This Definition of God can Break Open even the Most Closed Heart.

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I walked down the aisle to the Nick Cave song, “Into my Arms.”

The first verse starts, “I don’t believe in an interventionist God, but I know darling, that you do.” It continues, “If I did, I would kneel down and ask him, not to intervene when it comes to you.”

It was a beautiful song for our wedding, and is still a beautiful sentiment.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately—this idea of an “interventionist God.” I know that it is the image of God that many of us were raised with. It is also the image that we call forth when we use petitionary prayer: calling upon God to intervene, or not to intervene, on our behalf; calling upon God to assist us, give us strength, help us find our wallet, help someone to heal.

It is the same image we conjure when we feel let down by God, or when we feel like we’ve asked for help and God hasn’t shown up. It is the image of a God who allows horrible things to happen to good people, who makes arbitrary decisions about people’s lives.

But this image of God gives me little solace.

In my own family, I think of my oldest nephew—my first glimpse of divine love—who had a near fatal car accident just a couple of weeks ago, breaking his spine in several places along with various other bones. I think to myself, “Oh, thank God he is alive.” And then, a few weeks later, I received a late-night phone call from my brother telling me his wife’s nephew, just 18 years old, was goofing around with friends—doing stupid teen stuff we all did—when he fell and sustained a massive head injury. He died just two days later.

Where was this God then?

I think of my beloved older sister and dearest friend, who is so full of life and gives so much to her community, to the world, and to her young son, and yet is dealing with an aggressive cancer that is robbing her of life force, freedom to move, to eat, to socialize. And I hear the question arise, as it did when I was a child, “How can this possibly be happening? How could God let this happen?”

It has been a long time since I believed in an interventionist God. And yet, even with my years of spiritual practice—a practice in which I have purposefully transformed my personal idea of God—it is this deeply ingrained image of the “all powerful, and yet devilishly capricious Master” that returns—even if just for the briefest of moments—in times of uncertainty, fear, loss, and doubt.

But I welcome this flash of my old image, as it invites me to recommit to my current one. In fact, when I think about the arbitrariness of who dies and who lives and how, who gets hurt and who gets helped, who suffers and how, and whether or not they deserve it, it leads me firmly to the exact opposite conclusion: there is no such thing as an interventionist God, and the randomness of suffering is to me the perfect evidence.

There is no “old man in the sky.”

There is no malevolent micromanager, picking and choosing who gets what in this life. Just like there is no benevolent spirit who will answer my prayers as I offer them.

I know this, because I have prayed for all kinds of things that never came about. Did that God just not like me? Not hear me? Did I not do it right? Was I not good enough? And when I was rewarded, what, exactly, did I do to deserve that?

Yet, when I reject this image of God, I don’t reject God—I redefine her.

When I was younger, I could never understand why people could have something terrible happen to them, and in that moment, “find God.” It seemed to me it would be the opposite. God has forsaken you, so why bother anymore?

I think I understand now, because it is in those moments that the image of God must be redefined. It would be untenable to live with the idea that the “old” God had let this thing happen, so that image must be rejected in favor of something new, something that brings solace and inspiration. And for many people, this something would never be named God, but instead, simply a feeling of vastness, a feeling of connectedness, a feeling of some wondrous, mysterious, unifying force that pulses behind the universe.

I am reminded of an image someone shared with me, years ago, of a Persian rug. On the one side, we see a beautiful, intricate, tightly-woven design. On the other, a mass of tiny knots. If we saw only the the knotty side, we might not think of it as beautiful or valuable. In fact, it might seem chaotic, undesirable. However, when we take the time to look at the woven side, we understand that what we saw as random is actually part of a greater whole.

I remember when I first read Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It was many years ago, and I was teaching yoga regularly. I remember talking to my class about Rabbi Kushner’s idea of God as the inspiration all around us, as that presence that could lift us up out of despair, that could be seen in the early morning sun, in the canopy of the trees, in the night sky, in a silent moment with a loved one.

And I asked them, if we had a friend who we relied on for solace and comfort when we needed it most, wouldn’t we take time to cultivate a relationship with that person? In the same way, if we want to experience the consolation of “God presence,” maybe we should consider cultivating that relationship as well. Maybe we should spend more time looking at both sides of that rug.

Rabbi Kushner says:

“God is the light shining in the midst of darkness, not to deny that there is darkness in the world but to reassure us that we do not have to be afraid of the darkness because darkness will always yield to light.”

We have to take the time to recognize that light—to see it all around us—so we know where and how to find it when darkness falls, who to turn to, how to take care of ourselves, how to turn inward to find God then and there.

French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says, similarly:

“In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.”

I believe that my own capacity to respond is inextricably related to my sense of God presence. Clearly, not the interventionist God, but God as love. God as nature. God as quietude. God as space.

And just as I admonished my students all those years ago, I am dedicated to cultivating that sense of God presence in my everyday life—that sense of real relationship—so it is not a “friend” I am suddenly reaching out to or a friend with whom I’ve spent little time or given little effort to or only turn to in difficult times.

I tend to this relationship when I fully acknowledge moments of grace, moments of pure joy, moments of stillness, moments of deep understanding without really knowing why.

I connect with this image when I remember to look at both sides of that Persian rug.

I foster this presence when I feel the open space in my heart, when I sit and invite a sensation of divine fullness, when I float in the ocean and feel my own tininess.

“I don’t believe in an interventionist God…
But I believe in love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you.”

To me, God is the grace in the space, and that space is all around me and within me. This is the God that can lift me up, and with this God there is no one to point to, for how do you point to love? How do you point to space?

Look no further than your own heart. There you will find the pathway, there you will find the solace. There you will find God—a love so powerful that it has the capacity to guide us home, and keep our hearts reaching toward one another.

We are all in this together.

~

~

Author: Molly Lannon Kenny
Image: Ioana Casapu/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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Molly Lannon Kenny

Molly Lannon Kenny is the founder and director of The Samarya Center for Humankind(ness), a 501c3 non-profit service and training organization dedicated to individual transformation and radical social change.

Having received her master’s degree in speech pathology and working for over six years at a large HMO, she left her position to create, publish, and trademark a unique therapy method, Integrated Movement Therapy®, built on the principles of acceptance, inclusion, and healing of self as a means for healing others and our communities.

She has written and taught extensively on the topics of yoga as therapy and yoga as a means to individual and social change, and she has taught hundreds of students in her specialized yoga teacher trainings both locally and internationally. She has been featured in Yoga Journal, MSNBC, Yoga Chicago, Yoga Northwest, Wisdom Magazine, and The New York Times, among many others.

She is past vice president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, and was the board liaison to the international committee on educational standards for the field of yoga therapy. She is on the board of the Yoga Service Council.

In her other life, Molly has been the bass player and front person for several local bands for nearly 20 years, and is a part of a large, raucous, multi-ethnic, and culturally and socially diverse family of origin. She spends her downtime at her home in a small fishing village in Mexico, thinking about things like cultural relativism, faith and contemplation, social change, and delicious food. Catch up with Molly on her website.

Carol Galat Aug 2, 2018 5:09pm

Well, Molly, having read your article, and another one by Kristian this morning, I am lifted up, in hopes for a new way of feeling grace, when one has been deeply brainwashed in youth and struggles to learn and grow and find their way out of heartache associated with an ingrained belief in a harsh, capricious, judgmental god. It took me so long to break free, even after years of studying the evolution of the human brain as relates to its spiritual aspects. My story is too long to tell, but I will close now with this: Grace is a beautiful thing, now that I know how to recognize it.

Molly Lannon Kenny Sep 28, 2017 5:20pm

thank you so much taking the time to write Tara, your words of encouragement are meaningful to me. Would you consider sharing the piece in your networks?

Jonathan Sherlock Sep 27, 2017 6:05am

Molly. Thank you. This resonated strongly with me as a fellow human who redefined what God was to him, after church indoctrination. Excellent piece. Thank you for being a conduit for that universal spirit.

Tara King Sep 26, 2017 6:06pm

Oh that is beautiful Molly and so true. I was thinking of my view of God as I read this and you put it as I would like to have done. Thank you <3

Lorinda Denton Krinke Sep 26, 2017 5:44pm

This is one of the best and most significant article I have read in a long time. Thank you!

Tracy Wiegman Sep 25, 2017 4:11pm

Molly Lannon Kenny Yes, I did share in my Facebook network and even a private message to a friend. This is such a simple, clear view of God, or Source or what ever word we attach to something that is so vast and deep and undiscribable! It truly resonates with me! Thank you again ( : Also, I am very interested in what you do and will be looking at your website to learn more ( :

Molly Lannon Kenny Sep 24, 2017 6:05pm

thank you so much, it means a lot to me that you took the time to read it and the time to respond. I am encouraged knowing my thoughts and words resonate with others and give some voice to people's experience. Would you consider sharing the piece in your networks? all love, molly

Molly Lannon Kenny Sep 24, 2017 6:02pm

thank you Sally! I also just started the Living School - 2019 cohort! Would you consider sharing the piece in your networks?

Helen Elder Sep 24, 2017 5:47pm

Awesome article. Really loved it - it's exactly how I see God/the relationship with God too :)

Tracy Wiegman Sep 24, 2017 3:09pm

Wow! I feel so blessed to have takent the time to read this! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom........Namaste...........

Lise Liddell Sep 23, 2017 10:53pm

love this - so true!

Bethany Bell Sep 23, 2017 10:50pm

Molly, thank you for putting into words what many of us feel in our hearts today re: spirituality. Putting language to our internal questions helps us all to grow spiritually.

Carolyn Graham Sep 23, 2017 7:37pm

Astoundingly comforting and reassuring words, Molly. I agree wholeheartedly. We somehow have to get our heads around the idea that 'God' is not going to get us out of this (apparently) intricate mess we find ourselves in. Only we can do that, and I think I remember the Dalai Lama saying that it was no good expecting God to fix the problems that humans have created. Only humans can do that. But I do like your subtle and tender perspective. Thank you.

Melina Powers Sep 23, 2017 7:24pm

"I believe that my own capacity to respond is inextricably related to my sense of God presence. Clearly, not the interventionist God, but God as love. God as nature. God as quietude. God as space." <3

Mark Steed Sep 23, 2017 7:22pm

This was a truly wonderful read. I can say with every confidence that I have no idea who or what God is. I'm not nearly enlightened enough. I do know, in moments of deep silence that God very much is, in life, beyond life, beyond all concept of reality and ego. There is no distinction in those moments between the end of "me" and the beginning of God. There just is-ness.

Ashley Carrithers Sep 23, 2017 3:56pm

good day Molly and the comment reading community. Thought I would chime in here as there are perhaps (?) further levels to ring some bells. "Things" happen. Indeed, and how about an understanding that we, our soul energies, attract in those corresponding, responsive energies from the "universe" (the space, Nature, endless star shine...the LOVE of creation). This is different from the lessened concept of karma, of course and speaks to reincarnation, perfection, attitude and other concepts of that ilk and opens some doors to enlightenment and my favorite - enjoyment. Not a regular reader here, so would invite a response, if warranted, to [email protected] - might be fun to strike up a correspondance. I live in Patagonia, write funny little books, am on the verge of a world changing exposé and delve daily into my mantra; Enjoy the Creation. An elaboration stab; energies arrive for our higher evolution - not "good" or "bad" but....ultimately Perfect in that they are what we need for our growth. This is explained, and expanded upon, in my book FLOW, btw. Handles, but only partially, response options for when "bad" things happen to "good" people. Application for dealing with the "God" quandary? Just as there is no old white bearded dude in the sky, neither is there a dude anywhere, but there are energies. Energies that cannot be destroyed and are mightily inscutable at our paltry current level of evolution. Make any sense? Thanks for the venue for sharing and mumbling along a bit, cheers, ashley carrithers

Sally Brower Sep 23, 2017 3:42pm

As an Episcopal priest just beginning the Living School, I find your term interventionist God to be helpful, and I thank you for wisdom broader than any tradition.

Kathy Daly Kazary Sep 23, 2017 2:06pm

Your article has touched my heart where truth lives and once again He has touched my soul through His spirit of Love. I understand the work it takes to build such a relationship and then look deep inside to share your thoughts in such a profound and meaningful way. Work and Grace touched beautifully. Thank you.

Molly Lannon Kenny Sep 23, 2017 2:59am

me too, brenda. stephanie taught me that. : )

Molly Lannon Kenny Sep 23, 2017 2:59am

may they bring you peace! all love. ps: would you consider sharing the piece in your networks?

Molly Lannon Kenny Sep 23, 2017 2:58am

thank you simon. what an honor to be sharing this journey with you. Would you consider sharing the piece?

Brenda Bergreen Sep 22, 2017 11:17pm

Love the part about the two sides of the rug!

Joanna Brunson Sep 22, 2017 11:13pm

Love this , will try to live with these words in my heart and my mind

Simon Scheer Sep 22, 2017 10:10pm

Beautifully put Molly , thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience!