While seeking a name for our son, Theresa and I came across several we liked: Austin, Jude, Harrison, Hayden…but nothing really hit us. Then Reece brought up the name Mitchell and we gave it a go. The name didn’t hit me at first. It seemed too serious and formal, but once I looked up its meaning, I was hooked:
Mitchell (Michael) is ultimately derived from a Hebrew name, meaning “Who is like God?”
Of all questions ever contemplated, this is my favorite because everything is God, therefore to know God is to know the meaning of life.
My search for God began in college.
I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools all the way up until my junior year of college. Up to that point, Catholicism provided a solid foundation of faith to build on my understanding of who God was. But like all religions, my Catholic roots only provided a snapshot…part of the whole. I attended mass, but God’s personal spirit was far from me, held at arms length by man-made traditions. I knew about God through what priests told me, but as far as having a living, breathing relationship with my Creator, I was at a loss.
Then during my senior year at Ball State University something strange happened. You could say crazy, weird or awesome depending on your view, but I became “saved.” Up to this point, “saved” was something only snake charming Christians professed and far from my religious beliefs. But something did happen that strange night in the Bracken Library…something identical to my first adoption experience. It had that same feel…the brokeness, love, depth of being, the crushing sorrow and awareness of need…it was all there and suddenly, God truly mattered in my life. He became more than a concept, He became a living breathing entity that wanted to know me. After that one moment of beautiful misery I was in love, because I had tasted the divine.
After college I followed a fundamentalist path for a while, reading the bible (several times) and trying to gain knowledge from its words. It was a complex time for me, because one stage of my life was ending as I searched for meaning on several fronts. First of all, I had graduated from college and didn’t know what direction to take. Secondly, I was discovering God and attempting to navigate uncharted waters of spirituality. The tried and true recipe of going to mass on Sunday no longer satisfied me and I began seeking a living/breathing/personal God. I began my search by volunteered at a Baptist youth group in Northside, Cincinnati. Through this Baptist influence, I saw God as a loving friend who was there for me…a God of action. Through the lives of those awesome kids I was able to experience God first hand, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I was “saved” and touched the face of God, yet something was missing. What did it all mean?
I asked all “God” experts (preachers, pastors, priests, speakers, teachers) the questions “Who is God and what does being saved through Christ mean?” Here were some of the answers:
“The cross is a paradox. It is something meant for death and pain, but God turned that around to symbolize love.” Episcopalian priest
“God is love.” Passionate priest
“Study and seek and you will find the answers.” contemporary Christian author
“Read the Ragamuffin Gospel.” Public Christian speaker
“You will outgrow your current views. Faith is an ever-changing, evolving process.” Franciscan brother
Those who impressed me most, answered my questions through a spirit of humility. One such person was Dave Workman, pastor for Vineyard church in Cincinnati.
One day, Dave took time out of his busy life to meet Reece and I at Chipotle. There was nothing groundbreaking about our lunch conversation, but I will never forget his simplicity and humility. Here was a man who led thousands of Christians, yet he listened to my views on Jesus and God. His answers to my questions were simple: join a group, get involved and engage in basic service.
Dave’s messages at Vineyard regularly involved paradigm shifts or ways of changing your spiritual perspective. While my first major spiritual shift occurred in college, the next happened when our daughter was born. When Ellie came into our life, I was experiencing heightened stress. I can’t speak for all men, but nurture is not my middle name. So to help cope with new responsibilities, I turned to meditation and took interest in energy medicine…specifically Healing Touch.
My first instructor was a wonderful gal named Vicki Slater.
Vicki taught me how to conduct universal energy for healing purposes. She also introduced me to the concept of spirit guides, angels, overlapping dimensions and a lot of stuff that my legalistic/religious views found disturbing. In fact some see the New Age belief system to be of the devil. While I never found myself on that road, Healing Touch stretched my evolving views to their limits. As a result, something shifted and I began changing my beliefs of who God really was.
About this time I was part of a ninjitsu class in which my sensei (teacher) spoke of realities similar to Healing Touch. Greg Heeg was my instructor and his spiritualism was based on eastern and native american belief systems.
Through Greg’s teachings, I took part in sweat lodges, learned about face dancing, vision questing and practiced Za Zen meditation. It was a scary, fascinating journey…one in which my spiritual beliefs were further influenced.
I recall feeling lost because there was no system that reconciled all of my beliefs into one neat little package. On one hand I was entrenched in Christianity, the belief that Jesus died for me and the realization that God was real for those who believed in Christ. On the other, I believed in energy medicine and danced with New Age principles. In essence…I was a mess. But since that period in the desert (or wilderness or whatever metaphor you want to put in here) I found that spiritual contradiction is a facade. We all carry truths forged through our unique life experiences therefore if I buy the notion that following Jesus and New Age is heretical then I’m putting trust in someone else’s take on life. God cannot be put into a “neat little package.”
Henry Rollins put it best when he said:
Too damn bad if at the end of the day the only thoughts
In your brain are all the things that they say,
What a waste
Too damn bad if at the end of the line you got no idea
What’s on your own mind,
You got no one to blame but yourself
Too much to know, too much to see
It might mean something to you but it’s nothing to me
Its just another ad for someone’s version of how they think it should be
Since my ninjitsu days, I have gone through several paradigm shifts, all painful and scary but less intense. In fact I expect these changes because although God is forever and eternal, I believe He is evolving and changing…not static as some claim.
My latest shift occurred while exploring Zen Buddhism. Zen is not a religion or philosophy, instead it is a way of life that can merge with any belief system. The problem I have with Buddhism is the attachment piece. One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is “life is suffering.”
“Hundreds of stupid flies gather
On a piece of rotten meat,
Enjoying, they think, a delicious feast.
This image fits with the song
Of the myriads of foolish living beings
Who seek happiness in superficial pleasures;
In countless ways they try,
Yet I have never seen them satisfied.”
I see where attachment to this world causes strife. This world is transient and destined to pass away. But to completely detach is to deny our humanness and to throw this beautiful, awful, loving and terrifying experience away. Yes there is pain with attachment. Had I not grown attached to Bastete (my cat), then her death would not have rocked me so hard. Yet my attachment to this animal, provided years of tenderness, compassion and happiness. Without these attachments I would have lost the experience of loving her. Buddhism does provide a practical way (meditation/mindfulness) to bring balance to ones life, therefore I would say my current views on spirituality toe the line between Christianity and Buddhism…but I’m sure that will change.
So who is God?
He…She…It moves through us and is sparked by our faith, creativity, belief, love, passion and action. God has blessed each of us with the tools for creation and provides everything we need for a fulfilled life. Despite this, there are times when I can’t see God, when I don’t find meaning or purpose through my experiences. When this happens I am drawn into the void of doubt and despair. Just before we decided to adopt Olivia, I saw God as impersonal…as an engineer or conductor who looked at me as though I were an insect, but this adoption shifted that viewpoint.
What created this shift? I have no idea.
Who is like God?