I am big Oprah fan. I love everything she touches. Through Oprah, I was introduced to Dr. Maya Angelou.
18 months ago, I was struggling to transition from school to the workforce. My brain was confused as to how I could work at a desk for eight hours a day, yet feel like I had accomplished nothing. I had no homework to turn in and receive back, no checkpoints between semesters. Everything was digital and didn’t seem real. So every night I put on a podcast and picked at a puzzle. It felt good to see something physical move toward completion. This night, I listened to a podcast between Oprah and Maya.
Towards the end of the podcast, Oprah and Maya had this conversation. Oprah starts by asking Maya how she defines God.
“All.” says Maya, “If I was asked, “Say your definition of God in one word.” It would be All. A-L-L. There is no place that God is not. No place. In the prison, in the choir, loft, on my knees. God is right there. God is All.”
“Are there many ways to get to Him?” asks Oprah.
“I think so. As many ways as there are. Absolutely. Like the way that the highways that go to Rome. All roads lead to God.”
“What do you believe happens when you die?”
“Oh, I go back to All. That’s all. Yes, I’m in All right now. I just go back to All. Yeah, it’s another transition. It’s just another way of being in All.”
“What do you call the soul? What is it?”
“The soul is the spirit which longs for All. And that spirit then uses itself to create the blues and gospel music. And pop music. And hip hop. It’s that spirit that longs, that says, “Let me say something that will help me, lead me to All.” Whether the poetry is the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez or William Shakespeare. Or Maya Angelou. Eugene Redmond. The poetry. I write so I can get closer to All.
Let me tell so much truth —not facts, because facts can obscure the truth. You tell so many facts —the places where, the people who, times when, reasons why, blah, blah, blah, never getting to the truth. So I want to tell the truth in my work. And it will help me, lead me closer to All.”
“I remember Rainn Wilson was on SuperSoul Sunday and he said that art is another form of prayer.” says Oprah.
“Of course. Exactly. That’s why you try your best to say the right thing. The true thing. The good thing. Because you’re an artist. And you’re using God Itself to help you to get to God. Oh yes.”
“How do you define spirituality versus religion?”
“Oh, religion is like a map, yeah know. It can help you see how to get where you want to go. All it does is show you how to get there. It’s only a map.”
“And spirituality for you means?”
“Oh. Surrender. I surrender all to All.”
I was uncomfortable. I tried to put puzzle pieces into other puzzle pieces, but I couldn’t find any that fit. I got angry and scared and anxious and I knew I could never tell anyone I listened to this podcast. I decided it was a great time for ice cream. I called it all a bunch of BS and spooned the ice cream from the container into my mouth as I stood leaning against my green tiled kitchen counter. My hanging pot rack dropping its large, wonky, heavy pots right at my eye level. I ate more ice cream. Then I went to bed.
I’m convinced that ice cream is a litmus test for truth. We reach for it when we encounter something that our core knows to be true, but our outside isn’t okay with yet. Maya’s proclamation that God is All; that the soul is the spirit that creates; to tell truth, not facts; that spirituality is surrender —were whispers of truth to me. They were in my ether.
They weren’t in my head yet. I still rejected them while holding them, unsure as to what to do with knoweledge from a woman I adamantly admire, but that contradicted everything I believed. The flavor of Christianity I practiced at the time did not have room for Maya’s words. My words and writings and conversations with myself didn’t have room for them either.
But my body knew.
Maya proclamation painted for me a reality in which I did not have to know more than the person on the other side of the globe, of my own country, of my own town, of my own family. It painted for me a reality in which there was no ‘knowing more than’, in which there was no supreme fact to even know. It painted a reality that neither demanded, nor made it even possible, to hold certainty.
These beliefs allowed me to approach people in a new way. I think before I approached everyone different than me with a posture of “I am right and you are wrong. And I am doing you a favor by bringing my rightness into your sphere. I am helping you.” That is what lingered in the air between my words. That’s what stuck to my clothes.
I am not saying that’s what every traditional Christian says. But I know, in my insecurities of beliefs, in my insecurities approaching a world I was taught to be hostile and untrustable, that’s what my words said.
Maya’s words instead allowed me to approach my Muslim friends and my Sikh friends, my atheist friends and my polytheistic friends, my Christian friends that have loads of sex and my Christian friends who have no sex, my Christian friends who still go to that homophobic church and my Christian friends who practice open relationships, my non-religious family and my family that literally believe snakes are literally evil creatures cursed by the devil —and simply say, “Thank you for expanding my view of humanity. For that, I am truly grateful.”
Maya’s words let that cling to my clothes.
There are days in which I look up the clouds, watch the stirring between their billows and their wisps, finally aware of the dance they’ve always made but that I didn’t give the thought, or time, or permission to myself, to look up and to admire. There are days when I see this and my body screams, “There is no way God does not exist. This is God. This is God. This is God.”
There are days when I look up at the same thing and feel nothing.
There are days, like this morning, when I do an inventory in my mind of all the kind people I have ever encountered. All the courageous people. All the people who have welcomed me into their homes. All the people who have ever done a good thing to me. All people who have ever done a good thing to anyone. I sit and contemplate these stories. I work them and rewrite them. I want so badly for every one of these people to be Christian. I want Jesus to be the common factor amongst them all so I can go back to the way I used to see the world. The way in which I knew everything. The way in which Jesus, and the exact flavor of Jesus I believed in, was the string that tied everything together. I liked that way.
I know that searching is just the old me creeping in, trying to push the new me off balance. I know that’s just me afraid of believing something different than I was taught. I know that’s fear trying to take back, to take over love —the love that I have committed to live by, the love that will always be stronger than that fear.
And I know that the old view does not make sense to me anymore. There are plenty of people doing incredible things who have never heard the name of Jesus. There are plenty of people who have and are doing atrocious things. There are plenty of people in every type of in between.
I’ve accepted that. I know that. I hold that in my bones.
I’ve really struggled how to end this God series. I wanted it to be uplifting. But I needed it to be true. I felt like anything other than arriving back at the Christianity I started with was not uplifting. I think it’s funny the extent to which I will go to resist change, to deny that a change has even occurred. How badly I want to just say what everyone else says, to believe what I believe is expected of me.
When I am my strongest, I ask myself: “Is this what I know of the world? Is this of what trees say, and the plants, and the fossils, and the seas? Does this fit with what I learn when I go to museums, to new countries, when I meet all the sorts of people I meet? Is this what I know when I am in that place inside myself in which I am most myself?”
This journey for me has been a journey into. Into to all the places I was before afraid to go. Into honesty and vulnerability and courage. Into one particular place inside myself —that place that I hold sacred and true and untouchable to anyone else. That’s the place I’ve found myself to stand and grow and have my being. That’s the place that I go to pull out these words.
That place requires silence and solitude. It demands that I see myself really well. That I like myself really well. It demands that I’m not faking it.
And that’s where I’ve found God to be. That’ where I’ve found my All.