Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Julia Sweeney's Letting Go Of God

Flipping through the channels this morning, I caught about a half an hour of Julia's new Showtime monologue. I really needed to get up and get moving, but her down-to-earth delivery and insightful commentary reeled me in and wouldn't let me go. Jorge finally nudged me..."we can catch the rest when it airs again. We've got work to do." He was right, so we turned off the television and started our day.

If you haven't seen, read, or listened to Julia's work, the title is actually pretty revealing. This is her journey from a Catholic upbringing, to exploration of New Age mysticism, to spiritual investigation to the realization that, much to her initial dismay, there is no God. She talks about the massive shift that takes place in her own mind after this discovery and all the ways her world and relationships are forced to shift. Julia's very faithful family is extremely disappointed (Mom and Dad even stop talking to her for a short time) and has a hard time relating to her as a "Non-theist."

What hooked me was Julia's description of her relationship with God pre-understanding of his non-presence in her life. She describes herself talking to God everyday, viewing new people and experiences as gifts from God or at the very least....there for a reason. She talks aobut losing people in her life to disease, to circumstance, to age, and her feeling that there was something else out there. Something bigger, and something with a plan. The feeling was strong and real and certainly worth believing in...or was it?

I've had those same feelings and those same conversations. I experienced the reality of someone close to me dying before I was eight years old. I was too young to fully grasp the meaning and permanancy of someone being "gone," but old enough to wrestle with the pain and introspective enough to ask myself and ask God why terrible things happen. I clearly remember feeling the presence of something greater in my life. I clearly remember feeling that even though there wasn't an answer with words, there was an answer. A deeper answer, an energy that stayed with me. Over the course of my life, I've spent many days being angry at God but always sensing that he or she or whatever God is...was there. Everytime I'm tempted to let God go, something brings me back. I'm intrigued that Julia Sweeney actually let that possibility become a reality. I wonder what keeps some of us from crossing that line while others find themselves walking in a world without a creator.

Like Julia, it feels like I've always been hunting around for the "right" spirituality. I was raised Methodist and still feel a strong connection to Christianity, but there are several aspects of the church that just don't click for me. It doesn't make sense that one must accept Christ as savior to receive His gifts. Why would God force such a thing? Why would there be a prerequisite to a genuine relationship with Him? It feels unfair to me, like something humans made up because that's what we do...make up rules to create separtation between ourselves.

I tend to be more liberal in my Christianity, finding Jesus' message to be more about love, respect, and our equality in the eyes of God. I think Jesus showed us what it is like to be a human committed to God, to a better way of life. I'm constantly questioning, constantly finding new truths and new red herrings. I've read Deepak Chopra, practiced meditation, studied reiki, investigated the chakras, gone through the Bible twice (yes, all the way through), and particpated in discussions aimed at finding what is real. Something worth believing in.

At the end, all of it leaves me at first with a feeling of connectedness, an uplifting air of something mysterious but so beautiful that it only can be felt but not understood.

And then it leaves me feeling empty. Very empty. Not unlike the emptiness I feel when someone goes back on their word, neglects to be present in a conversation, or fails to be honest about themselves. I think they have good intentions, but many spiritual leaders and writers push their own God agenda..and are quite gifted at sharing it in a way that feels like it isn't an agenda at all. Isn't it possible that there is no "right" way to experience God, that God doesn't want anything of us?

Having not finished the show, I don't know if it's this empty feeling that lead Julia to determine "we invented God, God did not invent us." I know much of her journey was intellectual and the rational examination of a lot of the hogwash that people purport to be true. But I can imagine that the emptiness of words, the lack of tangible experiences could push her in the direction of believing that God simply does not exist. Not to mention the mind-numbingness of sorting through all the spiritual leaders out there who to claim to have the definitive answers on God. Everyone seems to know exactly what God wants...so how come they all tell us he wants different things?

I haven't let go of God. In the moments when I am quiet, away from the rest of the world, the endless chatter, the rush of ambitions, the frazzled souls, I feel God with me. Maybe it is just a projection of my human brain, or a sense of my own self, but I haven't come to that conclusion. Unlike Miss Sweeney, my endless journey through the spiritual hills and valleys has not led me to believe that God is fiction; only that the stories we tell ourselves about Him are.

Julia Sweeney's Blog: http://juliasweeney.blogspot.com/