I don’t believe in a male God who sits on a throne in the kingdom of Heaven, and I don’t like religion other than the stories and the arts.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the existence of something – the Universe, the Infinite, the Spirit – that is greater than myself; something that is genderless and formless; something that can only be sensed, initially, with silence and stillness, meditation and a certain introspection; what I think of as, Big Energy.
God, to me, is the feeling that something big out there is connected to something small within me.
That small thing is like a black hole. Sometimes I ignore it, and its pull is missed. Life goes on. But there is a feeling of limitation. There is no depth. Other times, I notice it and allow myself to drift towards it, like going with a rip, past the shallows, to the open sea. It gives a sense of expansiveness, of greater possibility, of another dimension, that anything is possible. It is energising.
When I was young, I attended a Church school. I enjoyed the stories and the singing but having atheist parents, did not think too deeply on God. Then in my teenage years, full of angst and romance, hormones and emotion, I found that sitting alone in my local church, I could get relief from inner turmoil. I concentrated my thoughts, felt a connection to God, and poured out all my troubles. I prayed.
My church attendance was brief. At seventeen, I met a young man who answered my prayers. He was strong, smart, and scientific. Another atheist. I needed no other god.
Occasionally throughout my adult life, when I was distressed or conflicted, I would call to the stars on my evening walk, but that was the extent of my spirituality, my connection with any type of god. Until I went to India in 2014.
India buzzes with spirituality. Eighty percent of Indians are Hindu, and they are not quiet about it. Gods and rituals are numerous and noisy, colourful and scented. They cannot be ignored. And in my case, the energy in the air could not be unfelt.
I had been in India only a few days when I walked into a big barn of a store, with my husband, in Kochi, Kerala. The array of gods, statues made from wood, brass and marble, from palm sized to car sized, was seemingly infinite. I wandered around, smiling indulgently, until I found myself standing face to face with a tarnished brass, elephant-headed, four-armed, big-bellied statue of compelling magnetism. His long lashed, elephant eyes engaged me, and I did not move on. The shop keeper came up behind me. Lord Ganesh. Remover of obstacles, he said.
In another culture, you could say that Cupid’s arrow hit my heart. I fell in love with the elephant-god. I was sold on Ganesh and he was sold to me. I had an obstacle in my life and Ganesh promised to remove it. So, when I got him home, I placed him where he could be seen, a vantage point from which he could see all. I placed flowers at his side, making a kind of alter. I put my palms together and said, Namaste, in respectful greeting. I spent a moment passing him my thoughts. A ritual was begun, one I continued for many years. I felt listened to and supported.
Recently, I have let this ritual slip. Life is good and there is always much to do. As I rush past Ganesh, I barely acknowledge him. Sometimes I feel guilty and stop for a moment, think appreciative thoughts and thank him. But lately, I have tried to justify my inattention by trying to convince myself that a connection to an elephant-headed, four-armed, big-bellied statue, is silly. I have not quite succeeded. The feeling is still there. And so are the flowers.
And then I had an epiphany; that my Ganesh statue is an expression, a representation, of the expansive and supportive feeling that I have; that all gods and their images are an attempt to make palpable the invisible.
Spiritual beliefs through the ages, have always been represented by symbols and forms. They create a universal, spiritual language, used to communicate, to express, to understand.
Every civilisation has had spiritual beliefs, whether to explain the existence of all things, or because of a feeling that we are connected to all things. The Australian Aboriginal’s spiritual beliefs are expressed in rock art. Hinduism also, in paintings and sculptures.
So now, my connection to Ganesh does not seem silly after all.
In Hinduism, it is said that you attract the god you need. It turns out that Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles, was the god I needed, but now he is much more. I have discovered that he is also the Lord of wisdom and success, fortune and travel, and that he will place obstacles to redirect. His large ears listen, his belly holds problems, his hands reassure and reveal the right path.
His was the avatar I was attracted to. I feel like what he represents is right for me. My connection to Ganesh is simply a physical representation of what I feel spiritually; he is the thread, the conduit, the middle-man, the stepping-stone to whatever is out there, that Big Energy.
There is nothing else I would want in a god. What is God, to you?