Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
(I'm not writing this post an an invitation to theological argument. I've been a Christian all my life and I know and have studied the many ways people experience the Divine and I'm keenly aware of the great variety of spiritual disciplines, practices, and ways of being. In my chaplaincy work and in my career as a teacher and as a member of a world-wide denomination whose members have a great variety of ways of experiencing God, I don't need to or want to be instructed as to how I should see things nor do I care to argue about these things. I love the great differences we have in the Body of Christ and I love the great differences in spiritual traditions that are not Christian and that are not religious. Or are atheist.)
I'll say right off the top that the sustained happiness I experience because of the constancy of the love I experience with friends and families is inseparable from my experience with God, with Supreme Being. If what I am trying to get at in these blog posts is some sense of what I "be", what the ground of my being is, then God is the word I use to refer to being that is supreme. And, I should add, that when I use the word "God", I am using it as a synonym for the Trinity, of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit combined. The other word I would use is the Divine.
I'll also say, right off the top, that God epitomizes my search for an understanding of happiness that is not dependent on feeling. The reality and the power of God endures no matter how I feel. As a result, my experience with God is not ecstatic, is becoming less and less cerebral, but is occasionally emotional. I am frequently moved to tears by the beauty of the Supreme Being I experience both in my day to day life and in the beauty of biblical stories and parables, biblical poetry, and in the beauty of the words of the prophets. There are Sundays when I am the Old Testament reader in church when I am pushing down the lump in my throat and feel the tears beginning to well because of the beauty of the passage I've been assigned and because of the beauty of the Supreme Being these biblical words are trying to come to grips with.
I experience God in a quiet, sustained, strengthening, undramatic Way, absent of any sense that good luck or bad luck I have in life is because God brought it about. The structured, quietly emotional, relatively quiet form of worship I participate in as an Episcopalian, therefore, works perfectly for me.
This past Saturday night, I stopped in at the Falling Sky to wind down after a little more than two straight days and nights working in the theater. I was drinking a beer, alone.
A guy in his early twenties decided I needed company and joined me. We got to talking and he revealed that his dad was a rabbi and that he was a Messianic Jew.
Then he asked me if I was religious. I didn't answer this question the way I sometimes do. I didn't say, "What do you think I am, an idiot? Of course I'm religious." I just said, "Yes. I'm an Episcopalian, very devoted to the life of my church, which is just down the street." Then I pointed in the wrong direction down the street.
"Wow! Then what do you believe? Like that the world was created 6,000 years ago?"
I answered, "I do not consider myself a believer. I'm a doer. If you want to know what I'm about, spend time around me and what I do and how I am will tell you all you need to know."
I don't think it was the answer he was expecting and we talked some more.
I've think a lot about this, about my resistance to the word "belief". Not only do I resist it in the theological realm, but in the political realm and when I talk about teaching and other things.
To me, God, or Supreme Being, is so fundamentally real, I don't see why I would want or need to say I believe in God.
I don't say I believe in gravity. I don't say when my bath water is too hot that I believe it will cool down if I let it sit for a while. I don't say I believe oak leaves will turn red in the fall.
To me, the presence of God is no more a matter of belief than gravity, the cooling of water, or leaves turning color in the fall.
So, rather than believe in God, I experience God. I don't experience God so much as a father or as a lord, but I experience God in any number of everyday occurrences that manifest being at its best, that manifest Supreme Being.
I experience grace. Forgiveness. Service. I experience gratitude. Love for others. Others loving me. Generosity. Family. Friends. Intelligence. Grief. Sorrow. Healing. My hypocrisy stings me. I regret hurtful things I've done. I have a conscience. I confess how I've wronged others. I have turned aspects of my life around. In other words, I've experienced being repentant. I can have regard for others' needs beyond my own.
I experience the joy of family.
I experience the joy of being with friends.
I am animated, not mechanical. I have a soul.
Above all, I experience resurrection. It's everywhere. I've worked with countless students over the years who were dead to life come alive. I've had regions of my own inward self die and come to life again. Resurrection is at the heart of many of Shakespeare's plays. Right now, I look out my window and the daphnes are blooming, leaf buds are coming on, rhodies and azaleas are coming to life. These plants are going through their annual resurrection.
Resurrection, to me, is the most mysterious and profound expression of the being at its most supreme, whether in death and resurrection of Jesus or in the witnessing of one who has been stingy becoming generous or in sickness being healed. We live with death and resurrection all the time.
In all of these aspects of my life, and many others, I experience the presence and the inspiration and the guidance of Supreme Being.
Now, another way I understand Supreme Being is in these words: The Way.
Many sources in my life have and do point out to me how I can see and understand and experience Supreme Being and The Way: the Bible, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Tao, Martha Nussbaum, Jon Krakauer, Homer, the plays of Shakespeare, the poetry of Wordsworth, as well as Richard Hugo and many others, song lyrics, the novels of George Eliot and many others, photographs, paintings, movies, countless sermons I've listened to over the years, and insights I've gained listening to family members and friends, reading student papers, newspaper editorials, blog posts, Facebook threads, and on and on.
The world is alive with divine inspiration.
Supreme Being is always present. We live in this Being and this Being lives in us.
I try to stay awake to its always being at hand.
Maybe you can tell that I have tried and continue to try to work out my experience with God on my own terms, with my own language, with my own sense of influences.
I am happy to recite the words of the liturgy at church. At the same time, I am always working them out on my terms, accepting their universal truths and simultaneously expanding upon them, figuring out how they work for me. I say the Nicene Creed, happily; but, inside of myself, I am replacing the "I believe" with "I experience".
The experience I've tried to explain that I have with Supreme Being is the ground of my being. I live to try to approximate The Way. It's a constant longing in me to do so.
Supreme Being is the reality that endures. It sustains my happiness. It is present no matter how I feel or what the circumstances of my life might be.
Yes, I experience Supreme Being in temporary things like good beer, a momentary rainbow, the flash of an egret's wings, a sun bathing turtle, a dog's lick, a good laugh, and on and on.
God is also a sustained, enduring, and sustaining reality, the source of enduring happiness and deep contentment, always, for me, quietly present, undergirding the flux of human life, present in our joy, tumult, disappointment, disillusionment, sorrow, and success.
I'm not into superstition.
I don't want a crutch.
I long to be in communion with what's real.
That's my source of sustained happiness.