Reach out and touch faith

I don’t know if it’s the time spent in the Christian world or the time spent in the pagan world that makes me think I need to have a Personal Relationship with the Divine.

In the Evangelical Christian world it’s all about one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As hard as I tried I never felt close to Jesus. I felt more connected to the abstract, supposedly more transcendent Great Big God than I did to the incarnated Son. Perhaps it was because I felt that God was already imminent and alive to me in the mountains and waterways of my land. I didn’t know it then, but I had a firm grasp of panentheism. Jesus was a fascinating character, a wise and cantankerous teacher, but he did not speak to me in the here and now in the way that I felt the Great Big God did.

Even as I moved from Evangelical ideas of Christianity to worshiping with the Eastern Orthodox Church I still felt like I was missing something. The Eastern Orthodox, and much of the Roman Catholic world, do not place as much emphasis on the personal relationship with Jesus as does the Protestant world. But still: don’t we want our Gods to know us? Don’t we hope or even expect to know them?

My loose affiliation with the Pagan world led me to believe that this might be possible and might even be the norm! Plenty of people talk about Gods and/or Goddesses calling them, choosing them, appearing in visions, or even possessing them. I’ve had perhaps only one experience that might even closely resemble anything like that (and I’ll save that story for next quarter).

It’s not that I don’t feel God’s presence – I do. Sometimes I feel it like a powerful current; sometimes it’s like when you’re hiking and looking up at the trees and without noticing the small stream ahead you plunge your foot down into the icy waters. Sometimes I have to seek out that presence. Sometimes I have to work hard – sit in meditation for twice as long. But rarely is it personal. Rarely is it about ME.

Kali the Dark Mother

So now that I’m engaging with Hinduism in a daily way I find that this is what I most often trip over: am I supposed to be having a personal interaction with the Gods? I have long been drawn to Kali. The Shakti/Shiva understanding of the world speaks to my conception of the universe. And who can’t get behind Ganesha? He’s just so darn likable. But are they just representations of cosmic forces (just, right? like that wouldn’t be enough)? Or are they real, present, living Gods that get involved?

Ganesh, Remover of All Obstacles

So far my experience and thoughts suggest: yes. To both. But I’m not convinced that the God/s get involved with us on the minute level that many of us of Christian extraction expect. And I like that. I think there is something deeply selfish (as opposed to self-centered, which phrasing suggests something good to me) in the way that Christianity makes salvation and other ideas so specifically personal, as if everything we think, say and do has eternal weight. I do think that karma applies, the cause and effect of our actions. But does the Ground of Being listen in on everything we think? Does the Great Universal Creator hear us when we’re searching for a parking space? I’m going to say no. Could it? Sure. But I think this is where the appeal of many gods comes in: I need the rice to turn out perfectly for an important dinner party, so I pray to Lakshmi, element/goddess of the home and success, or to Ganesh to overcome any obstacles in my preparations. Why go to the top when Hir agents are available?

In my experience of worshiping as a Hindu these last 5 weeks I’ve only had two moments of feeling a connection with Kali, a feeling that went beyond the intellectual ‘oh her story and symbolism is really neat;’ a feeling that maybe she was poking by to see who is this new person that keeps calling her name. The pagan in me thinks this is about right – all relationships take time. My Christian past is just flat-out appalled.

For those of you practicing Hinduism in any form, what has been your experience? Those of you engaged with the Hindu pantheon, what have your relationships been like? How did you choose the gods you venerate? Or did they choose you?

(Title reference to Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode. Until linking to this, I had never seen the video. A Western?!)


10 responses to “Reach out and touch faith

    • Good point! But really, she isn’t just chaos unleashed. She has many layers to her. She speaks to me as the chaos of creativity and wildness of abandon I sense in most Dark Mother figures. She is the dispeller (is that a word?) of ignorance, illusion, and ego. She blesses and liberates, dispelling fear and demanding we act. No ambivalence!

  1. I work with Ganesh regularly these days and am finding him very engaging. As a writer, I’ve been drawn to him for a while, and when the harsher gods I was working with for the last few years told me I needed to ease up and work more with deities focused on growth instead of making-way-for-growth, he was the first one I thought of.

    I’ve found him to be extremely laid back. I include him in my daily morning work, generally lighting a candle and sometimes making an offering. I’ve been experimenting with chanting (using the “om gam ganapataye namaha” mantra) and found I like it. It’s nice to feel like, after a long time of tearing down the old, unhealthy, toxic crap, I am now working to grow and move in a healthy direction. Ganesh handles what few obstacles remain, rather than me having to do the hacking and slashing myself. It’s really nice. He’s also helping me work on self-love and self-compassion, which have historically been extremely difficult for me.

    • I am so glad to hear that! Ganesh is interesting. He has a firm, but quiet presence in our house. I don’t feel an intimate connection with him, but neither can I deny him. Plus, the little boy loves Ganesh! He is a really easy ‘gateway God’ I think. We offer him coins pretty regularly. We collect the coins in a jar and once it is full we donate it to the first charity that knocks at the door. Last month we had a full jar and a Christian charity came by and was shocked when we gave them the jar. Felt completely appropriate.

      • What a beautiful idea! I don’t get charities going door to door, but there are oodles of charities around here. LOVE IT. And yeah, Ganesh is a great gateway God, so to speak. He’s super approachable. I mean, what’s not to like about a guy who makes your life easier and loves dancing and candy and music? 😀

  2. I have come to terms with the fact that I am definitely a devotee of Rama. I say “come to terms” because as a newcomer to Hinduism (I began this path in September), I didn’t want to limit myself before I had a chance to learn all about the Gods and Goddesses. Over the past month, though, even though i still pray to Shiva (and Ganesha, Lakshmi, Krishna, Durga, and Saraswati), I feel such a wonderful peace when I think about or meditate on Lord Rama, that it’s hard to fool myself into thinking otherwise.

    However, I have worked very hard to relearn how to see each representation of God as being just as legitimate as Rama, since I have come from a very monotheistic background. So even though at home and privately I’m praying mainly to Rama, I am working at being comfortable in the moment, which in this case is finding a connection to God no matter which form is present.

    • I am glad you are finding your place in the tradition! It’s such an enormous, vibrant one. I find that I cannot get behind the male avatars – too much like Jesus for me. I put in my time using male specifiers for the Divine and I’m done with that, at least for the time being. Even though I well know that the Ultimate Divine is beyond gender.

      • As you say God is beyond gender. Most of the God’s and Goddesses can be seen in pairs: Rama Sita, Shiva Parvati, Krishna Radha, Lakshmi Narayan. Even when appearing in different forms this is maintained – Shiva Parvati becomes Kali Bhairava.

        As a devotee of Shiva I am well aware that when I worship Durga or Kali I am worshiping Shiva’s feminine side. Personally I find that Kali Bhariva are to far on the destructive side to resonate with me. Durga Rudra is as far as I am comfortable with. Durga Rudra are the loving parenting side defending against evil, but with the loving aim well in sight. Kali Bhairava is are the parents facing seemingly impossible odds, think of a mother insane with rage taking out a whole gang that are out to kidnap her child, anyone who even accidentally gets in her way had better watch out!

        • I always thought that Kali and Shiva could be paired – hence the icons of Kali standing on top of Shiva. I’ve thought that the typical Shiva/active matter – Shakti/creative spirit was in some way inverted by looking at the Divine as Kali/creator and destroyer and Shiva/matter. I don’t feel particularly subtle in my understanding of Hindu deities yet.

          On a personal level, I think I can relate to Durga more, but there is a longing in me for more fierceness, more fabulousness, more MORE. Perhaps this is because I’ve been tamping down on my own bigness since I was a small child and I’m seeking externally for the personal permission to just FUCK it ALL. I don’t know.

          I will say that Shiva is amazing. I spent last Monday observing Him and his day and I was surprised at the peace I felt. I am going to write about this in the coming weeks. I look forward to seeing where this practice leads me. There is so much grace in this tradition. It’s beautiful.

          • The iconography of Kali standing over Shiva is interesting. One description says:

            The Shiv tattava (Divine Consciousness as Shiva) is inactive, while the Shakti tattava (Divine Energy as Kali) is active. Shiva, or Mahadeva represents Brahman, the Absolute pure consciousness which is beyond all names, forms and activities. Kali, on the other hand, represents the potential (and manifested) energy responsible for all names, forms and activities. She is his Shakti, or creative power, and is seen as the substance behind the entire content of all consciousness. She can never exist apart from Shiva or act independently of him, i.e., Shakti, all the matter/energy of the universe, is not distinct from Shiva, or Brahman, but is rather the dynamic power of Brahman.

            I have also heard it said that since Kali represents the intellect, it shows that our spiritual consciousness sleeps when our intellect is active, hence the need to tether the intellect in meditation.

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