One of my favorite Muppet jokes goes something like this:
“So let me get this straight, Bert: You say that God is above us, in the clouds, looking down on us?”
“That’s right, Ernie.”
“Funny, Bert. I always thought God was below us with his hand up our shirts.”
Two things I love about the wisdom of the Muppets: First, their philosophy is eternal. It was here long before Jim Henson, and it will be here long after the Muppets retire. The second reason I think the Muppets are necessary for life’s learning is because they remind me there is hope. Hope for the spiritual realities we yearn for in life, regardless of one’s faith philosophy or tradition.
How interesting that a frog, pig, a couple of old geezers, a foul-smelling talking green monster in a garbage can, an 8 foot yellow bird, and a myriad of other strange creatures can lead me to ponder and write about some of the most important things in life, including ideas about Ultimate Reality.
Ultimate Reality is another name or phrase for God, the Divine, Holy Spirit, Yahweh, Source, and so on. We often spend our lives searching for God—for oneness, for the holy of holies—to connect, give meaning to life, and make meaning for our lives. We do this so that we may know a measure of comfort, safety, and certainty in a world often cold, uncaring, and filled with so much uncertainty. Probably most important, it helps us know who we are.
Recently, I was at a conference, sitting in a workshop titled “Embracing the Other.” A room filled with people of many beliefs … multiple faiths, including atheists, nones (people who do not identify with any particular religion), theists, as well as those of us who identify with interspirituality. Regardless of how or where I choose to affiliate, if anywhere, I am basically noncreedal, but absolutely covenantal—that is, I hold deeply the knowing that we walk together in love, we belong to and with each other.
So back to my workshop … in this group of about 70 people, we started with a centering practice leading to an exercise in writing down all the words we use to describe God. Then we were invited to simply call out the words and phrases. As Spiritual Directors, it is imperative to know another’s language if we are to embrace the other and walk with them on their journey. So what better place to start then with this exercise? These are a few of those words:
Holy One, Ground of our Being, Source of all, Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love, Gaia, Eternal Presence, That Which Holds All, Yahweh, Divine Love, Infinite Allness, Beloved, Ceaseless Restless Creative Energy, Allah, Almighty Creator, Great Spirit, Eternal Love, and so many others.
It was wonderful to listen to it all and soak it in. I also found myself desiring to know all the words on people’s lists that didn’t get spoken.
I noticed though that everything said was abstract, not relational. It was for the most part genderless, and ironically, no one said God. While it’s important to discover and unfold who we are, I also know it is every bit as important to be aware of the interconnectedness of all life. When we ask the question, “Who am I?” we are asking it into the web of connection, so we cannot ask “who we are” without also asking “whose we are.” It is not enough to seek and find who we are, but also whose we are. These are inextricably linked, and we can’t find one without the other. I have no identity without you, without my relationships, including my relationship with the Divine.
To ask “Whose am I?” is to extend beyond my little self and wonder, Who needs me? Whom do I love and who loves me? With every word and action, whose life is altered? Who calls on me and who do I call upon? To whom am I accountable? Whose trust is placed in me? Whose lives am I entwined with? Basically—I am me, because of you. No way around it. You understand my life as no one else can, and I yours. I have that covenant with all. I belong to and with all those who came before me, and those who are yet to be.
In my life I bear witness to the idea of God, by whatever name I choose and whatever name you choose, because I know that Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any particular name. Yet it certainly can be limited by my refusal to ask whose am I? When I don’t stop and ask that question, I am missing half of this journey, and thereby limiting the activity and expression of my brilliance and immeasurable capacity for love. I must be that covenant.
While we can get stuck in creeds and dogma, it is not always what we believe that matters, but rather, how our beliefs get lived out in our lives. For me that is the true test and purpose for “naming” Ultimate Reality. So thank you Bert and Ernie for the gentle reminder of my covenant to embrace the other, to ask “whose am I?”