[Originally published in Unity Magazine Jan/Feb 2022 issue. Photo by Adam Burton via Great Big Canvas]
When my wife was dying of cancer six years ago, I really wanted to be angry with God. But I knew it was pointless. God didn’t cause the cancer, and God wasn’t going to magically make the cancer disappear no matter how hard others prayed. I knew that’s not how prayer worked, or how God worked.
I used to believe that, however, and for more than a minute I was tempted to pick up the belief again. I not only once believed in a God that made things happen—and was the reason that all things happen—but also that he had a plan way too intricate for my puny human mind to even begin to comprehend. I just had to trust it, and when I didn’t, it meant that I lacked faith.
I would eventually have a crisis of faith, followed by a learning and embracing of Unity teachings. I released both the theistic and deistic beliefs that formed my personal theology. No more holding on to the image of a puppet-master overlord pulling the strings or a hands-off fend-for-yourself creator. I fully leaned into God as Principle. It was a tidier logic that allowed me to find my place in the vastness of All That Is. I was the embodiment of All That Is.
And yet, in the months that Jennifer’s body wasted away to skin and bone, amidst her howls and spasms of pain, at the moment of her final fruitless struggle for breath, I so very much wanted to shake my fists at the skies, demand answers, and offer bargains: Spare her, take me. I was genuinely surprised by my reaction, cycling through anger, disappointment, and sadness with not only what was happening, but also with the fact that I no longer had a God to be angry with. What was that about?
In a recent podcast interview, poet and author Mark Nepo said, “When I’m in conflict with you, I might have made you a surrogate for my argument with life.” During my years of believing in God as Supreme Being, I made God the surrogate for my displeasure with life’s events, while also struggling to admit that God caused those events. But I didn’t feel bad blaming God. He had broad shoulders, a big heart, and infinite patience to play the long game, knowing I’d eventually come around.
With that line of thinking came a certain level of comfort, because no matter how I felt, or what I thought and said, God still loved me, and I felt safe being loved. Plus, there was always the chance he would hear my prayer and grant my wish. Hope can be such a deceptively difficult addiction to break. Now where was my comfort? My safety? My hope? My surrogate? In realizing I no longer had them, I once again began to grieve them, as well as the deity they once embodied.
Let’s face it: Theology is hard. And the more you know, the harder it becomes because the more you realize you don’t know. Uncertainty can be very unsettling, even more so when the elements in our lives that we count on for stability become unmoored, leaving us feeling adrift. And if there’s anything we don’t particularly enjoy, it’s the disorienting feeling of floating in a morass of confusion and helplessness. It’s tempting to look back for any semblance of a familiar anchor, even if that anchor rusted out. The places in which we once found refuge may have crumbled to dust, yet standing in their ruins evokes the comfort of familiarity. In our most dire moments, we believe any bit of comfort helps, any shred of hope is better than none, any sense of the familiar is home.
But is that really true? The short answer is no. To be clear, I’m neither anti-comfort nor against hope. What I do oppose, however, is the rush to comfort, and the reality-denying illusion of hope. It is our aversion to sitting in the discomfort of whatever is arising in the present moment that sends us rushing back to the illusions and delusions of safety we imagine we might find in previously held beliefs or unhealthy relationships or harmful and addictive practices. In our desire to not accept any undesirable outcomes, we generate and cling to false hopes, often through the spiritual bypassing process of misusing our spiritual principles.
The Law of Mind Action (“Thoughts held in mind produce more thoughts after their kind”) becomes the formula for obsessive attempts to manifest miracles. Denials (releasing false beliefs) and affirmations (positive statements of truth) become “deny what’s happening, affirm distract with impossible outcomes.” In our panic and distress, we forget, or maybe we never really learned, that our spiritual principles are about our inner beingness… our consciousness. They aren’t magic spells to stave off inevitabilities. If we took the time to admit it, we’re probably chasing the miracle because we’re afraid to die, or lose someone close to us, and we haven’t yet come to terms with either.
Does that mean I don’t believe in miracles? If a “miracle” is anything other than accepting the inner experience I’m having in this moment, then yes… I don’t believe in miracles. Here’s what I believe: Everything that shows up is an opportunity for us to show up... as God.
In that same interview Mark Nepo also said, “No more bucket lists, no more five-year plans, just more of what is.” I love that! It’s an invitation to simultaneously dive deeper within, expand our current understandings, and stand still in the unknowing that leads to both further knowing and unknowing.
If, under duress, we revert to theologies of old, we rob ourselves of the most profound opportunities to deepen our spiritual experience and build spiritual resilience. Our spiritual teachings and practices are tools to re-center our consciousness around the truth of us: We are the Wholeness that transcends what arises in us as result of illness, loss, lack, or whatever the outer circumstance happens to be.
That outer circumstance might be losing God—and the beliefs we hold about God. Our spiritual growth tends to follow a pattern of either seeking new beliefs when the current ones fail to hold up under life’s unpredictable circumstances or unintentionally encountering new beliefs that may cause us to question the ones we hold dear. With each release of beliefs, the loss of the familiar triggers grief, which is its own experience.
It’s very meta: a journey within the journey. Eventually we find a place of contented repose, a certain sense of comfort in knowing that this new set of beliefs is right for us. That is, until they’re not. Rinse and repeat. It doesn’t take long before we realize that with each cycle, we take on a more expansive yet elusive understanding of the Divine, and before we know it, we make it our mission to constantly question and let go. We learn to relish the discomfort of uncertainty, because truthfully, any certainty about God is heresy. God lies beyond definition and certitude, beyond all theologies.
The only way to know God? Let go of everything we think we know and believe about God.