Previously I wrote about the gift of my 81 year old mother. Today I write about the unlikely teaching of my elderly dad.
I was raised Catholic during the 1960s and totally bought into “God the Father” as the white bearded guy with a staff, and “God the Son” being Jesus of the Sacred Heart. My teenage religious rebellion turned me toward the God of Rationality. Later, in my mid-30s I enthusiastically embraced the God of Psychotherapy. I will admit, I am an unabashed fan of therapy, having had many years of it. It truly awakened my emotional and compassionate side.
Yet at some point, it too, became not enough. My therapist, a most transformative person in my life, encouraged me as I experimented in the mid-90s with Unitarian Universalism. But I still felt caught. It seemed I had only two options: reject God altogether, as our humanist-oriented minister at the time indirectly advocated, or embrace my childhood image of a conscious, directive potentate who saw fit to allow child abuse and starvation. Neither route was appealing.
Enter Process Theology in the guise of my dad. 8 years ago, at age 76, he showed early signs of dementia. As their executor and eldest local child, I needed to delicately get more involved in his and my mom’s finances. Managing their money had been the center of, not only his retirement years, but his entire adulthood. I began spending hours sitting with him in their spare bedroom as he and I would go over investments, gifting, and bill paying. He had a brilliant financial mind that gradually was slowing to a crawl. During those in between years I had many minutes where we sat, him struggling and usually eventually succeeding, in grasping the work and conveying his ideas. All I could heartbreakingly do was practice patience, breathing, compassion and the fine line between taking over and sitting back. In an odd way, these were beautiful moments.
During these months, I was also nearing the end of my time in therapy. Our sessions had moved from dissecting my childhood to more forward-looking spiritual concerns. In one session in particular, I remember bemoaning my lack of connection to a personal God, the one my conservative Christian sisters took such comfort in. Because a just and loving God would not slowly destroy the part of my dad he most treasured.
And my therapist, in one of those simple, yet brilliant remarks, said, “God is in those conversations with you dad.” I probably stared at her blankly. She continued, “God is not a separate being. God is created in you each time you choose compassion with your dad. God is the love you are showing by letting him do what he can, and gently, with face-saving respect, offering to do what he can’t. God is the loving interaction.”
In a flash, I got it. Ten years before I ever heard of process theology, I got the concept. Rev. Gary Kowalski talks of the world/god “as composed of verbs rather than nouns.” Rebecca Parker says “we make God, as much as God makes us.” While this is still intellectually difficult to understand or articulate, I totally get the experience of God as Process. It has liberated me into being as “godlike” as I can in all my interactions. Thanks, Dad, for providing such an unusual but life changing gift.