For the Love of God
I recently wrote on Divine Multiplicity about an encounter with God while hiking on a remote nature preserve at the start of this month. In the weeks since then, so much clarity is arising in my mind about the way I relate to religion, and some of that I want to share here. In narrative terms, I feel like I am entering a new chapter in my religious consciousness (paralleling a new chapter in my political consciousness, but that’s a post for another day). Prior to this, I’d identify two or three previous chapters: a sort of ‘proto-consciousness’ defined by my initial, individual conceptions of God; a period of fundamentalist Christian indoctrination and public identity; and then a period that rejected the former and sought answers elsewhere before the new period I am entering, where I’m finding greater relevance in metaphysical principles than in identity-centered religious specificity.
There’s enough material within each to probably write a book—and maybe I will one day—but for the sake of keeping it to a blog post folks might find relevant to their own lives, I’m trying to keep this pretty high-level and practical. I’ve been a writer on religion for about five or six years now. Even that time period has included a lot of variance in my subject matter. You see, when I turned 18 and moved away from home, I tasted true religious freedom for the first time. I wasn’t limited to what I felt in my heart versus what church my parents decided we would attend. I was free to choose my own church, if I even wanted to attend one at all. I decided I did, and I became a member of the local Unitarian Universalist (UU) fellowship. Forsaking dogma and prescriptive doctrine, UUs affirm our individual need to freely and responsibly pursue truth and meaning, and to have a spiritual home that supports that journey for all us in the many forms it takes.
The short version of the last thirteen years since then is that I’ve explored pretty much every major world religion, and a lot of minor ones too. Looking back, I can understand that my major motivation through this process was the question of God. In my academic studies of religion, this question was often framed as ‘What is God?’ with the answers preferred being either a psychological misinterpretation (i.e. mental illness), a historical myth we’d since grown out of needing, or the greatest hoax still being perpetrated by the greedy (or psychotic) against gullible masses. For me, I at least unconsciously knew that God was a very real presence for me who I’d been in dialogue with since childhood. Owning that perhaps that left me mad or historically out of time with consensus reality, my questions were instead about how I could reconcile that relationship in my own life to the brutally immoral Christianity and religiosity I’d encountered elsewhere.
My severance from the religion of my upbringing had been these anti-gay sermons I walked out of and these terrifying messages about the imminent apocalypse which left me feeling powerless, depressed, and anxious. Around me there were other much worse messages associated with Christianity. There was the death penalty bill proposed in Uganda. There were preachers who advocated lynching gays, beating their effeminate sons, and rounding up LGBT+ people into concentration camps. In my ‘free and responsible search for truth and meaning,’ I think I was attempting to find a ‘God’ who could not only replace the one I’d lost to this version of Christianity, but one who could take on theirs and triumph.
To a degree, this dynamic created an oppositional quality to my practice of religion. I still hurt from the religious homophobia and rejection I’d experienced earlier in my life. And for a while I think I really got lost in this space—focused more on how my religious practice wasn’t immoral Christianity or why, in our modern world, my religious practice was a rational choice. It’s really been since my humbling encounter with God in the pillar of clouds on the island that I’ve begun to understand the much greater metaphysical truths all this seeking led me to, and which I hadn’t quite grasped until I experienced the magnitude of that moment.
My relationship with God has never ended. The discord between myself and the Christianity of my upbringing was not me or God rejecting the other, but a fundamental difference both in gods and moral values. When I left, I left to continue loving God. I did not leave God behind. God is not the property of any of those churches.
In every religion I have sought to rediscover God in, I have found God in every moment I have spent or will spend there. My insight into the metaphysics of this world and the nature of God expands every time. I have not found a million places where God is not. I’ve found a million places where God is, alongside a million names and forms and modes of ritual and belief pointing ever higher to this figure—invisible to those taught to look away, silent to those taught not to trust their own hearing—yet not gone, not minuscule, not needing to be replaced, merely needing to be remembered. God is transcendent. God is resplendent.
Even when my religiosity has been defined by oppositional language, archetypes, and identities, I have still been in a deeply loving relationship with God. Perception of discord here is a matter of too-material thinking. God and the higher spiritual principles that have consistently guided our relationship together operate from realms above, beyond, and before the discreteness and certainty of language, form, and identity….
Grasping these truths and others, what does all this mean for my journey today?
I feel as though I am in a new chapter of my religious consciousness. And in this chapter, the subject is not even necessarily religion, it’s metaphysics. In the fifteen-or-so years since I got up and walked out of the sermons I heard as a teenager, yes, I’ve participated in many different religious movements, but none have truly stuck as ‘home.’ After all, here I am, again, writing on something beyond the scope of what any of these modes of religiosity offer. The closest home I have found is the home I’ve made for myself in Unitarian Universalism, a movement which literally encourages seekers to look elsewhere. On its best days, UUism is beautiful and nurturing in the diversity it brings under one house of worship. On its worst, it can feel suffocating, I think because it is also a spiritual home to so many cynics and intellectuals who desire spiritual community but have not yet found it in outside traditions.
At this point in my life, I need space where I can talk about God, engage deep questions of theology and metaphysics, and draw from diverse sources of insight without feeling so strongly like I need to qualify it all by saying things like ‘if you believe in that sort of thing,’ or, ‘I know I sound crazy, but….’ I realize I’m not looking for another religion. I’m not looking to adopt a singular religious language for the benefit of the masses, and save my metaphysics talk for the company of other mystics. I’m looking for a spiritual home, a place where the love between God and I can continue to grow, where our love can be open (aha! how familiarly queer!), and where differences of experience aren’t stifled under fear of loss of membership. A metaphor that’s popped into my head builds on the idea of God and I in a relationship. It’s like we’ve been dating for several years now, finding one another in all these different places we have gone. We’re at that stage in our relationship now where we’re looking for a home to share together. And that’s not to say we’re going to stop dating—that you won’t find me deep in meditation at mosque or sangha or wherever else—our relationship just isn’t defined so much by that level of identity and institution right now.
I’d like to write more about this process of finding a spiritual home another time. But for those reading now, I’ll say that this whirlwind of a month is bringing me sideways out of Unitarian Universalism and into the New Thought movement, another universalist cluster, this time with a little stronger favor for the ‘believing’ side of the agnosticism among its members I’ve engaged with so far. Again though, it’s not about finding a new religion (or god for that matter). It’s about finding that spiritual home for our relationship to grow. Eschewing linear time for a moment, I know we already exist within it. More importantly though, I know that we have each other. I know that I’m in love with God, and that the love we share is mutual.
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Pat Mosley (LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage therapist and life coach in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
His work is especially focused on creating permaculture in his community, which sometimes looks like providing bodywork, and other times looks like writing or designing gardens for people and bees.
Get connected with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org