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A God I Can Live With

By Barry Oshry

God, the Puzzle Maker

While some rise before the sun to do their daily prayers, I head off to Starbuck’s and the New York Times crossword puzzle, seven days a week. So, in the best tradition of seeing God in our own image, my God is the Great Puzzle Maker, and my work lies in trying to solve some piece of the Grand Puzzle, to contribute to the unraveling of the whole. I have good company in this quest; Albert Einstein spoke of trying to understand the mind of God; he spoke of great scientists as people who stand in “rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law.” This harmony is not always beautiful; quite often, its consequences are ugly. I have, for example, written about the Terrible Dance Of Power in which one group has a vision of a better world (through fascism, communism, manifest destiny, Christianity, Islam, a new world order, or some other such inspiration) only to find some THEM who stand in the way of this vision, and then a predictable story unfolds, like a dance, of oppression, death, and destruction. There is a terrible beauty to this story as different factions arise and interplay with one another - moderates and radicals, gradualists and extremists, liberals and conservatives – escalating from disagreement to debate to confrontation to minor skirmishes to colossal destruction. Makes for great drama.

Here is how I make sense of the awesome beauty and the equally incredible ugliness and unfairness of the world, and how this worldview informs my spirituality. As I see it, God, in whatever manner inconceivable to me, gave us a powerful gift, the possibility of awareness and choice, but just the possibility; and then God stepped back from the world and has not been heard from since. Whatever else has transpired is the result of how we have handled or botched that gift.

Organizational life, where I do most of my work, may seem to some like a relatively barren locale for spiritual growth; it is however rich with opportunity. So much can go wrong. “Stuff” happens: unwanted complications come your way; the service you’ve been waiting for is long delayed and when it does comes it is unsatisfactory; your working conditions are poor and "they" are not fixing them; try as you might you don’t seem able to satisfy anyone; this one is angry at you, that one is disappointed, and the other one is not paying you the attention you feel you deserve. So many opportunities. When these conditions hit, it is as if we are standing before two doors: Door A and Door B. Right away there is a problem: We don’t see any doors. Door A is all there is, and when it is all there is, there is no awareness and there is no choice. We go blindly through Door A, sucking up responsibility to ourselves and away from others, whining and complaining, making up stories in which we are either the hero or the victim, taking revenge, doing less than our best, comforting ourselves in righteousness, diminishing ourselves, diminishing the quality of our relationships with others, diminishing our contributions to our organization and to the world.

The beginning of spirituality, and the solution to the puzzle, comes with the awareness of Door A, when we see it not as the way things are but as a choice. And then there is Door B. Stepping through that door we abandon all victimhood and righteousness; we accept responsibility for our condition and for the condition of our systems; we accept our place as co-creators of these conditions. When we go through Door B - how can I say it? - we become better persons in and of ourselves, in our relationships with others, and in our contributions to our organization and the world.

Door A is predictable, but it is not inevitable. Door B is not predictable, but it is a human possibility. Every day organizational life gives us countless opportunities for spirituality: to be aware, and to choose. So that has been my puzzle. Why are we built this way: with both reflexive blindness along with its negative consequences and the possibility of awareness and choice? And who or what built us this way? The great Puzzle Maker?  


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