“A Step in the Right Direction”

Nilsson says, “Another step in the development of polytheism was thinking of the great forces of nature (such as sky and seasons) and of human life (such as love and death) as gods.”

Yes, and the same story applies there.  It is quite apt, and not incompatible with understanding a single divine reality behind them all.  In fact, seeing them as gods—as personal beings with desires, plans, loves, and so forth—is a step in the right direction, of acknowledging that God is a Person and one with whom one can interact.

“Lord, did the polytheistic response affect You in any way?”

Oh yes, in many ways.  When someone sensed My presence in a place and responded respectfully, it increased My awareness of My presence there, and of what it was about Me that evoked and deserved respect.

Then I was given an analogy.

Sometimes someone might be the pillar of a particular institution and not realize their distinctive role until a crisis.  And they notice that everyone rallies around them or sees them as their savior or seeks their advice or expects them to get them through it.  In a sense, they were the pillar all along, but it was almost latent and not fully actualized until the occasion arose and they saw it reflected in the eyes of others.

I gather that God’s experience was something like that.

“Pray and I will tell you”

I started making a list of great spiritual leaders to pray about.  I thought the question would be, for example, What was God communicating to Martin Luther?  But, when I asked, I got a different answer.

Suppose you brought a guy in – say, Luther – and cut him up (dissected him, looked at the elements that make him up).  What would you find?

“Not just the single solitary individual, I suppose, but someone immersed in a tradition, institutions, and a culture.”

I act over the centuries in reference to individuals, but also movements, cultures, and the like.

“But only individuals receive communications.”

Just listen for the moment.  I interact with mankind, with the universe, in many different ways.  Do not assume that the only interaction is the same form of the interaction I have with you.  With some it is conversational, but with others it is by inspiration, by My spirit moving through them, infusing institutions and life-forms, cultures, cultural forms, art, music, dance, symbolism, ideational systems, thought forms …

So, looking at each cultural form, I should be able to figure out how it reflects You?”

The starting point is not the cultural forms and asking “What kind of God or transcendent order does that imply or suggest?” but start with Me and ask “What am I doing with that culture, individual, art, art form, or whatever.  What is it to Me?”  Pray and I will tell you.

“Let Me Tell You What the Story Is.”

In a few days, I asked again about God’s story.

The story begins with creation, the evolution up to life, animals, early man.  Then to the very ancient communications that require language and memory.

They (My communications) occurred rather simultaneously, and each communication was tailored to and by the recipients.  So the precise sequence for telling My story is more a question of narrative strategy than of accuracy or significance.

“But I will have to tell a story that makes sense.”

That makes sense to whom?  Let Me tell you what the story is.  I am burgeoning forth, reaching out to matter, plants, animals, activating their interiority, giving them direction.

As I have explained, I grew as a Self in response to the interiority of others, and I wanted to communicate, interact, more fully and at a higher level.  This (communication) is somewhat possible with early man, who recognized My presence in nature, in life, and also heard, if somewhat dimly and inchoately, My other promptings such as conscience, (the sense of) right and wrong, fine sensibility, appreciation of nature and beauty, love amongst creatures, and mystical union.

“You are both other and same as Me.”

“Lord, are we all part of You?”

You are both other and same (as Me). I need you to be other so that I may encounter another self. I am a Person and, like other persons, define Myself by responding to other persons, and being responded to (by them).

But I also need union, not distance—just as other persons do. You and Abigail are both other and same. You need to be different people—love is a bridge between differences. You also merge spirits at certain moments, though not totally. That is also a kind of completion or fulfillment. Life, including My life, is the dialectic, as you might call it, of same and other, confrontation and union.

We are both other than God and yet the same as God? But same and other are opposites. This did not go down easy for a former logic professor, but I went on. “Lord, are those moments of union with God the goal or are they just nice accompaniments?”

Neither. You shouldn’t strive for moments of union per se, for peak experiences. That is self-indulgence, and a mistake of some who seek mystical experience. It is like orgasms—you should not seek them for their own sake. That is an abuse, a kind of idolatry. They happen naturally as the outcome and expression of love. But the experience of union is not just the accidental accompaniment of loving God. It is the essential expression.

Then, late at night, I felt the boundary between me and the world becoming thinner and less distinct. Slowly, subject and object were blending, becoming intimately bound, not standing apart from one another. I was noting this intellectually, but it was not an intellectual experience. It was an ontological experience, an experience of my whole being. Finally, for a few moments, it approached total one-ness, the complete loss of awareness of self. At that point, I pulled back.

“Lord, what is the meaning of this kind of experience?”

There are many levels and kinds of experience with Me—including music. Do not make too much of it. It is good, just let it happen. It does not mean that you are about to become a mystic or anything unworldly. It is not unlike—it is on a continuum with—a wide range of spiritual experiences, in and out of religious practice and sensibility, that people have all the time. But it is definitely good. It will give you energy and peace and insight, so let it in.

Many times one “loses oneself” in an experience, but those moments are less threatening than merging with God. I pulled back, but felt a nagging sense I was not supposed to. “Lord, I feel you want me to do more of the mystical stuff, ‘entering’ You and so forth.”

Yes, and you can remove the scare quotes. There is nothing strange about it. That is how the universe is. The parts can communicate with the whole. It is no more mystical or mysterious than your ability to move your arm.

Actually, since Descartes introduced a sharp mind-body distinction, how the mind moves the body has been a philosophical mystery. But, in actual life, it is not. The parts can communicate with the whole and vice versa. I had never thought of the universe that way.

 

Is God a person?

When I asked, I was given a complex answer.

Yes and No. I come to you—but not to raindrops—as a Person, and therefore I am a Person. One cannot be a Person in some modes without being a Person.

But I am also much more than a Person. Just because I seem so familiar to you—we talk just as persons do—should not mislead you into thinking I am “just a guy.” It is true that I have many of the attributes of a person—desires and a history, for example. But again do not assume that desire and history mean just the same for Me as they do for human beings.

“It is at the heart of my Being.”

In spite of the voice, I wondered why, most of the time, God is irritatingly elusive. But I was told,

You see Me all the time.

I looked around and tried to see God, but nothing registered. Martin Buber talks about saying Thou to nature, and that was about as close as I could get. If God wants to be so coy, why does He bother to get our attention at all? How, I asked, could our response possibly matter to Him?

It is very important. It is at the heart of my being.

Human recognition is at the heart of God’s being? I found that intriguing, but it only heightened the paradox of an invisible God who wants to be seen.

 

“Think in a Different Way”

“Lord, I have the feeling that you want me to read and think less, and to listen more and just write down your story.”

Don’t stop thinking, but think in a different way. Don’t work so hard to figure everything out, to make it rational, to make it fit your categories. Just listen and think through the implications of what I tell you.

“But, Lord, some of what I learn from You comes from worrying over what you say.”

Sometimes yes, but often no. Sometimes your questioning just gets in the way. The main point is to open your mind, to try to understand what I am saying on its own terms, and to see ways it might be true or understandable to you.

If something doesn’t make sense to me, how can I supposed to “see ways” to make it understandable? How do you get to that vantage point?

 

God: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher – is the true story of a philosopher’s conversations with God. Dr. Jerry L. Martin, a lifelong agnostic. Dr. Martin served as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Colorado philosophy department, is the founding chairman of the Theology Without Walls group at AAR, and editor of Theology Without Walls: The Transreligious Imperative. Dr. Martin’s work has prepared him to become a serious reporter of God’s narrative, experiences, evolution, and autobiography. In addition to scholarly publications, Dr. Martin has testified before Congress on educational policy. He has appeared on “World News Tonight,” and other television news programs.

________

Listen to this on God: An Autobiography, The Podcast– the dramatic adaptation and continuing discussion of the book God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin.

He was a lifelong agnostic, but one day he had an occasion to pray. To his vast surprise, God answered- in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions, and God had a lot to tell him.

“This is not a renunciation”

I want you to model the spiritual life. Live it deeply. Theology is not just an intellectual exercise. It must be grounded in an intimate relationship with Me, an intimate openness to My Word.

“Aren’t I already open, Lord?”

Yes, but you turn away. You know the problem. You hold Me at arm’s length and listen to Me only part of the time, and only partially, not as a whole person. You need to draw Me into yourself totally—live through Me—and let Me guide you totally.

“But that sounds miserable. I couldn’t have fun and enjoy life any more.”

No, it doesn’t mean that. You will find life perfectly pleasant. This is not a renunciation. It is an affirmation, a growing in a certain direction, in a certain domain.

This reminded me of saying a sad farewell, before getting married, to all I would be giving up—having my apartment as messy as I wanted, living on pizza, watching the Late Late Show. It’s amazing what a bachelor can cherish as the good life.

“Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Nothing dramatic. Just pause in the course of the day to take Me in. It doesn’t mean you have to interrupt other things you’re doing. But I will be co-present and a co-participant. Try that now, as you eat your lunch.

“Okay, Lord.” I drew Him in and unwrapped my sandwich. “Let me share this with You, Lord.”

Good.

That day I ate lunch “with God.” But most days I do not.