A, Jew and former Agnostic, feels the spirit
of the eternal in an old stone church
I like to sit in empty old stone cathedrals to feel the presence of the Spirit of God, but only if I’m alone: no congregation, no liturgy, no formalized prayer or instruction. The same is true when I sit in a synagogue. Spiritual moments for me are always more intimate and spontaneous than ritualistic or orchestrated.
With the closings of so many of these churches due to a dramatic drop in church attendance in the U.S. perhaps it is time to ask ourselves about the place of religion in American life, especially in the northeastern part of the U.S where I live and especially among people between the ages of 15 and 50.
An inspirational force helps to guide one’s ethical behavior along a more connected, righteous path. The belief in God makes us all better people. However, traditional religions seem far behind their lay people in recognizing a different view of God. There is an increasing recognition, outside the reach of most traditional religions and their leaders, that there is a spiritual connectedness between people and within ourselves, not tied to any particular religion’s traditional view of “God above”, but instead to the Spirit of God all around us.
The question is how does one, who lives in the modern world where what is “real” is what can be proven, accept the existence of a spiritual universe? The belief in God and spirituality requires a rejection of rationality and deductive reasoning as a starting point for one’s belief. Few people ask if we should believe in rationality as a basis for living but this is the choice our historical period mostly makes for us. It is difficult for modern thinkers to recognize the existence of a non-analytical spiritual world. Yet, it is up to each individual to decide if and how much we want rationality to exclusively control our thoughts and beliefs. Most thoughtful people will admit that the truly interesting and deep questions of life have no answers and that what we know pales in comparison to what we do not know. Why then should we limit our understanding and acceptance of the unknown and unproven only to what we ourselves can rationally deduce?
This is the essential dilemma of our times. How do we live in an age of rationality and reason while retaining our belief and participation in a spiritual existence? The best way, perhaps, is to re-define what God is, in a way more influenced by modern learning. In this way God can exist, but not in the way most people and traditional religions explain God.
Perhaps God is not anything like a person in its form or its ability to communicate with humans, dictate or lend us assistance in our individual lives. Because God is not the incarnation of a person, only larger and more powerful than anyone or anything else we know, God cannot then watch over us like a parent, because God is not like a person. God cannot then be a dispenser of punishment and reward during or after life, nor bestow grace or blessing; nor will God stand in judgment in the sense of deciding if one’s soul goes to heaven or hell. (As the existence of life after death is uncertain, we might instead view the way our soul continues on after death as an extension of our spiritual contribution and effort to improve the world here on earth, especially in our children or other people we have contributed goodness to and helped form).
What then could God be? Perhaps, God is more like a spiritual force that connects the goodness within and between us, a force of Universal Harmony which we interact with by understanding the difference between good and bad and by doing good deeds.
But how then do we feel God’s presence? Often the communication comes in the form of our own voice, from deep within. It comes from the relationship between ourselves and the spiritual force that connects us to each other and to life. Much of the time we are too busy to feel this spiritual connection. For many of us, it is only at certain moments, those of high dramatic intensity, often facing issues of life and death or during moments of solitude that we feel spiritually connected to a force greater than our own. Others feel spiritually connected with nature or in the presence of historical moments or monuments. However, when we feel this spirituality and hear our own voice deep inside, we may be conversing using our spirituality or we may also be conversing with our own psychological fears and hopes. It’s hard to know. But the quest itself is what can bring us a spiritual life.
If God is the connectedness between us all, why do organized religions so often try to personify God? Is this a childhood explanation to enable us to understand and “see” that which has no form? Is it that we ourselves have never learned the adult version of what God is? Or is the personification of God by many traditional religions simply misguided? Perhaps our religious institutions need a different view of God and the spiritual world would help us better incorporate spirituality into our lives. Then more of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples might be looked to throughout our entire lives, not just when we wish for help educating and rearing our children, meeting other people or accepting death. Speaking of which, at the end of my own time here on earth, I wish that the Rabbi from my synagogue to officiate my own passing at a ceremony held in an old stone church.