I recently re-read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, an otherwise excellent book on pursuing Buddhist practice, when I came across a curious statement. To paraphrase, Chodron considers theism an addiction, a desire for “a babysitter” to come in and fix things.
Funny. I never thought God was going to fix anything for me.
I recall believing in God — the anthropomorphic being, the bearded grandfather type — when I was very, very young. Apart from a three month period in high school as an atheist, I’ve believed in one form or another. I was a juvenile theist, then a pantheist, then a polytheist, then again a pantheist, and now just a theist.
I’m a minority among (I suspect) my writing friends, and (definitely) at my UU church. My theology is different from a run-of-the-mill mainline protestant, although we vary much more in how much social justice means as a follower of Jesus. (Spoiler alert: that’s Jesus’s whole point!)
Frankly, I have no rational reason to believe in God. For one, God isn’t falsifiable — the very definition is nebulous and flexible enough that it can’t be pinned down. Two, I don’t believe in miracles, young earth creationism, or that pi is exactly equal to 3. Three, I believe that people can be good without a belief in God, whatever their personal definition.
See, my belief is self-evident. God exists because … God exists. It’s my own personal tautology. I’ve always known it, and despite years of self-reflection, that belief just doesn’t shake.
Back to Chodron’s statement. I don’t ask God to fix things when I pray, unless I’m in an awful place, and I often figure that out shortly after. The Serenity Prayer is my perennial favorite. Usually, I pray in gratitude, as a way to ground myself. I try not to fixate on exact solutions to my problems.
Does God answer prayers? I can’t say definitively. But consider this. Shortly before Irma swept through my state, I prayed one night that I might understand divine grace, meaning the undeserved mercy bestowed on us.
The next day, the hurricane tracking model had shifted over my city, and I had evacuated to stay with a friend up north. She offered me a place to crash one night, but we both wound up in Tallahassee at her folks’ house, riding out the storm with her chinchillas.
You know what grace is? A friend offering a safe haven from the biggest storm you’ve ever witnessed. I cannot thank Anna (my hurricane buddy!) enough for that.
I pray for serenity, for courage, for wisdom. It’s far easier a miracle to fix yourself than to make God grant your losing football team a victory.
(Funny, that sounds rather Buddhist.)
God will give you what you need if you ask, but boy, will it f**king hurt. Tony Kushner got it right in Angels in America during the following exchange:
Harper: In your experience of the world. How do people change?
Mormon Mother: Well it has something to do with God so it’s not very nice.
God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in, he grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard, he insists, he pulls and pulls till all your innards are yanked out and the pain! We can’t even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled and torn. It’s up to you to do the stitching.
Harper: And then up you get. And walk around.
Mormon Mother: Just mangled guts pretending.
Harper: That’s how people change.
It’s that world-altering, floor-shifting-beneath-your-feet change where you have your greatest epiphany, as Chodron explains in her book.
I guess this is just ~600 words just to say “I believe because I just do, stupid!” Yet it’s my personal experience that led me here, and in my personal experience, that God exists is undeniable. But God’s ways can be really twisted.
Anyway, this is the prayer I really need tonight: