©copyright 2006 R. Hayes
Talk given 6/4/06 at Unitarian Church, Pittsfield MA

The order of service says the title of the talk this morning is four letter words. But there's been a change.
I thought that was going to be my talk but as I got writing it, it took off in a different direction.
So this morning it will not be "Four letter words"-instead it's going to be a single word with three letters-
This morning I'd like to talk about God.

Pablo Casals said: “ In music, in the sea, in a flower, in a leaf, in an act of kindness….I see what people call God in all these things”.

This is also how I see God

But I promise you-I'm not here to "sell" you my version of God. I'm here to share some of my thoughts and beliefs.
Quite frankly-I don't even know if I could adequately describe what my version of God is, so I'd rather not even try. To me it would be like trying to describe an E minor chord with words- Sure I could tell you the theory of the chord structure-the notes and intervals-but that's not what it sounds like - Telling doesn't do it!

Now I'm willing to bet that here in this room there are as many ideas of what God is or isn't, as there are people.
As for me, I've come to a place in my life where I see the Divine everywhere and in all things-
but this is a fairly recent development for me.

Okay - As I said a moment ago, this is a fairly recent way of seeing things for me-only in the past 5 years or so. And believe me, there have been many twists and turns along the way getting here.

I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school for 12…L-O-N-G…years!
I started school believing in God but by the time I was through with school I was also through with God.
My first serious doubt about God came when my younger brother Jim died of cancer. He was 9 and I was 10. Prayers hadn't done a thing-at least not that I could see.
Then there was the humiliation many of the kids in our school suffered-yours truly included-at the hands of those who were supposedly representing God-
that didn't help either.

And when I was 12 I went to Caracas, Venezuela and saw poverty and was appalled. How could people live that way? Why would anyone let them? Where was God?
So by the time I was in my teens I saw the state of the world, with all it's war, greed, random violence and suffering as proof positive that there was no God-or if there was he was one mean, uncaring bastard and I didn't want anything to do with him.

Now I have to tell you that when I was a little kid, before I'd ever gone to school, I couldn't wait to get there! The thing I wanted to learn about the most was God! And I believed they would teach me. Well, they did...and that became the problem.

I think that wanting to know about God is something all kids are interested in. I think it is natural for all of us to wonder where we come from and, probably even more important, where we're going to.

I guess there's still a little Catholic in me because I'd like to make a confession to you all: I confess that the subject of God has fascinated me ever since I can remember. Somewhere way back I have this dim memory of an awareness of a presence that was with me. This is my earliest memory of anything.

It's funny, but in many ways my sense of God today is more akin to the way I used to feel as a small boy; before I went to school and they taught me their version of God.

But as I said, by the time I was through with school I was through with God.

So what has changed my mind? How is it that I'm up here today and willing to talk about? There are two things that caused me to reconsider: Birth and death. But birth came first.

I was present at the birth of my first child and when they handed him to me it was the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me-he looked into my eyes and held my gaze. I know, I know. Newborns aren't supposed to be able to see anything. But I know what happened that day. There was a recognition
that passed between us. And when I held this new life in my arms I realized that it was a miracle-and that's when I began to believe that there was something much grander and greater happening here.

Then, years later when I became a volunteer at Hospice, sitting with the dying I saw things that further confirmed for me that there was more going on here than what we see with our eyes.

Let me tell you a quick story. My Mom had been with her Dad when he died. He died at home, in his own bed. Being a devout Catholic family, a prayer candle had been brought to burn by his bedside-this was a tall, thick candle. Anyway, my grandfather was lying there when all of a sudden he sat straight up in bed and put his hands out as if to welcome someone. My mother said he had this beautiful smile on his face, as though he were seeing someone he loved dearly. Then, just as suddenly as he'd sat up, he lay back down, took a deep breath and died. At the same moment the candle-the candle that had been about 8-9 inches tall-began burning brightly. My mom said it looked like a movie that was running on hi-speed. The candle burned all the way down to its base in a matter of seconds and then went out. My Mom said that when her Dad had sat up his face had seemed to be illuminated, as if a light were being shown on it.
So what lit up his face?
I believe the light came from within him.

And that's where my own journey has led me: it's led me back to where it all started and that is within.
Seeing God everywhere means, in essence, that there really is no “out there”.
I'm part of It and It is part of me....we all are part of the same Thing.

I heard Deepak Chopra say: “ I am That, you are That, all this is That......That's all there is…!”

Well, I'll second That!

In India Hindu's greet one another with hands folded in the prayer position and a slight bow.
It says “The God in me recognizes the God in you.” What a great way to greet people! What a great way to see people!

You might be wondering what my take on all the bad stuff is; the injustices and suffering that very obviously still goes on in the world. After all, aren't these some of the very things that had caused me to doubt God's existence in the first place? How do I reconcile that with my belief today? Well, frankly I don't attempt to reconcile them at all. I accept that there is much I don't understand.

Truthfully, when I see pain and suffering in others it can be very, very hard for me. I want to "fix " it, to take the pain away-to make things better-to solve the "problem". But sometimes pain may also be a gift, no matter how it might appear.
In my own experience, some of the most painful times in my life have led me to new places-much better places-blessed places. Without the pain I don't know that I would have gotten there.

Carl Jung said that there is no coming to consciousness without pain.

Today I remind myself that no matter how things look, my perspective is limited-extremely limited in many cases. I can't see what may be up ahead.
If I'm standing out in my front yard, I can see what's happening in my neighborhood, but I have no idea what's going on 2 blocks over or a mile away. But if someone were to drift overhead in a balloon at say 150 feet, they'd see all the things I can't. Life's the same way. It's all about perspective. A Higher perspective changes the view.

But I should also tell you that despite many, many incidents in my own personal experiences that have shown me that God -or what I prefer to call God-exists. I have also had moments when I start to think I've just made it all up. After all, most of us do see what we want to see. It's human nature. So if I want to believe, then I will find things that support that belief.

But one day when this doubt came on me for the umpteenth time, rather than trying to line up all my “proof” to offset the doubt, I had a breakthrough. A thought blasted it's way into my mind: "So what if there is no God? -- SO WHAT??? Did there being no God mean doing kind things was any less valuable? Did it mean being compassionate was any less important? Did it mean forgiveness wouldn't heal? That kindness didn't matter? If there was no God did that mean that the love I felt for my family and so many others was any less real?"
A light went on for me. And thank God, so far it has stayed on.

Let me see if I can explain what I mean. Look, if the here and now is all there is, then isn't that reason enough- maybe even all the more reason-to want to live as meaningfully and deeply as possible? To be content and happy? to do good work? To make a difference? If anything it's more important than ever!

Let me ask you: How do you feel when you're angry? or resentful? or scared? or when you decide you hate someone or something? You don't feel good, do you?
But how do you feel when you're helping someone? when you're smiling or being kind? When you're giving a gift to someone you love?
How about when you are feeling loved and loving another? You feel pretty good, don't you?

Well, to tell you the truth, I'm a feel good kind of guy. I'd rather feel good than feel bad. Who doesn't like feeling good? I've tried a lot of the things that were supposed to make me feel good, and happy, and fulfilled. Things like shopping and buying lots of new things; changing jobs and making more money, bigger house, fancier car, fine wine, etc. etc -don't get me wrong, they all were nice. But what I always found was that the initial "bump up" that I got from any of these things didn't last.
After the excitement began to recede I'd start to have this empty feeling and want to fill it. Then I'd start to look for something else to make me "Happy" . Talk about being trapped! Let me tell you something: there is a lot of money riding on keeping as many of us as possible trapped in this hamster's wheel existence!

I just finished reading a book called “THE WISDOM OF FORGIVENESS” by The Dalai Llama and Victor Chan. It's a great book and I recommend it. In the book he makes the point that all the Buddha's and Bodhisattvas of the world are the most selfish beings of all, that by cultivating altruism they actually achieve ultimate happiness for themselves-and that's why they do it!! They know that the best way to lead a happy life is to help others. So it's really self serving that serves everyone! A win-win situation.

The Dalai Llama said that a cook who cooks for others, even
though he doesn't have the intention of cooking for himself, is always well fed!

So, on that day when I had this "breakthrough" I finally concluded that whether God existed or not didn't matter. If I wanted to feel good and be happy I knew the answer.

For me living well is trying to be of service. I would continue to do those things because they are what matters!
If I do my best to be kind, helpful, compassionate and loving, I feel good about myself. And chances are if I feel good about me, I'll feel good toward others as well. It's that simple!

So the question of God suddenly became a moot point for me. And for the first time ever it no longer mattered to me. I was no longer fighting against something or trying to prove anything!

All my life I'd been trying to figure things out. But when this “So What?” idea came to me I was set free. And the funny thing is that once I stopped trying to figure it all out, looking for signs and proof, I discovered that they were all around me! To my amazement I realized they always had been! I'd just not seen them-not recognized them. Why not? Because I'd been so busy looking for them! Or more correctly, I'd been looking for what I believed they should look like! It's funny what you miss when you're so sure of what you're supposed to see!

I know it sounds contradictory. But one of the things I have learned on this spiritual path is that the language of Spirit is often paradoxical. Less is more; that by giving you are really receiving; that by letting go you accomplish; that by surrendering you win. Who would've thought it? Certainly not me!

Since this realization came to me I feel as though I've been given new eyes, and these eyes see that God is everywhere. And there is not a day that I am not, at some point during my day, filled with an indescribable sense of gratitude and awe. Not even on the worst of days. I remember what is real and true for me, and in that remembering I connect to this feeling; to me this is my Higher Power. This is God. And no matter what kind of pain I have experienced during the day, in this remembering is joy and gratitude that surpasses all of it.

The poet Rumi said: God breaks our heart open again and again and again until one day it finally stays open.

But I'll warn you: Opening your heart is no easy road to be on . Once you do it you feel everything! And that's both good news…and bad news!
That's what I'm trying to say here. I feel pain more deeply than ever, but I also feel joy like I've never felt…and it's worth the trade off. To feel is to truly live!!

Like the Dalai Llama says, in service to others is true happiness. For me I have found a way of life that has given me more happiness then I've ever known before. And unlike before, this endures.
Am I happy all the time? Absolutely not! Do I still feel down at times? Yes. And believe it or not, I do get angry and short-tempered!

I have another confession: I struggle with patience! God how I struggle with patience!! But even with all these things, here's what I've learned: it is in the small acts of service that I find the best parts of myself. And that has given me a contentment with my life that I've never had before.

I do wish that I could give this feeling to all people. I want everyone to understand what it is like. I want everyone to experience it for his or her self. I'm sure you know yourself that when you find something that REALLY works, the first thing you want to do is go out and tell everyone about it- to shout it from the roof-tops. But, like that E minor chord I spoke of earlier…words cannot convey this. You'll have to find your own way. But I believe all of us are blessed with an inner compass that helps point the way. Take time to discover your compass.

Gandhi said to let your life be your message, and that's what I try to do.

Anyway, this professing my belief in God in front of all of you is not what I had originally intended. I've never stood up and said, "Hi my name is Richard Hayes and I believe in God."
There has been a four letter word that has stopped me: FEAR.

Why? That's the interesting thing. I didn't really know it until I started working on this talk. You see, I didn't want to be thought of as "one of those people"...you know: "shhh-here comes Rich-he's gotten religion-watch what you say around him." And I never wanted to be confused with some of the people I've heard who absolutely know that their way is the RIGHT way. I never want to come off as trying to tell anyone what they must believe. Let's face it-there are an awful lot of people claiming "God's Will" as they do horrendous things. I never want to be lumped in with them. Truth is people have given God a bad name-especially lately!

But I was also afraid of something else. Truth is I was afraid of opening myself up to all of you. It is scary. To me God is a deeply personal thing and I don't like to talk about personal things like this. It's like being naked and letting you see all of me. But I've done it! No more hiding-my belief in God is out in the open-out of the closet.

One of my vows for this life is this: I want to get to the end of it knowing I've given it my best shot and not let all the stuff that scares me stop me.

The closest I'm going to come to preaching to you this morning comes right here at the end of this talk. Whatever your belief regarding God, the most important thing any of us can do is help another human being and to make the world a better place. And when you do one you do the other.
Thank you.