SOME KALEIDOSCOPIC IMAGES OF GOD

A plump, kindly old man with a full white beard sitting humming merrily to himself.  He’s dressed in soft red flannel trimmed with white fur, topped off by an amazing red cap hung with silver bells.  You sit on his broad lap and ask for all your secret wishes to be granted.  Some time later, responses come shooting down your chimney in the middle of the night while you’re fast asleep and least expecting their arrival.  Let’s hope your wishes were pure.  Who knows what you’d find in the morning if they weren’t.

 

Think emptiness.  Like a gas tank out of gas or a well gone dry – but emptier.  Empty even of emptiness.  Turn inside out and look again.  There’s still nothing!  It seems circular but isn’t it a fact that, originally, everything came out of nothing?  Moreover, isn’t this similar to a God who abides nowhere, yet exists everywhere?   Maybe, this is too much!  Instead, why don’t you imagine God as a gigantic metaphysical merry-go-round, spinning around, with lively music, reflecting mirrors and flashing colored lights – children rushing to get on.

 

Many in the past – some even today – visualize God as a powerful Man living up in the sky who doesn’t mind taking the time required to oversee all our daily affairs.   This God has traditionally been imagined as a strong male figure – but gigantic in size.  Mountain chains could be crumbs stuck in his teeth.  This God makes things – like daisy-chain universes, Alice-in-Wonderland dimensions, and way, way too many ungrateful people.  This God can say a single word and whatever the word denotes immediately comes into being – whether stars, green glaciers, or fleas.  It’s a good trick!  Given such power and creativity, God has to be very careful with what He says.  Everything He makes always comes out perfect – with the sole unfortunate exception of freedom.  When God tossed that bit into the mix, it fouled up all the pre-existing perfection.  But this wasn’t God’s fault, was it?  A perfect God-built universe just gone all to hell!  So, now, there’s God, just standing around, patiently waiting for us to get His universe back together again.  He’s kinda tapping his foot – an omnipotent, omniscient type of guy.  We should be awed, but it’s difficult to concentrate, given His infinitude.  Maybe God should consider greater finitude if he really wants a better relationship with us.  But perhaps He already tried that once.

 

Some people believe God is everything – one colossal unit.  You, reading this, are part of God; me too, along with my cat, Maui – we’re all God – just not individually.  It takes all of us, collectively, to make up God: the dust collecting on the dining room table, the doorbell’s electric buzz and even passing-by sweet cat farts, all together.  If we leave out anything, God would be incomplete.  So, given that God is everything, and everything consequently is holy, shouldn’t we begin learning to relate better to one another?  On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t talk about it, just experience it; hold it like a sweet mint under the tongue.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be God knowing everything else is God too?  Now, if we could only just get rid of all those tiny irritations hovering just beyond the edge of our exquisite spiritual sensibilities.

 

We’ve been informed, officially, that God is a close relative of select groups of people – maybe even a few unique individuals.  By longstanding reputation, these people have an “in” with God.  They’re considered almost super-human, even angelic, in comparison with ordinary human beings.  We ask them for what we want and they, in turn, pass on our requests to God who almost always stamps them “Approved” since God owes these people a lot!  Not many have done as much for God as they have, so God isn’t willing to cross them up.  It’s best to develop a one-on-one relationship with such people – for example by attaching a plastic statuette onto the dashboard of your car or installing a larger concrete version out on your front lawn.  Some people believe it’s impossible to reach God without first establishing this type of special connection.  Listen, everybody knows God hasn’t made any actual appearances in the world for a very long while.  Maybe God has gone away on a long vacation where days are measured in generations.  Or perhaps God’s simply ashamed of us and has taken to avoiding our company.  Or, maybe even, the problem is that God, without any formal notice, has taken out a final divorce and gone to live in some alternate universe and is now taking care of more reliable and loving beings.  It’s been said, at times even fervently believed, that long ago and far away people were able to speak directly with God.  Fortunately for us, they wrote some of it down and posted it in the form of an extremely long letter.  Since this is all we now have left, we worship it.

 

The Evangelical version of God is a lamb holding a lightning bolt in its mouth.  Peace and judgment in one.  Love and consequences.  Maybe the Evangelical God wants to keep us on our toes, especially since there’s nothing we can ever do on our own to reach God.  All our best actions fall short – absolutely.  Well, that leaves the Evangelicals just one ticket to ride.  But it’s inexpensive!  You simply have to say the right things about Jesus and everything turns out copacetic.  At the end of the line, we’ll find our family and friends (provided of course they also qualify as “saints”) waiting for us in a cosmic community center called “Heaven” – a pretty joyful, boring, kind of place.  How so?  Because the Evangelical God has only a limited imagination, valuing faithfulness more than any other known human quality.

 

Perhaps God is not even Christian, much less Jewish or Muslim.  Buddhists, for example, say that God is Not.  Maybe God is Ganesh, the Holy Elephant, with all the other world religions acting out a dozen blind men feeling around the great mystical elephant.  And isn’t it obvious that even six billion of us, using all of our five or six senses, could never, individually or collectively, picture God as God truly is?  That’s why each religion has carefully stored up all its singular encounters with God, derivatively sharing these experiences with the faithful through their own distinctive writings and sacraments.  Unaware of its own blindness, each religion believes that all other religions are vastly blinder than they.  Each believes that God can be found only in their pocket, that their holy tokens are the sole authentic ones, and that the passing whiff they once experienced must certainly be how God truly smells.

 

So, let’s face it, God will never be fully known by humans.  God’s existence, by definition, ranges infinitely beyond the farthest-most reaches of human understanding and sense – as a kind of super-reality.  The only way we’ll ever be permitted to get near to God at all is in a relationship, and then only if we desire it, even if that sounds obvious.  How it works is that whenever we reach out to God, God immediately reaches back.  Given the right desire, we’ll always end up in a relationship.  And depending upon the strength of that desire, we’ll be permitted to know as much as we’re humanly capable of knowing.  God will open up to us, directly and proportionately (and certainly in greater proportion) that we are able to open up to God.  Obviously, this is not a relationship of equals, but it should be the most important love relationship in our lives.  So while it’s true that we’ll never fully “see” or “understand” God, each of us does have the capacity to love God and to feel God’s love in return.  Every person on earth experiences this at some point in their lives, and all of us, in our heart of hearts, know that it’s real.

 

In the East, they have historically taught that God is everything and consequently that we “are” God if we’re but willing to recognize it.  This is true in part.  In the West, they have historically asserted that everything is everything, while God is God, the two being separate.  This is also true in part.  But, really, it’s not either/or.  God has never been restricted to logic in human terms.  God is transcendent and immanent; impersonal and intensely personal.  God is wisdom disguised as a holy fool.  Yes, God is separate from us, but if we’re willing to carry out God’s will, we’ll find that we are expressing God in human terms – just like Jesus did.

 

So even though God is not the same as everything, it’s true that everything is touched by God.  We can discover traces of God anywhere and anytime if we begin looking through the eyes of God – which are right in our own heads.  God looks at the world through us and sees God.  The world is not God, but God does see God when looking at the world.  So can you.  Sometimes this experience, rightfully, has been referred to as the “Holy Spirit”!

 

(Published in Issue Five of Tiferet, A Journal of Spiritual Literature (2007) which is a wonderful journal that all “Nones” should seriously consider subscribing to.)

 

 

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WHY IS THE BOOK CALLED “DINER” MYSTIC?

It’s because there’s nothing more democratic than a diner!  I just love diners!  They’re open, accepting places where one can read a book, drink countless cups of coffee, and not have anyone bother you.  You might get a side-glance when you first go in, but soon you’ll be no more interesting than day-old pie – just part of the scene – which might include teens on a date, fingers entwined across the table, smiling at one another and sipping strawberry milkshakes; or an elderly retiree on a careful budget, solitarily nursing a cup of black coffee; or a bus driver who knows the first names of all the waitresses, ordering eggs “over easy,” along with country-fried ham and biscuits; or a local crazy person drooling on his shirt and mumbling irritably, so long as he’s not too loud and, even if he is, the waitresses will simply give him a “Shush;” or a businessman reading the financial and sports sections, eating a slice of apple pie while taking a break from his office pressures; or a group of women friends, grateful for a bit of uninterrupted time, delightedly sharing the neighborhood’s hot and cold gossip.

 

The light inside diners is usually bright enough to read by given the combination of daylight and indoor fluorescent lights.  Outside, the traffic is rushing continually by – which is part of what makes diners so pleasurable – the outside world rolling by in a constant stream of moving lights and colors while we’re sitting comfortably inside, food on the way.

 

Diners themselves, however, aren’t really mystical in any true sense – except maybe passing in the night – but they do offer the single most important prerequisite for mysticism – clear and open spiritual space.  Diner space has unique emotional, psychic and cultural aspects.  For example, no matter how crowded a diner gets, there’s always enough room for everyone to get in.  Even more, diner space is democratic space – i.e., there’re no special privileges in diners – no one has to make way for anyone else.  Everyone takes their own turn – and can end up in a booth if that’s what they really want.

 

“Diner” mystics need the quality of freedom that’s available in a typical diner.  Anyone, however, who believes they’re better than other people, whether due to higher education or greater knowledge, income or status, will never qualify as one.  Diner mystics know, without thinking much about it, that they’re nobody special, and so are happy to take a seat in the next free booth, pick up the plastic-covered menu sitting on the table, and enter their own personal diner “heaven”!  No one in their right mind would think that they can go into a diner and demand that everyone bow their heads in prayer or insist that the customers recite religious formulas together.  If the waitresses couldn’t get this kind of person to leave, the cooks would, and if the cooks couldn’t, the highway patrol who are always sitting in the back nursing coffee, certainly would.  My advice is to test everything you’re told the same as you would if you were sitting happily in your favorite diner.

 

The Jewish version of diner is a delicatessen, but with better pickles.   Everything else is pretty much the same – a community hangout.

 

Once, long ago, God decided to send some lofty souls down from heaven (Hasidic teachers) to illuminate the darkness of exile in the Russian Pale.  In like manner, God may, one day, send a few diner mystics down to us – brilliant sparks of spiritual light to sit in the back booths of diners, waiting for a signal to spiritually light up America.  In early Christian times, it wasn’t uncommon for mystics to sit on tall columns out in the desert.  Today, a “diner” mystic might be sitting on a counter stool, turning slowly back and forth, holding a cup of bitter-brewed coffee, and available to anyone who’s able to spot her.

 

Denny’s will never be a “real” diner.  Chains, by definition, are in an “anti”-diner category.  No true mystic would ever eat in one!  Un-chained diners, on the other hand, operate free of franchise regulations.  The cashier who’s worked there 20 years can say whatever he wants, for good or ill, while you’re paying your check, while the waitress who’s been working there more than 30 years will have her own personal style of tossing the plastic menus onto the tabletop, saying: “Coffee now, hon?”  Diner employees frequently are from the same Greek family or may be their next door neighbors.  A diner is a lot like a home.  Families in homes aren’t required to live subject to the requirements of a franchise manual.  Can you imagine a mother having to consult her franchise handbook before deciding where and when to send the kids out to play or to determine how many times a week she’ll be making love with her husband?  People living in families do anything they want!  They can be as functional, dysfunctional, enlightened or dim-witted, as they wish.  It’s a “free country – and diners fit a free society, perfectly.

 

Why am I taking all this time to talk about diners and what, if anything, do they have to do with “mysticism”?  I think it’s commonly agreed that there will be no real spiritual life without at least a certain minimum level of humanity.  But how will people be able to achieve this if the world becomes increasingly regulated by the institutional requirements of multinational corporations which are now intruding, consciously and unconsciously, into every facet of our daily lives?  The franchise itself is just a tiny nut or bolt in a much larger more elaborate corporate machine, designed by financial, legal and corporate experts working in mega-cities, like New York, London or Tokyo, who are striving to satisfy the quarterly financial requirements set by the investment world.  Franchisee employees are fungible, paid at the minimum legally-required level, and treated as temporary in every respect, usually with no health or other employee benefits.  Even the local managers are temporary.  In general, you’re never going to develop a deep personal relationship with a franchise employee, except by accident.  They have to do what they’re told, by carefully following the franchise regulations and procedures.  Nor are you ever going to meet (nor would you want to) any of those responsible for preparing the franchise manual or managing the parent company. Yet it’s impossible for you to escape their influence.  Franchises, along with the policies and procedures by which they’re run, are these people’s personalities projected into your world.

 

We need a lot more un-chained family diners in this country so as to restore civilized space back into our lives.  The same would be true of family-owned pharmacies, toy stores, farms, etc.

 

Isn’t it a fact that our economic system has now evolved itself into a worldwide Darwinian money game, favoring those most skilled at playing competitive intellectual games?

Do we really want to end up living inside a worldwide economic machine beyond anyone’s control, even that of the United States Government?  Do we really want a society where the people who end up with the most power and economic resources are simply the world’s best game players?

 

So, isn’t it about time for diners to start making a comeback!  Spiritually, diners have always been even more open than the churches that sit just down the road.  In a diner, one doesn’t need to affirm a specific belief system.  It’s certainly true that diners won’t take you to God, but they also won’t drive you away from God either.  Diners never waste your time.  They feed you and leave you as free going out as when you first walked in.  Can you really say the same thing about churches?  Don’t you start feeling just a little bit restricted as soon as you enter the church parking lot?  When you decide to join a church, you’ll become aware of the necessity for wearing a “uniform” – i.e., required exterior (clothes) and interior (doctrines).  Diners, however, aren’t bothered about what you wear or think – whether you’re orthodox or unorthodox.  Jesus himself was totally open to people – just like a diner.  Anyone could come by, sit at his table and talk about God.  Diners stay open 24/7 while churches, for the most part, are open only a few hours a week, mainly on Sunday.  As a consequence, going to church is often wholesome, but is not necessarily holy.  True holiness isn’t found in crowds, even well-behaved, well-dressed ones.  Real holiness is usually a solitary affair.  When a radiantly holy person enters a diner to eat breakfast – no one thinks a thing about it.  That same holiness, exhibited in church, however, will probably make a number of people in the congregation pretty uncomfortable.

 

God flashes brief glimpses of Spirit down among us –usually in the deepest ambiguities of our lives – the times and places we’re the most fragile, puzzled and uncertain how to proceed.  It’s the people who don’t think they know everything, and simply want to be with God, who usually turn out to be God’s people, that is, the nobodies.  You can find them whenever you just take the trouble to look – in fact, they’re probably sitting at the counter in your local diner right now!

 

The kind of person who might be reflecting on God in a diner is certainly not restricted to any specific religious tradition.  They’re able to allow all kinds of religious and spiritual thoughts to reverberate freely throughout their minds and souls.  They might even let themselves take a few minutes to have fun “playing” with God.  One day, I sat down and tried to think about God from as many different angles as I was able.  What I came up with will be my next post – “Kaleidoscopic Images of God”.