Was it a special gift to me that I was smitten with desire for a boy in my final year Primary School class at the age of eleven? A photograph of me taken six months later shows me radiant with pleasure and delight, shining, and fully alive.
The feelings I experienced then, in 1957, are directly related to the feelings I experience now when I meditate and experience divine presence. My body can flow and fizz with aliveness and energy, energy I connect directly with the experience of God, awe, the holy, sacred, divine. At some point after the age of twelve I had taken on board the idea that these feelings could not be ascribed to God – my human body and human feelings were not in themselves places where God might be ‘known’. Transcendent sunsets and beautiful views and other moments that inspire awe – yes, these were approved – but (and this despite the mystics’ account of their mystical experiences) the human body and the feelings we might have when sitting alone, eyes closed, praying – no.
I suspect this is a common trait. The church teaches us, in various subtle ways, to distrust our bodies and our emotions and we learn to suppress erotic spiritual pleasure. My family taught me to distrust my feelings – my parents were not at ease with themselves, not naturally tactile or comfortable with the world of feelings. The introduction to body-work and biodynamics, massage and breathing that I received in my psychotherapy training began to deconstruct the “Christian” model that I had applied to my body and my feelings. Over a period of years, my contemplative silence every morning evolved. The feelings of desire I had for a classmate at the age of eleven began to flow again, as feelings of presence and desire in my body returned when I meditated. I broke what seemed to have been a very powerful taboo.
Charismatic Christians can also experience powerful emotions when they meet for worship and prayer. Some experience the flow and release that comes from praying in tongues. They identify this experience as the presence of God. I had been unable to do this, unable to let my body flow with the feelings of energy, aliveness and pleasure. I didn’t know it was allowed, let alone possible.
All these experiences, from that of the eleven year old boy, the charismatic in worship, to the adult who meditates, come from the same source. They are feelings I now relate to the presence of the unconditional, infinite, sacred, divine in creation. The God at the root of my experience is elusive (despite having taken physical form in Jesus, so the Church teaches), unfocused in my mental construct, imageless, but intensely present. Art, through centuries of Christian imagery, offers me an almost limitless supply of physical images of Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit – and most of them represent what I have rejected, from the tortured figure on the cross at one extreme to the effeminate, bland Jesus of my childhood Bible story books at the other. The Church faces me with many images of God – homophobic, misogynistic, white bearded, authoritarian, judging, cruel, partisan, rejecting.
This disconnect the Church maintains, between an imaginable God for the twenty-first century, and the God of co-dependency, abuse, depression, anxiety, and neurosis, is unsustainable. The Church may well be responsible for a great deal that is good in society. Indeed, it is, I witness to the fact that it is. But it is also responsible for the cruel god and the fantasy god.
We are stuck with various versions of God, multiple versions in each faith tradition. In my construct of faith as it has evolved over the years, God can only be unconditionally loving (above all else), self-giving, tenderly creative, vulnerable, ‘just there’ in creation, immersed in all that is, an elusive element unable to escape from the multiple configurations and manifestations that we human beings have constructed. The God I open myself to is the victim of human constructs, dependent on the evolution of Homo sapiens, a species capable of reflective consciousness and varying abilities of wisdom and interpretation of experience. Within our limitations we set out to identity, name, describe, worship, pursue, and pray to God, in our multiple traditions: God as Yahweh, I shall be who I shall be, Jesus, I Am, Allah, Buddha, the Tao, God as ideas and ideologies, dogma and doctrine, creeds and formularies. Human beings still search for language appropriate to their experience of God – the ground of being, the life force, ultimate concern, a depth at the centre of life.
Human ideas and imaginations and constructs of God continue to evolve. Only if we human beings also continue to evolve in a dynamic relationship with these ideas, imaginations and constructs that at their most effective enable us to relate our experience to the presence, the sacred, the holy, the divinity, the depths and heights of our life experience, the numinous, the poetic, the creative and mythical and truthful, will we continue to have a stab at knowing the unknowable and experience the ultimately indefinable that Christianity believes is best defined by Jesus.
Our challenge is to help people find the truth, the divine, sacred, holy, loving, numinous, G*d, within themselves and their experience, on the planet we inhabit and within the universe in which we find ourselves.
The task is also to help the multiple versions of Christianity and the multiple versions of the Church understand how it misunderstands and misinterprets God and Jesus and in doing so, inhibits people from finding themselves in God and finding God in themselves. How can the Church open itself to the God we already know, that all people potentially already know, whoever and wherever they are, in any and every culture and society and religion, however misguided their version may currently seem to be? Because the truth, the ‘reality’, the essence, is universal, unconditional, infinite, intimate love, a secret dwelling in plain sight.