Reach Out and Touch Faith

Reach Out and Touch Faith May 14, 2014

[Written at the beginning of my blog project, when I was just getting to know Hinduism. I still feel that this post speaks to my experience.]

I don’t know if it’s the time spent in the Christian world or the time spent in the pagan world that makes me think I need to have a Personal Relationship with the Divine.

In the Evangelical Christian world it’s all about one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As hard as I tried I never felt close to Jesus. I felt more connected to the abstract, supposedly more transcendent Great Big God than I did to the incarnated Son. Perhaps it was because I felt that God was already imminent and alive to me in the mountains and waterways of my land. I didn’t know it then, but I had a firm grasp of panentheism. Jesus was a fascinating character, a wise and cantankerous teacher, but he did not speak to me in the here and now in the way that I felt the Great Big God did.

Even as I moved from Evangelical ideas of Christianity to worshiping with the Eastern Orthodox Church I still felt like I was missing something. The Eastern Orthodox, and much of the Roman Catholic world, do not place as much emphasis on the personal relationship with Jesus as does the Protestant world. But still: don’t we want our Gods to know us? Don’t we hope or even expect to know them?

My loose affiliation with the Pagan world led me to believe that this might be possible and might even be the norm! Plenty of people talk about Gods and/or Goddesses calling them, choosing them, appearing in visions, or even possessing them. I’ve had perhaps only one experience that might even closely resemble anything like that.

It’s not that I don’t feel God’s presence – I do. Sometimes I feel it like a powerful current; sometimes it’s like when you’re hiking and looking up at the trees and without noticing the small stream ahead you plunge your foot down into the icy waters. Sometimes I have to seek out that presence. Sometimes I have to work hard – sit in meditation for twice as long. But rarely is it personal. Rarely is it about ME.

Kali the Dark Mother

So now that I’m engaging with Hinduism in a daily way I find that this is what I most often trip over: am I supposed to be having a personal interaction with the Gods? I have long been drawn to Kali. The Shakti/Shiva understanding of the world speaks to my conception of the universe. And who can’t get behind Ganesha? He’s just so darn likable. But are they just representations of cosmic forces (just, right? like that wouldn’t be enough)? Or are they real, present, living Gods that get involved?

Ganesh, Remover of All Obstacles

So far my experience and thoughts suggest: yes. To both. But I’m not convinced that the God/s get involved with us on the minute level that many of us of Christian extraction expect. And I like that. I think there is something deeply selfish (as opposed to self-centered, which phrasing suggests something good to me) in the way that Christianity makes salvation and other ideas so specifically personal, as if everything we think, say and do has eternal weight. I do think that karma applies, the cause and effect of our actions. But does the Ground of Being listen in on everything we think? Does the Great Universal Creator hear us when we’re searching for a parking space? I’m going to say no. Could it? Sure. But I think this is where the appeal of many gods comes in: I need the rice to turn out perfectly for an important dinner party, so I pray to Lakshmi, element/goddess of the home and success, or to Ganesh to overcome any obstacles in my preparations. Why go to the top when Hir agents are available?

In my experience of worshiping as a Hindu I’ve only had two moments of feeling a connection with Kali, a feeling that went beyond the intellectual ‘oh her story and symbolism is really neat;’ a feeling that maybe she was poking by to see who is this new person that keeps calling her name. The Pagan in me thinks this is about right – all relationships take time. My Christian past is just flat-out appalled.

For those of you practicing Hinduism in any form, what has been your experience? Those of you engaged with the Hindu pantheon, what have your relationships been like? For anyone, how did you choose the gods you venerate? Or did they choose you?

(Title reference to Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode. Until linking to this, I had never seen the video. A Western?!)

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  • Pixie

    My experience with deities in Hinduism has been so much more intense than Paganism. It seems like Pagans don’t have faith in their deities and don’t realize that they are actual living beings that are present. Maybe there aren’t enough pagans that do true trance possession types of rituals? So people don’t realize that deities can actually manifest in the material plane? After spending even just a little time participating in Hinduism I came to realize that we Western folks lost a whole lot of our ancient traditions, but that’s a story for another day. In Hinduism it’s like, “oh holy fuck Shiva is standing right there huge and bright and radiant and LOOKING AT ME and now I’m in an altered state of consciousness crying tears of bliss with some dude in the middle of the cremation grounds.” I felt and still do feel the presence of my Celtic Goddesses, but it’s nothing like standing at an ancient statue that has been revered by thousands (millions?) of people for hundreds of years. For me personally, I was most certainly called to Shiva in this life. He chose me. It was revealed to me that I had been a devotee of him (as Kalabhairava) in a past life and he called me back to him in this life.

    • Thank you so much for writing this! Yes, I think the unbroken devotion over the centuries (millennia) most definitely helps. I wonder if other deities will feel as ‘real,’ as ‘present’ as Hindu deities in another 100, 200, 500 years? I was stunned at how welcoming and present Shiva and Kali and Ganesh were when I started getting serious about Hinduism. The other deities I ‘work’ with/attempt to build relationship with are far more stand offish. But I can’t blame them. 😉

  • Tracy Hilliard

    Pixie – I think that many pagans choose not to talk about their more extreme experiences.

    As for me, I’m eclectic, and deal with gods from various pantheons as their interest and my own interest coincides.

    I have had VERY deep connections to various gods, far more real and far more potent than anything I ever experienced as a Christian. These were always in the state of trance, and in moments of ecstasy, feeling and seeing many things. Including one Goddess whom I called upon (at the behest of another god who reminded me of her existence), who made a promise to remain manifested with me so that I and my family would know comfort through the grieving process as my brother suffered through his final weeks of life. She made herself known and present several times as I dealt with sorrowing family members and she held me tight when I needed her. (The goddess in this case was Mafdet – the Egyptian Caracal Goddess who sits at the right hand of Pharaoh, and supports his body for cleansing and burial)

    Some gods are like you mention, standoffish, there, but not really touching or expressing themselves to me beyond an idea or a phrase. Other gods are more present, on a strong emotional and nearly physical level.

  • Kevin Osborne

    I suspect what we call gods are fellow travelers with broader perspective, which overawe from their upscale viewpoint. To folks in the shadow world they are white light and definitely personages, but not as much fun to play with as we are. God entire I have touched and knew it, and the operation of the wavelength universe has gradually opened to view. It is fun to note all the different experiences we have in poking around the rabbit hole.