Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Defining the Divine

I don't believe in god--at least not the one with a capital G, called by various different names depending on religious affiliation. But I do, to the horror of some of my other atheist friends, believe in the divine, in a spiritual energy in the world that I can't quite understand, but that I "feel" exists, and to which I contribute my own energy.

On Saturday I did a three and a half hour run (I'm calling it my personal, non-sanctioned marathon) on the Pacific Crest trail from Donner Pass to Squaw Valley. About two miles into the run I was at 8900 feet and the views opened up in every direction--mountains, lakes, cliffs, spires, bright green scrub bushes and tall fragrant pines, the occasional bright red flower, and the sky, stretching out beyond my eye, meeting the horizon at infinity. The sun shone its brightest and the cool mountain air tasted delicious. I had one of those moments when I felt the divine in the world and the divine in myself; the expansiveness of possibility seemed real and endless. And I thought about all the things I needed to get on--no more procrastinating.

Then I thought about an email story I got earlier this week for my book, from a woman in Santa Barbara, CA, who introduced herself in her first line to me as a "Christian." Well, I'm not one for religion, so it was with one eyebrow raised that I read her story about god coming to her while she was on a treadmill and basically telling her she was good enough to do a marathon and, while she was at it, she ought to do it for a good cause and raise money for canncer with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training. As I was feeling all "divined" and such on my trail run, I realized that my knee-jerk reaction to this woman's treadmill vision was pretty unfair. After all, if the same story had been told, but the location had been, say, a mountain top, and the "divine" was nature, and not her god, then I wouldn't have batted an eyelash. It wasn't as if she'd said that her god had told her to invade a country or start a war. No, her god had suggested she was a better athlete than she imagined (and she's a speedster, clocking in at 3:13 for a marathon), and that she could put her athleticism to a good purpose. Great. Cancer research can hope for more visitations on treadmills.

Who am I to define what's divine for each one of us? What's important is that we find it in ourselves, and that it opens up new windows on our capacity.