No, Virginia, God Doesn’t Condemn Anyone to Eternal Damnation

No, Virginia, God Doesn’t Condemn Anyone to Eternal Damnation
Fire Line. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Fire Line. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I struggled to keep my eyes on the freeway as I drove westbound. Across the Columbia River on the Washington side, I could see flames rapidly advance across the drought-parched grasses. That was a mere ten-days ago.

Because of diligent firefighters, the fast moving fire was fully contained within a week but not before over 4000 acres burned including a large portion of the familiar trails of Columbia Hills State Park.

Lush No More. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Lush No More. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ This photo was taken in September of 2015 in the same valley as Lush Days (below).

As I traveled those trails yesterday, the smell of burn filled my nostrils. The monochromatic ground contrasted with singed trees. Familiar locations looked alien to my eyes. Were it not for the memories of the shape of the earth, of the scalded yet surviving trees, I would not have known this place.

Is it any wonder that dualistic thinking imagines a Hell filled with fire and its destruction? The wrath appears final. The color removed, life can seem hopeless after a fire.

Lush Days. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ This photo was taken during July of 2014.
Lush Days. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
This photo was taken during July of 2014 in the same valley as Lush No More (above).

But hopelessness and permanence are not the nature of the earth.

The Heaven versus Hell crowd fail to observe the world as it is. Creation reflects the energy, the creator, the divine spirit I call God. Creation and Creator are not binary or unchanging.

Quite the contrary, the burnt landscape I traversed yesterday will undergo a resurrection in the spring. If the Rowena Fire from last year is any indication, the resurrection will begin before the end of the year. (See The Lichen and Leaves of Hope.)

Survivor. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Survivor. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

The nature of the One who connects all that is with all that is, the nature of the divinity within and between us all is not binary or dualistic at all. The nature of God is not about harsh judgement, angry retribution, Heaven and Hell, and certainly not about eternal damnation.

The nature of God and creation is about a path that begins at birth and continues through death to resurrection. This is the lesson of the Christian narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus — the biblical witness.  Love overcomes even death. Love does not condemn creation or humanity to fiery Hell. It can’t; if it did it wouldn’t be love but hate.

Nature's Monochrome. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ A burnt area is devoid of all color in Columbia Hills State Park following the Horsethief Butte Fire in September 2015.
Nature’s Monochrome. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
A burnt area is devoid of all color in Columbia Hills State Park following the Horsethief Butte Fire in September 2015.

The Urge to Strip Bare

The Urge to Strip Bare
Sacred Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Sacred Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Above the clouds, beneath the blue atmosphere I had an urge to strip bare. This despite a sixty-two degree moisture-filled breeze and deeply ingrained social taboos. I’ve had the impulse before while hiking.

No. I am not an exhibitionist; I’m a very modest person.

Neither do I succumb to the urges. Usually I open my shirt allowing the wind to dry my sweat-soaked skin. On a particularly hot day I’ve been known to remove my shirt for a time before I put it back on for fear I’ll burn.

But that’s different.

When the urge to strip bare comes over me it is not about hot weather. It is about a feeling of unrestrained awe in the presence of the divine. It’s about a desire to strip away anything that separates me from the sacred. Within the caverns of my soul, I yearn to reveal my whole self!

And why wouldn’t I?

I am created in the image of God! Why would I hide anything from the boundless love? When the very breath of God blew across the peak of Wind Mountain this morning I slipped off my shirt. Though the thermometer read 62, the sacred breath warmed my sweat soaked skin and weary spirit.

God is a Nursing Mother

God is a Nursing Mother

Artist: Mary Cassatt Start Date: c.1907 Completion Date:1908 Public Domain Source: wikiart
Artist: Mary Cassatt
Start Date: c.1907
Completion Date:1908
Public Domain
Source: wikiart
God is a creating mother,
nurturing me from egg & sperm,
giving of her whole self to bring me into being.

God is a proud mother,
beaming at my possibilities and naturally good looks,
she tells all her friends how amazing I am.

God is a nursing mother,
feeding me her divinity until I am satiated,
and then kissing my puffy cheek as she lays me down.

God is a weaning mother,
leading me to find her nourishment,
in the divinity of people and trees.

God is a guiding mother,
mentoring my kindness to pets and friends,
in my love for strangers and care for things.

God is a mother with expectations,
demanding and encouraging me to treat others well,
giving me the look only she can give when I stop trying.

God is a lurking mother,
calling to me when I get a little rough,
but always ready to kiss my boo-boos when I fall,

God is a teaching mother,
sharing her thoughts, pointing to peers who can help,
all while allowing me to figure it out myself.

God is a stern mother,
kind but clear in expectations,
disappointed when I fail to live into who she knows I can be.

God is a forgiving mother.
Empathetic to my struggle,
she’s the queen of do-overs and second chances.

God is an empty-nest mother,
remembering and missing my cuddles,
but proud of who I am becoming.

God is Mommy to whom I always return.
Giggling in joy when I live into my divinity,
she enfolds me in her extravagant embrace just because I am.

God is Like My Water Bottle

God is Like My Water Bottle

Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
God is like my water bottle.
I put stickers on it,
defining what I believe & think.

But the labels are not God;
labels constrict the mysterious One.

God is like my water bottle.
I carry it with me wherever I go,
except when I flirt with a cup of tea.

But the teacup is not God;
it’s too fancy & off-putting to be the One I know.

God is like my water bottle.
It gives me what I need on a hot day,
without pretentious colors or additives.

But God can be fancy, too;
like a work of art the Holy One moves me.

God is like my water bottle.
I drop it on craggy rocks,
and allow dust & dirt to cover the spout.

But the dents & chipped paint do not stop divine love;
my water bottle still quenches my thirst.

God is like my water bottle.
Its scars and wounds reflect
my journey and struggles,
manifesting an empathetic love.

God is like my water bottle.
Despite the labels, abandonment, & abuse,
when I reach for it, it is nearby & ready to satiate.

God is like my water bottle.
I can share it with others,
with or without the labels of opinion that coat it.

God is like my water bottle.
When I take a sip,
what is within flows through me.

But God is not really my water bottle.

The sacred love is more like the water within,
the water that molds canyons,
the water that is home to the salmon & porpoise,
the water that greens the grasses and
collects on snow-capped peaks.

My water bottle is just my feeble attempt to
control,
define,
restrict,
and manage the great mystery that
knits all of creation into One.

license cc

“I Just Know”

“I Just Know”
New Blooms Burst Forth
Blooms burst forth in the company of trees and grasses that burnt only eight months prior. McCall Point, near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I know a woman who on deep spiritual issues (and small ones) will close off conversations with, “I just know.” I have learned the futility of even asking clarifying questions once she’s pronounced her surety. I’ve experienced the consequences of waking her aggressive defensiveness from its slumber one too many times.

Living in the ambiguity of life, in the space in which there are more questions than answers, can be disconcerting. It’s understandable to yearn for certainty in the midst of the inexplicable and perceived dangers. Despite our scientific strivings to answer the mysteries of our existence, we know little with absolute assurance.

For many, religious dogma or a form of spirituality of “just knowing” provides, if not solid ground, than the illusion of it. We probably all dabble in pretending confidence without solid evidence at times. To do otherwise in at least some small matters would lead us to brain-freeze and the inability to take any action.

To function, we need something onto which to hold on this slippery, rocky trail that is a little too close to cliff’s edge for comfort.

Or do we? Must we have the dogma of absolute certainty of God or no-God to make sense of the world?

***

Something within me allows me to tolerate the unknown mysteries, the ambiguity of life more openly than the woman who “just knows.” Even so, she and I are not that different. I experience a feeling of certainty that there is an essence that runs within my life and all of creation. I even have a name I call that core: God. I find comfort in the experience of God as I deal with the randomness, the utter capriciousness of life.

Still, she “just knows” and I don’t know. I surmise. I suspect. I perceive and wonder. And I doubt. At times I’m convinced it’s all made up. Whatever it, is.

I make connections as I observe the natural world. I perceive that the experience I call God is the loving life-force that binds creation together. I observe this energy in nature as a forest renews just months after destructive fire. I sense vigor in the healing that comes after death within nature as well as human relationships.

I also see much randomness and pain in nature and human relationships. Why wouldn’t I doubt?

To doubt is to think. It is to pay attention as I traverse the rocky path. Sometimes doubt trips me up and I fall. As I get back up, I inspect my wound. Sometimes I scold myself for not paying attention, for doubting. Sometimes, without much thought, I just get back up and keep moving.

Eventually the redness, the broken skin, or swelling dissipates. Though healing happens in time, I can never be described as good as new. I am changed.

From the doubting and falling, from the self-annoyance and physical pain, I learn. Through doubt I again experience that energy I call God in relationship, transforming me into something more.

Ambiguity, randomness, and mystery are full partners in life. I just know it, except when I don’t.

license cc

No Such Thing as TMI

No Such Thing as TMI
eye splatter
It wasn’t what I thought. It wasn’t splatter from the drinking fountain. It was perspiration that splashed off my own body onto my eyeglasses as I ran on the treadmill. Photo by Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

It wasn’t what I thought. It wasn’t splatter from the drinking fountain. It was perspiration that splashed off my own body onto my eyeglasses as I ran on the treadmill. Though I found this fascinating, I hesitated to share until reminded, “There’s no such thing as TMI.”

I’ve grown accustomed to sharing the exquisite details of my bodily functions. Sometimes I hesitate only to be encouraged by my wife of over thirty-five years, “There’s no such thing as TMI!”

This is what happens after you’ve had colon surgery. Nothing is sacred. No topic is off-limits. Gross is just a concept you race past in conversation. After three and one-half decades of marriage, raising two children to adulthood, and colon surgery there really is no such thing as TMI.

To be sure, my wife and I’ve always had a transparent relationship. I could never divorce her because she knows where the metaphorical body is buried. I, too, know her secrets. But the depth and detail of our intimacy expanded during the months after my right colon was removed. There is no such thing as TMI.

This is what happens when you’re beloved without condition. This is what happens when the first person you want to tell about your day, your deepest feelings, your dreams, struggles, the things of which you’re ashamed, and, yes, even that the splatter on your glasses is your own sweat. This is what happens when the divinity within another is mutually nurtured.

There’s no such thing as TMI. Nothing is sacred or, rather, everything is sacred. The sacred, the divinity within each of us, inhabits every cell in our bodies, every drop of sweat, and every emotion. It is in the TMI, that we gain intimacy with one another and God.

Bursts & Sudden Stops

DSCF5773
She touched my heart which has been grieving the disappearing summer and gave me joy for the seasonal shifts, each with purpose and presence worthy of my notice. Photo by Tim Graves

If I were a car, I’d be annoying to follow. I hike in bursts and sudden stops. Moving, moving, go, go…HALT!  If I were following myself I’d be hard-pressed to anticipate my own stops. I stop first, then think about stopping. On a preconscious level, I note something I want to examine or photograph and I cease moving.

I’m sure a brain researcher could explain the neurological functions that occur when this happens. Perhaps my brain is primed and looking for creatures and plant life of interest to me. I do hike with my camera intentionally.

However, I prefer to interpret this biological behavior metaphysically because for me hiking is as much a spiritual experience as a physical one:

Leaving the trailhead, I embark on a journey with the one I call God. Typically, I fail to notice my traveling companion during the early miles of my hike. For awhile my divine hiking partner, allows me to set my own pace. As my muscles move, the toxins I carry with me are released. A space opens up within me that is open to creator and creation.

Photo by Tim Graves
From my extravagantly bedazzled flower, I learned to live fully in the moment. Photo by Tim Graves

Once my being is open to the divine under my feet and surrounding me, I begin to notice the divine in the chattering squirrel, the towering pine, and the rock face.

But.

But even so, sometimes as I’m hoofing it I run the risk of passing by someone I should meet. The divine hiker, stops me suddenly. It’s as if my hiking buddy shouts, “Wait! Look at this!”

In that moment my eyes focus on someone from whom I can learn. The most remarkable encounters I have on the trail are typically the result of these sudden stops.

This morning, I met the first wooly worm of fall from whom I learned that there is beauty and purpose in all seasons. She reminded me that life is cyclical. She touched my heart which has been grieving the disappearing summer and gave me joy for the seasonal shifts, each with purpose and presence worthy of my notice.

Photo by Tim Graves
The morning sun had conspired with semi-transparent seed pockets to garner my attention. Photo by Tim Graves

Earlier, my divine hiking partner grabbed my arm and pointed to the lavender robes in which the late summer flowers clothed themselves. From my extravagantly bedazzled flower, I learned to live fully in the moment.

Cool nights are upon us already. Bitter winds filled with snow will mark the end of lavender displays along the trail. Rather than worrying about what is to come, my floral friend celebrates the present in his best outfit.

As I neared the end of my hike, with trailhead and my car in view, I raced downhill only to have my victory burst halted. The morning sun had conspired with semi-transparent seed pockets to garner my attention.

From this friend, I learned that the future is within the now. While we are influenced by our past, the future beckons us in our becoming. Using not only the raw materials of the past and now but the future we are in the perpetual process of becoming. In this becoming, is where we are most wholly (holy) ourselves.

 

 

 

 

Is it an Apartment or Swiss Cheese?

Screen shot of trail map.
Screen shot of trail map.

Climbing the Cook’s Ridge trail I paused at the tree stump and exclaimed internally, Rodent Apartments! Moments later my hiking companion came up from behind and exclaimed audibly, “Swiss Cheese!”

So, who was right? Were either of us right?

In my thinking, I noted the multiple holes. I proceeded to think about which creatures might be using this old stump. Then, I overlaid my human conception of a place with multiple residences to describe it as Rodent Apartments. Of course, I did this in seconds.

Is is a Rodent Apartment or Swiss Cheese? Photo by Tim Graves
Is is a Rodent Apartment or Swiss Cheese? Photo by Tim Graves

I didn’t ask my partner about her thought process. I suspect she reacted to the visual appearance of the stump. In her mind, she then went through objects with multiple holes. Donuts, nope not quite. Golf course, not so much. Finally, her mind arrived at swiss cheese. Yes, she may have thought, this tree stump looks most like swiss cheese. She, too, did this in microseconds.

Each of our descriptions use pre-existing understandings of the world around us. Each of us lay previous learnings on top of a new experience.

We all do this. A lot. We use our own internal thoughts and ideas to describe the external, particularly when encountering the novel or new. The creatures that live in the holes (if any even do) have no conception of apartment building. The holes in this stump were most likely not created in the same process that results in holes in swiss cheese.

The trouble with using our own internal thoughts and ideas to describe the external is that we can begin to think of our descriptions as objective fact. For example, we may describe someone else as “liberal” or “conservative” using our internal ideas of those terms. Our definitions may not be the same as another person’s definition.

We also do this with the one I call God. (I use the term “God” to describe the loving, non-coercive essence that connects each of us, that lives within each of us, and that encourages all that is to respond in each moment to respond in the most-loving way.) For me, the Christian narrative helps me to make sense of the divine. The person of Jesus serves as my teacher, rabbi, guru, and model for how to respond lovingly and become who I am created to be.

However, if I become so tied to the Christian narrative as objective fact that I do not respond in love to others, then I’ve not only become idolatrous, I’ve missed the truth: the love and interconnectedness that underlies all that is.

If I become so convinced of the rightness of my description of the hole-y tree stump as Rodent Apartment versus my hiking partner’s Swiss Cheese, I risk severing our relationship. That’s serious business when it is neither.