End Game / New Game:
a Quaker Elder's Way
MY UNDERSTANDING OF
THE NATURE OF GOD
God is present in lady’s
slipper orchids that we find near the
fish hatchery. I recognized God in a brightly patterned
sapsucker feeding his chicks in a nest above the Red
Grade Road. And in my three grown children, my partner/wife
Georgia Foster, in friends, and in me. We recognize God by a leaping
up of heart that almost always takes us by surprise. God is in all
of creation. We experience that presence in our own sure moments
of beauty and of love.
Those moments are known by a
sense of fulfillment and an
absence of desire; we want nothing more of fame, money, recognition,
even peace, because we are standing in the center of peace
and beauty. God is love so wondrously beautiful that we can only
stand in awe at these moments. Yet, at the same time, these
moments seem “normal” as if that is the way life is meant to be.
I first encountered God in a dream when I was seven. The
dream was of formless beauty which came over me in waves until
I was in ecstasy. Although I grew up confused in a confusing family,
there have throughout my life been many other moments in
which I recognized God’s certain presence. Now, at ninety, I anticipate
dying as returning to God.
theologians, I find my experience especially
common in children, as well as in adults. God is recognized
as love and beauty that leaves us almost breathless. S/he can be
found in the sapsucker, and as curving over billions of light years
of the Universe.
Unfortunately, God is
portrayed in many religions as ungenerous
and as something other than outgiving beauty. We are shown
an angry god, a judging god, or a god who permits us to be “justly”
punished for transgressions. This is opposite to my experience and
my reading. I see this god as a danger to us and to our planet.
Never before have there been
six (plus) billion of us using up
Earth’s fresh water and other life supports. For the first time in history
we make plans to do away (“if necessary”) with millions—or
hundreds of millions—of our own species. Brutality to Earth and to
each other has become daily and ordinary; the technological ability
to kill each other is available everywhere, including nuclear
In this fix, the God (or god)
we worship makes a great deal of
difference. Worshiping a god who sets us an example of vengefulness,
we can only act in vengeance against each other and against
the planet. Loving our fellow worshippers while rejecting the vast
segment of humanity that worships differently, is a prescription for
high-tech disaster. And if we get too busy with emergencies to care
for our environment, we are poverty-stricken. Our world cannot
afford the waste and cruelty of war. Nor can it breathe freely in our
uncaring for lady’s slippers, or whatever delights us in nature. We
are in crisis.
I believe that only the God of
love and beauty can save us.
Worshiping that God, our lives will be filled with generosity, caring
for each other (including our “enemies”), insight, and laughter.
Stopping killing each other is
the key to God’s language. We
can learn to speak it any time we want to, simply by practicing
nonviolence. It would be a gain for all life if enough of us learn to
speak it. We already have help from deep-thinking theologians
like Matthew Fox, Thich Nhat Hanh, Walter Wink, and scientists
like Einstein and Fritjof Capra who find the divine in exploring
fractions of the Universe. So my experiences are not unusual, even
in their being spontaneous.
God is available from inside
ourselves. In fact, we are each an
infinitesimal fragment of God, with whom we have a built-in
avenue of communication. Children sometimes spontaneously
find this connection, grown-ups less frequently as we discard childlike
thinking. My first contact with God at age seven was the
beginning of an eighty-three year relationship marked at times by
joy and at other times by my betrayal of my own experience. That
experience is my only authority: that I know, and have known,
God. I am greatly helped in that knowing by reading the authors
mentioned above and others, by exchanges with friends, and by my
Quaker Worship Group.
I think our ability to know
God is what separates us from other
forms of life. We all—pigs, martens, mountain ashes—are gathered
in God’s love. It may be that only humans have the ability to know
it. That sets us apart, not in worth but as a species; birds have
wings, fish fins, spruces needles, and humans knowledge of and
contact with God. But our wings are not yet developed enough.
We do not yet lay a strong claim for God as our parent. So we have
work to do. I hope what I write will be that work.