the more important to sow the seeds of love anyway. Jesus Himself said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you” in His teachings, and I feel that when we reach that awareness, it is the Way of Love to share that knowledge with others. And more often than not, I have found that when I find it challenging to be able to see the God in others, to acknowledge God within myself-and share it with them; not through preaching what I believe to them, but through my actions.
In the Bible, there are many references to sowing and reaping, and I feel that this is not merely coincidence or opinion; other spiritual paths refer to this as Karma, and many among the non-religious hold to the idea of “what goes around comes around.” Jesus said as what I feel to be the cornerstone of His Message, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) It is by that that I understand that perhaps if we want to see God in another, we have to first show them God through us through demonstrating love.
To cite an example: There have been times in my life when I have gladly lived out the role of the Samaritan. I recall not too long ago when I assisted someone who had broken down roadside in need of assistance. It was quite obvious from the bumper stickers, from a very conservative fundamentalist organization and from a political standpoint that this was a person who would view me as anything but loved and accepted by God. This instance to me was not about anything beyond doing what I feel in my heart that Jesus would do: putting aside those ideas which can cause us as people to become disconnected from one another, and instead letting compassion outweigh fear. So even among someone who supported a group to show hatred and disgust for who I am, I made the choice to sow love. Although by seeing my car it was clear that my beliefs were very different, but that did not matter to these people, in fact, what I believe or my life never came up; they were merely grateful for my help. I did what I did out of no other reason than I knew it was the Christian thing to do, although I do wonder if it made them think later on if perhaps their prejudices were not of God, but their own invention that someone who thought the opposite did not deny them compassion.
But it is not merely situations such as the above. There can be other situations where we can use the unique gifts God has given us to make a difference in someone’s life.
Many call me a Pollyanna for thinking this way, but I do the best I can when I can to try and help people even when it is not the easiest thing to do. I do not do so to try and be better than anyone, but the more often I can let God’s Unconditional Love flow through me, the closer I feel to the reality of God in Life.
When I sometimes wish there was more I could do to that end, I think of an old story of a place where thousands of starfish were washed ashore by a storm, and there was a man walking down the beach trying to return them to water and save them. Another man walks up and says, “Are you insane? There are thousands here, and what you are doing will never make a difference.” To which the first man takes a starfish, and places it in the water, and says, “I made a difference to that one.” At that point, the second man walked with him, helping him.
I remember a time when I was wondering if anything I did to help others had actually helped them, and it was about that time I received a letter from someone in that respect, over something I had posted on a message board in support of someone dealing with a very difficult time, in this case it was a bisexual who had recently come out and was having issues reconciling their spirituality and sexuality and I shared part of my own journey with him His response was very simple, and to the point, but it meant the world to me: “Thank you for what you said. You have given me a little more hope than I had when I woke up this morning. God Bless You.”
What might seem like a little thing to someone was the world to me. It helped me to fully remember who I am, and who God made me to be, and I felt there was more of a purpose than I had felt before. Even if not many people share my points of view, the unique life which I have, and the way it has all worked out in my life, if what I have to say gives just one person a seed of hope in a world in which so many do not understand, then that means the world to me. In the process of giving others hope, we so often find it ourselves.
Recognizing Everyday Miracles, And Seeing God In Unexpected Places
Not being as comfortable or feeling as welcome in many traditional settings, I have learned over time to see God in unexpected places; and once I learned to open my eyes and heart, I have found it to be easier than imagined. There really is no place where God is not, even those places where we may be conditioned to think God could never be there. God is present in all of life, even when we or others choose not to let ourselves be aware of that fact. Even during difficult times, notice how those who may have at one time not acknowledged another can draw together out of compassion and this is but one example. During times of trial, we have the God-given option of responding with Love and Compassion rather than fear and negativity.
The awareness and closeness I feel with God are part of helping me through the day. Some days, this awareness God is the ONLY thing that gets me through the day. There is no escape from God, and thank God for that!
This may sound silly and cliche, but I see God in a sunrise and a sunset, in the miracles of life and nature, and in the growing evolution of human knowledge and understanding. I feel God with every breath and every heartbeat, feel God in the things I may at one time have taken for granted, including the very ability to feel; whether I feel sadness or joy, I am grateful to simply feel. I hear the voice of God in the purring of one of my cats, and see God in the clouds in the sky, the homeless person who smiled the other day when I bought them a bag of groceries. The little things that are insignificant to some but which have given me hope during a tough day. The smile I got the other day when I stopped to hold the door open for someone. Yes, even in the things about me others may think are in opposition to God, sexual orientation, sexuality in all caring and consensual forms, the connections I have with my partners, are gifts and blessings and of God. The individuality and the diversity of life to me is a celebration of God’s Creativity.
When we cease putting limitations on where God can be Present, and not look too carefully or with too much effort, we can find that we never really had to look at all, God was with us all along. A joke that someone tells during a tense situation to provide a relief of laughter, a kind word given at random, a good night’s sleep during a trying time-these all become miracles of the magnitude of the parting of the Red Sea. The Miracle of someone being kind and accepting, of displaying the human kindness and compassion God made us capable and relying on faith and trust rather than fear is the greatest Miracle there is to me.
Living As A Prayer
One way in which I remain connected to God is through prayer, although over time my understanding of prayer has evolved. I cannot say that I really “pray” in the traditional sense; it is more of a reflection. No longer do I see prayer as an attempt to connect with a faraway God who may or may not hear or respond, or as begging and pleading and bargaining with some external and imagined idea of God. Rather, I remain aware that I am not separate from God, but that God is always as close as the beat of my own heart, the very pulse of life itself. God has given answers, and I seek God’s Guidance to find them within.
Yes, prayer is very different for me now than what it was at one time. It is not a long laundry list of “things” I want for myself or others so much as it is a quiet reflection. Certainly, I do reflect on strength for my loved ones, myself, those who I am close to and those who I am not, those who I barely know but who I do know need Light and Love in their lives to guide their way, be that in the form of confidence, of other loving souls God sends to be there for them, or a sparkle of hope during a difficult time. I even pray for those who I might see as adversaries in life; those who have hated me simply for being who I am and no other reason, for I feel they are those who are lashing out in their own hurt, and who need awareness of God’s Love for them more than anyone.
I could pray thanks to God, but I feel it is better to show it. I can reflect all day on how grateful I am to God for everything in my life. But to me, a true demonstration of my gratitude is one of action. Rather than merely feel the thanks, I would rather attempt to show it however I can, by passing on the kind of love to others that God has shown to me. It is a sense of gratitude for all in my life demonstrated not in public displays of prayer, but in public displays of love, compassion and kindness. I feel that our Love and Thanks for God are best translated to action in the way we treat one another. That to me is the most profound demonstration of Love for God.
Sometimes, if the trials of life have made me anxious, or I am under stress created by factors in life over which I have no control such as the actions or reactions of others, feeling misunderstood by others, I have to listen to find my center and reconnect to God Whom I am never truly separate from. For me, the place where God speaks the loudest and the clearest is in my heart.
If I am dealing with a difficult time where I may feel he illusion of separation from God, I recall times in my life where I might have felt this way before. I take a deep breath, clear my mind and remember the “Footsteps” poem, about how God “carries” us through difficult times, and I think of how during times in my own life when it seemed as if God was not with me, God was speaking to me, comforting me, and there with me through others who were there for me, as if they were angels in human disguise. Or, how when I was struggling, I saw or heard something that gave me the hope to carry on and knew God was there.
I feel that God is always there, and gives us the Free Will to embrace Love or to turn away. God is with us in the love shown by others, and woven into the very fabric of life itself; there are no limits on God’s Love aside from the barriers we allow our fears to create. God exists to me both as a great transcendent mystery, yet within everyone and everything, and in listening to my heart and knowing this, it enables me to know that I need not seek God, for God is within me and all those around me, if I remain open. Sometimes, all that is necessary to be reminded is the sound of my own heartbeat.
In closing, I feel that God has, both through Jesus and through the Love of God that we experience through others, and the very joy and wonder of life – our own lives and who we are as well as all of those around us- planted all of the seeds within us that we could ever need to cultivate a full and living awareness of God; one beyond any divisions we might allow fear to create and obscure the inherent connection all of us have as children of God. Sometimes we are called to help sow the seeds of hope and God’s Love, and at other times it is we who reap the harvest. God made things so simple and easy; it is we as human beings who often complicate it when we succumb to fear instead of trusting God’s Infinite creative Wisdom.
When we cease searching desperately to know God, and reach the awareness that we have truly never been or can be separate from God, cease putting limits on the reach of God’s Love, keep an open heart and mind, and allow ourselves to embrace God in the everyday by honoring the sacredness of all creation and letting God flow through us , not only do we cultivate an awareness that causes our own faith to flourish-it plants the seeds of hope for others. And that, to me, is how a new Eden could come to be.
Peace, Love and God Bless
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.