A TALK GIVEN TO AN UU CONGREGATION IN HATTIESBURG, MS (2005)
Ask group to write for 3 minutes – stream-of-conscious, no censor (you know, that little voice that says “don’t write that, it’s silly”, or “that’s not true”, or “that’s not nice to say, better write something more polite”) – do not have to share anything, unless want to. When done –
What you have just done is how I talk to God, or rather LISTEN to God. It is my way of praying, the only way I feel comfortable doing so. This process of writing whatever flows to my hand has been an amazing force in my life. It has helped me through difficult times by allowing me to express anger, fear, sadness, or sort out my true opinion of a situation, given birth to creative enterprises, and helped me uncover the real, authentic me. I believe that if you write without thinking you are allowing your internal wisdom to come to the surface before your brain can sabotage it.
A few months ago I came up with the idea to teach a journal-writing class so I could share my discovery with others. As I prepared a class with the theme of becoming your authentic self through journaling, I found myself questioning something new. What began as a way to help a few others find themselves – and hopefully make some money in the process – became a spiritual egg hunt for me. I don’t believe I will ever find all the eggs to fill my basket but at least I feel a little richer.
In the non-Trinitarian, Inspired-Word-of-God-Bible-based church in which I was raised, I was taught that there was no such being as the Devil. We were told that the image of Satan in the Bible was a metaphor for evil. Evil came from within. I listened with scorn to those who said, “The Devil made me do it.” Even at an early age I could see that this was a wonderful, convenient excuse for their misdeeds. I was taught that humans have the potential for good and for evil. Our evil thoughts are contrary to God’s will and have to be suppressed. Our evil actions would make our acceptance into God’s Kingdom questionable. It was a personal battle with our human nature to win God’s ultimate favor.
God? He, on the other hand was far, far away from dwelling within. In my mind, as it is with the majority of Christian-taught children, God was the Big Old Man in the sky. For most of my life, both as a church member and for years after I left the church, He remained out of reach, a presence I didn’t feel I had the right or purity to approach. By the time I was in my early 20s I had stopped praying all together because of this feeling of unworthiness. I had determined that in order to be saved I had to have a personal relationship with God. I never achieved this closeness – He was just too far away.
In the ten years since I left my childhood church I have been re-evaluating who or what God is. I haven’t figured it all out yet and this talk is more a question than an answer. But recently some ideas have been thrown at me from various diverse sources. Strangely, they all seem to hover around the same concept: That God dwells within. If the Devil – evil, hatred, destruction – can dwell within, why not God – love, goodness, creation, beauty – too?
I have been writing a journal since I was a teenager, back then it was full of the typical teen angst, boy problems, and clothing difficulties. However, when I left home after college I was introduced to the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I thought of myself as an unfulfilled artist – I had always wanted to write and I could draw a straight line (my father would say, “who’d want to draw a straight line anyway?”). I looked to this book to get me on track. What an amazing book! It changed my life. The author is a Christian but she doesn’t knock you over the head with it. She is very open to all things spiritual. She believes that we are all creators made in the image of The Creator. She refers to Him/Her/It in many terms, one of which being The Universe. Because at the time I was in full-blown avoidance of anything that smacked of religion, I liked this concept and began to think of the unexplainable energy/power/force out there as The Universe rather than God, that masculine, scary thing up in the sky.
It was this book that introduced me to Morning Pages, a daily brain-drain which filled three sheets of paper first thing in the morning. No thinking allowed, just throwing up, so to speak, on the paper. I practiced this creative aid for years – it became a habit, then a need. I would run to my journal when I was stressed, when I was angry, when I was sad, and when I was happy. Although Morning Pages are now a logistic impossibility with a small child (sleep has become a treasured commodity), I still write whenever I can – to keep me sane.
A few years after my journaling journey began, I was starting to feel able to trifle with religious concepts again. My mother gave me a book by Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew. Once again my life was changed. In the very first chapter he refuted the God in the Sky idea and introduced God as Energy all around us. I accepted this idea without question. It was as if I had always known this in my heart to be true but I hadn’t known it was an option to feel this way. (Dr. Borg also suggests how all the religions of the world can be a path to truth. This I had also always felt to be true but my church had the arrogance to believe they had The Truth.)
I mentioned to you all a while ago that my mother had introduced the idea of journaling as prayer. I had been concerned that I didn’t feel comfortable praying and hadn’t for years. I felt unworthy and not knowing what I could possibly say to this awesome power called God. She assured me by saying that just getting the thoughts out of your head with spoken, sung, or written word was communication with God. Whenever I put pen to paper I know that God is listening (even if I am just whining about the weather).
About a year ago I was reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Circle of Quiet. She said something that really spoke to me: that maybe in prayer we should just shut up and listen. Listen to what God has to say, rather than bugging Him with requests for this and that. Of course, I immediately realized that that is what meditation is – letting the answers come to you, maybe even before you have asked the question. I also realized that this was what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way had suggested journaling did. When you write free-flow, stream of consciousness, you are letting the Universe, the creative energy, the Whatever-is-out-there squeak out in amongst the muddle of the mess that is called your thoughts. You write your true feelings, your intuitions, before your internal censor condemns them. The answers come to you. Ideas are formed, hurts are identified and healed, action is prompted. Ms. Cameron believes, as I do, that journal-writing helps you tap the wisdom we have within – intuition, you may call it – and we can find our authentic self; the self we hide under social and family needs and expectations.
Over the past year all these ideas and concepts have been silently percolating in my mind. When I was preparing the journal-writing class (which came to me while writing in my journal one day) they all suddenly gelled together.
If journaling is prayer and prayer is a form of meditation and meditation is a going within one’s self to order to find self, could it be that what we find within whether we arrive there through writing, prayer, or meditation, is God? If going inside ourselves helps us to find our creative self (as Julia Cameron believes we all are capable of – creativity takes many forms besides art), could it be said that we, who are made in his own image, are connecting with The Creator within?
By going inside we have the power to heal (ourselves and possibly others), to promote action, to conjure up creative ideas, sort out problems, to empathize with others, become self-aware. Authentic. When you are your authentic self you are fulfilling your role here on earth, you are being the whole person you were created to be, who God intended you to be. You have reached your potential. If you go inside you are communicating with God, the Energy, the Spirit. You are self-aware. You are plugged in. And unless you are plugged in you cannot operate as you were designed.
Could we say that Jesus, Mohammed, and the other great prophets were more plugged in? More intuitive? More empowered? They prayed, they meditated, and they were in touch with their God. They were able to perform miracles, to heal, to create, to inspire: actions we usually associate with an all-powerful being. Were they using the wisdom, the power, the energy, the God within to do these things? Some would call it Faith – “the faith to move mountains” – using your inner wisdom, your inner energy, your inner god to live more fully.
The movie What the Bleep Do We Know? which some of us watched together recently, offered the suggestion that, yes, we humans are able to do so much more than we believe we can. That we do have control over this world, rather than being pawns in God’s strange game. It was said by one philosopher that if we truly tuned into ourselves and truly believed we could walk on water, then we could.
So, could it be that the God who was once so far away and who judged whether we were worthy of his Kingdom, in reality is the very air that we breath in and out, who lives within us, and who, just by taking a look within, helps us discover our authentic self, the whole person we were created to be?
I suggest to you to look down the shaft of your pen and you may just find someone there you didn’t realize was quite so close.