In September 2018 in New Orleans, I had my Tarot cards read. My curiosity got the better of me. My intrigue spoke louder than the fearful religious voice in my head. Believe it or not, God didn’t send a lightning bolt to smite me to the ground.
I love to hear about different ways of connecting to a world beyond our senses. Tell me, do you pray? Do you meditate? Do you believe that St Anthony helps you find your car keys? Or do you believe that the holy spirit speaks to you when you’re praying in tongues? Do you believe in liturgy, the power of words repeated week after week? Do you renew your faith each time you say the apostle’s creed? Do you hear from the Divine when you take communion?
Do you believe in manifesting positive things in your life? Do you believe in an unknowable realm we cannot decipher? Or do you believe that human intellect and emotional intelligence, while mysterious, are the only filters through which to understand the world and ourselves? Whatever your language, your belief system, your cultural or religious or spiritual practices, there’s room for it all.
I have been learning that what I used to see as “God” – a male figure, fixed in a place called Heaven, intervening occasionally, at points that are unfathomable to us – is a specific and narrow version of God. I was handed this God, from mostly well-intentioned people, a version of the Divine that was slightly distant, a confusing being who desires a fear of some kind, and my obedience.
When we have struggled with someone else’s religion, we often resent the people or the institution that gave us an image of God that never felt real or right to us. I certainly spent a long time resenting the God that had been offered to me as a saviour. I never understood what I was being saved from. My confusion lay in my convictions: surely God is more loving than punitive? I was confused by a God who would demand that I say the sinner’s prayer in order to get my ticket to heaven. Doesn’t this sound more like an arbitrary human game than a divine plan for the universe?
What I have learned in the often painful process of letting go of the box I was handed labelled “God”, is that I needn’t resent the system for attempting to give me a way to understand the world and my place in it. To be given a flawed system of faith gives us a platform from which to jump into the mystery – if religion is the wardrobe, spirituality is the snowy forest of Narnia beyond the confines of the cupboard.
I am now of the view that God is much bigger than we could ever imagine. God is not confined to one religion or one spiritual practice. God might speak to you in a language I could never understand, but that doesn’t make your God less real than the God I hear from.
Whatever you subscribe to – a religion or a political mindset, atheism or a non-religious spirituality, at some point you have created a version of reality that suits your needs and your desires, and rejected everything else. This makes sense, we need a framework to operate in the world. However, we are inclined to create an in-group and an out-group, and build a version of reality that suits our own lives. At some point we must step back and open our minds to the possibility that we don’t have all the answers. But if we combine your offering with mine, and add them to the wisdom of a myriad of lives since time began, constantly learning from one another… who knows, we might be onto something.