Identifying with God, or Not
by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
A warning to readers who are not religiously inclined. I think you will not like this blog. It’s mostly about my own identifying with God . It’s about seeking out the possible role of faith groups. It’s about loving people who are of a different constitution and who are wonderful. Even if dis-inclined, I do hope you’ll persist and read it.
About the My Own First Awareness
I start with confessing being turned on to God from an early age. Alone in my bed I felt God around me. I have no idea where that came from. My big sister and father are/were not this way; my mother was, I think, but was turned off early by church three times a day as a child, and a father who left the 11-child family to go and preach the Word in California. The neighbourhood Baptist Church to which my sister dutifully took me bellowed out great hymns and at 4 and 5 years of age I loved singing along with the other Sunday School kids: Jesus Loves the Little Children, I Will Make You Fishers of Men, Onward Christian Soldiers, Jesus Loves Me.
Identifying with God
Jump to the present. While being aware that the Self I’ve constructed to date will keep changing, to be more and more congruent with whoever I find out I am, I have to own up to the reality of how important is that part which identifies myself as a child of God.
The God I’ve yearned toward is best described as a spiritual being full of light and love and the power to activate those attributes between people so that things can be created. As a lonely young person, my heart was peaceful when I concentrated and reached toward that light. I have tried stepping away from that position and without shame or blame I find myself smiling as I return to my own open lifting heart that knows that eternal Love is waiting for me, today.
Vague? Romantic? Magical? But it’s me. Reason, if it were primary in my sense of who I am, wouldn’t permit this construction. Reason comes a close second but the fullness of love – for God and for the people I encounter in this life – is where I really live. It’s the core of what I am drawn toward day after day. Beyond being smart or kind (I fancy those attributes, true or not) and uncertain and honest and easily swayed and imaginative, I’m one of those who simply know that at heart, in the bottom of my soul, I relate to being one of God’s posse.
Jesus is a friend, a companion, a partner. And the Holy Spirit is inspiration that comes especially when there’s someone beside me focusing so that several open hearts are reaching out together. Many things become possible when even a few of us are oriented that way. The people I’ve worked with in several jobs know that such moments lifted us out of skepticism and discouragement because hope and ideas emerged between us.
Being a Member of a Faith Group (a Religion)
Belonging to a church (or synagogue or mosque or other named house of faith) has some wonderful advantages. One finds oneself, if the place is the right fit, among people who share one’s sense of what’s most important. There are often sacraments that help to mark and celebrate important passages in life. There is scripture to which the community refers that offers guidance in life’s choices. There may be excellent teachers, who help one explore the traditions and history of the institution .
The Non-Religious Loved Ones
Yet, in learning what kind of person I am (in ongoing construction of my identity) I’m aware that the people who expand my awareness of love and of light are very often those who do not share a designated faith (somewhat like me at this point) or who are fully non-religious.
They are individuals who have worked through their vulnerabilities and strengths, their failures and gifts, their misfortunes and great good luck to arrive at self-knowledge that lets them accept and love others for who they are, as they are. They see the humour and irony in life, and practice little criticism or judgment of others. They are kind and generous but not according to any evident rules. They are guided not by ‘shoulds’, but by what seems fair and right at the time. They enjoy life as they find it. They are not entirely relativistic, and they are not moderate about what they realize is plainly wrong – actions and attitudes that are hurtful to others, especially to the young and the vulnerable.
In other words, across the spectrum of religious identification – from fellow religious types to those who are plainly atheistic — I find God to be present, in my terms, in the way I understand God.
And speaking most personally, I share my life with several people who identify not-at-all with my sense of God. Or with others’ senses of God. They are living their lives in loving ways, without identifying with any deity. And I honour them, because there is integrity and goodness in what they bring to the world.