Finding New Words for "God-Talk"

We were talking last night about the power of sustained prayer and Friend Ralph H. told us that as a farm boy around 60 years ago he discovered the power of a strong and sustained link to God. He said there were tasks on the farm that his brothers simply wouldn’t do, and that he found he could do them. When his dad asked him later how he did it, his explanation was “God did it.”

In my years among Friends I have heard many such stories, which are incompatible with my upbringing in the religion of science. Of course I am grateful to hear my friends tell me about such tender things, but inwardly I am forced to ask, “what am I supposed to do with this?”

Originally I simply dismissed such stories and their tellers using the lessons of my upbringing: “If you can’t touch it or measure it, it doesn’t exist, and to believe that it does is dangerous superstition.” However, I have come to feel the effects of invisible power in my own life, and to see it in the lives of others in ways I couldn’t dismiss. This put me in a quandary: “Does this mean God does exist, and that my upbringing has led me astray? Does this mean my parents warnings about fundamentalist bible thumpers have to be ignored?” As a young adult, these were real questions for me. Now, I wouldn’t say it that way.

I believe the largest task of my adult life has been confronting these issues. If the truth of my existence reveals “spooky action at a distance” and if I am not willing to say the Christian explanation of reality is all that I or others need, how do I explain my world to myself, and perhaps to others? This is where “fields” comes in as an explanatory concept for me. When I say “fields” I do not imagine I am naming a particular thing, like “cosmic rays.” Rather, my “fields” is a place-holder for: “something-that-has-gotta-be-there-because-we-see-the-effects-of-it.” From the developmental patterns of the embryo, to the evolution of a forest ecosystem, to the poetic justice we sometimes see in human lives, it is clear to me that there are invisible guiding principles or forces that help to shape outcomes, if not control them.

I think Ralph’s “God did it” is an acceptable explanation for something real. I believe that he, as a lad, learned a way to augment his limited abilities by joining with something transpersonal, something bigger than himself. I myself am unwilling to say “God did it” because that language has cultural baggage I want to avoid, but I do think Ralph was on to something. And I really want us to be talking about the something Ralph was on to. I think our world is in desperate circumstances partly because we have gotten too much out of touch with larger invisible powers such as the ones Judeo-Christians know about.

Can we find a language that allows Judeo-Christians, Buddhists and those trained in the religion of science to talk to one another about what some Christians call “gospel order?” The way some Christians talk about these things, the world has “right” and “wrong” ways to do things. I believe this is correct, but I find the simplicity and certainty of some Christians’ “right and wrong” to create problems when they are dealing with “other” people.

So let me try out my language of “fields” as an alternative way of talking about what Ralph discovered as a farm boy. He was not specific, so I’ll just imagine a task in a place that was scary and was inaccessible to a full-grown adult. Let’s imagine a dark culvert, or perhaps a high place. Ralph’s brothers saw the need, as did their father, but they could not do what needed to be done. Ralph also felt fear, or perhaps it was that he doubted his skill. In any case, he discovered that he could enter a place within himself–he called it “prayer”–where he was “more” than he knew himself to be, personally. In this attitude of prayer, or in this place of trust in God, or in this place of tuning to a strengthening “field” of guidance, Ralph was able go beyond his personal limits, and those of his brothers, in service to the greater good.

One of my favorite children’s stories was DUMBO THE FLYING ELEPHANT. In this story Dumbo learns to fly using a “magic” feather which turns out to be unnecessary; Dumbo discovers he can fly just as well without the feather. I bring this up here as a contrast to Ralph’s situation. My father taught me that people like Ralph had a superstitious belief in God like Dumbo’s belief in the power of his feather. Now I say, “No, Ralph’s prayer did put him into a real relationship with something larger.” I am happy he can call it “God’s help.”

I want to call it something else, for my own reasons.
And I want to affirm the existence of something bigger than our individual selves,
Something that we can tune into,
And be strengthened by,
And with which
We can be carried into service
To the greater good. To Allah. To Gaia.

About Richard O Fuller

Quaker, living in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.
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