By Lewis M. Randa
Dreams can have a most amazing effect on people, but to be honest, I rarely remember dreams long enough to consider any of them all that important. One, however, I cannot stop thinking about and it has changed the way I view reality. How long the substance of this dream will pervade my mind and spirit is anyone’s guess. I hope it lasts a lifetime.
With each tragic and horrible bit of news these days, and there have been many, I have been struggling with the question that countless others struggle with as well, and that is; how could there be a “personal” God? With all the suffering in the world — war, famine, greed, indifference, murder and disease, how could a personal God allow these things to happen, given that God, supposedly, is in charge? Free will is one thing; senseless tragedy another. I have pretty much concluded, after considerable reflection over time, that there being a personal God is a nice, comforting idea which I learned in catechism and embrace as a Quaker. But, however, in light of all the tragedy and suffering around us, this was seemingly not the case. Or, if there is a personal God who would allow these things to happen to anyone at any time, then I certainly am missing something. Then one night, Christmas night, through a dream, what I was missing was explained to me.
I retired following a wonderful Christmas day 2010 with my family. Our holiday ritual included the recitation of the prayers for peace of the major faith traditions of the world in the interfaith chapel at The Peace Abbey. Though troubled by the recent tragic death of a friend of my daughter, I was at peace, at least with the principle that everyone and everything that exists is an expression or creation of a loving God. What I was struggling with, however, was that this so-called loving Creator would permit such horrible things to happen so randomly in the world. No doubt, nearly everyone has had that thought cross their mind at some point, only to work through it until it had to be addressed again, under new and different, difficult circumstances.
What I failed to understand, until it was revealed to me in the dream, was that God, whom I thought had no personal relationship with us, actually “experiences” what we experience — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually with each and every experience everywhere, at all times and that is why all things are allowed to happen. God isn’t just allowing things to happen to us, God allows things to happen to itself.
The dream provided an awareness that whatever can occur in our earthly existence is worth occurring, however joyful or tragic, because through these experiences God comes to know itself by experiencing all the pain, just as we do; all the joy, just as we do; all the sorrow and grief, just as we do, and when we do. And that, the dream conveyed, is because we and everything that exists is God. If I read what I learned through my dream in some book or someone told this to me, I wouldn’t necessarily get it like I did in my dream.
It seems that in the process of being born into a physical body, and succumbing to continuous phases of ego development, we become detached, not only from our connection with God, but more accurately, the awareness that we are God, and everything around us is God, and every experience we are having, (this bears repeating) fundamentally, is God having the experience. That thought never crossed my mind. I sensed that everything was God in a macro-universal sense, but never came close to considering God as having my personal experiences. That changes everything. I feel I now need to reread every important and meaningful text, scripture, poem, prayer and revisit every philosophy, ideology, theory and principle of life on which I have based my understanding. The dream was for me the mother lode of all paradigm shifts.
What God is on earth was clarified for me, in intimate terms, through the dream. I now recognize more than ever that surrendering one’s ego, as best one can, is required to illuminate the awareness that there is a personal God to whom my physical body and personality give form. How much more personal can God get, if, in fact, the experience I am having, God is having — not in addition to, not with, not through, but having exactly as I am having, when I am having it, because we are one and the same in time and space? Within earthly existence, this oneness has confounded humanity in its search for God, as God is concealed within the ego framework of personhood.
As this was being communicated through my dream, a sense of profound peace and self surrender enveloped me. I found myself in an alert state of sleep with no images or back drop that I can recall. I felt like I was being told the secret of the universe which, perhaps, others are aware of, but I certainly was not.
Prior to the dream, I understood each experience I had as me having alone. How could it be otherwise? I was taught that God was aware of all things, even my experiences. I was never taught, however, that God is all things, and therefore aware of all things; and is aware of all things because God is experiencing all things! We think, because of our separation from what we really are, personal experience is ours alone. My dream told me otherwise. It was as though I saw God the next day in everything around me.
Now it seems the very question, “is there a personal God?” is akin to a cell on my physical body questioning a personal relationship with me because the cell is unable to appreciate the relationship between us. The relationship, of course, is so integral, so one and the same, that it is indiscernible.
While we can assume God is much more than what is taking place in the cosmos, it is enough to know that where God exists on Earth is as personal as each beat of our heart, for we are the outward and visible embodiment of Godhood. We are the physical form, imbued with a concept of self that at once denies we are God, while existing for the sole purpose of God being us. And in being us, God experiences in the first person the reality we create.
So I awoke the next morning with a sense that what I have had explained to me in a dream now needs to be absorbed so I never again fall into thinking that God is something other than everything and everyone, and then begin questioning whether or not he/she/it is personally involved or cares enough to prevent horrible things from happening. Forgive the redundancy once more: If something can happen, no matter how horrific and unfair or wonderful and affirming, it is allowed to happen. It is allowed to happen because God manifests itself through us in order to experience everything that can happen, both the good and the bad, in our terms (and everything in between), and therefore we and everything else are created and exist for that end. And because it’s God’s experience, it’s our experience too, not the other way around. Thus, God couldn’t be more personal, and as such, mystifyingly, doesn’t seem to be personal at all, or even exist for that matter. Before the dream, none of this crossed my mind.
Talk about not seeing the forest through the trees.
For years I have been drawn to the Sikh saying: “If you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all”. I never really understood it until now. Thanks to the dream, this saying awakens me to an understanding that takes my breath away.
Lewis M. Randa
Christmas Night 2010
(Comments may be sent email@example.com.)