How would you view the world if you knew that everything was a manifestation of God? If you could see God in all people and all things this holiday season, might it change the way you viewed those you encountered, and the experiences you had?
My first exposure to religion was through the Catholic church. I attended weekly catechism classes through the 7th grade and Sunday services until I was about 17. My perception of God was much like that of another Catholic, Tom Stella, who writes about it in the book Finding God Beyond Religion:
The God I encountered was one who judged my every action and who made a judgement about the reward or punishment I would receive beyond this life. I grew up believing that God only loved those who always kept the rules of religion, not those who, like me, did so inconsistently.
The difference between Tom Stella and me—his Catholic teachings continued well past mine. While I “dropped out” of the church after high school, Stella went on to become a Roman Catholic priest. He writes that his perception of God didn’t change much during his early years in the priesthood. Until he began to realize, with assistance from the writings of Thomas Merton and the Christian mystics, that he had gotten it wrong. God wasn’t who he thought he was.
Stella discovers a God that exists beyond religion.
Father Stella eventually came to a startling conclusion: There is no God looking down upon us. No God with a plan for our lives. No God who would reward or judge you for not living up to his expectations. Stella had not suddenly become an atheist. Far from it. He had begun to view God from a totally new perspective.
What Stella had uncovered was that God could be found not in the heavens, but “in the midst of life.” He had come to realize that, to paraphrase Paul Tillich, God was not a being, but being itself. There was no Supreme Being looking down from on high. In fact, God was much closer to home, a part of every person and everything we encounter, a part of each breath we take. He concludes that:
- Every aspect of life is infused with God
- God lives within us as well as within everyone and everything
- God is not apart from creation but one with it, in both good times and bad
Stella had moved on from the distant Deity he affectionately now calls “the old guy.” He now sees that God is “the spiritual ground of our being,” a “compassionate presence” that is with us every step of the way in our daily lives, even in our fear and pain. He believes, no matter our station in life, we are “one with the One we seek.”
Sensing the presence of God this holiday season.
The idea that God is present in all things, instead of a presence in the sky, may seem radical to you. It may even cause you to rethink what you thought you knew about God. That can be difficult. But what if Stella is correct? What if God is found in all things? Might we see the world around us, including the people and things in it, in a brilliant new loving light?
This holiday season, consider:
- What if, starting now, you began sensing that God was present in all things?
- What if you viewed your friends, neighbors, children and relatives as having God within them?
- How might this perspective change the way you looked at your dog or cats, the Christmas tree or menorah in your home, even the way you looked at yourself in the mirror?