Meeting That “of God”

As a convinced Friend, I am very familiar with the phrase “meeting that of God” and the idea that there is that of God in everyone. I’ve been more familiar than comfortable with the concept at times. I’ve often added “or intrinsic good and ultimate worth.” To me it has always meant that every human being matters and has a potential for good in them, without exception, and I recognize that this belief is a kind of faith, and one not universally shared.

A few months ago, I had a personal experience that brought this abstract concept home to me and gave it new meaning. We awoke at 3:00 AM on February 17th, 2014. Our adult disabled son was beating on our bedroom door, saying. “You have to get up, the house is on fire.” No fire alarms were going off, although we had several battery operated ones throughout the house. As I shook off my grogginess—I was sick with an infection and had taken an antibiotic and a pain reliever before going to bed– my first thought was “What has he done now?”

I pictured a blazing frying pan on the kitchen stove. I rushed out of the bedroom, only partially dressed and without shoes. My husband was pulling on pants, following me, barefoot. In the hall, I asked, “Where is this fire?” though I noticed I was smelling smoke and belatedly a fire alarm began to go off across the hall. My son responded, nearly in tears, it’s in my room and it’s bad.” I cracked the door and smoke began billowing out and I saw flames. I realized we had a serious fire. I went into the living room, opened our puppy’s crate and then picked up the land line phone calling 911, and as I waited for the operator to answer, the room was quickly filling with smoke. It looked and felt very dangerous.

My spouse grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed toward the bedroom. While the operator was still trying to get information and was warning me we needed to vacate the house, I yelled at my husband that the fire was out of control, and we needed to get out. He ignored me and proceeded to the bedroom. My son was nearly hysterical, saying “Dad is going to get killed.” I grabbed my coat off the back of a chair and steered my reluctant son out the back door, with the older of our two dogs following us. I recall saying “Your dad is an adult, and he will have to take care of himself. We have to get out of here now!” It was already difficult to see, even on the far end of the house away from the fire.

I found myself standing barefoot, with bare legs in a car coat, in the 28 degree cold on the back ramp, trying to keep both my son and the dog from re-entering the house. My son was expressing concern about both the puppy that hadn’t come out of the house, and his father. I was literally, physically holding both the dog and my son back, while my son complained that the puppy hadn’t followed us out. I argued that the firemen would have to take care of both of them when they came, though I honestly felt no optimism that the fire department would concern themselves about a little mixed breed puppy.

We were both relieved to see my barefoot husband coming around the side of the house, coughing. He’d made it out of the front door. Like me, he had no wallet, no cell phone and no coat. My son’s car was in the drive way, and luckily he almost never locks it, so we huddled in the car, with my son and the older dog in the back seat. Meantime I saw a cat dart out of the back door that I’d left open and we let the cat in the car. Lights and sirens were out front. In a few minutes, a fireman came to the window and said we needed to move the car. I explained we had no keys, and asked if staying inside it was extremely dangerous, since we were only partially dressed and so cold…. He sighed and said he’d come and tell us if it became necessary to vacate because the fire was spreading.

We told him our puppy hadn’t made it out, and we weren’t sure about our other cats. He explained that cats are good about getting away from a fire, but puppies tend to hide, so they’d look for it.

I asked my son if there wasn’t a bag of clothes in the back of his car that I’d packed up to go to Goodwill. He found it, and I wrapped my feet and legs in odds and ends, desperately trying to warm up. My husband ventured out, borrowing my son’s ill-fitting shoes a couple of times, to confer with the firemen, who were working desperately to save our house.

Imagine our happiness and gratitude when a fireman took time out and came around and said they had found the puppy under the sofa and they were giving it oxygen. He believed the dog would live….That struck me as far beyond what I would have expected and I was deeply touched. The Red Cross came before dawn and they were extremely good to us, bringing hot coffee and blankets, and giving us a temporary voucher for a hotel room and some clothing and meals, saying that it would take a little time for the insurance to kick in. Meantime, my next door neighbor brought me a pair of her bedroom shoes, once she realized that I had no shoes! There are few times in my life when I’ve felt as cared for or felt the need for support from others as intensely. As stressed as I was, seeing flames leaping out of the roof of the home we’d lived in for over twenty years, I was sustained by a deep sense of gratitude and amazement at the goodness of those I dealt with, and in the days that followed, this deepened.

While we were housed in a motel, before we’d made arrangements with the insurance to board our pets, a couple of our survivor cats, were still living at the partially burned, but eventually totaled house. When I came to check on them and feed them, I found a neighbor I had never been close to was there with canned cat food, trying to make sure my cats weren’t hungry. Not long after, this same neighbor offered to keep some of my surviving plants in her sun room. She even allowed me to come by to tend to them periodically, and when one of the cats started having respiratory issues, she kept the cat in an outside storage building. I was deeply touched by these unexpected kindnesses from someone with whom I had enjoyed few previous positive experiences.

Once we were moved into the Residence Inn, all the staff went out of their way to be nice to us in multiple small ways. A couple from our parent Quaker meeting, across state lines, visited us bringing small thoughtful gifts. A deluge of cards came to us. Small thoughtful gifts such as books. When you’ve lost everything, or believe you have, small things like that mean so much.

I found myself experiencing a deeper since of profound gratitude than I’d ever experienced. I was thankful we were all alive. Even our pets survived! Considering the timing and severity of the fire, this seemed close to miraculous and definitely very fortunate. Small and large gestures and kindnesses from a myriad of people deeply touched my heart. The overworked hotel staffs at both the Quality Inn and the Residence Inn went out of their way to be kind to us. The outpouring of concern from Friends, friends, neighbors, people I’d never thought of as friends, and the Red Cross amazed me.

I realized that for me, undergoing this crisis had been a kind of spiritual growth experience, and that I looked on my fellow human beings a little differently. I had definitely experienced that of God or ultimate good in so many diverse persons!

10 Responses to Meeting That “of God”

  1. Daniel Wilcox April 3, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Wow, what a very bad time–glad everyone made it out including your son’s puppy:-)

    What I don’t understand is your statement,
    “I had definitely experienced that of God or ultimate good in so many diverse persons!”

    If nontheist Friends are correct, there is no “ultimate good in so many diverse persons.”

    Instead, it would seem all there is
    is what nontheists keep repeating over and over: Humans are merely “meat puppets,” “bags of chemicals,” “tumors all the way down,” etc.

    I live on the central coast of California where only about 10% of sea lion puppies make it to adulthood. Hundreds are starving right now:-(
    And
    that is nothing in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of humans that are being slaughtered…

    If nontheism is true, there is no hope:-(

  2. Tom April 22, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    I disagree. I have no belief in God of any sort, but I believe in the good in me and my fellow humans (whether of not they believe on God).

    The knowledge they are capable of and sometimes exhibit this goodness gives me hope.

    • Daniel Wilcox May 8, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

      Tom,

      Your statement “no belief in God of any sort, but I believe in the good in me and my fellow humans” is what mystifies me.

      If there is no “ultimate good, no ultimate reality” (whatever term you want to use–no Divine, no God, no Good, no purpose no meaning, etc.)…
      then
      how can there possibly be any “good” in us?

      That seems like saying there is no COLOR at all; color doesn’t exist, but I have the color red in me:-)

  3. Doris Wilson April 28, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

    Ultimately, Quakerism is an experiential religion, and I met “that of God or ultimate good” in so many persons, following the fire. That was “my experience” and somewhat, in some cases, to my surprise!

    It gave me hope in the midst of a dark time…..

    • Daniel Wilcox May 8, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

      Doris,

      Thanks again for posting your powerful experience.

      I also think Quakerism is an experiential religion.

      At one point in my life, when circumstances were tragic and devoid of hope, and that very morning I attended worship, during the silence one indivdual (who knew nothing of the tragedy in my life) rose and began singing a cappella
      a wondrous song of hope.

      How very deeply that “ultimate hope” she voiced gave this hopeless struggler a renewed hope!

      My confusion is with individuals I’ve talked with and read who deny there is any “ultimate hope,” who say they don’t worship in worship because there is no good to worship,
      but yet say they are Quakers.

      It sounds like a person who denies environmentalism as real, but who yet says
      she/he is an environmentalist?!

      I must ask, How can a person experience the “environment,” if the person thinks it isn’t real?

  4. James Riemermann April 30, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    Daniel, I’m startled by your comment, “…nontheists keep repeating over and over: Humans are merely “meat puppets,” “bags of chemicals,” “tumors all the way down,” etc.”

    I’ve never heard a nontheist say anything of the sort, and the many Quaker nontheists I’ve known are about as far from that view as I can imagine. Where have you heard such things repeated? Can you point to any examples, say on the web?

  5. Daniel Wilcox May 8, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    Hello James,

    Sorry we can’t agree when we meet online.

    We had a long extended conversation a couple of years ago. You were thoughtful and courteous.

    At that time, what I remember, is that you were an atheist who thought there is no objective goodness or truth in existence.

    My understanding is that you think there is no “ultimate good.”

    Correct or incorrect?

    I’ve also over the last 10 years or so have had dialogues with other nontheists who are Quakers who say there is no “ultimate good” whatsoever. One even agreed that his view is very similar to Richard Dawkins (I am familiar with the famous atheist and excellent scientist, have read 7 of his books including The Ancestor’s Tale)

    As for the negative terms by nontheists, read and listen to the podcasts and books of Sam Harris “puppets, “tumors all the way down”, Anthony Cashmore, “bag of chemicals. He even compares humans, denying we have any choice at all, to “bacterium.”:-(

    Meat puppets should read “meat robots.” That’s from Jerry Coyne, another brilliant scientist, but one claiming not only is there no “ultimate good,” but that no humans have any choice.

    Go to SamHarris.com for instance and listen to Episode 59 “Tumors All the Way Down” which claims all humans have no more choice than a mass murderer has who has a brain tumor.

  6. Diggitt August 16, 2015 at 1:01 am #

    Daniel, you have laid out what you don’t understand about non-theists. Unless you are searching, yourself, and checking out new points of view–and it does not sound like you are–I don’t see why you NEED to understand what I or anyone else believes….especially it’s clear from the outset that you are not an honest quester but someone laying a bonfire for The Other.

    I also do not see that politeness obligates me to respond to your prodding.

    Neither what I believe nor what you believe changes the truth, assuming that there is such a thing a thing as truth. To paraphrase Jefferson about his neighbor’s belief in seven gods or no god, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” So I am left wondering why you believe that as a mere person just like me, you have the right to assume you know and understand what I believe (much less codify what “nontheists” believe).

    My religious journey is totally personal, and mine. It is not about you. So why are you addressing members of this list as though my and our beliefs are somehow yours to define? And why are you assuming that Sam Harris speaks for me or, in fact, anyone other than Sam Harris? The man sells books. That’s why he gets book contracts. He lives in nobody’s head except his own.

  7. Daniel Wilcox May 6, 2016 at 1:45 am #

    You wrote “you have laid out what you don’t understand about non-theist.”

    On the contrary, I am quoting and referring to what non-theists have told me for over 50 years.

    However, I do agree with you that nontheism is a very wide category. Your experience of nontheism obviously is different from other Friends who have told me they think there is nothing beyond matter and energy.

    In contrast, recently, I read a book by a famous scholar who is a nontheist who yet is convinced that the Good is real and eternal.

    That’s baffling to me, because trust and experience of the Good is denotatively the opposite of non-theism.

    His book and your comment show that semantics often get in the way of understanding.

    I only mentioned Harris as an example of a famous nontheist. There are nontheist Quakers I could have referred to. Next time I will limit myself to examples from among Friends.

    Lastly, you seem to think that I am not searching.

    But I am searching and seeking for what is Real and what is True.

  8. Doris Wilson May 6, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    I hope that we are all still searching in some way and I’m glad to see my article is provoking thought and discussion. We can search intellectually and we can also seek to see the “evil in us diminished and the good raised up” to paraphrase Barclay.

    I hope you will continue in your journey among Friends, David.

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