During our monthly theme of Love, I thought about the number of stories that I have used in Religious Exploration lately that refer to God or are about Jesus. While it is vital for our UU children to hear these stories, especially in a UU context, I wonder what families at this church think about the stories their children are hearing this month and whether God language is difficult for them personally. I always preface the stories by sharing that some people believe in God and some don’t and that as Unitarian Universalists we get to discover what is true for us. I want the children to hear many times that they don’t have to believe the same thing as the person next to them at church or in school–that they can define the mystery however they choose and so can their friends. But you can’t decide for yourself, if you are never exposed to the stories except in a negative way.
God, Spirit of life, Mystery, Great Universe–all are words pointing to something beyond our own selves. We all have direct experiences of transcending mystery and wonder, even if we don’t all have the same experience. This excerpt from “What’s in the Temple?” by Tom Barrett says it well.
If I say the word God, people run away.
They’ve been frightened—sat on ’till the spirit cried “uncle.”
Now they play hide and seek with somebody they can’t name.
They know he’s out there looking for them, and they want to be found,
But there is all this stuff in the way.
I can’t talk about God and make any sense,
And I can’t not talk about God and make any sense.
So we talk about the weather, and we are talking about God.
So we talk around in circles with each other, applying our own meaning to words that describe the ineffable, most likely never able to fully comprehend one another’s experiences.
A couple of Sundays ago I was telling the story of Theodore Parker and the turtle. In the story, Theodore sees a turtle and contemplates hitting it with a stick as he had seen other boys do. As he raises his stick he hears a voice boom “It is wrong!” The moment I boomed those words, one of the children listening to the story said, “It’s the voice of God.” I continued until I got to the part where Theodore’s mother explains that some people call that voice their conscience, but she chooses to call it the voice of God. The same child then said “Shhh. God is talking to me!”
I stopped reading and asked what God was saying. Her reply was “LOVE.” What a beautiful moment of sacredness and grace. At that moment God was defined for this child as love – a simple four letter word. If hearing the word God brings thoughts of other more colorful four letter words for you as an adult, could this child’s experience of God give you a new four letter word to use when someone says God. Even if you were wounded by a religious experience in your past, remember it was the religious experience and the people that wounded you, not God or a god or gods or the mystery or the universe. Love is a beautiful way to describe the ineffable. Real love is all-encompassing, boundless, larger than we can fully comprehend and express. It renews our spirit and makes us more open to life. Love calls us to be better to ourselves, each other and our world.
I don’t know about you, but for me that is a beautiful way to think about God.