Skip to main content

What Kind of a God?

by Peter Bishop

Each month, Cat and I light candles in observance of the full moon and in honor of the Mother Goddess, for whom the moon is a symbol. It’s a practice taught to us by our Wiccan teachers about twenty years ago and one we still follow even after thirteen years in the Society of Friends. Looking up at the sky this past month, I found myself thinking about how people have been looking up at the moon with wonder and following its cycles since before we were fully human. In a sense, we’ve been doing this forever.
This year at school I’ve been teaching an astronomy unit for the very first time, and as I lit my candle this month I was also thinking about the origin of the moon. Four and a half billion years ago the planet Theia, about the size of Mars, collided with the Earth. Theia disintegrated completely, Earth’s crust was melted, and the Earth’s axis was knocked into its23½ degree tilt, giving us the seasons. If there was life on Earth back then, it was obliterated. Enough matter from both planets was ejected into orbit to coalesce into our moon.
So the moon is not forever. Worlds are born and die. All of creation is like drawing with paint dribbled onto the surface of moving water. Constant creation, constantly swept away.
What kind of a God would have conceived of a universe like this one? What God would give us reproduction and evolution instead of immortality?
A God of constant creation.
Of course, I say “God,” fully aware of how undefined that word is. Did God create the universe, or does God arise from the universe? It does not matter. We cannot know for sure, but creation makes a good enough metaphor even if God is part of the universe, is contained within the universe, because either way—creator or manifestation—the relationship is equally intimate, the fit between them equally aligned.
Is God one or many? Male or female? Gendered and personal or more like an electrical field? It does not matter. God is all of those, and for now, “God” is the most generic word I can think of. Attempts to be more inclusive, with terms like “Ground of All Being” or “the Divine” or even “Spirit” have come to sound unwieldy and overly precious in my ears.
What God is not is jealous. Any God who says “I am a jealous God” is so small, so limited as to be cut off from much of what God is. Elohim and YHVH are aspects of God, but they are not how God connects with me.
So how does God connect with me? “Worship” is a word whose meaning has changed since the advent of Quakerism. Worship for most people, for most religions, meant and still means adoration. Praise. Obeisance. Declarations of loyalty and love. We “worthily magnify your holy Name.” (Book of Common Prayer, 1979)
Worship for Quakers means spiritual communion, the direct experience of the Holy Spirit. Worship means listening with enough openness that the indwelling Spirit, the Inward Teacher, begins to vibrate in a resonant frequency with God. At its most intense, Quaker worship means speaking with the voice of God—an experience as literal and powerful as drawing down the moon in a Wiccan circle.

And yet I say “God,” and the word has no specific meaning. Rather, it acts as a wick, drawing our
liminal and transcendent experiences up into the flame of language, letting us talk about it. But the wick is not what burns, and the word is not what means.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Bears Eat My Lettuce

I love where I live;  since moving to our new home four years ago, I've been able to build a relationship with a piece of land for the first time since I was a child.  It's everything a dirt-worshipping Pagan could ask for.  I have a garden, and I grow much of my own food, and that is as much a spiritual delight as a taste treat.  And I have woods again as neighbors: glacial boulders, white pines and black birches, owls and white-tailed deer.

And bears.

And the bears eat my lettuce.



I'm not kidding about that.  Oh, it's winter now, and the bears are huddled up in their dens.  But this past spring, I grew lettuce.  Award winning, gorgeous lettuce: three different kinds!  They were nourished to extraordinary size and succulence by the cool, wet weather we had, and each night, I would gather just a few outer leaves, knowing that careful tending would mean tasty salads for months.

And then, over the course of three days, the bears ate every single one of my lettuce plants…

The Saturday Farm

I love Saturdays.

I have come to think of the work that I do on Saturdays as "farming."  Now, I know it isn't farming--not really.  We have a medium-sized vegetable garden and two dogs, and that's not a farm, by any stretch of the imagination. 

But I keep thinking of a comment Joel Salatin made in Yes Magazine once, about how Americans have become used to thinking of our homes as centers of consumption, but how once, thinking of your home as a center of production (typically, a farm, for most of us for most of our history) was the norm.

And between trying to live with less plastic junk and trying to eat more sustainably and locally, Saturdays at home have become very productive days.  And that productivity--the willingness to substitute patience, skill, and thrift for consumption--I've come to think of as a species of farming.  (My apologies to actual farmers, whose work I increasingly appreciate.  But thinking in this way works for me, somehow.)

First thing this…

On Activism and Ordinary Acts

One of the dangers of being Quaker--or Pagan--is a privilege at the same time.

Quakers and Pagans share a somewhat counter-cultural view of our society.  In slightly different ways, most Quakers and most Pagans believe that human society is flawed in bitterly destructive ways that must be confronted and changed.  We look out at a world burdened by the selfish exploitation of whole nations of human beings, and of the ecosystem itself, and we know that things as they are are not OK.

The privilege and the danger that arises from this is that of associating with activists.

It's a privilege, of course, to have a chance to be inspired by those who are willing to risk imprisonment or even death to be faithful to their spiritual convictions.  This inspirational force is excellent for warding off complacency and the kind of internal self-congratulation that degrades possessing a moral compass into mere spiritual materialism and self-worship.

When I have done some small thing outside the no…