When I was a boy, growing up in the religious faith of my parents, I had many experiences that helped to solidify my faith. We heard and talked so often about things like worship, praise, and adoration of God. Even our church services were often called "worship services", because we believed that what we were doing was bringing honor to God through our expression of thankfulness.
As I got older, the desire for more ways to express my love and adoration of God compelled me toward what has become the mainstay of the modern worship service- the worship leader. In the vast majority of churches, the entire service has become one long worship experience, often focused on a unifying theme that permeates each song, the message, and even the prayer and collection times. Whether as the leader of the worship service, or as a part of the congregation, the goal is the same: to create an atmosphere for spiritual connection. But the moment the service ends, that atmosphere most often disappeared.
I always felt that same disconnect after what so many of us referred to as "mountaintop experiences". I started to notice this problem at a young age, after every one of those all-too-short weeks or weekends at a camp or retreat. The first one I remember well enough to claim as one of these experiences was at Camp Fireside in New Hampshire. Camp was as much fun with a bunch of Christian kids as it was a spiritual experience, but at least for me, I knew that I was closer to God when I was there, and left with a bittersweet longing for more. The week was always a mixture of pure, unadulterated mayhem, and that serious side of "worship" in a summer-camp style series of services in the Chapel.
I had many of these times growing up, both in youth group- when, for example we went on a "hike" up Mount Washington, and at Christian camps- at Fireside and further upstate in Rumney, NH, and even as an adult at Hartstone Camp in Potter Valley, CA. The messages were simple, but poignant, and the songs moving. But I eventually came to realize that these were not the only "mountaintop experience" that I would experience in my life.
As I look back over my years, I see handfuls of experiences that had nothing to do with church groups or religion at all. I have been hit with equally wonderful feelings of awe and inspiration when doing nothing more than casting my line into the lake, or tending my backyard garden. And it has been in these times that I realized the true worship of my creator. Never have I been so close to God than when simply surrounded by his awesome creative works. Yes... I even felt such incredible bliss at the birth of each of my children as I sensed God's creative work in the tiny features of a child.
It was when looking at the innocent faces of seven babies delivered safely into my arms by my beautiful wife that I wondered how God could condemn such a little one to an eternity of anguish, separated from their creator. And it was in those moments that I have remembered and know that God would never do that cruel deed. It is only depraved men who could concoct such a vicious story about a loving and compassionate God- one who could create such a delicate, intricate, amazing being that cries for connection to him. When I see my children, I do not see evil creatures bent on disobedience and rebellion (though that is possible). I see nature, God's creative act, and the true essence of his love.
All of these images show us the true essence of our creator. And Deism allows me to believe that God is as close as the fingers of that infant wrapped around my thumb, the leaves falling from each tree as winter forces its way over the landscape, the rolling hills, the blooming Cape Honeysuckle on my porch, the Tomatoes struggling to survive the blistering heat of summer... as the Bible so simply reminds us: all we need to know of God is found in his works and it is there that we can truly see him for who he is.
Those mountaintop experiences were so awesome because God is clearest in nature, not in buildings and songs. While music is a fantastic vehicle for expressing our longing for spiritual experience, it is simply a form that allows us to put the incomprehensible into physical presence. Once the word is uttered it is lost, much like an entire week of camp services after descending from the mountains of New Hampshire.
I didn't like coming down. I wanted the experience to last... to continue week after week... but we were taught that the experience must be continued in a different way- a spiritual experience of constant prayer, meditation, and immersion in the written word... words... that medium that loses its inspiration the moment it is spoken. How could the words on a piece of paper (or parchment) carry the awe-inspiring experience of spiritual connectedness to God our creator in any palpable way? As much as I like books, what I had been conditioned to believe about inspiration began to fall flat in the face of the truly inspiriing. While that may sound oxymoronic, it tells a very real tale.
Sunday School, church, and seminary, had all taught me to diligently study words... it came very natural to me to delve as deeply as I could go into the study of books and doctrine.. theology! I have what I think is a rare, analytical mind... one that makes me both curious and argumentative. It is my nature to crave the reason and meaning behind every regulation and guideline- everything I am taught (told I have to believe to be right). In other words, there had better be a very good explanation for a belief if it is going to pass muster with me!
And that is what led me to Deism. It is the simple philosophy of Deism (that God exists based on the evidence in nature) that best expresses the spiritual experiences I have felt, and continue to feel, every day of my life, as far back as I can remember. I felt God in the pine forests of the White Mountains; I felt him while watching several feet of snow fall during the blizzard of '78, and I feel God every time I walk out into a desert garden that teams with life in a hostile environment... and I know that God is there because I can sense that he has given me all of those, so that I will believe that I have a purpose in this world, just like every plant and every person that has ever existed here. Yes... Deism gives us purpose that does not dictate a Heaven/Hell judgement or a cursed-world fatalism.
I came to Deism because religion left me hungry and without answers... answers that my experience told me could only come outside of the buildings and books that men had created to distract us from the God who loves us and gives us purpose. There is a God who accepts us and our thanks (worship) even if we can't understand a book full of rules and regulations! He just wants us to appreciate and enjoy the experience of life itself.
And that is the purpose of the incredibly beautiful and myriad creation all around us- pure enjoyment! While nature most certainly provides our needs, and often in abundance, it is also a great source of inspiration, as well as, direction of our senses toward God.
I am a lover of nature in that it is that place where I can always feel the presence of God... and in that one point all religions can agree. It is unfortunate that few religions can stop at that one, simple truth. Unlike Deism, religions steal the thunder of the mountaintop experience, and drag it, kicking and screaming, back to the steeple and the pulpit. I once trained for that very thing... to stand and cloud the minds of the faithful with ancient parables and sayyings that could... none of them... duplicate or convey the boundless energy of nature and God's goodness.
It didn't take long after seminary for the preponderance of book-learning to lose its luster. The constant drive to further parse the words of ancient mystics tore me that much further from my God. But I always had my garden, my walks among the trees, my fishing trips, my family, to remind me of where to find my connection to God... to the truest spirituality I had ever known. And then I found its name: Nature... Deism... all I needed had been given to me before I knew how to speak a single word. Before I learned the ways of myth and superstition... God had already put his "word" in my heart, soul, and mind. Never had I known peace and contentment as when I let go of that faith in the teachings of men and immersed myself in God himself.
Life doesn't have to be a series of montaintop experiences... not if you know where to find God every day, along the way. I think there was a song about that, but I can't remember... nature has drowned it out. The rest of my story can be found at faithjourney.yolasite.com and continues through my articles. I am so thankful for discovering Deism and this new path for my life. You don't have to be afraid or feel guilty any longer. Let God set you free.