Before I get into that, I want to recommend a fantastic documentary I found today. It’s a documentary on Ram Dass, one of the most well-known Western Hindus. He says something at the beginning that is very wise. He describes his thoughts during the stroke he suffered. He says “I realize that I have a lot more work to do.” To hear this man, who has so much more wisdom than I have, say that, I am comforted.
Anyway. I can’t really answer the “who is God” question for other people, but I can begin to answer what it means to me, and offer a bit of personal spiritual history.
My great grandfather was an Episcopal priest. He started out in New York and then spent periods of time in various places as a mission priest (which basically means that he acted as a priest for a parish until a more permanent, or another priest could be found). He ended up in Key West, Florida, where my grandmother was born. I think she probably would have been a priest, too, if she could have done that. As it was, she raised her sons as devout Episcopalians. My uncle entered the priesthood and then became American Orthodox and is now an Archpriest.
My mom’s family is Roman Catholic, and as a child she planned on entering a convent. She did that for a little while, joining the MaryKnoll order as a novice. Now, my mom had intended to be a contemplative, or in her words “a quiet person who does a lot of praying.” She also wanted to do good in the world at large. Unfortunately, while the MaryKnoll order is great at doing good in the world at large (they’re a missionary order), they’re not “quiet people.” (I bet they do a lot of praying, nonetheless.) So in a bizarre storybook twist, she left and became a governess. Then she did a lot of personal exploration, almost joined the Rev. Moon’s group, and eventually met my dad.
And then when my brother and I were born, she let us choose when to be baptized, though we went through Sunday school and went to church every Sunday. I went to church camp every year. I was actually pretty darn religious. I was confirmed, knew my rosary (an overachiever, even in nonacademic things).
Somewhere in there, I don’t know when exactly, I stopped believing what I was praying in church. During my mom’s exploratory period, she had read a lot of Shirley McLaine and her books on past life regression. While that wasn’t specifically part of what my mom brought us up believing, my brother and I have always believed strongly in reincarnation. Along with a healthy dose of skepticism, my beliefs were generally pretty heretical. In my senior year of high school, I practiced Wicca for a little while, but soon discovered that it was not for me. I need tradition and structure. So I went back to the Episcopal church, mostly for the ritual. I kind of sporadically went to church in college.
I met my husband in college. At the end of my last year, he proposed, and we scheduled the wedding for the end of that year. Part of that was finding a church in Atlanta, which also meant that we needed to be able to go to church on a fairly regular basis. So we joined one, were married in it, and then went to church at least once a month. I was involved enough to help a friend become formally accepted, just in time to come to the pretty earth-shaking realization that while the community was great and I had sort of made a commitment, it was no longer a place where I felt spiritually fulfilled.
So I dug my old Amar Chitra Katha Ramayana out of storage. I read it, then a prose translation, and then immediately went out and bought a copy of the Upanishads and Hinduism: A Beginner’s Guide (don’t laugh – I was a complete beginner). It was like I had found the final missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. It all made sense. Every (I thought) anomalous piece of spiritual thought I’d carried with me all my life suddenly fit, and the whole it made was Sanatana Dharma.
However, I can’t seem to figure out which specific aspect of God speaks to me most strongly. Is it Rama, who I learned about as a child? How about Ganesha, who seems to find me again and again? Or maybe Shiva? Saraswati? Lakshmi? Krishna?
A friend of mine said that it may not hurt to pray to all of them for the time being, because more benevolent listening ears is probably a good thing. I really should be patient and wait it out, because it will eventually all make sense and sort itself out, but I continue to struggle with my own impatience.
Obviously I need to meditate more.