19 - Into the Energy Flow - Part 1: Energy and Truth
In case you haven’t figured it out, I grew up in a culture dominated by the Christian religion. I didn’t just grow up in church. My parents were ministers and missionaries in some form or another from the time I was nine years old. My dad died from cancer in his late sixties still doing ministry in church. I’ve also attended two different Bible colleges, and spent a lot of time learning from the Bible myself. At one point in my life I had a real interest in being a bible scholar and theologian. But God had another path for me, and I’m thankful that God lead me beyond that limited way of knowing the Divine and into a real, more full experience. That's not to say that the time I spent learning Christian religious truth wasn't good, or necessary. It laid a foundation which has brought me to where I am now, but it was just a stepping stone to something much greater. That something is coming to know God for myself. I actually believed the Bible enough to learn how to move beyond it in the ways the Bible prescribes. That doesn’t mean I’ve left it behind, or don’t still consider the Bible a good source for explaining how to know God. That just means is I actually got the message of the Bible, which is that we can all know God. What that also means is that the Bible is not God, nor the only source of God’s truth. If God is truly alive and involved in the world, and has always been, then we can safely say that God’s involvement should be evident throughout all human culture, and also that no human culture or religion has an exclusive hold on God. God, I believe, is simply too big for that. That doesn’t discredit or diminish any exclusive expression of God through culture or religion, but it does exclude our ability to limit God to that expression. In other words, the very belief that God was able to be revealed through Judeo/Christian history means God is able to be revealed through any and all history. As my spiritual teacher Richard Rohr likes to say, God didn’t hate people until Christians came along, and then suddenly decide that humans weren’t so bad after all (my paraphrase). God has always loved all of creation, from the beginning, because all creation is all His/hers. If that is true, then the story of God loving all creation is evident throughout all of creation, and not just limited to the historical culture and time span of the Judeo/Christian religion. Ironically, it’s been the Christian religion that has led me to this conclusion, though I recognize the sad and sober reality that this is not true for many Christians. I say all that to try and illustrate the point that, even though I am a Christian, I believe in God in a much bigger way, and that’s why I prefer to step beyond the limited Christian perspective to try and explain God. God is much bigger than Christianity, or any other limited cultural expression, and that’s why I prefer to speak of God as an energy flow.
Let me try and paint a picture. Think about the wind. Think about air. Think about light. All these things really exist, and yet, we rarely or never see the things themselves. What we see is their energy. Air and light particles really do exist, and can be seen, but not to the naked eye. What we see in our day to day experience of these things is not the things themselves, but what they do. We literally see, feel, and experience the energy and properties of light but rarely the light itself. To even look directly at the sun, we must do so in a filtered way, through clouds or in a reflection. At the same time, just because we rarely experience the thing itself directly doesn’t mean we don’t know a lot about it through auxiliary experience. God is much the same way. We rarely if ever experience God directly. We mostly experience God through the energy flow of his/her presence in the world. But it’s also true that, because of this, we can easily miss the evidence of God’s movement in the world. We can take God’s presence for granted through a callous familiarity with the world in which we live. Everything we see in the world is literally seen because the light of the sun illuminates it. Yet, how often do we consciously acknowledge that what we are seeing is not just a material object, but the way the sun’s light bounces off of that thing, and the way our eyes are able to translate that in order for us to see. Mostly, we just go through life seeing things without any thought as to how. In other words, just as we take for granted the great gift of seeing the world through the flow of light, we can also take for granted how the world exists through the flow of God. God is like the atmosphere of air, and the flow of light, things which make life possible yet which we hardly ever give any conscious thought to. My first point is that we must make a sustained and continual effort in order to be more aware of God’s energy in the world. This is the positive intention of most religions, to help us develop a greater awareness of God. I’ll be the first to admit that what many religions become, through the distortion of human dysfunction, is what can also block the recognition of that flow. But that doesn’t mean religion is worthless. It just means that we should be careful, as we approach religion, to glean from it only that which helps us develop a greater awareness and connection to God. Religion can be a mindless ritual-system that creates a false sense of knowing God, but it also contains truth about knowing God. I don’t mean to beat up on religion so much, or to appear that I don’t like religion. I understand clearly the great value religion has as traditions about how others have experienced God in order to help us learn how to experience God. But I also understand how those traditions can get turned into something which prevents us from knowing God, by misunderstanding the goal of religious tradition. Let me explain it this way. I’ve been quizzing my two boys on multiplication lately, using flash cards, and I’ve realized that there are two common ways to get the answer. One way is to simply memorize the answer, the other way is to understand how to get to the answer. One of my sons predominately uses memorization, the other uses a process. Religion is the same way. It can teach memorization or the process, but learning the process is the true intent. We can simply memorize all the right ideas about God, and think that by this we’ve come to know God, or we can learn the process by which others have come to know God and actually come to know him/her for ourselves. My point, don’t mistake memorization for the process. Understanding God as energy helps us get past memorized ideas to the process of actually knowing God for ourselves, and that’s the point.
God as energy is something which can’t be memorized. We can’t know energy by knowing all the language built around explaining it, just as knowing words like “light, sun, reflection, illumination, rays, particles, heat, intensity” don’t mean I actually understand how light works, what it’s for, or how to work with it. Energy is something we experience. A part of that has to do with building a framework of understanding around it, something that includes language and principles, but don’t mistake the framework for the thing itself. God is a being, not a mental concept in our heads. If we can’t get God out of our heads, then we get stuck in only knowing abstract ideas, and abstract ideas cannot set us free. They are often the very things keeping us imprisoned. We must learn how to see and experience God for ourselves, because God is the Energy of the entire universe which births and sustains all life. God is not a separate, isolated, distant being set apart from the world like Zeus on Mount Olympus, who occasionally strolls down to meddle in human affairs. Neither is God a disinterested clockmaker who simply created the world, wound it up, and left it, as Agnosticism and Deism suggests. In the Christian context we could say that heaven is not a separate place where God dwells, heaven is the state of being connected to a God who is the invisible energy of all life. When we misunderstand knowing God as memorizing certain truths, we actually are prevented from getting more connected to the energy of God which is all around us, even in us. Any truth about God is for the purpose of this re-connection, not for the purpose of religious knowledge or moral superiority. A matrix of complex religious thinking does not, in any way, constitute a real and transformative connection to God. I think its pretty easy to tell who is into memorizing religious truth, and who is into knowing God. The difference, as I’ve already stated, is clearly seen through the action of love. Even the Bible clearly states that the love of knowledge is not the same as loving God. Love of knowledge produces ego-centric, self-righteous people who tend to hate "sinners", while love of God draws us all together as the equal objects of God’s great love. God as a closed system of truth creates a space that some can occupy and others can’t. God as the energy of all life sets us all on the same plane, because we are all already that flow simply by being alive. When we understand God in this way, we begin in a space where God is available to everyone. Then we can move past the cumbersome requirements of learning some kind of “correct” language or religious tradition to the goal of a greater awareness of the God-energy in alive in all things. That’s not to say that some tradition isn’t helpful in this process. It certainly is. That’s just to say that the goal is not learning the “right” religious tradition, but learning how to reconnect with God. This idea begins with the first, most obvious question concerning this reconnection. If we are already living in the energy of God, then how can we also be disconnected from it, and why?
The answer to this question is also why religious tradition can be helpful, because it contains truths and practices which can help reconnect us to God. As I’ve already said, every person alive already exists within the energy flow of God which surrounds and sustains us all. But here’s the dilemma. We have the ability to move with that energy, or to block it in our lives. The first problem in all this is that we are not that aware of this God energy, and as a consequence we are then not very well equipped to reengage with what we cannot see. There’s no shame or blame in that. We simply know to do only what we know to do. There’s no need to beat anyone up for simply doing the best that they can. That’s why God has nothing to do with any system of shame or guilt which beats us down for not being good enough, or not measuring up. Any good religion is a healthy system of learning and growing, not a system of punishing what we clearly do not yet know. In the Christian context, it’s a waste of time calling people sinners when they don’t even understand what that means, and we are the worse for criticizing something while doing nothing to change it. God is not here to make you feel bad for what you do not know. He/she's here to help you learn. And what is helpful is healthy. That is, it brings us life as it reconnects us to the God-energy of love. Likewise, beware of any religious system which claims to reveal God, but which does more to make you feel bad for where you are instead of helping you move further along in your spiritual journey. Cultivating a greater awareness about the energy of God in the world around us is the first vital step to reconnecting with God. In other words, what does God feel, taste, sound, and look like in our heart, mind, body, soul, spirit, and the world around? Even as we approach this idea, we can immediately see that experiencing God for ourselves entails millions of different things. It’s actually quite a refreshing idea, because our ability to experience God is inexhaustible, once we have a workable frame to point us in the right direction. But the most common frame of religion is actually the opposite of that. The most common frame actually blocks this flow by limiting God to a finite system of limited beliefs which can only be contained in our minds. We must understand, God is the energy of the universe. Then we will naturally begin with the understanding that we need to learn how to experience that energy in every part of our being – mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit – and that each of these are like different fields within the science of spirituality with a wide and specialized set of principles and parameters. We can approach knowing God as a kind of science. How can it be any other way? Just because God is a vast, infinite, and inexhaustible mystery doesn’t mean that coming to know God should be completely mysterious. That is the right and true purpose of religion, to collect and explain repeatable processes for the purpose of knowing God. The problem we often have with this answer is that these processes cannot be contained, as can the science of the material world, within the limited container of our mind/body identity. In other words, the process of coming to know God includes but is not limited to our rational mind, and sometimes we have a hard time knowing things any other way. It’s easier to understand the natural sciences. Our bodies can touch the truth they point to, and our minds can contain that truth. But God is in more than the natural world. If we are to learn how to experience a God which exists in both the material and spiritual worlds, we must learn how to engage in both, hence the two Being Centers of Body and Spirit. And we must also learn how the data of God is experienced by our three Knowing Centers of the body, heart, and mind. We cannot expect God to work the same as the energy of the natural world, but we can expect God to work in similar ways which also include the natural world. How all this works is a much larger discussion, which we are slowly edging towards.
The first thing I’m trying to establish is a change in the way we think about God, as an infinite energy source instead of a closed system of truth. Systems of truth can help us get there, to that more expansive reality of God, but only as they open up into a space where the reality of knowing God is possible. Closed religious truth systems cannot do that. They are, by definition, closed off from the reality of God by attempting to create certainty through limitation for the purpose of security. What closed religious truth systems do best is help people feel like they know God by affirming agreed upon mental truths in the mind. What we really need are open truth systems with a built in freedom to let people come in an out as needed, with the understanding that any pursuit of God will eventually render all truth systems unnecessary, because once we know the thing itself, we no longer need to means by which we got there. Granted, it’s hard to let any truth system be impermeant. Any ego-centric person will naturally gravitate towards the idea that their “truth” is "right". But, since the goal of true transformation is out of the ego-self and into the higher self, we must understand that any religious truth which affirms instead of denies that ego-self will not work. God as energy is different than God as assertions of mental truth. God as energy is God as a being; personal, alive, involved, and at work in the universe sustaining and revealing all life as it’s meant to be. This is God as ultimate reality. The reality of God as a mental concept in our minds is just not big enough, or real enough. We must be able to come into contact with God him/herself. That’s the whole point of contemplation, and why it can look and feel very different from the goal of traditional religion. So, let’s keep plugging along as we attempt to expand upon this idea of God as a real, present, and personal being we can really know and interact with.