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The God Experience

The Rev. Yvonne Younes is a priest of The Universal Anglican Church in Dyersville, Iowa.

internet collar headshotGod is so many different things to different cultures, different faiths, and in different times. God is Father, Yahweh, The Source, Brahman, Supreme Being, Allah. For some, “God isn’t”; that is, God simply does not exist. For others, there is doubt; Does God exist, or does God not exist? Then there are those people for whom God is dead, inactive, or on vacation. God may have existed at some point, at creation or during some ancient time, but then God left us on our own. Did God cease to exist when science began to explain much that had been attributed to God? Even now, as science probes deeper into the origins of life, cosmology, and quantum physics, God seems to be more and more an illusion.

Scientific discovery, rather than disproving God, should cause us to be more in awe of the divine, not less. Theoretical physicists now theorize that ours is not the only universe out there. If one considers the vastness of our universe, then considers possibility of multiple universes (universi?), it does cause one to be quite humble-regardless of belief.

No matter what we can say about God, we can never really identify or quantify that which God is. Even the term “God” betrays a theistic attitude that, because of cultural and religious tendencies, we think of a “super-human”, but still very much like us. We have been anthropomorphizing God into a “He”, a being other-than, yet similar to humankind, most often male. God has become a being upon which we project our ideas of love, justice, mercy, and goodness. This male God is usually somewhere else, as in “heaven”; in many religions God has a seat or a throne or a home somewhere “out there”. God sees and hears all. God answers prayer, God is concerned with each of us, God watches over each person individually, God has a plan for each one of us , and God is even on our side in war and football games.

On a popular television show “Real Time with Bill Maher”, Bill Maher, who is a proclaimed atheist, announced that he had a problem with theists because the implication was that their brains picked up a signal that his did not. For anyone who has had a spiritual experience, that may feel like the case. However, MRI’s do show that when people are in prayer there is an increased activity in the frontal lobe. The experience of God is neurological real. As Morgan Freeman says in Through the Worm Hole,“God may exist only in our brains, but our brain is where our reality crystallizes”.

The bottom line is God is experienced. We cannot quantify God. We cannot “prove” the existence of God. Let’s say, you meet with someone from some obscure culture who has never heard the of the concept of “honor”. How could you prove its existence? Can you point to a specific person and say s/he has honor and expect this doubter to understand and believe it? Can you prove to the non-believer that the concept of honor exists? Of course not. God is the same – God is experiential. If one has not experienced God then God does not exist for that person.

How can one share an intimate experience with another? We know that we cannot share our experiences directly with children. We can tell them of our experience, we can help them to grow and understand based on our experience, but they cannot truly know something is good or harmful without trying it. We tell a child “Don’t touch, hot”. But until the child experiences the concept of “hot”, it has little or no meaning except that Mom said so. However, one example of “hot”, by grabbing the hot cup of coffee, and the child understands. The child has experienced hot.

How then do we experience God? From childhood, many of us were immersed in a religion (or religions) of the culture in which we lived. In some way, we were influences by that religion (or those religions). According to a 2008 survey, more than 90 percent of Americans profess a belief in God. We begin to believe by believing what our parents believe. In many places, cultural norms have a significant influence on what we believe. Yet, many of us stay in child-like faith. We believe because we were taught to believe, or because our culture dictates that we should believe or because it is uncomfortable to think about alternatives.

How many of us examine what we believe when we say “God”, or “Allah”, or “Nirvana”? Great thinkers of the past and present challenge us to examine, to wonder, to be aware of just what we believe. We are not taught to think about our faith or about God. We are not taught to question. It takes great courage to question. Because, when we question, when we allow ourselves to doubt, we go against the flow of our families, our friends, our culture, and our religion ,we may be ostracized, criticized, and even, in some countries, jailed.

If we let go of our preconceptions about God and allow introspection, accept doubt, use our intellect, we may find a God without limit: a God who is present to every person, to all that exists; a God who is present in every situation, not as an interventionist who controls events and people, but as a loving presencewho participates in our joy and sorrows. Then and only then can true metanoia occur. When we go to our deepest level and meet that still small voice, or raise our consciousness, and enter into our inner awareness, we begin to embrace thoughts that go beyond our present ideas – we change our minds.

God cannot be proven or quantified. Yet God exists in our loving, in our doubt, in our fear, in our joy. We experience God in the beauty of a sunrise, in the grief of losing a loved one, in the routine of our everyday lives. We can truly experience God when we look for God beyondthe holy books, beyond religion; we truly experience God when we use our intellect, our intuition, and our spirit. To paraphrase Augustine of Hippo, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. A God that is so much more and must be experienced.

Yvonne Younes © 2012

About Craig Bergland

I am an interspiritual, progressive spiritual guide, teacher, priest, bishop, and pastor. I live in Milwaukee, WI and am the spiritual director of the Compassionate Heart Community here. I am the bishop founder of The Universal Anglican Interspiritual Church, a radically inclusive, progressive, alternative, post denominational Church that welcomes all people to participate fully in our traditional and non-traditional communities. I am also the founder of RHIMES, a radically inclusive, heart centered, interspiritual, meditative, engaged spirituality. In 2001 I founded Bishop Craig Ministries, which provides clergy services to all people regardless of spiritual or religious affiliation or history. I have published three books, "A Journey Toward Awakening," "Dispatches from the Interspiritual Front," and "RHIMES."

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