Monday, September 21, 2015

Googling for God

"Wide as the Sky"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

A story in this morning’s New York Times immediately caught my attention. The article was titled, ‘Googling for God”- a fascinating account of the new mode of spiritual and theological exploration prevalent in today’s popular culture: “Do a Google search.”

Today’s article reported on the millions and millions of recent online searches posed throughout the entire world asking “age-old” questions like, “Why does God permit evil?” or “Who made God?” or “Why did God make me like I am.” The questions posed attempted to discover who God is, or in many cases they sought to confirm a belief that there is no God to begin with.

Very little surprises me nowadays, but I have to say I was quite amazed at the staggering number of people today who explore their deepest spiritual questions by putting a few words into a Google search engine and expect some sort of answers to come out.

For one thing if someone were ever to pose such questions to me,  there is no way I could even begin to have a conversation about them because I don’t think “God” is a separated “Superbeing” up there and out there who does stuff like allow evil or make people turn out Gay or sick or sad.  I think of God as a universal energy, an abiding presence at the core of all that is, and so if those “search questions” ever wound up on my desk, I’d simply have no way of even beginning to deal with them.

But on top of all this, the very notion that a question posed in a “search engine” could, at the flick of a computer key, yield “answers” to the kind of questions human beings have struggled with and explored since the beginning of time seems almost ludicrous to me.

I think of all the great philosophers and prominent theologians who, over the ages, have explored these “God” questions, ultimately concluding that the best we can ever do is “talk around” the great unexplainable mystery of transcendence we call “God.”

I often refer to something Thomas Aquinas said back in the 16th century (to this day St. Thomas remains as one the most notable Christian theologians of the Western church.)  Having produced so many volumes of theological treatises that they would almost not fit into one room, upon his deathbed Aquinas looked at all his work and told his assistants that as far as he was concerned it was all just a pile of straw—feeble attempts to “get at”  some ideas about the great mystery.

I have always been very fond of Eastern approaches to spiritual wisdom. It’s not as if these spiritual masters deny the value of reason, they just understand that you can’t think your way into transcendence.

I particularly like how the Zen masters use “koans” to help their students explore deeper wisdom - “koans” pose questions that can’t be answered,  thus leading students to the threshold of greater wisdom.  

In one of my favorite Zen koans, the master asks a student “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The student desperately “searches” for answers to this question, but in spite of all his reasoning skills he comes up empty-handed (I chuckle to myself wondering what would have happened if the student had a computer and Googled for an answer).  Finally, the student gives up and tells his master that he has found no answer, and the master responds that the student is “now on the road to enlightenment.”

In light of today's article about Googling for God, I remember another Zen story that I like very much:

A student asked the teacher, ‘What is the true Way?’
The teacher answered, ‘The everyday Way is the true Way.’
To which the student replied, ‘can I study it?’
The teacher sat quietly and responded:
‘The more you study it the further you will be from the Way,
to find yourself on it, open yourself as wide as the sky.’

Life is a mystery, the world is a mystery, “God” is a mystery. There is nothing wrong with asking questions and searching for answers; but all the books in the world will give no final solution – even a Google search won’t come up with the meaning of the “Way.”

At the beginning of a new day, I sit in my desert garden and look up into the clear blue sky gazing at the moon that refuses to retire with the morning sun. I open myself as “wide as the sky” and find that I am on the “Way.”

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