Willow Wonderings

God the Many

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Be with those who help your being. Don’t sit with indifferent people, whose breath comes cold out of their mouths. Not these visible forms, your work is deeper.

A chunk of dirt thrown in the air breaks to pieces. If you don’t try to fly, and so break yourself apart, you will be broken open by death, when it’s too late for all you could become.

Leaves get yellow. The tree puts out fresh roots and makes them green. Why are you so content with a love that turns you yellow?

– Rumi When I am at school, I tend to wake up and daydream. It sometimes takes me a half an hour – to what feels like up to an hour – before I can get out of bed. I’m not mulling over the day or creating to-do lists, though sometimes that is my motivation. Most often, I am having conversations between parts of my memory. I wake up and I am taken back into my dreams, childhood memories, visions of the future, anxieties mulling over the past. My head is an endless exchange between parts of myself, energies that are debating, dancing, quarreling, seeking, and hopefully, integrating into my being. My tendency to lie in bed and think has been with me since I was young. My mother has photos of me staring at myself in my crib, and some of my earliest memories come from being in quiet moments of solitude. Perhaps it is a writer’s habit to seek community within books and one’s imagination. Perhaps it is the earliest form of prayer and seeking communion with the Divine Light within. Perhaps, too,  daydreaming and turning thoughts over in my head comes from a desire for community, a desire to live and share my inner self with others. In all of my classes this semester, I have been learning about the power of human community. Our religions, worldviews, languages, books, institutions, rituals, holidays, morality, and sense of personhood all originate as part of our social interactions. When we are born, we do not know how to wake and have conversations in our head. Our thoughts originate with language, and thus even our innermost, private ideas originate by being tuned in to the social landscape around us. It can be terrifying and also liberating to realize the depths at which our humanity is formed by the community we live, grow, and learn within. So, too, our words and images of God are formed by the community around us. In the anthropology of religion, we learn about how communities form languages and systems of symbols to express the awe-inspiring experiences of the sacred in the world. Religion is formed over centuries of tradition being passed down through generations. Ultimately, people have to decide, debate, argue, and sometimes form wars over how to talk about God. As humans, our community’s values and structures influence our language about God. This language can be useful, and also exclusive when it is confined to particular images. It is important, then, to choose our images carefully, and to consider how we choose to portray God. In Christian communities, we traditionally refer to God as the Trinity: one in three, and three in one. The three persons of the Trinity are God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are each distinct, yet always present with one another; they are eternally dancing around each other, creating new love, forming relationships and connection. In essence, God is a community. I find it life-giving that our understanding of God is not some out-there, monolithic, distant, far-fetched God in the Sky. The Trinity portrays an image of God that is parental, sacrificial, sustaining, life-giving, and nearer to us than we could imagine. I wonder, as someone who lies in bed and thinks too much, how God the Trinity – God the Many – relates to different parts of myself. We are multifaceted and complex creatures. There are sides to us that only God knows about us (and loves!), and there are parts of ourselves that we do not even know. Yet each part of us belongs, and God meets us in our brokenness. God makes it so all of the parts of ourselves – however vulnerable, wild, strange, or marginalized – fit together into a coherent whole. How do we come to integrate and love the parts of ourselves that we have isolated? How can we let both our strength and our weaknesses show? We are known in the depth of darkness through which we ourselves do not even dare to look. And at the same time, we are seen in a height of a fullness which surpasses our highest vision. That infinite tension is the atmosphere in which religion lives.” – Tillich The Trinity provides somewhat of an answer for me: at the same time that God is one, God is manifested through relationships. Godself preserves the distinctive elements of unique persons and unity of three wills becoming harmonized. Similarly, we come to know God’s love through community. We are born to live, grow, and die within a human family that nurtures and connects us to our truest selves. It is critical, then, that for our spiritual lives, we choose to belong to families where our minds, hearts, and souls are strengthened by deep work shared among people. We need to open our souls to those who will help us to grow, challenge, and support us in becoming more whole – including the friends that help us to face our shadows. From all of this discussion, I remember that religion, ultimately, is a language of connection. Through religion, we form language, symbols, and rituals to facilitate a cohesiveness with ourselves, with God, and with others. This language gives us the form to pray, the energy that yields fruit when we take on the yolk of compassion and connection. It is critical that our image and language of God reflect this living compassion, or else it will become love that turns us yellow, in Rumi’s words. What does it mean to spend time with God that breaks us open in heart, mind, body and soul? As our communities become more diverse and inclusive, I envision that our language for God and the Trinity will also change. Our community is alive so long as it allows the word of God to be interpreted by all people, from all positions in society, and let new roots take hold within scripture. As Rumi writes, the tree puts out fresh roots when it its time to grow deeper into the world. Could it be, then, that we also make space to speak about the embodiment of feminine, the earth-sustaining, the mystery in the Trinity? Can we speak of God the Mother, God the Daughter, as often as we speak of God the Father and God the Son? What would it mean for us to re-orient our vision toward a life-giving, Earth-celebrating, and creative image of God? I am reminded of John Phillip Newell’s prayer, and I hope it gives you life.

The Casa del Sol Prayer of Jesus

Ground of all being, Mother of life, Father of the universe, Your name is sacred, beyond speaking.

May we know your presence, may your longings be our longings in heart and in action. May there be food for the human family today and for the whole earth community.

Forgive us the falseness of what we have done as we forgive those who are untrue to us.

Do not forsake us in our time of conflict but lead us into new beginnings.

For the light of life, the vitality of life, and the glory of life are yours now and for ever. Amen.

– John Philip Newell

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