“I found it better to speak to God than about him.” ~St. Therese of Lisieux
This quote has been on my mind a lot lately. It certainly fits this current place in my faith journey well. There isn’t much that I can currently say about God with any sense of confidence or certainty, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t speak to God.
The challenge for me, though, is getting a clear idea of who it is that I am speaking to.
When I was younger, I found it easiest to talk to Jesus. After all, he was the one who saved us from God the Father who was out to kill us for not being perfect—or at least that was my understanding of the story at the time. Jesus was easier to imagine since he had become human, and I knew what it was like to talk to a man. It was certainly less scary than the idea of trying to talk to a Zeus-like male God who was out to punish me! All the violence of the stories in the Hebrew Bible where God ordered mass murders was very disturbing to me. Jesus seemed much safer in comparison.
Over the years, my perspective shifted somewhat. I gradually became less convinced of the idea that God the Father was violent and out to punish me, and as I struggled with feeling like I could not fit myself within the Christian faith, it grew more challenging to think of talking to Jesus because he was at the center of what defined Christianity. At the same time, I found myself increasingly struggling with the idea of a God that was exclusively male—and Jesus was undeniably male. I envied my Roman Catholic friends who had Mary as a female figure to relate to. Although God the Father is normally portrayed as male, many people accept the idea that God is actually without gender. Even the Bible describes God in female terms at times, and that gave me the ability to slip beyond the patriarchy that was increasingly troubling me.
These things all led to a period where it was easier to imagine talking to God the Mother/Father than talking to Jesus. God the Creator, as a genderless higher power, allowed me to talk to someone greater than myself without having to subscribe to a specific religious doctrine. I could let go of my learned stories and fears and worries about whether I was believing all the right things in the right way and just share what was on my heart.
But that was still speaking to someone who was “out there” somewhere beyond where I could reach. As I’ve gradually become more of a panenthiest, believing that God both pervades everything in the universe and exists beyond all creation, I’ve found that the focus on God only being “out there” is less aligned with what I experience God to be. Now, I find that the idea of talking to the Holy Spirit, who is both in me and in others and greater than all of us, is most comfortable. In fact, much of my journaling and my constant talking to myself is as much talking to the Spirit that is within me and around me as anything else.
One of the most interesting things about this shift is how my talking has changed as my conception of who I am talking to has changed. When I was young, I tended to focus more on having a regular “prayer time” where I tried to follow the A-C-T-S (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication) method, making sure I hit each type of prayer in the right order. I kept lists of people and causes which I carefully listed during the supplication portion of prayer. And, of course, I was always sure to end it with “In Jesus’ name, Amen” to make sure it would be heard and accepted.
As I got older and began to struggle with my faith, prayer became more of a pouring out of my heart before God—sometimes in pain, sometimes in anger, sometimes in anxious need of help (for me or for others), something in gratitude and praise. But it gradually became less formal and practiced, although there was still a very clear sense that I was aiming these prayers “out there” somewhere for someone else to hear.
Now it’s hard to tell most of the time whether I’m talking only to myself or to the Spirit within me. I’m still aware of the idea of a God who is “out there” and much bigger and vaster than I can imagine, but I’m also aware that this same God is alive in me—even if only as a smallest spark at times. And this little spark that’s in me is connected to the greater Light that is “out there” in such a way that there is no division or separation, so as I talk to this spark that is in me, I am still talking to God in all of who God is.
But the greatest gift I’ve discovered along my journey is the idea that if God is in me (as the Holy Spirit, the Light, my Higher Self that is connected to the All), then I can listen to this spark of God that is in me too. It is in this learning to listen—through my time in yoga, in the shamanic pathway, and in the Quaker silence—that I am finally finding the connection and the peace for which I have searched for so long.
My childhood faith tradition focused on the idea that the “heart is deceitful above all else,” which made it difficult to trust myself, my intuition, my inner convictions. A recent Huffington Post article does a beautiful job of refuting the way this idea is commonly applied, but I began learning for myself that my intuition could be trusted. In fact, my intuition, when listened to carefully and with discernment, seems to guide me with more integrity than any of my attempts to rely solely on outside voices. I’ve come to believe that my intuition is one way that God speaks to me, and it’s become a rich source of guidance for me.
So I talk to God more now in my own undefined way than I ever did when I had a clearer concept of who it was that I was talking to and how I was “supposed” to go about it. The more I find that there’s not much that I can say about God—partially because I don’t know what I’m talking about and partially because I can’t find language to express the little that I do know—the more I am inclined to talk and to listen to God instead. Perhaps a useful corollary (for me) to St. Therese’s quote would be that “I am finding that it is better to listen to God than to listen to people talk about God.” For me, the two—the talking and the listening—go together.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.