I don’t think that I have ever believed in God as such. As a child, I accepted stories from the virgin birth to the three little pigs without question. I knew that I was a Christian because I celebrated Easter (with bunnies, not church) rather than Passover.
I went to a Catholic school as a small child and was very sad not to be Catholic because it meant that I had to stay alone in the classroom with the teacher while my friends all went to class to prepare for First Holy Communion. When I cried to my mom about this, she told me that Catholics and Episcopalians were really not all that different. At five, I could not have cared less about theological positions or liturgy; I wanted to be with my friends. How could she fail to see that?
My faith journey has traveled from a falling away of beliefs in God to a growing into a practice and community of knowings and questions about life, myself, the world: God.
Quaker worship involves a stripping away of traditional ritual, dogma, and creeds. My experience of God involves a falling away of traditional concepts of God: that he’s an old white guy, that he’s a he, that he is.
I have always had trouble with the words “sacred” and “holy.” I want to use them all the time to describe a deep or ecstatic (but very worldly) experience. They both mean separate, other, set-aside. The most transcendent moments are the most present. When you discover that you haven’t gone anywhere, you are, in fact, more here than you had thought possible.
The experience and the knowing of God is there, even after God has fallen away. For me, it is clearer, purer, stronger once God has fallen away. Thunder is thunder—loud, thrilling, scary— with or without Thor. The ocean is the ocean with or without Poseidon. When a believer expresses surprise that I can be a Quaker, or a spiritual being, without belief in God, I am honestly and profoundly confused. It is as if I cannot know the ocean without acknowledging Poseidon. Thunder and waves have scientific explanations, which I believe are true. Is my experience of the sea affected, enhanced, or impaired by my utter lack of belief in Poseidon? Honestly, I don’t know, as I have no point of comparison. How much does scientific understanding inform my experience? It is not the center either.
I told a sort-of-Christian, sort-of-Quaker friend (he remains informed but unbound by both) that God is the green of Cedar Lake, in the middle about five feet down, on a sunny day in summer. It’s not a glimpse of God, a metaphor for God, or a way to God. It is entirely the most God I am ever going to get, and how could anyone want any more than that?
Meeting for worship, in some amazing moments, is like that—surrounded, immersed, integrated with something beyond myself. Quaker community is as well.
I was exposed to Quakerism for the first time when I was ten. The idea of “that of God in every person” struck and bewildered me. I grew into it over the years. It expanded—God in water, God in living beings, God in the earth. Eventually the idea of God outside of these things stopped making sense to me; I grew to understand that it had never made sense to me. I know God intimately, and I know it to be nothing more than the godliness of entirely mundane things: cats, people, otters, grass, rivers, food, laughter. For me that is enough.
Read the other selections in this month’s “Friends and God” series:
Science, Medicine, and Unbelief by Dyckman Vermilye.
We Are All Connected by J.A. Kruger.
In the Light of Nontheistic Friendliness by Scott MacLeod.
The Oneness of Suffering by Julie Hliboki.
Receiving My Measure of the Light by Michael Austin Shell.
From Signs to Waiting, I Endure by tonya thames taylor.