A Note on God

I use the word 'God' in this book conscious of the fact that there are many who may find it objectionable - and others who may find my casual use of the word too irreverent or shallow. For all sorts of reasons people can be very touchy about this word; in my view they seem either too earnest, too proprietorial, too fanatical, too averse, too phobic ...There is however no ultimate authority or definition. The word is yours and mine to make of it what we will.

When I first heard the term 'God' in childhood I was not sure what it meant, but this was not a problem; it was simply a word inherited from the world around me and was more cultural than religious. What can a child make of this? It was a plaything for the innocent mind. It seemed related to the fairies and pixies and this was rather pleasing. I said occasional childhood prayers to God without understanding who or what this God was and enjoyed these mysterious little moments muttering to something that seemed good and somehow on my side.

My grandmother sang songs that included the word and this all seemed enjoyable, touching and harmonious. Father would sometimes utter the phrase 'God only knows' or 'God help us' or 'God strike me blue'. And mother too - she used it in similar ways - it was mostly just a useful all-purpose folk word in my mother tongue. It was there floating about and I accepted it.

Later on in life at school, it became a more religious or theological term, yet this did not clarify things very much. I became aware of strange, awesome imagery and extravagant ideas that were put about concerning an all-powerful creator God and stories of the wonderful and terrible things that had been done in God's name. Eventually I got caught up in rational debates and questions about the existence of God and whether I believed or did not believe, yet could not quite understand all of this and did not feel too perplexed or concerned about my failure to properly grasp the meaning or have a definite view. The point is that I was always fairly at ease or indifferent about this word and held a cheerful view that it was part of an ancient, ongoing, non-threatening mystery.

Later on I noticed that certain educated friends found my ambivalence about the word and my willingness to happily use it as a sign that I was probably too irrational and superstitious and not modern or scientific enough. I in turn wondered why they, with their apparently resilient open minds, were so het up, so squeamish and almost phobic about it, as if it were an embarrassing obscenity - this word that had been used quite naturally, not just by many of their ancestors, but by wonderfully creative and intelligent minds like Johann Sebastian Bach, Vincent van Gogh and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What were these extraordinary free-spirited artists referring to when they used the word? What personal inner state, what idea, what spirit or sensibility, what part of self, what other-worldly principle, what eternal beauty or truth? This to me became a rich metaphysical contemplation.

I have thought that perhaps it requires a daring creative imagination or a sublime lyrical vision to use the word meaningfully and with ease or equanimity. Perhaps it requires a very free and flexible mind or the capacity to not know and not worry too much - and yet the ability to be fully alive to life's spiritual possibilities and the capacity to have and use and simply enjoy a vivacious mystery.
Apart from the obvious appalling uses and meanings of the word in history, it also seems to have been used to reference something natural, valuable and vital; a thing so deep and wide or so beautifully light and vast that it was practically unsayable because no word existed to describe such a state or such a thing. And so, a more free, enlightened and helpful interpretation of the word becomes possible - 'God' as a sort of shorthand or password, a fertile inconclusive everyday expression, a signpost, a catalyst, a spark, a stepping stone, a bridge, a makeshift handle ... A simple, robust word used lightly and loosely or as devoutly and deeply as we might feel - and a way to break free from this material world for a moment or two, a day or two ... or for what's left of a lifetime.

And eventually for me, it is a lyrical word, a poetic word - in fact, a one- word poem. And finally the idea emerges from the poem that this 'God' I have been talking to and happily wondering about is indeed the god within; the god of self: true innocent self - the lost, beautiful, suffering, joyous self. Dear God.

That's more or less how I have used the word in this book.

Michael Leunig December 2014