Monday, April 21, 2008

Divine Connections

The following is an article that I submitted for the May issue of The Window, the monthly newsletter of First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo.

First of all, I should clarify that this is not an announcement about a new dating service for singles here at First Unitarian, as could be construed by the title. (Word has it, though, that setting up such a program is in the job description for our new full-time minister…okay, I’m kidding.)

Does God have a plan for our lives? If you were to ask me this question 15 years ago, I would have answered yes. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church in a small town and went to Bible college here in Kitchener. I had very little doubt throughout my childhood and teenage years that God (who I viewed as a super-natural Person in the sky,) knew everything about my life from the beginning of time. The Bible told me that before I was born, God knit me together in my mother’s womb, and therefore God knew what I would look like. He – of course he – also knew what kind of job I’d have, the name of my future wife (he’s taking his sweet time with that one!) and if I’d have any kids. He had “a plan,” and it was my job to make sure that I was living within that plan. I would often close my eyes and pray that he would reveal his plan to me, and that I’d do a better job of living according to his plan. Of course there were questions that would pop into my head from time to time; for instance, if God knew everything before it happened, then he knew that certain people would reject him and therefore end up in Hell. Why, then, would God create these people in the first place? And today, several years after being so certain about fundamentalist Christian doctrines, I have serious questions for this God (if, that is, this type of God exists.) For example, if God knows everything beforehand, how do we explain babies born with deformities or diseases? What about car crashes that kill mothers of young children, or other things that happen on a daily basis? I used to hear, and tried to believe, that we couldn’t know the mind of God or that “everything has a reason.” The former answer sounds like a cop-out to me, and the latter one is just plain annoying.

So what do I believe today, and what am I experiencing? I have been thinking of the idea that we are co-creators with the divine (whom I no longer view as being a male necessarily, by the way.) Rather than being subject to God’s will or trying to make sure that we are within God’s plan, perhaps we are partners with the divine, creating the kind of life we want to have. I rather like the idea that perhaps our relationship with the divine is similar to that which is experienced between lovers. Author Marcus Borg speaks of the idea that we live within God, as if the divine were an ocean, and all of us are swimming in it. He refers to the Biblical verse that states, “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” This is an idea that has resonated with me during the last year or so on my journey. But I find myself being called to go farther, to ask the question, “what if?” What if there really isn’t or need not be a separation between ourselves and the divine? A short while ago I believed that perhaps just as Jesus was able to say that he was one with the Father, maybe we could make the same statement (albeit with different language perhaps.) What if we are just unaware of our divine nature, rather than being separate from the divine? What if the evolution of humanity is leading me, calling me to realize that I don’t need God to come and enter my life; rather, perhaps she is already right here, right now, and my job is to wake up to that reality.

But what of God’s plan, then? Is there nothing mysterious or magical about life? If we are creating life as partners with, or as divine beings, is there anything to marvel at or be surprised by?

In the last year or so, I have been noticing more surprises in my life. Or, if you like, perhaps they are divine connections. One illustration of this has to do with how I came to attend this congregation. In January of 2007, after several years of not attending services anywhere, I decided it was time to start looking for a church again. I chose a United church and the Unitarian congregation as candidates for where I would go on that first Sunday back to church. I chose the united church, and though the minister seemed nice and enthusiastic, by the end of the service I had decided that it wasn’t what I was looking for at the moment. But one of the greeters afterward encouraged me to sign the guestbook. Upon doing so, I saw that one of the people visiting that Sunday was Felicia Urbanski, minister at First Unitarian. I thought this was rather odd, as I had been debating between the church she ministered at and the one I was standing in. The following week, or shortly thereafter, I walked into the church on Dunbar, and it didn’t take long to feel welcome. I felt and still feel, that this was a good place for me to be at this point on my journey. I have met a lot of people, including Felicia, whose insight and friendship has enriched my journey. Was this just a co-incidence? Over a year later, I decided to look for a spiritual director to guide me along my journey. Upon google-ing “spiritual directors” and “Kitchener,” whose name should come up? The minister from the same United church that I attended that first Sunday. Now the two of us meet regularly.

There are many more examples of “co-incidences” that seem a little too co-incidental to me. Is it the plan of a supernatural God, unfolding something that “he” knew would occur from the beginning of time? Personally, I don’t think so. God, to me, is not someone imposing a plan on humanity, and life isn’t a paint-by-numbers affair that we are merely filling in.

I don’t think that it is our job to approach God with heads bowed and eyes closed necessarily, hoping for intervention that is entirely beyond ourselves. Rather, we walk as people who are intimately connected with the divine, perhaps more so than we currently realize. We journey on, eyes open, gaze set forward. And as we cultivate awareness of our place within the divine and vice versa, mysteries are seen, inspiring moments occur throughout our days, and here we experience divine connections.

Friday, April 4, 2008

You Are.

So here I am at Starbucks, which, again, is nothing unusual. But it’s Starbucks inside Chapters…okay, again nothing particularly out of the ordinary. How about that it’s the Chapters at the corner of Richmond and John in Toronto? Okay, nothing…so get on with it Mark! Okay, how about this…Justin Trudeau just walked by. And if you don’t know who Justin Trudeau is, either you’re just not into Canadian politics, or you’re cooler than me – most likely both.

But regardless of who you are…psst…You Are Wonderful.

Really. It’s true. I’m sorry if you’ve tried really hard not to be, or if everything you’ve ever come to believe about yourself is to the contrary. But right there, right where you are – not who you were a few years ago, not who you might be when you graduate or find a better job or a mate – right there, right now, you are wonderful. You are a jewel that is waiting to be discovered, if it hasn’t been already.

Inside of you there is a soul like no other that has ever existed. Ever. You are valuable, no matter what you have heard, no matter what life has thrown on you.

And there may very well be a lot that has been thrown your way, much that you’ve been told. You’ve heard it from parents, you’ve heard it from school-mates. Maybe you’ve heard it from clergy, or from the television. Maybe you’ve heard it from the mirror. And you’ve listened to it for far too long. But now life is calling you.

You are called to wake up from a very long sleep, to wake up to life, to wake up to yourself.

This isn’t something new that is being brought to you; this is something that you have forgotten. It has always been there. If you are touched or moved by this at all, if you find yourself nodding your head, there is a reason. The reason is not that someone has presented you with a gift, but because life has now come along and helped you to start pulling off all the dingy wrapping paper that has, throughout your life, been confining you.

You are a unique soul that has much to give – or more accurately, has much to be. When you deny yourself, you put yourself through misery and you deny the world of something that no one else – anywhere – is capable of giving.

Two songs that I like at the moment are “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” and “From This Moment On.” Others can copy these songs, but they will never be the same as Elton John and Shania Twain’s versions. People can try to copy Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but they will never be exactly the same. The effort it took, the place in which it was painted, the moment in history when it was created.

You have a song that no one else who has ever lived can sing. And it is a smash hit. You are a work of art, right here, right now, which no one else can copy. And it is magnificent. You are magnificent.

Pausing for a moment, perhaps I should have used a different analogy. “You are a napkin” comes to mind, seeing as how I just spilled some of my grandĂ© CafĂ© Verona onto my shirt. “You are a napkin with fibers like no other napkin.” Okay, okay, enough of that.

But I firmly believe this will all my heart, and I hope you and I can start realizing this and celebrating it. For too long you have tried to get away from yourself, because you bought into the lie or you were tricked into believing that you must become something or someone else. But now you are called by life to stop. To stop thinking that you are needy. To stop reaching out to be something or someone else. To look inside and see the wonderful being that you are, and to move forward from that point, from that place.

The most important journey that you can take is the one within yourself, not to some other destination. And there, right there waiting, underneath everything that has been placed on you or that you’ve placed onto yourself, is someone unique. Right there is someone wonderful.

Take the first step by standing still. Be still and know.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sex, Rock 'N' Roll, & Granola

Tonight I find myself sitting in Starbucks, which isn’t all that unusual. What is a little out of the ordinary is that I’m listening to old Christian rock on my iPod – thanks Dave! – and I just finished a fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait, which was undoubtedly over-priced at $3.45. It’s only the second or third time that I’ve bought one, and it stretches me, since I don’t like the word ‘parfait.’ The ‘t’ at the end seems quite useless, unless you pronounce it par-fate, in which case you should just spell it that way.

Anyways, tonight I’m not particularly concerned with the parfait, and I don’t have a lot to say about rock ‘n’ roll. So that leaves sex as the remaining candidate. Sex and, well, God of course, two things I probably spend too much time thinking about.

I’m just wondering if communicating with God is less like sitting across a kitchen table from a man in a suit and tie who is explaining doctrine, and more like making love. I have a feeling that it’s the latter. Of course this picture of God as lover shouldn’t be something completely foreign to us, at least to anyone who has spent a lot of time leafing through the Bible. But perhaps we skipped over the poetry of the Song of Solomon too hastily, or dismissed it as unexplainable or solely about human amorousness – and yes, that’s a word, I just checked. What if the writer is talking about our relationship to God? In any case, it’s a rather awkward part of the Bible if we tend to view all things Christian as G-rated. It’s sort of like sitting down to watch Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who and all of a sudden onto the screen appear two people in a passionate love scene. Anyways, enough about the Song of Solomon. In unrelated news, a barista just came around with samples of Starbucks’ new honey latte. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I think I’ll need a full mug of it to make up my mind.

Back to the topic of love-making, or, to the thrust of this particular blog post. It seems to me that good sex should be another form of communication, or a sharing between two people. At least I think it’s more enjoyable when both parties are actively involved. One contrary scenario to this is the imposition of one person onto another. I think most of us would agree that if we were to apply this imagery to God’s relationship with us, we’d see it as an unhealthy relationship. Another image that could be used is one of passivity or pretending. Perhaps far too many people feel an obligation to submit and make some fabricated expressions of ecstasy every once in awhile even though they are getting nothing out of the experience. In this scenario only God is enjoying the moment.

I don’t think that God is someone trying to impose himself on us or that the divine needs or wants our attention, adulation, or submission ‘just because he’s God.’ A few months ago I went to hear author Marcus Borg speak, and perhaps the line I enjoyed the most was “I don’t think God gives a damn if we worship him or not!” Maybe God is more interested in passion than merely praise, in love rather than lordship.

I also think that perhaps there is something about sex that makes us more fully human, or expresses a part of our humanity that could not otherwise be expressed. And that’s what a relationship with the divine should do – enhance your humanity rather than diminish it. After time spent in the bedroom (or your location of choice) shouldn’t you feel more like yourself, not less?

Another thought that comes to mind is this: Should anyone feel the need to have a perfect body before heading into the bedroom? I think that if God were a person, she wouldn’t blink at an extra couple of pounds or funny looking feet. In such a way, not one of us needs to feel perfect before experiencing a relationship with the divine.

Anyways, my honey latte is gone, and it’s time to head home. Just a few thoughts on a Monday night at Starbucks.