When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!
When I sent out the outline and queries for the discussion, I also attached a PDF of the June/July 2014 Friends Journal issue entitled Concepts of God (you can download it here: https://www.friendsjournal.org/private/FJ-2014-0607.PDF). It is filled with thought-provoking essays, poems and quotes from Quakers. The Executive Director introduces the issue by saying, “…to describe God is a vulnerable act. Like the blind men in the South Asian parable, we speak of the elephant we are touching in different ways, and only in the sharing of our own experience do we begin to piece together the full picture and also realize the limits of our perception.”
I began by reading that quote, along with a few excerpts from the issue. Then I opened the discussion and hoped someone would speak. To my surprise, over the next 90 minutes, EVERYONE spoke. We even went slightly over our time because the sharing kept flowing from us. At the end, I asked permission to share the essence of our discussion in this blog, while honoring everyone’s privacy, and they agreed. So, humbly I will try my best to capture what Reno Friends had to say about God.
What is God? God is all that is. God is part of us, and we are part of God. God is consciousness, movement, goodness, love, Light, life, kindness, decency, patience, peace, acceptance, openness, ecstasy, awe, the breath of Life, grace. God is the ground of being, the Source of the Universe (or Multiverse). We are the body of God experiencing Itself. God is immanent, transcendent and yet also intimate and personal. We are co-creators with God. God is a verb.
Most of us don’t identify God has having a particular sex, while some resonate with the idea of God the Father. We agreed God is in plants, animals, octopuses, water, and the very air we breathe. The Spirit flows through all of life animate and inanimate.
One Friend shared this quote from his brother-in-law: “Trying to talk about God is like an amoeba trying to tell another amoeba what a human is.” We all laughed and nodded. I realize as I type this blog that it is impossible to capture God in mere words, yet as we all spoke, I felt a current flowing through us that I can only describe as God or Spirit. Maybe we can only feel God. One Friend said it is an emotional knowing. Another said we are an offshoot of All That Is with all the powers It has. All That Is wants to know Itself and It does this through us and all of creation.
Many of us connect with God in nature—watching a stream flow or waves breaking on the beach, sitting by a campfire, watching animals, tending plants, taking a walk. One Friend said that even mundane moments can bring you into the Divine if you are present and open. As Quakers, we experience God when we sit together as a community in silence, listening for that still small voice within that is also connected to that which is Beyond. Several shared that learning to listen to God has been a valuable gift of the Quaker path. A Friend spoke of having an epiphany in Meeting one Sunday, when she realized God is in her beloved community. A mother spoke of feeling like she was a bad mom and hearing God say to her, “Love them.”
A Friend spoke passionately of God in music and feeling the Spirit swell up as a piece moves towards a crescendo. Others spoke of experiencing God in great art, pictures, poetry and dreams. A couple of us spoke about quantum physics and seeing God in atoms – being blown away by the discovery that electrons can behave as waves or particles, often depending on what a researcher is trying to record. In other words, our consciousness affects the behavior of sub-atomic matter – it seems we really are co-creators with God! One Friend wondered if God was once the singularity that gave birth to the Universe (or Multiverse) in the Big Bang. Maybe God was bored with being all by Itself, so exploded into stars, planets, moons, us, everything, so It could experience Itself. Friends found God in epiphanies, eureka moments, mystical experiences.
One Friend shared that as a child she was afraid of the dark. Her mother told her God is with you. Later she was found skipping up and down the dark hallways in the house singing, “God is with me.” For her God is love—the love of the Father. Another Friend shared about awakening in the night filled with joy, peace, love and a feeling of infinite expansion.
A Friend shared that in his contemplations about God he was told, “Don’t worry about who I am, worry about who you are.” A couple of Friends spoke about learning to go with the flow of God working in their lives. “When I push the river, I’ve learned it isn’t meant to be.” “Ride the horse in the direction it is going.” One Friend said, “Follow your heart and spirit.”
Has your concept of God changed over time?
Some Friends shared that as children they viewed God as a judgmental man in the sky, but this changed over the course of their lives into a more subtle and personal relationship with the Divine.
Friends expressed gratitude that as Quakers we can have a discussion like this, where everyone’s perceptions are welcome, and we can learn from each other’s perspectives. In the past, many had either not had an opportunity to talk about God or were told by a religious authority figure what God is. One Friend spoke of being able to break out of the definition she had been raised with.
One Friend had a conversion experience in his teens which never left him. He experiences Jehovah through Jesus and has a close relationship with Christ, which has not changed over the course of his life. Another Friend shared he had been an atheist in the past and now sees God in everyone, in nature, in the magic of our planet.
A Friend shared her path of finding good and caring people who changed her concept of God as judgmental. She loves to heal people. She believes the best of us all together makes God, and that help is always there when we need it. She has followed several spiritual paths over her life and finds value in them all. She is grateful to have finally found a Quaker Meeting.
There is never a conclusion. At least, that is what I have come to. We continue to evolve, to co-create with God, weaving this never-ending story through eternity. What I can’t capture here in words is the lit faces of the Friends who shared these thoughts, the nodding heads and smiles. I look forward to more conversations about God and I’m so thankful I was able to be part of this one.
By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.