I sat cross-legged on a meditation cushion, trying to follow along with the Hindi chants in the laminated booklet in my hands. Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, sat fiercely and orange-ly in front of me. He was decked out with marigolds and gold bling, and sitting upon an altar of candles and incense. Soon, the priest would sprinkle water on all of us that Hanuman had supposedly blessed . Then we would each ring a bell and eat a bit of prashad – ceremonial food – and the Ayarti service would come to an end.
|The altar at the Mount Madonna Center Hanuman Temple, Watsonville, CA|
As a point of reference, here is my spiritual memoir in three sentences:
1. I was raised in a conservative, evangelical Christian home.
2. In college, I left the church and my entire upbringing and entered a ten-year period of bitterness and searching.
3. Now, at age 30, I have taken what served me most from both stages and am re-discovering the world of spirit in my life.
As part of my spiritual journey, I have visited the services of many religions – most recently, Hinduism. At first blush, most Christians of the flavor that I grew up with would likely turn their noses at the “pagan” god before me. There was a time when I would have done the same.
Now, after humbly learning that I don’t actually know anything, I was more open to seeing the similarities between the many faiths rather than the differences. Didn’t other religions also have holy water? Candles? Incense? Singing? Ceremonial food?
I was taught growing up that god created humans in his image, but after learning so much about other belief systems – both current and ancient - it seems rather clear to me that we also create god in our image.
What if we and god are constantly co-creating each other, like the M.C. Escher hands that draw each other forever, frozen in an infinite act of co-creation?
|"Drawing Hands," M.C. Escher|
So, sentient life created in god’s image – check. I got that one. I’ve had a lifetime to get comfortable with that idea. But the notion of us creating god in our image as well – that’s still just a seedling of a thought in my brain.
For example, of course the ancient Egyptians had gods that were alligators, hippos, and falcons, because they looked around and that’s what they saw. That was their only experience of life, and they knew that there was something behind all of this, so they called it Horus and put a falcon head on it.
And the Hindus called it Hanuman and put a monkey head on it.
And the Christians saw the same, unnamable thing in the simple man who traveled around preaching love and equality. As did the Buddhists in the fat man who sat under a tree until he reached enlightenment.
So they all called it by different names and painted it with different bodies. So what? That doesn’t mean they weren’t all talking about the same thing. The first line of the Tao de Ching says, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” What if this thing has no name, and so we have no choice but to get as close as we can by making one up for it, and then making it look like something with which we are already quite comfortable?
Athiests have used a similar argument to then declare, “Well that means god doesn’t exist then because, see, we just made him up.” On the contrary, I am starting to believe that means that god does exist because we made him/her up, because – holla – we have the power to do that, because god gave it to us.
Mindfuck paradox, I know. Take your time.
So if god can create, and we can create, that sort of means that – hold on to your seats – we are god. Right? I mean even deeper than the “holy spirit” living in our hearts like the Christians say, or each of us having “that of god” in us like the Quakers say. I don’t mean god is a part of us, I mean, what if god is us?
What if the god of the bible is just one of billions of gods, just like you and me? And when he said "Let there be light" it was a mighty act of creation, just like the ones we perform each day when we speak things into being.
Let there be a child in my womb.
Let there be a new job in my life.
Let us have spaghetti for dinner.
We manifest things every day, all the time. Anything that is not naturally occurring around us (like trees and squirrels and such) came into being because some human, at some point, had the idea that it should be there and then made it so.
We have the power to create and destroy, just like the being we refer to as god. What are we doing with that power? What are we creating with our words - more community and love between the many faces of the divine - from monkeys and falcons to fat men meditating under trees to skinny men hanging bloody on a cross? Or divisiveness that keeps us focused on our differences?
That contentious energy sidetracks us from what truly matters, sort of like how the Pepsi vs. Coke debate makes both companies richer. As long as we're distracted by the conflict, we are not engaging in the miraculous acts of creation of which we are all capable.
Because I don’t think I can ever really know the answers to my questions about religions and gods, I have decided to focus instead on using my own goddess power to do as much good in this world as I can while I’m here.
I will start by forgiving myself for not having it all figured out, and loving myself exactly as I am. Just like god would do.
Melanie is a writer, an adventurer, a barista, and a professional wild woman. She divides her time between Santa Cruz, California and life on the road. You can find more of her musings on spirituality, shoestring travel, wildness, and the overall humor in life on her blog: Journey to Wildness