I grew up with a religious education that pretty much killed religion for me so of course, I ended up being a church musician. I fought against it and actually got fired from a church job once because I didn’t have the outward behavior they expected of staff. One of the many complaints against me was that I had my eyes open during prayer.
There were years when I never expected to enter a church again. But it’s difficult making a living as a musician if you don’t teach or if you turn down church jobs. As it turned out, I loved teaching and much to my surprise, I found a home for myself in a liberal Protestant church, so liberal that I actually miss some of the gruesome hymn texts because at least they scanned.
I don’t believe we can expunge anything from our pasts. We have to come to terms with all our experiences. But patterns can be unraveled and knit into something new. It’s important for me to keep track of the original threads. At least that’s what I sometimes tell myself in the middle of a church sermon.
I have learned to translate a lot of what I hear in church services into a language that has more meaning for me. When I hear something particularly fundamentalist, I –and people who know me well can attest to what an achievement this is—am able to smile and nod and think to myself, “Don’t get excited, they are expressing their own experience of the divine.”
The divine. What a frightening concept this is for us. Uncontrollable, unruly, roaming, surprising. It makes sense that there’s been an attempt to funnel it into one person—not even a Being, but a person more or less as small as we all are, and usually male—and make “him” be “out there.”
The Force, The Universe, Great Spirit –these are worthy attempts at expressing the ineffable. Cultures that have many gods and goddesses understand that to claim only one god is an invitation for shrinkage. But in Protestant Christianity, there is only one God. “He”–or as the gender neutral hymnbooks try to cram into one beat “He, She, Father, Mother” is “out there.”
This past Sunday in the church service, I played a hymn while everyone sang “God, my God, why do you feel so far from me? I then sat down with Marvin the Magnificent and fed him Paul Newman organic dog treats, peanut butter flavor. http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com/2011/04/choir-dogs/
The minister said something about what to do when you feel that God is far away: Pray. Meditate. Read the Bible. All the usual. “Don’t get excited,” I thought. “She is speaking from her own experience of the divine.” I fed Marvin another biscuit.
I never hear it suggested that we consult our own desires. This is what I believe we do anyway. Protestant theology distances itself from desire by calling it “the will of God.” I will say about desire what I said earlier about the divine: What a frightening concept this is for us. Uncontrollable, unruly, roaming, surprising.
What might happen if we all were able to say, “This is what I want. This is my passion?” For one thing, there would be a lot fewer people sneaking around getting what they wanted covertly. There would be a lot less judgment about what other people were doing and why. And there would be no moral high ground, that fictional piece of real estate that no one has actually seen, let alone inhabited.
No one knows what it feels like to be me. I only approximate understanding what it feels like to be you. All we have to go on are the hints and guesses we give each other, and the assumptions we make. “The kingdom of God is within you.” I believe the divine is a huge unknowable energy that we can only apprehend by our desire. That so many religious people want to call it God makes it no less human. That we feel it intensely inside ourselves makes it no less divine.
I don’t suppose we can agree that our desire is divine, cut out the middlemen, and call it a day.