Hacking God

When I titled this service "hacking god", I certainly knew this combination of words was unusual. I know also that it could be seen to be more than a bit heretical by some religious people.


Let me explain what I have in mind.


First of all, god. I am using "god" as a shortcut word for the whole religious enterprise and everything that is associated with it. I mean all of the teachings of all of the religions - whether theistic or not. I mean to include scripture, beliefs, clergy...everything. I might have used the word "religion" instead of god.


And now "hacking." The word hacking is probably best known to us in its usage with computing. There, it means cleverness and inventiveness with computer software. Some of this cleverness is in the service of making unauthorised entry to computer systems, but this is not the meaning I have in mind.


With the increasing awareness of hacking in the computing world, the word has expanded in meaning. The web site "Lifehacker" offers a huge variety of ways to cleverly hack your life. You might learn a trick for getting the most possible juice out of a lemon, a strategy for getting more done in your life, how to build a very inexpensive desk with bits purchased from

Ikea, or how best to shave your face.  It is in this more general and very beneficial sense that I use the word "hacking" here. I certainly don't mean finding a back door into God's divine computer system and replacing the angels on his home page with a picture of a Guy Faulks mask or perhaps with kittens being adorable.


What I want to suggest is that religious traditions, teachings, and practices comprise a rich source of hacks we might use in our own lives. Importantly, we don't have to be part of a

given religious tradition to learn from it. We can look more broadly. Although each tradition has its essential stories and images, these are not necessarily important for using the techniques developed in association with those core teachings. You don't need to believe that Jesus was the son of God to benefit from the Christian scriptural practice known as Lectio Divina. You don't need to believe that the Buddha had many many incarnations to benefit from the meditation techniques that he taught. And the nature of hacks means that you don't have to take a tradition intact in order to benefit from its many useful techniques.


Over the past several thousand years, religious people have faced many of the same problems that each of us tends to encounter today. They suffered hardships. They were tempted by superficial things and by wealth. They had trouble finding pleasure in the good things around them. They wondered if they were good enough. They were afraid of dying. They questioned what their lives were for. They struggled with the kind of generosity that they knew would make for a happier community. They bore grudges. They got too angry. They had

trouble finding compassion for their neighbours.


In response to all these many basic life issues and more, these religious people experimented with an enormous range of techniques, which have come to be called religious or spiritual practices. Some of thes were helpful. Many were not, and over the millennia, new techniques were invented, tested, rejected, revised, and refined. 


The process was very much like evolution. Those methods that were not useful were dropped along the way. Those that survived did so because they met a need. Today, in a world that is quickly turning away from religion, we risk losing out on the fruits of all this experimenting and evolving of techniques - these hacks.


My goal this month is to talk about how religion hacks can help us with the challenges we face today - both in our individual lives, in community, and as a world-wide family of humanity. Using religion hacks, then, begins with identifying the challenges we want to address. We then look to the world-wide offerings of practices to identify those that can help. Naturally, some adaptation of techniques will often be required. To begin with, we might need to translate into English. And then, we might need to translate from a method that relies on the acceptance of a particular story to make it relevant to those who understand the world in a different way.


Of the many religion hacks, I'd like to choose one for us to share together now. It is chanting - a practice that is a part of many, many religious traditions. It involves the sung or spoken repetition of very simple phrases. It is usually done in community.  I have chosen a very simple tune that comes from a Christian community. The original words are lovely, but they are in latin. The power of a chant comes from the combination of meaningful words and simple music. Music touches us in a way that words along cannot. The simplicity means that, after a few times through, we can stop working hard to get the words or the tune and can simply be together we each other, with the music, and with the words.


The words I have chosen speak of the power of being together in love to help us

open up, to blossom, to heal, and to become ourselves.


Held in love's embrace, I dare to grow

Held in love's embrace, pain and sorrow will flee