I don’t mind people knowing that I’m “religious”, but I typically avoid using specific language or trigger words around my non religious friends out of my assumption that they’ll misinterpret what I mean, think, or believe. Words that are often prone to misunderstanding like karma, nirvana, heaven I skirt around, I especially avoid the biggest one of them all, “God”.
I’ve been asked in the past by sincerely curious atheist and agnostic friends, and as a challenge by my more confrontational ones; “What or who is God?”” Explain to me what it is you think God is, or does, or wants in some kind of concrete and easy to understand fashion.”
Problem is, I don’t know what God is. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to articulate “it”. It’s something utterly beyond my intellectual capacity to grasp. It’s the “Great Mystery.” I do think I can experience this Great Mystery in some limited way. Little glimpses out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes I get a glimpse in more formal and structured spiritual practices like meditation, or contemplative prayer, in liturgical worship or at the Eucharist. Sometimes the experience of transcendence occurs spontaneously while out walking in nature, sharing a laugh, or tears of sorrow with a loved one. In the smile of a stranger, or communing with the universe through the lens of a telescope. Or simply sitting still in a quiet place. Or in one of a thousand other ways.
But putting that experience into words is simply not possible. That is after all what religion itself attempts to do. If taken at face value, if viewed through some literalist lens, religion becomes entirely superficial, rigid, narrow, limiting and even regressive. And it misses the mark entirely.
But if religion is viewed for what it is, a man made attempt to point you towards something. Not to dictate, not to judge, not even to give you concrete answers of any kind. Its a finger pointing towards the moon. Remembering at all times that the finger (religion) is not the the thing itself, it’s not the moon ( the mystery we choose to call God). Religious scripture is full of metaphor and allegory from various people throughout the ages trying to convey what it is they believe their experience of this Mystery or Other is. It’s done through the extreme limitations of language, and through the filters of their own time period, culture, and limited understanding of the world around them. When viewed this way religion can be dynamic, enriching, enlivening, expansive and even enlightening. But even then, it can only take you part way. As one friend of mine , an Anglican priest that used to be a Buddhist monk, once commented to me. I’m paraphrasing I think: “In truth, both the Buddha-Dharma and the Gospel of Christ fall short of the mark, they are simply among the best we can do..” Religion points you towards an experience with God.
But *what* is God? I have absolutely no idea how to answer that.