Sunday, May 8, 2011
God as a Work in Progress
I love this painting. It's by Barry Reigate. His work is a commentary on our cultural inertia and exhaustion, rampant consumerism, and so on. But my reading of the painting, and my instant hit, is that he's painting God. No, really - I'm serious. This particular piece is how I think of God: a self-sustaining, cosmic entity that's endlessly tweaking and perfecting itself in order to understand its own nature. We tend to think of God as a Done Deal, because that's what we were taught, in so many words. God as a fait accompli who created the world in six days, took a day off, and then joined AARP. That's the western version of God, and the one with which we're most comfortable.
But to many, the experience of God is quite different. He, or It, is characterized by an ongoing awareness, as familiar as one's breath, who is present at any given moment. When your attention goes to It, It is there. It's not separate from us, watching down from on high, but present in every moment. It is a blink, a salt shaker, the sound of a siren, the laundry you need to do, you. There's nothing that's not It. If I take drink of water, that is God drinking in God; God nourishing Itself with Itself. The Hindus call this Brahman.
I know, it's whacked out, but I don't think it's as crazy as the notion of some bearded bloke up in the clouds, silently ordering us around like a cosmic movie director. Most people experience God as a presence; an energy that is here, now, at any given moment. There is no separation, rather there is penetration and coexistence. It's not something that we spend a lot of time thinking about. We take for granted this presence, just as we take for granted our next breath. In the same way that you don't panic when you see these freaky looking blobs protruding from your body because you know that they're your arms, you don't take much notice of this presence that's always been there, because, well, it's always been there.
If you experience any of the above, and you agree that God is everything, everywhere, always, then it's not a stretch to imagine God as an ongoing project. God as an evolving mystery, who is intensely interested in discovering Itself. God as a state of perpetual wonder, of childlike curiosity, who is continually tweaking, probing, discovering, and awakening to Itself. Thus my instantaneous reaction to the above painting; it seemed to me to be a portrait of God in Its process of realization.
All of this may be an affront to those who need God to be already perfect and without need of evolving. A lot of you don't like to think of God as a work in progress. But why not? Why can't God, who after all is supposed to be in our likeness, be transforming Itself into a better God? Is that so threatening? Do we need to idolize perfection in order to have something to strive for? Can't we become better human beings on our own? One could make the argument that atheists are more virtuous than believers, because their ethics are based in experience, not dogma. They're decent to others not because it's getting them brownie points in heaven, but simply because they believe that all beings deserve respect.
In "On God", Norman Mailer posits that God is an artist, and His creation is imperfect. He cites evolution and volcanoes as evidence of God reworking His creative mistakes. Makes sense to me! I'm totally down with the idea of an imperfect God. It kinda makes me happy, even. Makes me feel like we're all in this together, including God, which is a truly catholic experience. If God is in everything, and everything is evolving, why should God be exempt? Hey, no one's perfect.
Above: Barry Reigate, Criminology, 2005, oil and acrylic on canvas.