A Conversation with God

Everybody walks in the street, more or less straight down the middle, and if a car comes while somebody’s having a good conversation or telling a good story, the car has to wait till the story finishes before people will move out of the way. Stories are important here, and cars aren’t. Ann Cameron, The Most Beautiful Place in the World

At the age of fifteen I was condemned to hell by a southern Baptist minister. I stood before him in my shorts and tee shirt, I admit scantly covered as he announced my banishment. Once censored he turned his back on me to greet the next parishioner as he received each of them coming out of the sanctuary. Souls on the assembly line for Christ. It felt much like a wedding reception line where you don’t mention to the bride that the groom is a scoundrel. You congratulate. You give or receive a blessing and you move on.

Being myself I told the minister I didn’t agree with his take on Jesus.

This minister, who had to be in his late fifties did not know me. He did not know how I tried to let Jesus into my heart. He did not know I spent years already reading the bible. He did not know I was on a long-term spiritual pilgrimage. He did not know I prayed everyday. He now knew that I didn’t agree with what he was proselytizing to all the other steamed up listeners — basically, unless you are reborn you are in deep shit. You must view yourself as a lowly sinner and beg for god’s mercy. I can’t recall the entire sermon but it included words like, blood, Christ, sinners, redemption, everlasting life for the few. . . During the sermon he invited those up who were letting Jesus in; those who were willing to announce their rebirth. Oh how grand it would have been for all if this young woman who sat in the farthest row of sinners could make her way up to the front and be saved.

I didn’t move. It would have been dishonest. I didn’t feel anything but rebellion. Not a Jesus in sight.

After being condemned, an elder of the church approached me. Her words broke through my bardo-like state, where I was not fully there nor was I gone, “Don’t worry dear he’s pretty zealous. God talks with him everyday.” At first I thought she said, “jealous.” Later I looked up the word zealous, not knowing what it meant. Apparently he was committed, dedicated, hard-core, eager, ardent. All words my dictionary and thesaurus afforded me.

My rebellion turned into fear. God makes a daily visit to this man, I thought.

What if I was missing the one opportunity for salvation, for nirvana? What if this was my one chance to guarantee a secure and happy afterlife? Would you just shrug it off and walk away? Wouldn’t you want to confirm a place in heaven, feel as if you belonged to something bigger than yourself?

Where do you want to spend eternity?

As this story goes I went back to the church the following day and found it open. (This was back in 1971, doors were left unlocked). I went in and prayed. Okay, I begged. I begged to whatever god was listening to please show me the way, give me something to go on. I begged for that Jesus in my heart feeling. I begged for personal insight. Later that morning the elder came into the church and we talked. I set up a time to visit with the minister for an hour that morning.

You can guess how that went.

He didn’t see before him a child with a beggar’s heart. He gave me scripture. He recited commandments. He told me not to dance with a man until I was married. I sat and listened and felt my lowliness. After our one-way visit ended the elder got my address and for a year she and I would write. I poured my teenage heart onto paper and she would kindly send me books, scriptures and a few supportive words. Turns out a few of the books were worth my time — but still Jesus never showed. I continued to feel the pain and eagerness of the search. Hell was looming out there for me and all my loved ones. Which brought up another concern of mine. –Even if I were to find a way to secure a heavenly place, what about those in my life who didn’t care about the afterlife? Who were not even attempting to make room in their hearts for Jesus? What about their souls?

A year passed when I finally wrote the minister himself. After all, he talks to god. Everyday. By then I needed a direct line. My brother was getting ill and crazy from schizophrenia, my boyfriend was a drunk and my dad seemed to go missing. I sent out a three page letter to the minister and then waited. Several weeks passed, longer than usual. I sat up nights reading the bible and going over the books the elder sent. “Ring of Truth,” is a title I haven’t been able to discard even now after forty years.

My oldest brother seeing me with one of my books commented sarcastically, “Ring of bullshit! You think God is going to say no to you? If you were God would you reject you?” His prompt was a good one but weakened by his steady commitment to pot and alcohol. So I kept reading and waiting and then the letter arrived. It was bulky. As it turns out it was thick with scripture and notes from the elder. Not any mention of my letter to the minister. Not a word from him.

On that day something broke open in side of me. (Something escaping out rather then being invited in.) I realized no one person holds a special relationship with god. There are no closed fists or one size fits all when it comes to god or a means to the afterlife. I also gave up on the idea of setting up room for Jesus in my heart. (I can sense the panic arise in many a good Christians as I put this down in writing!)

I rejected the premise that someone else’s path can adequately determine another’s.

I took the letter out to our back yard which was an apple orchard on the brink of extinction. I looked out and had my own conversation with god. It included a few wrathful words.

•      •      •      •      •

In Zen they warn how the great teachers and teachings can be a fierce and intimidating enemy. This is because we have to find the source on our own, from our side. If we simply plug into some religious program or blindly go the way that others have found worked for them we will miss the genuine cultivation of our own inner flame. We won’t feel the discomfort and pulse of our own life and will miss our chance that only this incarnation can give. We can’t, as Joseph Campbell says, follow someone else’s hero path. We must find and pave our own. We can of course borrow from those who have gone successfully before us. Those whom, by the way, paved their own way.

Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true. –The Buddha

Writing Prompts

Write about a conversation with God.

Write a story about one of your childhood spiritual or religious experiences. How did this influence your chosen spiritual or religious path now?

Write about your last (past) life.

Write about a sanctuary using the following words: doorway, visitor, retrieve, market, lips.

What do you know for certain? You can write about this repeating the words (without lifting your pen), “I know for certain.” Then write about an opposite truth. What is an opposite of something you are certain of?

66 thoughts on “A Conversation with God

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