What was your experience of God when you were younger?
Several of us considered that recently. One woman felt God enveloping her as she sat in the forest behind her house with her little girl legs dangling in a stream. Religion for another was a 5-mile walk down to the Empire State Building with her dog as a kid. Folks talked about churches and religion – both pro and con. Many of the images were moving and beautiful.
I realized that I didn't experience God very directly as a young person. God wasn't much of a physical presence for me. He wasn't "there" anywhere. I lumped it all together – God, religion, the Church. I spoke about them almost interchangeably. Many people do.
In hindsight, I see that my rank order of what I identified with most spiritually in my first 30+ years was (1) Church, (2) religion and (3) God. Church was a place full of ritual and a stoic institution for me. Religion is a set of rules and beliefs. God was this all-powerful bearded man in the sky with a glorious Son.
Not that any of these is bad. Still, I am glad that my association with each of these has changed some. My hierarchy has completely flipped now - like an hourglass, as I embark on the second half of my life. My new order of identification is God, religion and then Church. Religion remains the center point - representing the collective knowledge and historical spiritual understanding. But the other two have reversed their order.
The importance of the particular Sunday rituals and the power of the institution of Church have diminished greatly for me. Different churches and sects are mere vehicles in my mind. Like a car. It's the destination that's important, not the brand you drive. Whichever type of spirituality works for you is fine in my eyes - so long as it gets you to the endpoint, God. (As you can tell, I am not particularly Evangelical.) Don't get me wrong, I love going to Church (the building). There has to be a very good reason for me to miss it. It's where I recharge my spiritual batteries. It's one of the places that I find God these days - but just one.
God means something else entirely to me now. God's not that far away anymore. God is people. God is by that stream. God is on those streets. God is in our every action. God is in our every omission. It's been easier for me to see God because I've been travelling with an exceptional posse lately. It turns out that he is everywhere, though – it's just a matter of seeing him. In the same way that it is very easy to see God in the wonders of our children and our loves. God is in the hearts of every one of us. That realization really makes life an incredibly precious and vibrant journey.