Recently I wrote a post called God On Trial. I’m glad I wrote it, but the more I think about it, it’s not enough. Yes, it addresses the ‘Is there a God?’ question, in its own way, but if we’re going to ‘concede’ that there is, indeed, a God (or god, or all-encompassing-Is-ness, or any other omnipresent providential Dude you can dream up), it still leaves us with a bigger problem: dang, if there is a God, why the effin’ bleep is the world so effin’ bleeped up?
Or, put another way: is God also in the shite, and if so, how can I find Him there?
If God is love, how can we ‘God’ (i.e. love) a world that prominently features ugliness, sadism, oppression, the triumph of evil, and good people going down in flames?
Sure, God is clearly ‘there’ in the smell of rain, or the changing of the seasons, or the glint in a child’s eye, but where is the God in child abuse, or the torture of prisoners, or religion-based genocide? Let’s say a woman is born, lives, and dies doing unending menial work under a regime that is hideously restrictive of women’s rights, and condones mass murder: was her life ‘touched by God’ in the same way as that of a woman who was privileged to have the support to discover her innermost dreams, and then fulfill them?
At first blush, it seems impossible to believe that such an unfair, chaotic and dangerous world was created (or is inhabited) by any but the most capriciously-whimful, crazy-ass being imaginable.
Yes, I understand, it’s possible to embrace a belief system that preaches,
Look, guys, just because we don’t understand the Ways of God, that doesn’t mean They’re not there.
Fair enough – and maybe it’s true: after all, what Is . . . Is, right? So, if we’re going to go on the assumption that a God made (and inhabits) this whole mess (sorry, Dude), and we cannot for the life of us understand how or why He could have included the evil parts, then it must be that we just can’t understand God, right? Kind of like how a child looks at the behavior of his parents, even if said behavior is abusive or mean or crazy: they’re the parents, ergo they Must know what they’re doing. (And, sadly, this often necessitates the child then ‘making it alright’ by assuming he must be ‘worthy’ of the abuse.)
Well, I understand, and even respect such a point of view: Since it (i.e. the world, in all its inglory) is there, then God, in His infinite wisdom, must have a reason for it all.
Cool – knock yourself out, but I just can’t buy it. Yes, I understand that we can hypothesize that the ‘bad parts’ are put there (by God, presumably) in order for us to learn the lessons of love – and yes, that gets me a little closer to acceptance of the God concept; after all, a therapist is always a sucker for almost anything that involves the holy grail: Personal Growth (Sing Hallelujah!).
So there I was, stuck with this:
Yes, there is a God – but only in the ‘Good Stuff.’
Then there’s all that Bad Stuff floating around: Godless and unaccounted-for.
Hmm, what’s a fella to do?
The first part of the answer came when sitting with a patient recently. She said, “I want to be closer to you – I want to be merged with you. I want you to just understand what I’m thinking, without my having to say anything.” This is a pretty frequent phenomenon in therapy, especially with someone who feels validated and ‘held’ by a strong connection with the other person.
I was quiet, sitting in silent understanding, and witnessing, of her wish.
Then she said, “I feel like I’m going into a space.” Patients will often shift ground in this way – transcending, for a moment or more, their own personal identity and entering a more expansive area, what would be called ‘oneness’ in meditation practice – boundarylessness.
I waited quietly.
I noticed a beatific glow on her face, and she said, “You’re in the space, too – everyone is.”
I waited quietly.
Then she paused, almost laughing, and added, “We’re together, after all.”
Patients often go into these expanded-identity ‘spaces’ during session, because therapy can be a spiritual practice, a form of assisted meditation. And once you leave your small, personal identity, you see that we are all, indeed, ‘together,’ as beings sharing existence, and even beyond that, we are all ‘star-dust,’ in unity with all that is.
So, I had all this roiling around in my mind, as I looked out my window at the clouds, after her session ended: the yearning for Connection, the search for Unity, the need for shelter from the storm. I thought about how lost we feel in such an enormous world, yet how at home we could be, if we could live from a ‘space’ such as my patient had entered – all One, all In It Together. But I also thought about the pain, the hurt, the meanness, the seeming unfairness, of the world. I thought about how we don’t treat each other ‘right’ – heck, we don’t even treat the Earth right, pillaging her treasures, paving her soil over with concrete and asphalt, mowing down entire forests like we cut the lawn.
For a sad moment, I felt protective of the Earth – almost like it was . . .
And then it came over me: an answer, a way, maybe. Yes, I understand, and accept, that God is love. Yes, I see God in the wonderful things of the world, but can’t accept, can’t love, the Bad things, too – at least not in the same way.
But wait: what if I thought about the world as my child? It occurred to me that I have no problem loving my children, even though there are ‘bad’, disappointing, and frustrating things about them. Even though they have hurt me, thwarted my plans for them, and let me down at times. Sure, I’m mad, hurt, even hateful at times, but it always comes back to love. I see that they are imperfect, that they hurt others, too, not just me – but always, always, it comes back to love and acceptance. Why – just because they’re ‘mine’? No, I don’t think so – it’s not, “Since they’re mine, they’re perfect,” it’s more like, “I am committed to being big enough to love them through it all,” which means through the hurts and disappointments, as well as the joys and the triumphs. My love doesn’t ‘go away’ just because I’m mad. Sure, I might feel rejecting, or need to take some space and time to recuperate from an incident, but I come back – I make sure I come back, not matter what it takes.
Hmmm – so if I “have it in me” to do this with my children, and other loved ones, why can’t I do the same thing with the whole world? Hey – this could work!
I looked out the window at the same clouds I had been watching before, and said, “God damn it – I love you guys.” I’m not sure, but I might have seen them give a little squiggle in return.
I looked at a winter-bare tree I had seen a hundred times before, and said, “Hey kiddo – welcome to the family!”
I watched a single bird flying by, and called out, “Keep truckin’, little buddy!”
It felt good – like my patient said, we’re all in the same space now.
I realized that I’m a ‘better’ person when I’m a parent than I am as the man in the street: aren’t we all?
Now came the hard part: I picked up the newspaper and forced my eyes to a story about Muslim terrorists – stuff I would normally avoid like the plague. I took a deep breath and pictured talking to them:
“You know, I don’t like what you did, but . . .”
But what? Where do I go from here? I forced my mind back – and I do mean forced:
” . . . but you’re still my children, and I have to find a way to love you through it. It doesn’t make it right – you did wrong and I have to hold you responsible for that – but . . .”
Whoo – this was hard! I took a breather. Okay, back to the salt mines:
” . . . but it doesn’t mean I stop caring about you, or seeing you as fellow beings. After all, if I was you, with the whole package deal of your DNA, your cultural experiences, and your upbringing, I’d be you. I don’t have to like you at this moment- just like I wouldn’t like my child if he committed a murder – but I wouldn’t abandon him, and I won’t abandon you, either, at least in spirit.”
Whew – that was rough. It felt a little weird trying this new ‘suit’ on for size, and I felt a little like I was abandoning myself, and my values, but in another sense, I knew I was being more true to my larger values, than I had ever been, pushing myself to a larger place than I had ever been – kind of like a snake, moulting out of an old skin and into a larger one.
I know that it’s going to be hard – new ways always are. And I know it’s going to keep feeling weird to not ‘take sides’ the way I always have – but then I still have the right to my beliefs. I haven’t abandoned them – just found a higher-level way to exercise them. I’ve always envied people who can have spirited debates with others about deeply-held beliefs – like about right and wrong – and emerge from the debate laughing and still friends – maybe even better friends. Isn’t that what I’m doing with the whole world now?
Now I understand, a little better, the meaning of Robert Frost’s famous quote:
And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
Now I see the crux of that quote more clearly: “lover’s” and “quarrel,” both together, in the same space. We disagree – maybe strongly – but I still love you.
And that’s exactly my challenge, now: to do that with the whole world. To love ‘my’ world – my beloved world: the clouds outside my window, my friend the tree, that bird flying solo, and also the Muslim terrorists.
Not agree – just love.
Not like – just love.
Not side with – just love.
Not side against – just love.
Not tough love – just loving tough, loving hard, loving like a crazy-ass son of a bitch.
Loving like God.
Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.