“Which way to you want to go?” I ask.
“I don’t know. You decide.” He says.
“Let’s go your way, the hard way.” I say.
We go left at the fork, and up the steep incline. My heart is in my throat after just five minutes, but I’m stubborn and refused to rest. The stress of the climb heightens my anxiety, and when I hear rustling in the grasses on either side of the path, I imagine a snake ready to strike my ankles, but it’s likely just birds, lizards, and rabbits scurrying in the opposite direction.
It’s late autumn and the bees lollygag over the sparse wildflowers, ignoring my huffing and puffing. Unfortunately, the flies love the sweet smell of sweat and buzz my ears like a jet plane over an unsuspecting village causing me to jump and swat the air.
About a mile up and to the left is the Southern California coastline. The ocean is like glass and the sky is a gradient of cobalt to cornflower blue. It looks like we could be in any Mediterranean country. Life is a miracle and the burning in my lungs and achy legs are evidence of the life that I am, the Life that lives me and moves through me.
No matter what your religious upbringing, most will agree that God is perfectly good, loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing. The problem is that these words mean different things to different people, (If you don’t believe me, ask five of your friends to write down five words that describe “love” and then compare the lists. Not one list will be exactly the same).
But the vastness of life, like the view from my hike, calls the spirit within us to ponder how big the universe is and how very small you and I are in comparison. However, as believers, the intellectual mountain we must climb is that any attempt to reconcile an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, and perfectly good God in the face of death, disease, human cruelty, and natural disasters can teeter on magical thinking or worse slide into meaningless aphorisms like, “everything happens for reason” or “It’s God’s will.”
Conflict is Good for the Soul
Overcoming a challenge, like taking a steep climb up the side of the mountain, beating a cancer diagnosis, or surviving a financially devastating divorce will make you feel like a super-hero, as congratulatory endorphins are released and do a jig in your brain. Likewise, resolving the conflict between your head and your heart, between spiritual reality and consensus reality, and finding peace with God and life is just as rewarding. The idea that a spiritual climb should be any easier than a sweaty afternoon hike is to do yourself a disservice. Like Jacob of the Old Testament, you must also wrestle with your Angel to find the God that sings your soul alive.
Okay, So What Is God?
The mystics from multiple traditions tell us that God isn’t a thing that can be grasped, that God just is. But here’s another problem, how do you and I live the isness of God? What are the rules, where are the commandments, the dharmas, and the noble truths?
But what if…
What if God is a journey? What if God is the activity of Life, that is, the rising of the sun, the movement of the tides, the birth of life and the activity of death, rather than a person, place, or thing?
If God is a journey, then you are already with God and every experience you have is God. In other words, you’re already on the path. From this perspective to know and enjoy God you must stop trying to find Him/Her/It and instead take the time to be present to your life and allow God to unfold for you the way a beautiful sunset unfolds, coloring the clouds with hues of pink, gold, and orange.
Granted, “God as a journey” still doesn’t explain away the everyday cruelties. What it does do is allow you to take it all in and accept Life as it presents Itself to you at any given moment. To feel, be, and breathe into goodness of God and to allow the course that Life wants to take through you in response to what’s happening.
We make it to the top of the mountain where we can see the 180-degree vista that includes a hazy picture of downtown Los Angeles. We continue, and follow the path to the right and down the mountain. I hear more rustling in the grass, only this time it ceases to disturb me. The flies have miraculously disappeared or maybe I’m just too tired to care. We walk on and pass fairy huts made of ivy, cross the bridge over the remnants of what was once an active stream that’s now lined with jagged rocks, weeds, and damp earth, then loop our way back to the beginning. The challenge, the heat, the descent, the enjoyment of one another’s company, and the satisfaction for having accomplished our task is the reward that keeps us coming back. It’s the journey.