Saturday, March 8, 2008

Fasting Thoughts

Mara and I had a nice dinner last night with Angelo, who joined us in fasting for a day yesterday. Great food, great company, and we were all happy to eat.

It's the seventh day of the fast today, and I've been doing well. Every year during the fast, I seem to gain some insight. One of the things that I've been mulling over this year has been about my relationship with "whatever you call it," you know, that thing well all so flippantly call "God."

One of the quotes from the Baha'i writings that I read said in effect, fast not out of fear of punishment, or out of some hope for self, but fast out of the love of God. As a result of thinking about this -- the motivations for fasting -- I realized, I really had no idea why I was fasting, and it would be a good thing to understand. So, after letting the thoughts incubate for a few days, I sat down with paper and pen to try to sort this out. I do best concentrating when I write it all out.

Here's what I came up with. There is definitely some element of fear involved when I fast. Not like a fear of punishment, but more like a fear that I'll miss out on something if I don't fast. Okay, I can shed that line of thinking. Next, I realized that I am definitely motivated by some hope that the fast will do me some good. After all, it's supposed to be a time of turning inward and reflecting and of spiritual recuperation. I guess those are all great outcomes, but as I came to understand it, they should not be the motivation for fasting. So, I kind of decided to shed that attitude too.

Do I fast for the love of God? I have never really thought about that. It opens up a bigger can of worms, because, it calls into question the whole issue of "God." It evokes questions like, "How does one love God?" and "What, really, is God?"

I thought about my image of God. Despite knowing that God is an "unknowable essence," there is a part of my brain that developed an image of God during my childhood, and that image remains. This is going to sound crazy, but it's this sort of giant head, like the Wizard of Oz (not the guy behind the curtain, but the big floating head). Years ago, I read some of the writings of Rabbi Kushner, the guy who wrote, "When bad things happen to good people," and he stated that in all his years as a Rabbi, any time a person came to him in a theological crisis, it was because they were thinking of God as a person -- as having human-like thoughts, reactions, emotions. They had an anthropomorphized image of God. And why not. That's the language with which much of religious literature depicts God.

I've written about this before, this difficulty with the "God as dude." And despite knowing that this is not accurate, that green wizard head comes pretty quickly when I say the word, "God." Honestly, it's hard for me to think of loving that God, or that God loving me. My experiences with authority figures hasn't been exceptionally loving, and I think that it carries over to this anthropomorphized God in my mind.

Parallel to this, is an image of God that has been developing for me over the past few years. It's an image of God as "The Force" -- the benign loving essence of the Universe that binds things together, gives life to all things and uplifts all things. "The River" in the story from Illusions. I really like this image of God, and although I know that any image I conjure up is of necessity just my imagination, this image serves me well. I can actually love this God, the Force. I can love it for my life. I can realize that it lives within me. I can thank it for the portions of its limitless blessings that it has showered upon me through my family and friends and the love that surrounds me. I can fast for the Force. I can fast as a sign of my love for the Force. The Force says, "fast, as a sign of your love for me," and it makes sense. (Of course, I get thrown off the minute that the Force "says" something because that requires a mouth of some sort, or uses the word "me," because that requires some sort of individual identity that seems human, and then that ridiculous Wizard head pops up in my brain, but in any event, it's a start to a healthier approach for me.)

Well, that's as far as I got. It was a relief to dissect my thoughts and bring them to the forefront of my own consciousness. I need to gradually let the Force supplant the Wizard. Next I have to grapple with the idea of the Force having consciousness. I have more time.

What's your image of God?

4 comments:

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I fasted because I wanted to see if I could do it. I'd never done it before. Now I have.

Whatever God looks like, I don't think he was meant to be worshiped in a Church. Maybe its because I'm Catholic, but I've felt closer to God standing on the edge of Suicide Cliff, taking a boat down the Li River, and walking through the Amazon than when I've sat in a pew.

James said...

Interesting concept of the Force. I think of "God" as a forest. Pristine and untamed it can survive on its own. Man can enter and feel the wildness and try to understand it's size but the forest is ever changing.
In line with the Fast I look at it as if Fasting is giving of myself to the forest the waters I would have taken into myself in the token attempt to return some of the nourishment I've take from its bounty.

I just love nature simile because of the seeming simplicity of statements like that. But living with the image of a vengeful God, or an Angry God make me fearful of religion in general as a teen. The "Unknowable Essence" which loves us but does not need us gives me peach with those past issues. I do not have to fear that when bad things happen God is punishing me. But I can also believe that when good thinks happen it is because of the recognition of God that blessings fall as rain from the sky. On everyone equally we have just to go out in the rain and accept it as a good think.

Maybe I should just put this on my blog.....

Marianas Eye said...

I've appreciated these two comments had have been mulling them over for a week. My conclusion: this sort of thing is not easily discussed on a blog. Your comments provoked a lot of thought and I appreciated them.

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Sean said...

My answer to your question is simple: My image of God is very much a person.

The significance of my answer, what it's implications are--that's more complicated. I'll have to think about it some more.