Accepting the Language of Others

I thought I’d laid my angst with the God talk to rest when I had my breakthrough last winter and came to understand that my challenge was with the God of my childhood rather than with the God of my understanding. I thought I’d finally gotten to the point that I could hear others talk about how God was doing things in their lives that they couldn’t do for themselves without having a visceral reaction. I thought that I’d made progress. And then I went to a Step meeting on a Friday.

I heard people sharing their truths in that meeting. I heard them talking about the God of their understanding. Intellectually, I knew that their understanding was theirs and not mine. Intellectually, I knew that they weren’t preaching to me — that their God talk was not aimed at me. But emotionally, I was not prepared to hear those things for what they were. Emotionally, I heard these people talking about the God of my childhood — God that I don’t believe in and even if I did we wouldn’t be in speaking terms. And I found myself in a foul mood questioning the one thing that had made a difference when other things couldn’t. Questioning the validity of 12-Step as a mode of recovery.

That’s the insanity of being affected by an addiction. If there is one thing for certain about my addiction to booze it’s that I was not able to stop drinking without help. And for me that help came in the form of 12-Step meetings, the fellowship, and the program.

I’ve spent some time wrestling with this. What is it about hearing other people talk about the God of their understanding that triggers me? Why do I automatically assume that they are talking about the God of my childhood when they use Christian terms and names for God?

After some soul searching I think that it comes down to this: I went to Catholic school in a rural area. While Vatican II occurred between 1963 and 1965 and, in part, attempted to reconcile modern life with Catholic orthodoxy, you wouldn’t have known that nearly 30 years had passed in the churches of the area. We had very conservative priests. One of the key messages that I received was this: “Roman Catholicism is the only true religion with a direct lineage between the Pope and God starting with Peter.”

While I rejected many things about the Catholic Church, this particular nugget stuck with me. So powerful were these words that I viewed all Protestant faiths as being somehow unworthy, not quite real if not outright false. This sense that there was no true religion outside the Catholic Church tainted my view of the world, so much so that I secretly struggled with getting married in the Presbyterian Church even though I consistently found the message of our pastor to be beautiful and in lock step with my understanding of the universe.

And so, I struggle when I hear the people talk about God because I haven’t let go of the idea that the only true interpretation of God sources from the Roman Catholic Church — a notion that I rejected long ago but one in which I still feel entrapped. I struggle with accepting that when people speak of the God of their understanding, they are not necessarily speaking of the God of my childhood — a God that repeatedly failed me.

And so, I have some work to do. The work of letting go of old ideas and sitting with the discomfort. And I have to work on accepting what I know to be true — that there are other faiths which are true and pure, that language gets in the way of spiritual connections, that we are all really speaking about the same mystery, regardless of the name we put on it.