When I was a young child and didn’t possess a clear sense of myself or the objective existence of the world around me, Your reality was something I couldn’t conceptualize but clearly felt in the provident support and loving care of my mother and father. Though imperfect, to some sufficient degree they bestowed on me – and awakened in me – an assurance that I was in good hands. I was able to relax into being and open my awareness in wonder to the imaginarium of life.
It wasn’t long before my parents and other taller powers began talking about you, as “someone” up above, who was watching over me. I was taught how to say prayers to you – to thank you for caring and giving me what I needed, to ask for your help in times of need, to implore your understanding and forgiveness of my frequent mistakes, or just to praise you for being so awesome.
Even though I was counseled to listen for what You would have to say, I never heard any voice coming from above me – except, of course, for the voices of my taller powers. Later I learned that I should listen with my heart for a clear feeling of insight, relief from my guilt, or the certain prompting of what I should do next.
In church I studied the sacramental furniture and sacred symbols, the glowing candles and colorful banners, the Bible on the pulpit and the cross on the wall. I could see these with my eyes, though much of their meaning still eluded me. But I never saw You. Whether You were up high above the church building among the clouds looking down, or hiding in the sanctuary and looking out from behind the choir screen, I couldn’t find the kindly gentleman in flowing robes whose portrait hung in my imagination.
I kept at it for years: going to church, joining the fellowship, saying my prayers, offering my worship, and trying to be good during the week. Gradually I realized that this idea I had of You, the portrait that hung in my imagination, was lacking in verisimilitude (a fancy word I picked up in school): it was really nothing like You – or rather, You were nothing like what I imagined You to be.
Yes, that’s right, others agreed. God is invisible and has no form. But He is paying attention, so be careful.
Well then, WHO is paying attention? If You aren’t as I imagine, then what are You – or are You, even? For quite some time – another decade at least – I continued going to church (and became a pastor!), joining the fellowship, saying my prayers, offering my worship, and trying to be a “good Christian,” all the while directing my attention to someone (or something) that wasn’t up there, behind that, or possibly anywhere at all.
For all I knew, You didn’t exist, but I kept up the routine anyway.
Thankfully, by some grace of my upbringing and formation, this disillusionment of mine was less a devastating loss than a liberating revelation.
Along the way, my suspicions had been growing: that my religion is a production, that its star performer lives only in the sacred stories and active imaginations of devotees, and that its real work is not in representing You or in managing what I should believe about You. Instead, its real work – its essential task and design intention – is to awaken in me a spirit of faith and wonder, of freedom and service, of compassion, generosity, and goodwill.
I have further come to see that this spirit is not some ghost floating somewhere above me or haunting the silent sanctuary behind locked doors. It is rather a creative force flowing – or seeking to flow – through me, out to others and into my world.
It is what reached out to me as a young child in the provident care of my parents. It is what set aglow those holy symbols and sacred stories, even that early portrait of You that was hung in my imagination and later tossed in the closet.
This spirit is not mine, nor is it something else. It is a deep wellspring of inner peace, an irrepressible uprising of pure joy, and the overflowing outreach of boundless love. Like my breath [Latin spiritus], it moves through me but isn’t mine to keep. Breathing in, I am its definition; breathing out, it is my gift.
Nearer the far end of my journey, I now understand that all of this has been preparing me for the responsibility and high calling of personifying Your mystery to someone who is, just now, needing assurance that they are in good hands. Hopefully they, too, will come to know what I have taken so long to learn.
Gratefully and sincerely Yours,