Recovering Jezebel posted this in the comment section recently:
So I've been wanting to ask you this anyway -- everyone keeps telling me, about my crappy Higher Power, "Fire that Higher Power and get a new one!" But *how* do I do that? Because I get it that I can't take Step Three with my current God [Mr. SP edit: Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him] with my current God, who is, I'm pretty convinced, just in it to screw me over six ways from Sunday, and then hide behind the proscenium laughing into Their sleeve. But what's the technique or practice for making up a God I like? If I just make up a pretty and kind and friendly God, how will I ever be able to believe in Them, since they're patently nothing more than a mere creation of my own little pathetic pea-brain? So confusing.
Great question, R.J., one I think most people who embrace/try/reject/mock/love/hate the 12 Steps ask in one way or another -- that is, it's nearly impossible to come across the phrase "as you understood Him," and receive AA's blank check when it comes to a concept of God, and not puzzle over how to make this process real.
Let me tell you up front that this essay is probably going to let you down. That is, I can pretty much guarantee that the feverish metaphysical musings of one relatively crackpot middle-aged alcoholic is unlikely to achieve any spiritual insights greater than those already mused by most of humanity, which has been tilting at this particular windmill since we first crawled out of the cave and began to wonder at the world around us (and within us).
To state the obvious for a moment, many people subscribe to a particular religious doctrine which supplies a ready-made definition of God -- you may not like it, but at least it's there, clearly defined, complete with rules and conditions, do's and don'ts. Against this specific picture, AA's carte blanche is baffling to many.
Though I've walked this road myself, and I sincerely want to help, it may be that not all of my experience in this will work for you -- I offer it freely, though, and remind you that the one sure-fire way to have an open mind is the word "maybe." Maybe something here is right, and will work for you if you try it.
("Whatcha doin'?" "Building my Higher Power." "Really?" "Yeah." "Wow! Well, ummm, be sure and lift with your legs. I can't even begin to imagine what a spiritual hernia would look like.")
Doing this is, of course, deeply sacrilegious to some people in the world, and in keeping with AA's general spirit of "no controversy" I apologize if anything I write here offends anyone. To borrow one of my favorite lines from the Big Book, a discussion like this "... immediately precipitates us into a seething cauldron of debate." (It's so dramatic and a little poetic - I just love it). But that is not my intent -- this is just a recollection of what has helped me excavate a lot of tired old ideas about God (which I didn't even know I had and ran deeper than I realized), and what I did to begin to embrace new ideas which have brought me much peace and guidance, and sometimes a feeling of blissful connection with a power greater than myself, over the years.
First, though, a story about my dead cat.
(And let me apologize for this, too, as we come perilously close to too too twee when we bring pets into writings about God and such.)
Baxter was a dog-cat, and I had him for many years. A dog-cat is a cat that comes when you call, let's you rub their tummy without incident, is friendly to strangers who come over, might even play fetch, etc. etc. (Words cannot begin to describe the disdain Evil Old Cat had for Baxter while he was alive.) Sitting and reading one time, I watched Baxter engage with a dribble of water from the bathtub faucet. It occurred to me then, watching him, that he could experience that water with his cat senses in a way I could not -- that is, he had a particular way of understanding the water. But then I thought about how I understood the water: How I knew about the fact that it could be liquid, solid or gaseous, how it was comprised of two hydrogen molecules and one molecule of oxygen, that it came into my home via a system of pipes handed down from the ancient Roman aqueducts ... etc., etc., etc. Baxter had an understanding of the water, but his brainpan just wasn't big enough to grasp 1/1000th of what there was to know about it.
I keep Baxter and the water in mind whenever I try to wrap my mind around the Divine. While I may have a particular way of understanding it, my brainpan just isn't big enough to grasp more than the most limited conceptualization -- at best I will only come to an understanding so finite as to be almost a distortion of the Ultimate Truth.
So relax -- we're never going to really get it -- the best we can do is find some crude analogies which open our hearts to a new understanding of spiritual principles and maybe clear away some old ideas planted by lots of other people and things (the religion of our childhood, books, movies, TV shows, friends and enemies, billboards and greeting cards) which maybe don't apply to us at all (regardless of how much conviction those other people may have about their beliefs for themselves).
Now, for me, if I want new ideas, then I need new words and images. I need a new language to describe the thing I've been thinking about -- especially when it comes to God. I've written before (here and here) about Daniel Ladinsky's translations of (mostly) eastern poems about God, found in the book "Love Poems from God" (which, when you're frightened and seeking spiritual solace is a title which you embrace eagerly, but when you're feeling cool and on your game is the kind of thing you roll your eyes at). I am not saying this book alone will help you re-define your understanding of God -- I'm saying that it helped me. It might not speak to you -- the bigger point here is that if you want to find new ways of thinking about God go to new sources and see what resonates for you. That's all.
But since I got my copy of that book down, let me share two things from it which have always stayed with me.
The first is from Meister Eckhart, a monk who lived around the 12th and 13th Centuries. It is a small thing, and it comes back to me often:
It is a lie -- any talk of God that does not comfort you.
That's it. A small thing. A small thing which rocked my world one day.
And then this, from Hafiz, the Persian poet who lived in the 14th Century, entitled "Two Giant Fat People":
and I have become
like two giant fat people living
in a tiny
keep bumping into
What a jolly, poetic, ridiculous image! What a wise metaphor to illustrate, when I have eyes to see it, all the tiny moments in my day when I feel some Divine Hand guiding me. To think of the moments when I "bump into God" with silliness and joy -- to think of God feeling silliness and joy -- that's the way I needed to start thinking about my Higher Power.
Also, something which sounds twee (there's that word again) but was very helpful to me for a while, is to stop giving God a penis. I cannot escape the influence of the culture in which I have lived my whole life. And this culture, Western culture, has a particular set of qualities which it values as masculine, and a particular set of qualities it thinks of as feminine. Without getting into a debate about gender dynamics or cultural norms, I think it would be fair to say that if you listed a bunch of characteristics on a page, most Westerners would be in agreement over certain ones being masculine or feminine. I'm not suggesting that, when people in a meeting say the Lord's Prayer, you make a big deal out of saying "Our MOTHER who art in Heaven..." For me, though, thinking about God in the feminine was a good way to begin to think of a loving God, as opposed to a more judgmental one. (Today I do not ascribe a particular gender to God at all, but you can mostly blame the Hubble Telescope for that -- after looking at those gorgeous pictures of the universe and beyond, the idea that Whatever made all that has a particular gender seemed, for me, quite ludicrous.) But for the umpteenth time I want to stress that I do not think you should or should not believe what I believe. I'm just saying that, silly as it sounds (and I know it does indeed sound very, very silly), looking at how I felt about male vs. female archetypes helped me begin to deconstruct some of my fears and negative ideas about God.
A few more thoughts and a concrete suggestion or two.
R.J., you wrote, "...If
I just make up a pretty and kind and friendly God, how will I ever be
able to believe in Them, since they're patently nothing more than a mere
creation of my own brain..."
With respect I submit to you that you are already doing that. You've made up a mean and unjust God who's out to get you -- but that is merely a creation of your own brain. Don't tell me it's from this Sacred Text or that Learned Elder. It's your brain, you're the one thinking it and dwelling on it. The tough question to ask yourself (and I'm afraid it begs another even tougher one in a moment) is this:
Do you always assume that the negative voice is inherently more true than the positive one? That is a mistake many people make. Because I am sure that, in AA, you have met people who have suggested a definition of God which is quite, as you say, "pretty and kind and friendly." But since they're describing a "nice" God you don't believe them, but when someone/something else describes a "mean" God you do believe them? Believing the negative voice is inherently more true than the positive one, is, I assure you, merely a trick of perception. The existence of the half of the glass which is empty does not negate the truth of the half that is full. They are equally real. It is only our mind which dismisses one and values the other.
And I am sorry, it is not my intent to imply anything nor am I trying to be snarky or offend, but that question does beg this one as well, offered only for your consideration, feel free to dismiss it as I do not know you personally, so I could be way off base:
Is investing in the belief that God is out to get you ("...screw me over six ways from Sunday...") a device to perpetuate some kind of victim role, cosmically speaking?
Because another way in which I have been able to redefine "God as I understand God" was to pull the camera back somewhat, and not evaluate each individual twist of Fate as a Good thing or a Bad thing per se, but try and take a longer view. This is a little hokey, but is a good illustration of what I mean. Yes, sometimes bad things happen -- but sometimes things happen and I decide they are bad, which can feed the victim-loop in my head.
Now, if you're really serious about this trying to "fire" your old Higher Power and begin to find a new one, here is what you do:
Get a notebook, a highlighter, a pen and your Big Book.
Read Chapter 4, "We Agnostics," and after each paragraph, write in the notebook what you think the book was saying, and then what you think and how you feel about what the book was saying. Then use the highlighter to mark all of the things which particularly strike you -- either that you especially like or you especially hate (cause I learn from both). Don't let this suggestion overwhelm you -- it doesn't have to be this dreadful, arduous homework assignment. Try a page a day. There are 14, actually (if you count not the leaves in the book but each side of text). If you do that, and sincerely ask God to open your eyes and your mind, in two weeks you will have a beginning -- maybe a very strong beginning -- on a path towards a Higher Power of your understanding which is indeed one you can come to trust and even feel a deep and powerful love from.
Sorry, one last thing:
Remember, if, by the end of the night, you don't drink, or use, or kill yourself, YOU WIN. There is no "wrong" way to do any of this spiritual pursuit -- you aren't in a contest, you aren't in a race, your path and your process need not satisfy anyone else's measure or criteria. For each 24 hours you just don't pick up the first drink, and if you do that and keep going to meetings the rest of this stuff will absolutely work itself out.
R.J., I hope some of this was helpful, and as always, thank you for reading and your wonderful comments.