Meeting God

The first time I experienced what I think of as God was as a bored teenager in church, feeling guilty about masturbating.  Masturbation was a regular activity, being a horny fifteen year-old, and the Sears catalog provided visual stimulation.  In my day, catalogs were the equivalent of internet porn.  Unfortunately, I also believed masturbation was a sinful habit for which God would shrink my penis.  Or so I’d been told, and is why getting out the tissue box was a source of real torment.  What if my dick doesn’t grow because I’ve been abusing it?  What if that’s how God punishes me, the same way he makes me stub my toe?  What if my parents find the stash of half-naked ladies I’ve cut from old catalogs and hidden under my bed?

That was my frame of mind as I sat in a pew, staring at a stained glass window, and asked God to forgive me for jerking off.  I didn’t know what else to do about it, and I didn’t really expect anything to happen.  We both knew I’d do it again.  To my amazement, however, something did happen.  My guilt disappeared and I had an immediate, physical sense of relief, like a dead-weight lifted from my shoulders.  It was pretty cool.  I also knew the only entity who could have heard me thinking was God.

Seven years later, I had a direct meeting with God again.  I was in theological school, newly married, and the marriage was not going well.  We disagreed about most things and generally didn’t like each other.  Misery was my normal state, and one day in a chaplaincy-training class I confronted a classmate.  I knew I was being an ass-hole, and when the rest of the class affirmed that fact, I broke down.  After admitting how terrible I felt, the other students gathered around my chair, placed their hands on my head, and began to pray.  As they prayed, I heard a voice, in my mind, spoken directly to me.  “I am hollowing you out so I can fill you up.”  The tone of the voice was one of complete love, and unlike anything I’d ever heard.  I knew it was Jesus.  My instructors told me to write down what the voice said, but I never did, because I couldn’t write down what it sounded like.

I wish I could report those two experiences translated into a life of great wisdom and spiritual profundity.  Two divorces and three careers later, I’ve learned to appreciate how much I don’t know.  But, whenever I find myself questioning my faith, or my belief in Jesus, or the love of God, I always find myself returning to those two experiences, and a few others I’ve had.  Some things intrude in a manner that can’t be dismissed as dreaming.  Their periodic occurrence has become an important part of my life, and the sustainer of my spirit.

The main pattern I have noticed is they are a response to absolute honesty on my part.  Whenever I reach a point where I am completely without pretense or bullshit, and call upon God, there’s been a reply.  The problem is that I can also be a pretentious prick, and God doesn’t seem to respond to that kind of thing, thus explaining the periodic nature of my meet and greets with the Almighty.

Jesus tells us that absolute honesty is the only policy that works, so there shouldn’t be a surprise.  The spiritual masters agree on that point.  In his Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, Jesus says the tax collector is the one who goes home justified before God, because he gave God an honest confession.  The tax collector, hated as both a Roman collaborator and an extortionist, returned to his village in God’s good graces, and the upright, fastidious Pharisee did not, because he refused to admit the truth about himself.

My history tells me I’m the Pharisee, with occasional tax collector moments.  Life can bring you to your knees, and those knee-bending events get tiring.  My task is to always have an honest awareness of myself, so that I can avoid the occasional crisis.  It’s my form of stress reduction and prayer built into one.

I’m not alone, of course, in suffering from the malady of pretentiousness and self-inflation.  It’s a common human condition.  Freud thought we started walking upright to avoid smelling our own shit, which perhaps says everything we need to know, about us and Freud.  On the other hand, God doesn’t seem to mind, and prefers people who own up to their own shit.

So, that would be my advice.  If you’re going before God, be sure to own up to your own shit.  It’s not always pleasant or pretty, but neither are we.  In my experience, God always responds, because God loves us for who we are, not for who we pretend to be.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

One Response to “Meeting God”

  1. Awesome read! I’m a firm believer in owning up to my own shit, even when I have to wade through others!

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