Looking for God in All the Wrong Places
I am not a God Girl by nature. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I have turned to God when planes are bouncing in the air — air that has no business carrying them — and as many others do, I have that conversation in my mind about what I am willing to do if God just gets me to the ground safely. So far, he’s kept his end of the bargain. And me? I have not.
Three years ago a friend and I were at a Barnes and Noble next to a movie theater on New Year’s Day, and we decided to each buy a Bible, with a handshake agreement to read it cover to cover over the coming year. Her husband, who only begrudgingly puts up with the two of us and our unfulfilled promises — which have included reducing our candy intake, committing to exercise regimens, expanding our intellectual horizons, and now spiritual growth — looked on in disgust. He bet us $1,000 it wouldn’t happen. Three years later, we are doubled or nothing up to $4,000.
It’s not all my fault that I haven’t finished it. It’s a terribly written book, filled with violence and cruelty, and it repeats the same stories over and over again, like one of those friends who repeats their version of the past over and over again, perhaps hoping it will make better sense the more it is told.
And The Bible is so negative. It tells us endlessly what we shouldn’t do, but everyone knows you get better results if you tell people what they should do. Or celebrate what they have done. Seriously, this is why Oprah always brought experts on her show to explain the importance of positive energy. The Bible doesn’t really do that. It has great distribution channels, however, and that is how I believe it has lasted this long and stayed on the top of the best-seller list year after year, century after century. No other book has that kind of reach, and more power to the churches is all I have to say about that.
Just so you know that I’m not just an ecclesiastical idiot, I do have Bible passages that I love. Like, “To Every Time There is a Season (Ecclesiastes 3:2),” which I used to think had been written by the Byrds, who sang the Turn, Turn, Turn lyrics as if they had written them. They didn’t even give the Bible credit on the album cover. I looked. Really not okay. And the words are game-changing. It’s worth reading The Bible for that alone, or listening to the recording.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
And then there is the part about mustard seeds. (Matthew: 17 – 24) Who isn’t taken in by a teeny, tiny mustard seed, and the hope that it could be the beginning of whatever you want it to be?
So before you send me to the devil, recognize that I did find things in The Bible that meant something to me. But as a book, as a read-through, it just doesn’t have what I need. It’s too very sad.
We didn’t really go to church growing up. We had moved sixteen times by the time I was fifteen, so even when my poor mother got it together to get us to church, my business-driven father was off on the golf course or sleeping in. When I was finally confirmed in the sixth grade, the minister asked me what I thought was the most important book in the world. I straightened up, looked him in the eye, and said, “I know you want me to say The Bible, but when I told my dad this morning that it was the most important book, he said you were mistaken. He said the most important book is the checkbook. I’m going with my dad. I hope that doesn’t mean I can’t eat the thin bread thingy. I am really looking forward to that.” Let’s all agree that didn’t work out so well and move on with my story.
My mom died eight years ago, and everything changed. I needed to find the answer for myself. I needed to figure it out. I knew there had to be something bigger out there. So I joined a church. Yep, a really old church on Cape Cod that my ancestors helped build and whose physical simplicity and beauty were just what I needed to quiet my soul in those tough days following her death. I went on Sundays, tried to participate in events, and contributed money and service. But the people there were sort of mean. Not all of them, but enough of them that I realized that Maya Angelou would tell me to hightail it outta there and find some people who raised me to my highest self. There is no point in going over the things those people said and did; suffice to say that if you heard them you would not question for one moment my desire to move on.
There was no where else to go. So I went inside myself. I challenged myself to find my own God. I stopped looking outside and went inside, where talking to myself is something I do without noticing. And that’s when I stopped dead in my tracks.
Could God be that voice inside me; that voice that sometimes screams to be heard when I would prefer to look away—and too often do just that? Could God be that innate sense of right and wrong that I know to be true, not because the father who worshipped the checkbook taught it to me, but because it is just so.
I realized that God is the unexplained part of me that rises above that other part of me that often prefers the easier road. That road is well traveled, but it doesn’t lead to the better future that is my quest. My hope. My belief.
God is the voice inside that sings when I do something for another and feel just plain “right,” not because of the accolades but because it just is.
And God is the grateful part of me that says I am happy to be me and not anyone else in the world.
There is optimism in me. Not a deserved optimism — there is so much of me that is not what I wish it to be — but an optimism based on hope that change can occur. It’s an optimism that just is. It stands on no solid footing, especially in today’s broken world . It has no real right to be there. But it’s there because God’s inside me and says it is so.
So you see, God is me. I am God. The inside of me — that unique me, unlike any other person in the universe — has to be God. How else would it all be possible? It has to be something larger than the cells that make up my body. It has to be more complex than I can explain.
So I listen to no woman’s or man’s explanation of God and what he or she wants for me. Instead, I listen to the God inside me, what I want for myself, what I believe is possible. And God’s voice is a voice that knows me better than I know myself. And oh, what a song is sung for only me to hear. It is based on the voices of those who have gone before me. It is based on setting myself apart, and living with the results of what I do. It’s based on celebrating how fabulous I actually am. It’s based on being better today than yesterday and not as good as tomorrow.
So, I can stop looking under my bed or in buildings with stunning tall steeples. I can stop looking in a book that is worth a read, but only to lend historical context to a man who lived and died telling the world that he was the son of God. Son of God—not so different from being God, really. Right?
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