Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Spiritual Non-Theist?

I write this in response to a challenge to my use of the term "non-theistic" to describe myself. Here is clarification. Words are brittle prickly things poorly suited to a thing so tender as our spirits! Perhaps the following will make it all worse. Speaking of spirit is like trying to force butterflies to march in time.

Why call myself non-theistic if I am a spiritual person? Well, I do so because I don't like the other choices. I don't like the word agnostic because it always strikes me as a kind of noncommittal sort of word. To call myself an agnostic would be a strong distortion of the centrality of Spirit to my experience.

I don't use the word atheist because it indicates a lack of belief not merely in "God" but in divinity and spirit. I do not think that spirituality is delusional. I think it has been and is central to the human experience even if it is merely "a byproduct of brain function."

I choose the term "non-theist" because I am not theistic. That is I do not emphasize "God" or "gods" as central in my spirituality. I see these as metaphors and when we grow too comfortable and set in them to the point at which we honor our definition of "God" above the Ineffable itself, we are idolatrous.

I don't feel a relationship to "God" as defined by monotheistic traditions. My experience of the Divine is in the plural and diffuse sense. I experience the Divine not as a singular Being with whom I have a personal relationship but as a network, a process, a pattern, an inundation, a multiplicity, an immanence. I don't like the singular term because I experience the Divine almost as an effervescence of spirits surrounding me, enveloping me, welling up inside me.

I feel not only the Oneness of all things but the distinctions within the Oneness that allow for a million stories to be told. I don't reject the Christian message but I reject the notion that it stands alone or as the best. For me the Universe is electric with these messages. Do you ever look for fractals in nature? Once you start looking, they're everywhere! The Divine Message is like that too.

I don't feel a connection to an organized "theistic" Being but perhaps to a series of elevated, familial and familiar spirits as well as an almost heartbreaking and tangible throb of spirit in everything around me. When I say the Universe is ensouled, I mean the individual atoms, the dance of light and dark, of life and death, mourning and exultation, creation and destruction. I mean a paradox of Reason and Chaos, Consciousness and Blind Impulse all working together in patterns too exquisite for my brain to survive the knowledge. I am a child and only given tiny sips.

I am also thankful for your experience and for your ability to share it with me. I am infinitely richer for it. I believe we are given to each other, we humans, to share our stories. There is a light only I can bear. I believe that we are each uniquely beloved, each a messenger of a light only we can bear. When we gather together, each with our own particular beauty, we multiply our appreciation for the Divine a thousand fold. It doesn't make sense to me that two different souls would have exactly the same experience of the Divine anymore than I would expect my children, who share the same mother, to have the same experience of me. Nor am I the Singular Source of their existence. Each of us is the product of the yearning of Life for Itself, of millions of lovers seeking one another. We are the children not merely of our parents but of the Joy without which the Universe is nothing more than Nothingness. We are a product of the Unfolding Process that is as distant as the origins of Time and as immediate as our Love for each other. And that is "God" to me.


Mary Ellen said...

Hystery, this is a powerful statement - one that I am in unity with most of the time, when I'm alert to Reality around me, that is. Your sensibility (and lovely expression of it) reminds me of Annie Dillard. Sometimes the Divine does feel personal for me, but if I try to "fix" that feeling and make it last, it doesn't. So I let what will, unfold around and within me. I feel quite comfortable with this ambiguity, but it's hard to relay to someone whose experience (or belief) is quite different. I appreciate having your witness to a path that seems similar to my own.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello Hystery,

I just finished a 12-hour drive, so won't try and write other than to say thanks for sharing your view of Life with me:-)


Lone Star Ma said...

I generally feel that way, too. When I need to express it in ways that make more traditional Christians comfortable, I like talking about the Holy Spirit. That works for me and them.

Eco Yogini said...

I love this post. I found your blog through Mary Ellen's and I'm glad I've read this.

Your explanation totally fits "me". Thank you. :)

I also thought: "like making butterflies march in line" was the most beautiful thing I've read in weeks.

Many Blessings

Anonymous said...

There's another word for what you're describing - monism.

I appreciate your writing about it, it makes me feel less alone.

Kristy Shreve Powers said...

Hi. I'm an off-on, uncertain, perhaps nontheistic meeting attender who loves the Quaker principles and ways of worshiping and communing but isn't sure of the way I might fit into it. I have found meaning in your blog but I don't think I've commented yet. When I read you "don't feel a connection to an organized "theistic" Being but perhaps to a series of elevated, familial and familiar spirits as well as an almost heartbreaking and tangible throb of spirit in everything around me" I recognized something important to me. I don't know if I believe in spirits or even the "throb of spirit" as you wonderfully put it, but I have felt the Presence of these things, whether I believe in them or not, and I believe the best way to live my life is to live in this sense, in this Joy. I am a better person there. I relate to my fellow beings more lovingly and genuinely there. Maybe that is the extent of my theism right now.

Hystery said...

I do love to read others' comments on this post and feel honored with your words whether you are expressing a common feeling of spiritual tenderness or a sense of dissonance with my words. In either case, it is good to be heard and I thank you.

cath said...

I call myself a theist because I feel that there is that which is Divine in the universe.

Without belief statements to sign off on, we really do have to be in conversation with one another to find our common ground.

How delightful! To actually have to be connected enough to discuss what certain words mean.

Yes, I know what some are thinking, and it's true....such metadiscourse is time consuming.

But so is untangling ourselves from the assumptions of others.

Thanks for this post.


Hystery said...

What a great response! Your words illuminated one of my inconsistencies. Thanks. I also believe in that which is Divine in the Universe and don't call myself "theist" because I reject the literal translation. But I call myself "Goddess-woman" (a term often used by spiritual feminists) even though I don't believe in a literal Goddess and don't even really like the term "goddess." Oh dear! What jagged things words are! And how full of contradictions a person can be. Why am I so stubborn about "theist" and so cavalier about "goddess"?

I dearly, dearly love the long, deep conversations necessary to grow understanding between souls. I always think of it as "intellectual lovemaking".

It is, as you say, time consuming to engage in metadiscourse but I do agree it is a very good way to engage our time.

Desiree said...

I love your writing. It really speaks to me and I am so relieved to finally find someone who properly explains how I feel. Thank you.

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