“I want you to tell My story.”

Abigail’s train was late. I had been waiting at Union Station for over an hour and stood to stretch my legs. Some now-forgotten images passed before my eyes, and then,

I want you to be My new Elijah.

“Your new Elijah?” I did not know whether to feel flattered, or overwhelmed, or just crazy. I protested, “Lord, I am not worthy.”

I will decide who is worthy.

I didn’t know what a new Elijah was supposed to be but I knew I did not want the job. “Lord, I don’t have faith enough.”

You have more faith than you know.

“Who is Elijah?”

He is the prophet.

“What is he to me?”

He is you.

I didn’t think that meant that I was literally a reappearance of Elijah, but still I objected, “No, Lord, this is just crazy.”

He is you.

I remembered Abraham Lincoln’s story about the man who was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. “If it weren’t for the honor of the thing,” the man said, “I would rather have walked.” And I had seen the war movies, “You will have the honor of leading the assault.” Some honors aren’t worth it.

I did feel the honor. God was about to put His seal on this role for me, a role more suitable for a real Elijah. I felt a swell of pride, as I was being told this, and immediately the line went dead. Ego had broken the connection.

Abigail’s train had still not arrived. I paced back and forth, no longer seeing the other people in the station. What to think? What to feel? Finally, I forced a deep breath and, with irritation mitigated by resignation, asked, “Lord, what exactly do You want of me?”

I want you to describe the inner life of God, what it is like to be God.

The inner life of God? What it is like to be God? I didn’t know what this could possibly mean, but I forged on. “Lord, why is that important for us to know?”

Mankind sees God only from the outside and that leads to distortions in its view of God, as it would of anyone—too distant, awesome, oppressive, Other. Even mystics are very one-sided. They experience oneness but that is not the same as empathizing with My subjective experiences.

Okay, I could see that, if God is too distant, it would be hard to relate to Him, but there was a problem. “Lord, we think of God as being so infinite and ethereal that ‘subjective experience’ doesn’t even make sense.”

Exactly—that’s one of the distortions. Although I am much more than a Person, I am a Person, a soul, like you. You—people—cannot relate properly, constructively, to Me unless you understand that. (Take) love, for example. My love comes across as impersonal, generic, oceanic wallowing, but (in fact) it is quite specific, concrete, with feeling, with response to the particulars of your being, of your life.

I want you to tell My story.

“Sparks” from God An Autobiography . . .

Enjoy flash insights from God . . .

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“Study Jesus, learn from him.”

I was relieved at not having to become a Christian.  But I still wanted to know whether the standard Christian beliefs about Jesus were true.  “Lord, is Jesus Your Son?”

Yes.

I wondered about the doctrine of the Trinity, that God comprises the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  “Lord, is Jesus God?”

Yes.

I had trouble tracking these answers.  “But You told me I should not become a Christian.”

Yes, you should not.

“But You just said …”

To believe that Jesus is My Son is not the same as being a Christian.  Christianity is a sect, with some truths but many limitations.  Study Jesus, learn from him, but do not become a Christian.

What are the alternatives, I wondered?  There are Messianic Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah and perhaps as God.  “Lord, should I become a Messianic Jew?”

You should look into it.

I did look into it and, as far as I could tell, they were about the same as evangelical Christians, except they retained a strong sense of their ethnic Jewishness.  Since I am not Jewish and had been told not to become a Christian, and they were both, this was not for me.

 

Jerry Martin’s Daybook

For those of us who live an awfully lot in our heads, in books, in pending world crises, it is a useful remedial in Real Life 101 to drive across country, listening to local radio. “The corn-husking contest …” “The little league playoffs …” “A retirement party for the librarian …” Our visits to Maine take us back to real life, and almost back in time, to the still breathing remains of what was once a ship-building and whaling center. For the first time ever, I had not taken a book and thought to rely on Kindle, which, for the first time ever, would not charge up. Desperate, I asked the waitress at the diner, “Is there a place that sells books?” “Nope,” she responded with Down East economy of expression. A couple overhead us, and volunteered that the rather large gift shop on the main drag sold books, and there were cheap pocket books at the supermarket.

At the first I found a volume of E. B. White essays, a writer in whom I have very little interest but they say you can learn to be a better writer by reading him, and I thought it was high time I learned to write better. But, while on vacation, I prefer the book version of watching television. I tooled off to the store that featured junk food and cheap paperbacks. The problem with potboilers is that they are often written by people who have not read E. B. White. One political who-dunnit began with the female vice president complaining, “I am tired to being treated like a door-mat.” A cliché, and not one likely to come to the mind of a Nancy Pelosi or Susan Collins.

The “legal thriller” I chose did better: “For most human beings, what to do with our hands is an issue.” Hmmm. Then a tribute to the opposable thumb, but what to do with them when they aren’t quite needed? “Once upon a time we busied them by smoking.” Yes, that is a true observation. A colleague at Boulder stopped smoking, told me he no longer knew how to start a class. He had lost his ritual: fumble for the pack, tap it so a cigarette slides forward, pull it out and into his mouth, reach into his pocket for a lighter, ignite it and take a long, slow drag, all while contemplating the topic of that day’s class. Now he would just stand there, twitching. The novelist adds, accurately: “Bogart and Bacall taught us how to do this with style.” Yes, they made it sexy. But that – smoking, not sexiness – is now frowned on. So, he concludes, “we employ our idle fingers fondling our cell phones.” Segway to his assistant, a young woman who is always busy with her cell phone and yet, at the end of a meeting, can recall exactly what was said – welcome to the generation of “multi-tasking.” I was all set for single-tasking a legal thriller that, before the end of the first paragraph, has me interested in the young assistant who, shockingly, is the killer’s next victim. Hold on to your seat!

 

Read further Daybook entries – Click Here

 

Images of the Afterlife

I don’t care whether there is life after death.  That may seem odd, but I tend to be a contrarian with regard to my own feelings, a habit since childhood.  So I do not live a roller-coaster of hopes and fears.  My emotions are like the plains of Kansas, so flat water doesn’t know which way to run.  That includes the afterlife.  Still, as long as I had God on the line, it seemed like something I should ask about.

I was reprimanded for asking.  I was told that I didn’t really want to know, I was asking merely because I thought I should, and I should figure out why I didn’t want to know.

At first, I had no idea, but then it came to me.  As I pictured the afterlife, it was boring and lonely, like driving all night on one of those long western highways.

Then I was given a series of images—more accurate ways to picture the afterlife.  The first was to become immersed in wonders of nature of incomparable beauty.  The second was to imagine being an Einstein whose mind now grasped fully all the vast mysteries of the universe, having the ultimate “Aha!” experience over and over again.  Another was listening with full intensity to music more lovely than any the world has ever known.  Or, finally, it was like being in love, but with a vaster compass, sustained over endless time, and receiving boundless love in return.

“I was in the drop of water.”

Abigail asked if I had ever had any spiritual experiences in the past. At first I said “no.” I had forgotten two events early in life. Well, not actually forgotten, but set them aside. That’s what people do in our secular age.

A woman I know recently took a boat trip up the Amazon. One night, she awakened when everyone else was fast asleep, and went up to the deck. The entire galaxy was splayed across the sky. She was enveloped by the dark sights and murmuring sounds of the jungle, teeming with life in the midst of tranquility. It was an immersion in the universe itself. She did not call the experience mystical or even religious, but it was certainly an epiphany, a moment of intimate connection with the Whole, full of awe, wonder, and reverence.

My friend’s experience was in a more impressive setting than my my two moments. The first occurred when I was just a kid. One of my chores was watering the lawn. I had run water in the shrubs and bent down to turn off the faucet. I don’t know why I lingered for a moment, crouching down, looking at the tap but, as I did, a last drop of water slowly formed on the bottom edge and hung there. I looked at that drop of water in a way I had never looked at anything before. I saw it—how to describe it?—in its full presence, its suchness, its integrity as an independent existent in the community of being. When I later read in Buber about encountering Nature as Thou, this experience came to mind. It was not as if the drop of water had a mind or soul or was looking back at me or anything like that. Yet I no longer saw it as merely an it, merely an item in the inventory of the universe. I saw the drop of water as, in a sense, a member of what Immanuel Kant called the Kingdom of Ends—the community of all beings who should be respected as ends-in-themselves, not just as means for the use of others. This is, of course, language I now use. I don’t know how I would have described it at the time. I was just a kid, after all, and it didn’t seem worth telling.

The other experience was more arresting and consequential. It was a balmy evening during my senior year at Riverside Poly high school. We used to go downtown to one of those old-style, elegant movie theatres. My friends and I were outside, standing around and joking, waiting for others to arrive. Suddenly, I was in a world of my own, enveloped by concentric circles swirling around a center, like a small spiral galaxy. Just as suddenly, the experience was over. It would have been hard to describe even then, but its meaning was crystal clear. Time had disclosed its essence to me. I did not mention it to my friends, who had not noticed my “absence.” I did not tell anyone—whatever understanding I retained I could not have articulated even to myself—but the moment left an imprint. Though not much for poetry, I found myself responding to T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, a deep meditation on the nature of time, and particularly to the lines:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I developed an interest in philosophical questions regarding time and years later published a phenomenological analysis of the experienced “now” that provided a way of understanding Plato’s insight that “time is the moving image of eternity.”

These two moments—and that of my friend in the Amazon—were divine shafts of light breaking through the clouds, as are many experiences people gloss over and relegate to their mental attics.

Later, I was told,

Think about epiphanic experiences. When did you feel close to Me or most spiritually open?

“I can only remember the two experiences. The first was the I-Thou with a drop of water.”

Yes, that is very significant. What did you understand from that experience?

“I understood the subjectivity of all things … but I’m not sure that is quite right. I did not imagine the drop of water looking out at me or having feelings or the like. I just encountered the ‘suchness’ of it, its full independent integrity, my respect for it, that we were in some kind of relationship …”

That was an encounter with Me. I was in the drop of water. Why not? Where else would I be? I am in everything. You suddenly became open to My presence in that drop of water. You did not think of it that way, and you were right. It is not that I as a great mystical being somehow inhabited this tiny object, but you rightly experienced the drop for what it was, and that is precisely how I am “in” things. As you can tell, I am in each thing “fully.”

Illumination

Where to Find God

Rightly or wrongly, mysticism is often considered the highest level of religion, but for a long time, there were no mystics. God was interacting with people in many ways, but not yet through mystical union. Then the first mystic seers appeared. In prayer, God explained,

Now people were coming to me—not in limited ways, praying and offering sacrifices and so forth—but in a kind of merger … they were entering into Me, and I was receiving them. That was a new experience.

“So You responded?”

It is hard to explain. It’s like suddenly finding that you are the natural home for these creatures … the bosom or womb or home or ocean that all return to.

That sounded as if mystical union might be the ultimate way to relate to God, but I was told,

That is no more important a part of My nature than others we have discussed … .

And then another thing happened. Much more than before, these sages began to ponder My nature and (to) try to articulate their understanding of it.

And two changes occurred as a result. First, for the first time, I was an object, to be defined and analyzed. It is like your first experience with a psychologist who has a lot of boxes to put you in (introverted, repressed, etc.). As God, I had not pondered My own “nature.” I had no need to “define” Myself, but the effort of others to do so had an impact …

It came clearer that I was an object to others, a source of puzzlement, even mystery, to them. In fact, they would say that My nature was ineffable, beyond all language, all logical categories. They would describe Me in paradoxes—neither existent nor non-existent, and so forth.

And this has an impact. I did not feel ineffable. To be sure, I am hard to describe and human concepts are not adequate, but that is true of the physical universe as well.

“You say it has an impact?”

It creates a problem. It puts a barrier between Me and My creatures. How can they approach the ineffable? And even that mystical aspect leads them to regard Me as a pea-soup they want to dive into.

It did leave Me with a problem: how to break through the fog ….

“Then mystical union is not the goal? The purpose is to live the life you’re given? Is that right, Lord?”

Yes!

So: Don’t worry about the pea-soup or the ineffable Whatever. Just live the life you’re given. Tread the path in front of you. You will find God there, waiting to share the journey with you.

“Yes, that is important!”

We were living in Memphis, Tennessee, where my dad was going to college on the G.I. Bill.  We attended my grandmother’s Pentecostal church.  I would listen to what grownups said and try to think whether they were true or not—especially when they contradicted themselves.  If heaven was a place of eternal joy, why didn’t they rejoice when somebody died?  They made way too much of dressing up for church, when what mattered—they said—was the state of your soul.

“Lord, I took things people said seriously and placed the highest value on truth and on being right with God.”

Yes, that is important!

“Lord, what is my role?”

I did not feel like a prophet or seer and, as I started reading about different religions, I found an endless cast of characters—apostles, evangelists, saints, mystics, gurus, shamans, founders of religions.  None seemed to fit me.

“Lord, what is my role supposed to be?”

Just to be a serious reporter of what you are told when you pray.

Okay, that I could do.

 

 

“You will never learn from fencing.”

Giving up my career and risking my reputation in order to tell God’s story involved what sometimes seemed like an intolerable sacrifice.  But, of course, it paled in comparison to the suffering human beings have experienced over the centuries.  Any person who believes in God has to confront the problem of human suffering.  Why does God permit it?

“Lord, does suffering have any purpose or meaning?”

Of course, suffering is what makes life serious.  Imagine a world in which actions never resulted in suffering.  Imagine a world without the pain of regret, without feeling bad about doing something wrong (or) shameful.

“But disease serves no moral purpose.”

Now you are relapsing into fencing with Me on “the problem of pain.”  Just listen.  You will never learn from fencing.