God and me have always had something of an up-and-down relationship. I really like Him (or is it a Her or an It? I've never been quite sure) a lot. I mean A LOT. More than anything else. But still, we've had our struggles.
My grandmother was my very favorite relative, complete with a friendly dog and a friendly cat, closets which smelled of mothball, and an endless supply of wonderful desserts. She went to church every Sunday and prayed, and she taught me to do the same. I picked it up pretty easy.
"God, this is Nicholas here." (That was my name when I was a kid, Nicholas.) "God, thank you very, very much for making me captain of the cricket team. That was very nice of you. And thank you for the B grade in English. I was wondering if you could help me out with Biology, and maybe get me a B in that too? Oh and by the way, you know that girl with the blond pigtails, Molly Smithers? Well God, I'd really like to kiss her. God..? God..? Are you there, God..? Hello..?"
I was quite conscientious about my praying back then, but I was never quite sure if anyone was listening. Seemed there was a lot of static on the line, and I wasn't quite sure if my mail was getting read or if my phone calls were being listened to.
When I got to be a teenager, my relationship with God became way more confusing, mainly because of what felt to me to like mixed messages about masturbation. "Ah, young Ardagh, come in. Sit down, my boy. Don't be shy, for I am a good and kind God, if you obey me. I've seen that you've become a young man now. You may have noticed some interesting changes in your body in the last year or so. Young Ardagh, I want you to listen to me very carefully. You may have noticed that I've given you an organ of immense pleasure. If you touch this organ, it will make you feel very, very good. But, young man, you must NOT touch this organ. Do you understand me? If you do, I will throw you into internal damnation. Good! All understood? Now go forth and worship me."
Perhaps it's understandable that by the end of my teenage years, I was shopping around for a focus of divinity whom I could understand a little better. Back in the early 70s, everything was available. The Hare Krishnas were chanting on Oxford Street, and every kind of guru was setting up shop all over town. Shiva, Krishna, ascended masters, Elvis, it was all there. And then there was Buddhism, where it was all about emptiness: Nirvana, snuffing out the candle. Buddhists claim to have no personalized deity at all, but then they sneak one in the back door by offering flowers to a Buddha statue, or Quan Yin.
Finally, I met a great man in India called H.W.L. Poonja, a direct student of Ramana Maharshi. He was a fierce man, with a knack of intimidating people into awakening. As an ex-army officer from the British days, this was the boot camp approach to enlightenment. I lived with him on and off for seven years. He introduced me to a view where there is no separation anywhere. Relax deeply into your own nature, and there is only spacious consciousness. Look out into the world, and it is only the same spacious consciousness dancing.
Many, many, many people today have dropped into tasting this dimension of "awakening," at least in snapshots. This epidemic of sanity was the subject of my 2005 book, The Translucent Revolution. As you hang out longer in this view, you discover that you are not a fixed thing, but more of a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is solidity. You have thoughts and beliefs, an identity and a past and you appear to be very real. At the other end of the spectrum, there are no limits, only a spacious consciousness in which you and God and everything else are all one. Between the two limits dances the story of your life.
When the wave in the ocean looks out and sees other waves, it recognizes itself to be separate, with a beginning and ending in time. It might be faster than some waves and slower than others, bigger than some and smaller than others. When the wave looks into itself, gets curious about its deeper nature, it sees the ocean. In that moment, the wave doesn't experience, "I am part of the ocean." It looks into itself and sees "I am the ocean." At that moment, it recognizes that all of the waves are expressions of the ocean.
We can call the dialogue between wave and ocean prayer. It's the delicious dynamic where you neither feel separate enough to be cut off from God, but you're just separate enough to feel a relationship with the divine. That's when we experience benevolence in our lives. Small miracles happen. Prayers get answered. You find yourself showing up in the right place at the right time with the right people, not necessarily to get the pleasure you want, but so that you can move freely in the dance you were born to live.
OK, so who gets to hang out and chat with God?
Many of us were taught to believe that this was only possible for the special few: a pope or an avatar or a saint. Most of us grew up believing that we needed an intermediary. And for those of us, like me, who rejected the religion of their early years and dabbled in alternative imports from the east, we often replicated that same relationship. Now the intermediary had an Indian accent, long robes and beads.
Today there is a growing number of people who are becoming deeply spiritual without necessarily being religious. They realize that divinity is to be found wherever you direct a gaze of open-hearted reverence. You may find that divinity in your own heart, or in the person you're married to or in your own children. Every moment and every interaction can become a possibility to hang out and have a good chat with God.
Perhaps the person who's kicked up the most dust on this subject in the last couple decades is Neale Donald Walsch, who not only had innumerable cozy chats with God, but went on to publish many books as a result. I'm going to be in dialog with Neale this Thursday, April 7, at 6 p.m. PST.