God I Missed You

I had a revelation last night.

I’m reading a book about happiness. I read lots of books about happiness, it makes me happy. I am, generally, a very positive and mostly happy person. True, like anyone, I have my moments, but, for the most part, I attribute my relative success in life, through good times and bad, to my general, overall happiness. But I still read every book I can find on the topic. I’ve decided happiness is my passion. And my mission. I want to know as much about happiness as possible, and my hope is to be able to help others find their happiness. I have faith that I can.

The book I’m working on presently is “Happy This Year – The Secret to Getting Happy Once and For All” by Will Bowen. It is a great read, one I recommend. I stayed up until nearly 1:00 AM this morning and am nearly half way through the book, on my first venture beyond the title page.

Having read much on the topic of happiness, and having practiced my own happiness for quite some time, now, I’ll admit, I don’t know everything. I do know quite a bit, and, as I read this book I nodded in agreement, “I do that, I do this, I agree with that, I love this, I practice that,” and so on. Then I reached the chapter on spirituality.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

Spirituality has been sort of a tough one for me the past several years. I do still consider myself “Christian”, but my views have evolved into a far more broad, progressive definition. I still find churches and the practice of going to church centering, though I no longer attend churches other than for weddings and funerals. I appreciate the teachings, though, in my more progressive view, I think all religions exist for the same purpose and tell, basically, the same story, hoping to instill, basically, the same values and virtues. I think “church” itself, is just a community you choose to belong to in order to hear the stories in a frame of reference perhaps more convenient, comfortable, familiar or palatable than another. My “problem” with religion, modern, organized religion, is not so much the message or story, the virtues, the values, but, perhaps, the method of delivery, and, for certain, the constituents.

My ventures into bastions of organized religion over the past decade or so have been disappointing, after moving away from the very comfortable, forgiving, tolerant church where I converted to Catholicism nearly twenty years ago. And with that particular priest being reassigned, even that bastion of organized religion has evolved into something somewhat less. When I attend a church, now, I am appalled at the behavior of many of the members as they try flaunt their piety like a Rolex watch. Cliquey and judgmental. Constantly comparing themselves to their brethren, judging their relative level of salvation. Thou art more righteous than I, yes, because thou knoweth the words to the songs, as evidenced by the loud singing and over-annunciation of the words. I am humbled. Not. There seems to be a clamoring for salvation, like tickets to the Super Bowl, just not enough room in heaven for all of us, and he, or she, who can outwardly demonstrate their over the top righteousness, piety and faith wins.  And this amongst “the saved”. I thought “witnessing” was for the benefit of those who were not yet “converted”, “born again”, or “saved”. Whatever that all means. Live a good life, get into the game. As I see it. Righteousness is in how you live your life, not in how you flaunt your relative level of devotion with other Christians, like some sort of baton-twirling competition.

To me, religion, the practice of faith, of worship, of spirituality is a personal journey and not something to be flaunted, measured or compared. Maybe that’s just me.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

So, I’m reading this book and I get to the chapter about spirituality. The author, Will, has some great and very refreshing interpretations of passages from the Bible I quite agree with. I’m nodding my affirmation as I read on. The book suggests we should be spiritual to foster happiness. Okay. I like to think I’m spiritual even if I don’t attend church and sing all the right words to all the songs, loudly, even if I don’t serve on twelve congregation committees, even if the ushers don’t know me by name and make small talk with me as I enter the chapel. I meditate. I am reverent. I live a good life. I have good values. I consider myself fairly virtuous.

The plot thickens. The author suggests we should pray. Well, I sort of do. I state my affirmations and I list out all the things I am grateful for, daily, is that not praying? No. Apparently not. The author suggests our prayer be to the attention of someone, like God, or, insert your deity here. To whom it may concern. After our proper salutation, rather than rattling of a laundry list of “I wants”, we should state our affirmations, positively, in present tense, and with power. Then, in conclusion, we should say “thanks” and sign off. I’m fidgeting now. I haven’t prayed, in that manner, for some time and I’m not sure I’m ready to.

My issues with prayer; I used to pray, well, religiously. For most of my life. I’ve always believed in the power of prayer. I still do. In fact, I have to say, it works, perhaps a little too well. I prayed for so many things in my life, and, usually got just what I asked for, and always ended up with a whole lot more than I bargained for. I’ve envisioned God up there, chuckling, listening to my daily prayer, saying, “well, okay,” and shaking his head. Or maybe Bruce Almighty was in charge and just granted me everything I prayed for by pressing the “Yes to All” button. Perhaps I was trying to micro-manage God through prayer and He got tired of it and just gave me everything I asked for to see how I’d handle it. I got it, I got it all, and everything that came along with it. And when the house of cards all fell down, I looked heavenward and thought, “I know you’re there, though I’m not sure of your form. I know you love me, though you have a funny way of showing it, and I don’t think I know how to pray. Obviously.”  So, I stopped. And since then, my thoughts on religion have evolved, as have I, into something far more open-minded, tolerant and accepting than modern Christianity seems willing to bear. And my “prayers” have evolved into just the affirmations and the gratitude. I’ve omitted the salutation. I just throw it out into the universe and am comfortable with that. It’s all an “energy” thing, right? The positive energy of affirmations will certainly be returned in the same, positive form, and my affirmations will manifest. I am oh, so careful how I word things, lest they be taken, by the “universe” too literally, or misinterpreted. I’m mincing words.

Well, up until the prayer part of the spirituality chapter of this book, I’ve been in complete agreement with every word. Maybe there is something to the prayer part I should consider. Or reconsider. I decided to give it a try.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

My first dilemma was to whom I should address my prayer. The book left me some wiggle room here, it could be God, Father, Lord, Creator, or Universe, or whatever deity or power you wished. Just insert the name of some responsible party here. Long gone are the days of envisioning God as some floating form in white robes and a long white beard, shrouded in sunlight. Nor do I see any other holy figure others may pray to. It’s a mystery. To all of us. No one can know, no one will know, until we are in the great beyond, and so, beyond the ability to share the truth with those of us still here in life. I believe in creation, creatively, as sort of a morph between science and the whole seven days and Garden of Eden thing. I believe both are true, and that the stories we have collected into the Bible and other accounts are just that, stories to explain the creation that obviously occurred. And, the creation, however it was sparked, ignited or made to happen, was the result of a great amount of energy. From somewhere. So, that was my choice. I decided to pray to Mr. E, which, if you know me well, you’ll see, is a play on words; Mr. E for Mr. Energy (though I think the Mr. is open to interpretation) and, if you say it fast enough it sounds like “mystery”. Ah, you see how my mind works?

So, I started, “Dear Mr. E”. Long pause. Rather than go through ALL of my positive and powerful affirmations, they fill a whole page written out, stated in the present tense, per direction, I decided to just go with a couple of the biggies, at the top of the list. I selected a couple and as I said them, even in the safe, secure silence of my head, I was suddenly overcome with great emotion. My eyes welled up, threatening to spill over and wash away that new, million-dollar eye cream I’d just applied. I was completely awash in a feeling of immense relief and an overwhelming spiritual connection. All from adding the simple, silly, cheeky, salutation to my “prayer”. It was an epiphany, a revelation. It was humbling and faith affirming. And I felt happy. And I thought, “God, I missed you.”

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

My beliefs have not changed. I’m not going to go door-to-door handing out religious reading materials. I’m not going to shave my head, don robes, and chant and grasp hands with strangers at the park. I’m not going to give Jesus the wheel. I’m not going to join twelve congregational committees and sing loudly at church every Sunday. I am, however, going to pray again, in my own, unique way. I am going to try to grow more spiritually. I am seeking that blissful, mysterious, spiritual connection I felt last night. God, I missed you.

Do You Have Change?

Change terrifies most people. We are truly creatures of habit and we fear anything that may disrupt our lives or deprive of us the control we seek to maintain over every detail of our individual worlds.

I once participated in an advanced leadership course with the Boy Scouts of America (Wood Badge, for those of you who know). Part of the lessons had to do with change. I remember one of the staff members, Norm, the cook, used to come out of the kitchen at random points during the instruction, always in a funny costume, carrying a sign. One side of the sign said “change happens”, the other side of the sign said “change is good”.  He would silently parade across the room showing one side of the sign, then the other. I was self-righteously convinced that I was open to change, adaptive, willing to embrace it whenever it came about. I scoffed inwardly at those who weren’t. What I didn’t really understand was this lesson would apply to far more than who the Scoutmaster of our Boy Scout troop was and what requirements were necessary for this merit badge or that. 

Life is full of change, big and small, good and bad. Over the course of the next decade, I learned to accept change, to deal with change, to embrace change and finally, to actively seek change. This is a huge part of my “effort to evolve”.

The interesting thing is, once you learn to work with change, the changes most folks would consider “bad” aren’t actually all that bad. They may seem so at first, but by God, we survive, grow stronger and move on, usually in a much better direction. The changes that most folks would consider “good”, or desired, or wished for, worked for, obsessed over, and manipulated into happening, often end up in the desired effect, temporarily, only to ultimately end in a “bad” change. And, if embraced, that “bad” change ultimately ends up “good”, and more lasting.

Through the events of my life over the past decade, the changes that have occurred, both good (manipulated into happening) and bad (as a result of manipulating the desired changes), I have come to a very important realization; one ought to be very careful what one “asks” for. 

Life was exactly what I’d asked for; the realization of many dreams – possessions and a lifestyle. With “getting what I asked for”, the trade off was imprisonment by those possessions, by that lifestyle. My life became all about being able to afford those things, to maintain that lifestyle, to a point where I could not enjoy those possessions, nor that lifestyle. When the inevitable happened and all those possessions and the lifestyle were lost, with a lot of reflection and a bit of discipline, I realized, with great relief, that I was free. The life I’d had before was very much an illusion; those possessions, that lifestyle, did not make me who I was. I identified myself to all as the person with this lifestyle, with these possessions, I was no more than a shelf upon which these acquisitions were displayed for others to admire and make conversation about. 

Now, I am far more real, I am more genuine, I am more authentic. I am a work in progress. I am so humbled. I have spent the past few years evolving into a person, a real person, not a mannequin of a certain lifestyle, a living display of a collection of desirable possessions. I am me, just a person. I have been stripped and I relish this freedom, this nudity. And I am very careful what I “ask for”. 

And I seek change. There is nothing in my life I don’t leave open to change. I flirt with it. I bathe in it and let it wash over me and hope it makes me a better person, that I learn more valuable lessons from it.

Through the loss of everything, I have become rich. I have also learned that I did not know first, the power of prayer, and second, that I’d been praying all wrong. I asked for “things”, in prayer, and would even justify them, in prayer. And I got them, the desired change. I prayed for the man, the spouse, the job, the house, all of it. Then I got the inevitable “undesired” change, because what I asked for was never meant to last. I think it was meant to happen, if for no other reason than to teach me what was truly valuable in life, part of which is the ability to accept and grow from constant change that I am not usually in control of. Now prayer, for me, consists of nothing more than offering gratitude and affirming who I am.

I find when I am anxious or depressed or in a quandary, it is usually because I am fretting about the possibility of an undesirable change. Once I wrench it out of my mind, let go of it, and stop trying to control it, things usually fall into place, do actually change, and for the better. I have to remind myself that wanting something to not change usually ends up with a worse result. Besides, everything has to change, time changes everything and time cannot be stopped. So, hoping something doesn’t change because currently it is good, doesn’t mean that, as time goes on, it will remain good. 

Take a relationship, for example. If currently it is good, so good that you don’t ever want it to change, just fretting about it never changing changes it, puts a strain on it, pressure on it, and this can actually become the catalyst for it to fail. I just finished reading a book, “The Soulmate Experience” by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. I highly recommend this book, and it taught me so much about change as it relates to relationships. In the course of two weeks, I have totally changed my thoughts and attitudes about change, as it relates to relationships, and I am comfortable and at ease with whatever may change in that relationship. So far, it has only changed for the better.

As my life unfolds, through constant change, I grow and learn and develop. I do seek change, certain, intentional changes, but I don’t “ask” for them, and they certainly don’t consist of “things”. The changes I deliberately try to make, now, are more about developing my health, my attitude, my thoughts, my essence, not my egoic self. 

Today I took to the dump the last of the items from two very large storage units. Storage units full of the bits and scraps left over from all that I’d “asked” for, that I’d prayed for. Just junk now, as we speak, being turned into the filthy dirt. The last remnants of that much desired, past life have been discarded and now, I am that much more free. Free to seek change.