I grew up in the Presbyterian church. It was a liberal congregation, with an unusually open-minded, curious and lively pastoral staff. It was, however, Christian. Good and evil, predestination (Presbyterians – what can I say), saved and unsaved, rules of behavior, dogma of thought …
While I valued very highly the community of the church, and the silences available in the space of the church (physically and spiritually), I kept secrets from the church. I valued the laughter, singing, solemnity, grief, and humanity of the community. I still miss those graceful beauties. But the beliefs of the church did not accomodate what I knew to be true.
I knew that Jesus was an example of what each of us is capable of, not a sacrificial lamb to be worshiped as something unreachably beyond human. I knew that hell was a fantasy fear. I knew that Satan was a sad myth. I knew that I could touch God because I had, and longed to again. I knew that mystics were not of the past, but of the ever-present. I knew that I was one. (I also knew to keep my mouth shut about that.)
I read the Upanishads when I was in high school, curiously drawn. I read about Buddhism and AmerIndian religions. I briefly practiced Zen meditation, and poked around in the Moslem religion. I practiced affirmations, creating miracles. I read the Bible through cover to cover. In each of these explorations I found the same core, the same prime number: one. We are all one, and God is in us, of us, through us, one with us.
I became more and more grumpy about sermons, beliefs, dogmas, and self-righteousness in the Christian tradition, feeling rising derision and scorn for the misinterpretations and strange assumptions that were propogated or sustained. I resented that God was assumed to be male, that God was assumed to be a being separate from each of us, that God was assumed to punish. Punish! Punish?? I was furious that Christians would split the One, enraged that fear was too often used like a bludgeon over love, and disgusted with the lie that unconditional love was a quirk of God that we’d have to die to experience.
I was frustrated.
In college I continued to struggle to reconcile or re-imagine the (my) patriarchal idea of God, and the ideas and beliefs of the church. I attended daily services for the silence, the focus, and the beautiful music. Ignoring the words, I rested in the beautiful space of what I now know as a meditative state of grace. I used the setting, ignoring as much as possible the – as I thought of it – foolishness and sadly misguided blindnesses.
One night walking alone in the silky darkness of a midwestern night, full moon lighting up the quiet trees, I said aloud, “There is no God.”
It just came right out of my mouth, surprising the crap out of me. It also felt as if it came to me, not out of me. So I decided that I would agree to that premise and explore from there. If it turned out to be false, I knew that God would bring me back.
Thirty years have passed. I can’t give a reasonable recount of those thirty years, nor would I care to do so (boring!). I’ll sum it up: Christianity continued to irritate me, even as I tried to ignore its persistent little remnants echoing and knocking around deep inside. The things that we learn as children are deeply seated, often comfortably settled in the subconscious or unconscious as base assumptions. Those little pieces and parts kept surfacing at odd moments, reminding me that they ought to be addressed and resolved.
How could I resolve all the little pieces? I couldn’t – I couldn’t even catch them all. I knew that if I could start at the beginning, at the One, perhaps I could describe in detail how Christianity had transmogrified the Christ message. If I could write it all out, articulating what I knew in my soul, I suspected that I could expose all the little pieces in myself and put them to rest.
But hey, I didn’t have time, or didn’t have the energy or skill that I was sure that would take. Really I didn’t have the will, and probably not the courage. I couldn’t find my voice.
Recently I read a book by Paul Rademacher that has done much of that work for me: A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe.
Paul was a Presbyterian minister for fifteen years, functioning in that capacity while knowing he was living in dissonance with his soul. He had known rapture, experienced God, and wanted to again. He believed that we were each capable of the acts of Jesus, and that the Christian church had misinterpreted his life and message.
Paul is a mystic, and an articulate and thoughtful one at that. In A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide, he re-imagines the Bible and the Christ message with intelligence, humor, and deep insight.
I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Paul has written or proposed in this entertaining book – that’s not necessary. He begins at the beginning that we all know instinctively – the prime of all being: One. Beyond the One, his re-imagining of the message of Christianity leaves room for me to revisit and ponder my own understanding of the Gospels and their role in my early life. His obvious curiosity, irreverent humor, and the disarming honesty with which he uses his personal life to illustrate and illumine are all evidence of his grace. They have invited me to allow old angers and resentments to be revealed, then fall away; and to remember to cloak my explorations in that same sort of curiosity, humor, and honesty.
Paul’s story has allowed me to love the church again – not for what it stands for, but for what it was for me. Community. Humanity. Of the One, for the all; of the All, for the One. Flawed and perfect; packed with good people who may only be waiting, longing for someone like Paul to say what they know to be true in their hearts; to introduce them to the mystical in themselves – of themselves, touching God.
By articulating what I longed to say, Paul has set a part of me free.
A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe sparked me to grow, and I feel as if Paul sat by quietly cheering me on while I did.
The book is more than a thoughtful treatise on Christianity. It trips lightly through states of expanded awareness, and dips laughing into the muck of physicality. Yet Christianity is the skeletal structure on which Paul drapes all the beauty. He could have used Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or New Age and the wisdom would have been the same. Because they are one.
I believe that denying the existence of God thirty years ago as I walked under the dark trees allowed me to re-imagine God. I had to let go of my ideas of God – all those old pictures of a man waiting to crack someone’s knuckles.
Yahweh. Adonai. Allah. The Force. The Universe. The Mystery. The Mother. The Creative Force of the Universe.
I’ve used all these words, because to communicate we currently use words. We think we need them. But each time I name the unnameable, something in me resists. I’ve touched the All That Is, and been one with the One, and I have the Force within me. I resist the names. By speaking a name, I limit the unlimited. No words exist to describe what I know. By naming the All, I separate myself from the One, which is a lie.
(that last sentence was perfect silence)
Thank you, Paul, for returning a part of me to myself.