“So exactly what truth did you learn?” The voice is slightly belligerent.
The question came as a result of my post on July 17. To wend my way back to the beginning, I related my dismay as a child reading a Bible story about the vengeful and angry Old Testament God. “This can’t be right!” I had protested. How could God be mean? God is supposed to be wonderful.
I had concluded my post by saying I could now, as an adult, imagine spiritual authority confirming that the child I had been was correct. The story wasn’t right.
And the point ultimately is that there have been so many stories about gods and God. They have very different personas. The truth I finally figured out is that when they are described as vengeful, angry, jealous, manipulative, lustful, bloodthirsty, etc., they are the product of human projection. We have to put a face on an abstraction. One night more than a decade ago, I dreamed of a different kind of face.
I was lying in a bed in this dream, and there was a canopy overhead. Beyond the canopy a great head loomed, the white furry, guardian head of a dog. When I woke up, for a moment I wondered, “What if God is really a dog?” Clearly, I still had questions.
Anyone who has ever had the best of all experiences with a beloved dog will understand the wondering. In their devotion and all the forms of comfort and pleasure they give us, they sometimes teach us more about the nature of love than we will ever learn elsewhere.
I had a beautiful white Samoyed companion at the time of the dream, a female, whereas the huge head over my bed was masculine. That conforms with the traditional concept of God. As I continued to mull over my dream, however, I concluded that it begged a different question: “What is God not?” At the very least, God must work through dogs as in countless other ways.
I suppose some people of a specific religion feel that the definition of God and how He wants us to behave in this world has been laid to rest. If we were all peaceful, loving, and kind to each other, that case could be more easily made. However, considering all the awful things going on in the world right now, one wonders about the actual goals of organized religion. Maybe it would work better if it had incorporated more indigenous spirituality.
This occurred to me a few days ago as I was reading a wonderful book about Mabel Dodge Luhan by Lois Palken Rudnick titled Utopian Vistas. Actually, the book is about the history of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s house up in Taos. Mabel is a very powerful figure in New Mexico history, along with others like Georgia O’Keeffe, Mary Austin, and Willa Cather who became known as “daughters of the desert.”
Wealthy and sophisticated, Mabel became the hostess for a steady stream of brilliant artists and writers who came to New Mexico to recover from the devastation of World War I. The landscape and Native American traditions provided both inspiration and guidance in the rather grandiose goal of regenerating American culture with simpler values that would travel.
Rudnick describes beautifully the role of Native American spirituality in this quest: “The Pueblos’ belief that humankind emerged from and was akin to the earth, and was one of many species in which divinity was immanent rather than transcendent, encouraged Anglo artists and writers to rethink their own relationship to the land, their bodies, and to the human community.”
This was the first time that I had run into that phrase, “immanent rather than transcendent,” and the dictionary had to be consulted. Immanent means present throughout the universe. Transcendent means existing apart from the material universe. In the first case, God is in everything and everyone. In the second case, God is apart.
Just imagine how different the world would be if immigrants to America had embraced just this one spiritual concept of Native Americans, namely, that God is immanent. How differently we would have treated not only the land and all of its creatures but also unlike people. There is a cost to adhering ruthlessly to old teachings.
Mabel Dodge Luhan had a very large life filled with extraordinary achievement. Her hope of playing a role in regenerating American culture was doomed, however. The devastation of war would occur again and again before she died in 1962 and, of course, also after. Amazing to think that there have been four wars in my own lifetime. Now who knows what lies before us.
And one wonders if this concept of a divinity that is immanent rather than transcendent is an idea whose time has finally come. Imagine a Divine that has no personality or distinct voice but that expresses in some way, to some degree, through everything and everybody. America could see it as the gift of the people we found here, a gift that would enable us to lead in an entirely new way and perhaps to help create an enduring peace.
Idealistic and very unlikely, I guess, but it’s a thought.