So one of the books that I’m reading at the moment is “In Tune with the Infinite“, by Ralph Waldo Trine. I am loving this book! Hard to believe it was originally written some 115 years ago – it’s easy reading! But what I really love about the book is that he focuses on Oneness with God, every moment of each day. Life hasn’t always been this way: I haven’t always valued being present and being aware of Presence or oneness with God.
I am much more comfortable with the terms he uses to refer to God than with those of some other books, but my awareness of the names we use to refer to God are also a reflection of the image we have created of how and what God is.
Is God personal or simply a Presence?
I really struggle with identifying where I stand on this? Maybe because I think God is both! God is God (omnipotent & omnipotence; omniscient & omniscience; omnipresent & omnipresence): why must we put God in a box and a definition?
A bit of background:
I grew up in a fundamentalist (of course, we didn’t call ourselves that!) group, where Mum & Dad worked as missionaries. Now when I look at the “do’s” and “don’ts”, the corporal punishment expected to be given (i.e. my parents were looked down on if they didn’t punish), and the control over how everyone lived their lives, I wonder how close to being a “cult” we were. Thankfully, Mum & Dad got kicked out of the mission, although it was heartbreaking and earth-shattering at the time. It was all I knew. Then we moved back to New Zealand, where I discovered that we were Presbyterian.
How does a Presbyterian end up in a fundamentalist group? Trying to save the world! I have to hand that to Mum & Dad: they truly believed that they were doing God’s will and this was the best that they can be. And I will say this for them: every time I go back to Soloy or Tolè, they are remembered by everyone with great love and affection. They positively impacted people’s lives. And in some cases, literally saved lives (mum was an RN and midwife, so in the boondocks with no EMTs or hospitals, sometimes mum was everything). And dad was love. He loved these people with his heart. If I had just an ounce of the amount of love that dad has for the world, I would be a great person! Do I disagree with some of dad’s opinions? Yes. But I can agree to disagree with him!
By 17 I had “left” the church: blame it on the hormones, the rebellious years, starting University and living the student life. But, the explanation that I gave to myself – as does every self-righteous 17 year old – is that I was sick of the hypocrisy. And by hypocrisy I mean: you know I go out drinking on Friday & Saturday night, and you want me to come to church on Sunday morning and pretend to be a good Christian. I would much rather sleep in and sleep off the hangover!
Reality, which I came to face years later, is that I was mad at God, at Christians, at the mission (especially leadership), and at “organized religion”. I didn’t know enough then to be able to think through all of those things or actually verbalize it yet. So, it was much easier just to be a rebellious teenager that no longer wanted to go to church with my parents.
Forgiveness & moving on
At 21, in the midst of an existential crisis, my flatmate leant me a book she had just finished reading as she went through her separation & divorce that had really helped her: Louise Hay “You can heal your life“. I read it through once. And then I read it through a second time, and did all the assignments as it suggested. And my happy (well, actually, miserable at the time) little bubble finished bursting! I literally packed a weekend bag and my dog (you can’t cry if you don’t have a dog to hug!), borrowed a friend’s bach in Kaiaua (pronounced: Ky-ow-ah), and went off to say goodbye to my demons! I spent the better part of 3 days grieving and forgiving. Letting go. And coming to terms with “what do I believe now?”.
I realized that I blamed God for everything: everything that had been done by so-called Christians in God’s name was God’s fault! A child’s view? Perhaps. But also the consequence of the way I was brought up!
My broken heart and broken dreams and broken family all tumbled out. I came to terms with everything that I blamed Mum & Dad for: and came to an understanding of how they were also victims to some extent of what had happened. And I realized, as a young adult, that they were human. They had done the best they could with what they had and they knew. They were not perfect: they could have done things differently, but they didn’t know any different. They protected me to the best of their ability, they same way they looked after my sister and brother. And for all 3 of us, it hadn’t been enough. We were hurt and broken. But so were they! Life had dealt them a beating and they were lucky to still be standing! I’ll write about all of that another day!
And most importantly, I started to forgive myself!
Twenty years growing up in Christianity and I had to learn from Louise Hay what forgiveness and letting go meant! I’ve read somewhere that tears contain healing properties. I must have completely healed my body in those 3 days with all the tears I cried!
Who & what is God?
Having said that, after that weekend, I came away with a view of God as an impersonal entity that was not involved in the daily affairs of men. I was done with Christianity! God and I were good, insofar as I no longer blamed God for how I had reacted to everything that had happened to me over the past 20 years. Man-made situations were simply that: created by other men & women who had claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. And I was done with organised religion and others telling me what God had said and how to read and interpret the Bible.
And so there I stood, happily: standing on my own two feet. Responsible for my life and the life I wanted to have. Not some rebellious teen that didn’t want to go to Church on Sunday morning because she wanted to sleep off last nights drinks, but someone who simply decided that God was “out there” and not “in my heart”. Religion was organized to control and manipulate us, but each person had to decide for themselves what they believed.
I was suddenly comfortable talking to Mum & Dad about God and beliefs and life in generally without feeling guilty that I was living differently from what they believed. I built a new relationship with Mum & Dad: one that to this day is amazing! They’ve done a great job of growing up.
And so, for the better part of the next 15 years, I was a happy agnostic. I am totally responsible for my life and being, and God may exist, but it has nothing to do with me personally.
Living as a happy agnostic
So, as a happy agnostic, at 23, I came back to Panama to say “goodbye” to the ghosts and ghouls of the past, to forgive and let go of any last vestiges that might be in my subconscious. The plan: spend 3 months on holiday in Panama and then move to the UK to go backpacking for a year while I decided to do with life. But free and clear of anything that I was still hanging on to, because I always felt in New Zealand that I was in the wrong place. Something was still hanging onto me that wouldn’t let me move forward with life.
Of course, life never quite goes as planned: twenty-one years later and I am still in Panama. It is still home!
When I stepped out of the airport doors (which was air conditioned), and I was struck by the hot, humid air, something inside said “Welcome home”. And so, in a second, I changed my mind. I am not going to stay 3 months, I’m going to get a job and stay for 2 years. That plan isn’t the one that happened either. I’m still here!
Living in a predominantly Catholic country, where I would venture to say that the vast majority are non-practicing, it’s easy to be agnostic. No one is worried here about what church you do or don’t go to; no one worries about your “salvation” or what you personally believe. There’s superstition, possibly more than your fair share. I adopted a black cat – so I was definitely a witch! And I let people believe it, if that was what they wanted to think. It’s just a cat! But if you want to assign my cat some supernatural powers, so be it.
And so it went for about 15 years.