Kudos to Grey Austin. Not only has he written a thoughtful, readable book about his search for a universal ultimacy that makes more sense than the personalized Christian God, but he's evolved a terrific white beard.
I've been thinking of letting mine grow out a bit. Not to Austin's Father Christmas length, but he's inspired me. Both beardly and spiritually.
Austin's book has an unvarnished honest feel to it. He's shared musings about the nature of the universe, God, and what life is all about that were composed over a number of years. I enjoyed seeing how his thinking (and feeling) changed from a fairly traditional Christian perspective to a scientifically founded Taoist-friendly outlook.
Which is pretty darn close to how I see things too. Like Austin, I used to have a much more anthropomorphic conception of divinity than I do now. But unlike him, my "God" was mediated to me by a living guru rather than Jesus.
Nonetheless, Austin's transition in understanding from God as Person to God as Nature mirrors my own in many ways. He says:
Thinking about God has been a problem for me for some time. I grew up picturing God as a being – not necessarily an old man in a robe and beard, but an entity somehow separate and other than "His" Creation, which is to say, the universe and its inhabitants.
I gradually came to believe that God could not choose to act on some individual's or nation's behalf or at their behest if such action would disrupt the flow of natural events. Still, I had the lingering sense that "with God all things are possible."
If God were not a separate being, with what or whom could I have a relationship and to what or whom could I pray? And what did prayer mean if God could not reach down a finger and stir the pot for my benefit or respond to even my most altruistic requests?
As those in my church continued to use anthropomorphic terms for God, I began to translate all that I heard into more naturalistic terms; but that was wearisome and could almost make me feel that I didn't belong. I also didn't have the natural processes sorted out enough to make some of the connections between anthropomorphism and naturalism with any degree of confidence.
Now I see that I was empowering God to act in the physical world and at the same time doubting that God could. This wasn't God's problem; it was mine. Now I suggest that "God" is the expression of faith that we use to give meaning to the natural world rather than creator of or active agent in the world.
With respect to prayer, I have come to recognize that I can be grateful and express my gratitude without being grateful to a "Someone." I can express affirmation, aspiration, regret, and even awe without the necessity of addressing it to an Other.
Another excerpt from Austin's book can be read here. "Wholly Spirit" doesn't appear to be available from the usual online book sellers, but I got a copy quickly and easily from the book's distributor.
Austin ends up with a "theology" or cosmology of Cosmic Wholeness: "I found that all is one and I am one with all."
That sounds New Agey, yet Austin is anything but. He's committed to melding the best of rationality and science with the best of intuition and mysticism.
The process that is consistent throughout the physical, organic, human, and inner realms might be thought of as intelligent energy, communicating and facilitating healing and wholeness at all levels of reality. The classical example of this model is the Buddha for whom there was no God figure, who taught reliance on human qualities as a way of life, and who counseled accepting things just as they are.