Monday, April 23, 2012

What does God look like? I'll tell you.

Why do I have such awful thoughts?

Why do I have such awful thoughts on a Monday morning?

I’ve been writing a sort of informal ongoing series of posts about my complete disillusionment with organized religion.  After years of struggle and spiritual anguish, I had to cut the ties, drop out. Too many things were eating at me. There was not one single person I could talk to, and some of my very best friends were being told to leave. Run out of town. So who would be left?

So I left, but this was after a very long period of being. . . what? One day, years ago, I wrote in my journal a single word: Disaffected. It seemed to sum it all up. Whatever “affected” means, and it can mean many things beyond the obvious.

It can relate to “affect” (NOT the same as “effect”, you Philistines of non-grammar!), which is in a larger sense just a reference to emotion, particularly the expression of emotion. But then there are words like “affection”, and we all know what that means.

I wonder if I am doomed to enact and re-enact the rejections of my youth. I wrote a post called You’ll Never Get Out of the Playground which had a surprising number of views, at least for me - more than 100 overnight (and counting: I think it’s 200 now). This was about a middle-aged woman who was disaffected with the social media scene, feeling profoundly out of step. I wonder why anyone was interested, why anyone bothered. Being out of step? Does anyone feel this except me, I wonder?

I won’t tell you what happened on the playground, or in high school, and what happened later on in my church after 15 years of meaningful, if frustrating involvement and contribution (including financial: people used to visit us in our homes and subtly, or not-so-subtly, guilt-trip us into giving more than we really could afford). The thing is, in a church setting you are at the mercy of leadership, which is apparently chosen. Then why did we “choose” a leader who turned out to be jaw-droppingly destructive and wildly inappropriate? Does a group of people necessarily know what is good for them?

But this isn’t the bummer, the spiritual shadow that goes in and out with me. Maybe it’s early conditioning, I don’t know. My beliefs are such a ragbag, or a fluctuating tide, or something. They change and shift. They don’t get “better” and I don’t “evolve”, like I am supposed to: in fact sometimes I think I am devolving or even deteriorating.

The cold dense shadow that chills my sunniest day is wondering about death. I often have strong feelings that departed people are very near me, even physically. I know where they are in the room, and they seem to speak, though not exactly in words. They convey pure meaning, somehow. This could be imagination. The problem with being a writer is that you must flex your imagination again and again, constantly, like a bicep, until it becomes so monstrous your whole arm is disabled.

But what if it isn’t? What if this is a strange gift? I try not to close the door on it. Yet it seems to say, if there is any truth in it at all, that we don’t just disappear when we die. That something of us lives on. If you’re to believe mediums (media?), the soul lives on in much the same form, so that the departed person is recognizable even visually. Thus the Long Island Medium with her fake blonde hair, fake talent, and voice as grating as Fran Drescher in The Nanny.

So OK. What is the other option? We just disappear, we die like a tree, we become soil, or not even that. We “are not”, we are “no more”. We are “departed”. To where, nobody says.

Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky. This was John Lennon’s vision of Utopia. I’ve heard that as far as spiritual contact is concerned, John Lennon is damn hard to find.

But there’s another possibility, and this one just makes my guts quail as if there’s a big frog jumping around in there.

It’s based on a very old model, so I didn’t make this one up.

What if every wrong deed, every bad mistake, every unkindness, every slight to others, every bit of ungenerosity, every theft, every verbal slap, every sense of glee at someone else’s misfortune (sometimes known as schadenfreude), every cheat of every kind, was carefully kept track of, never erased, never forgotten? What if all of it has been strung together in a chain, and how long is your chain anyway? Is it “ponderous”, like the chain of Ebenezer Scrooge? What if all your nasty little deeds, most of them kept secret, were laid end-to-end, bald and visible to some awful judging Force that doesn’t let you get away with anything?

What if?

This model annihilates that all-loving, all-caring God that everyone quacks about. I just don’t feel that sense of God any more and wonder if I didn’t make it up just to make my life more bearable. But if I don’t believe, does my non-belief negate God? Does God only love believers, those who go to church and are pious and either never make mistakes and unkindnesses, or repent for them so mightily it’s as if they never occurred at all?

What a horrible thought.

The only meaningful God – and I really doubt any such being exists – is a God that does not know how to do anything BUT love, a God who IS love like Jesus was, if Jesus ever existed (which I now doubt: but look what we did to him anyway). This God doesn’t play favourites, doesn’t lay sins end to end like some poisonous necklace of doom. But if this God really does exist, why don’t I feel it any more?

Why did despair drive out the glory, the power, the honour, the trumpet-blasting  blah-blah-blah I used to sing about in those endless dreary hymns with 39 verses? You could blow the dust off this God. It had no vitality. It was conventional and tame. After a while I felt so lonely in my growing unbelief that I just couldn’t stand it any more.

So have I been driven out? Cast out of Eden with those other sinners (who shall remain nameless)? Am I alone after all, a huddled mass of confusion and fear?

Every time I find myself starting to pray, I cut it off. Come on, stupid, don’t.  It won’t get you anywhere. What does prayer accomplish anyway? What is it for? It’s asking God to change things, to change the way things are now. If God is a God who makes reality, how stupid is that? Aren’t things “the way they’re supposed to be”, as so many people like to put it? So why pray at all?

Pray for mercy? I can’t see how that works, either. A big hand doesn’t suddenly come down out of the sky. In fact, nothing does. Nothing changes. Pray for healing? Why? Will a big nurse suddenly. . . OK, you get the idea.

Pray “for” someone? If people knew what other people were praying for, they might be pretty surprised. “Oh God, please make Frank less of an asshole so he won’t bug me so much.” OK, that’s extreme. How about, “Oh God, please reconcile Karen and Rob and make their marriage whole again.” In fact, Karen and Rob’s divorce might be totally liberating for both of them, freeing them from a relationship that went dead years ago. Joe might want to die from that tumour, because he’s lonely and no one from his church comes around any more because he’s difficult and besides, he has stopped praying and believing.

So stay away.

And if two people compete with each other, praying for completely opposite things, which one will God listen to? Who will win? The political ramifications of this are frightening to contemplate.

So I can’t figure out prayer. It somehow has a Wizard of Oz quality to it. “Please sir. . . I am Dorothy, the small and meek.” And you know what happened there.

Did I pull back the curtain somehow, to reveal the little man pulling levers in a desperate sweat? Should I pay any attention to those strange luminescent figures in my room late at night? What is the mystery? I had an experience years ago of looking God right in the eye, of having a tiny glimpse for a billionth of a second through an aperture that opened, then closed again. I don’t know why this happened and I had a welter of feelings about it:

A sense I shouldn’t be seeing this, that it was a mistake.

A feeling I should take off my sandals because I was on holy ground.

A sense of "Me? Are you sure? You must have the wrong person."

A sense I had opened a door and saw my mother standing there naked and slammed it shut.

An absolute, soul-shattering awe.

A sense I was seeing everything: everything ever created, from the beginning of what we call Time (which is an illusion) and on into the infinite Future. This is beyond my powers to describe.

It was as if every question I had ever asked, every question I asked in the present, every question I would ask in the future, and in fact every question I could possibly ask, ever, in all the realms of possibility, along with questions I could never ask because I didn’t know what they were, had been answered in a single stroke.

This all happened under very deep hypnosis conducted by a friend who was not a trained hypnotist. The purpose was to restore my sleep after a bad bout of insomnia that had gone on for months, resistant to any drug.

I suppose I should have guessed I wasn't really under hypnosis, but something far more profound and dangerous. It was years later, taking an anthropology course, that I learned about trance, the altered state of consciousness that allows shamans to pierce their cheeks without pain or walk over glowing coals.

Did I somehow get there without knowing it? I had heard over and over again that in hypnosis, you can come out of it any time you want to. I couldn't. My "consciousness" was so far above my corporeal being that it wasn't visible from the ground. It was on the right-hand side in a specific place, not just in my head, and the "whatever" was in front of me, an aperture almost like a  strange-looking gate.

At some point I saw myself, my physical being, inert on the couch far below. I had been "under" for more than an hour, one of the many idiotic things my friend did. He was trying to bring me out of it and couldn't. He was trying everything. I was shit-scared. I wanted to come back and couldn't.

Finally there was a sense not of falling but of being sucked back, though instead of feeling disappointed (gee, heaven was so nice!), I only felt relief. But something was wrong.

"You look. . ."


"No, don't look in the mirror."

But I did. I was grey as stone. Blue-grey, and cold all over. I wonder now if I really had been near death, and what would have happened if the life force hadn't decided to take me back. I did not sleep that night, and the next day my brain was on fire, to the point that I could hear it searing and popping inside my skull.

My Divine Encounter. I suppose a fundamentalist would say it was the devil or something. I’d say there was no sense of a Being or Presence, but there was – and, surprise, it wasn’t a being of Love at all.  In fact it was completely indifferent. Which is the opposite of love (not hate, but “not-love”).

If the Universe is indifferent, if God is indifferent. . . or was it a projection of the tragedy of my mother, a Being so indifferent she did not even list my name in her obituary, as if it would be better if I had never existed at all?

Officially, I have been wiped off the record, and that does get to a person after a while. How can you worship God if you don’t really exist?

But I did notice something else. There was some sense of a slightly ironic sense of humor, of a sort of indulgence, and a sense of “someone or something” touching or stroking my right cheek. But it was like a child finding a ladybug. Funny little thing. Look what I’ve created. Pssshhhhhewwwwww.

I don’t know if writing about this experience is a mistake or not. It disturbs me and I still do not understand it. Easy to say, “oh, you were tired, it was just a bad dream,” or “oh well, that wasn’t really God.” I was completely convinced I was witnessing Ultimate Reality, and it was totally disillusioning and terrified me beyond words.

If Jesus loves the little children, then I guess I am still an abused child huddled in the corner, waiting for some grace that never arrives. I suppose it will always be that way. If my sins are strung out in space like some spiky ugly necklace, I am done for.

If it’s some other way, I do wish I could find out about it now, in some manner that is understandable to me. I am not getting any younger.