“God”, a Word for That Which is Beyond Words

The first time I heard someone say our words and titles for “God” are really just metaphors I was a bit taken aback.  Yet, the more I ponder, practice, and experience, the more I find this to be True and helpful.  After all, as Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it is not God.”  The Divine, one could say, is endlessly knowable and unimaginably good, while transcending the literalness of our language.  At their best, names, titles, and adjectives for our Creator are signposts to help guide us onto a path to encounter the Spirit.  This shift has been beautifully life-changing for me, so in today’s blog I’ll use some words to unpack how moving beyond words has brought me closer to “God, in hopes it will bless you.

For instance, when it comes to existence, there’s a reason why theists say God exists, atheists say no He doesn’t, and agnostics shrug and say they don’t know if She’s real.  This is because the Divine doesn’t “exist” in the same way you and I do.  The Creator doesn’t literally sit on a throne or walk around, can’t be pointed to, isn’t photographable, and doesn’t eat and breathe like we do.  God exists in a different way than us.

Similarly, while we generally refer to the Source of all as “He”, and Christians name the Divine “Father”, God is NOT a man.  Both man and woman are made in the image.  As Thomas Aquinas says, the language we use about the Spirit is analogical.  The Creator, then, is like a “He” in that our Maker is personal and relatable.  Likewise, “He” is like a “Father” because we can trust, be guided by, rely on, ask advice of, follow, and be upheld by God.

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In Exodus 6 Moses meets God via a burning bush, and when he asks for a name, the answer is quite revealing.  The Divine’s self-given name is YHWH (generally written “Yahweh” and pronounced Yah-Way), which means “I am”, with the sense God was, is, and will be, and that God is Being itself.  Hand-in-hand with this, I’ve found it super helpful to approach God as more of a verb and an experience, than as a noun.  Theologian and priest Katherine Sonderegger put it like this:

“God’s very Being is alive, vital. It is not inert, nor static, not material nor stable. God is not thinglike in that sense, not an object, or, better, never a mere object. Holy Scripture sets aside a term for this living Vitality: the Lord God is Dunamis, forceful, powerful Life. We can never exhaust our praise for this holy Dynamism. To stand in its Presence is to be swept over and swept away by its mighty wind, its Spirit that broods and blows where it will, lashed by tongues of fire, quickened by its relentless life, superabundantly pouring forth from its infinite caverns, calling forth life out of death, reality out of nothing. In prayer, in times of testing and trial, in the haunting melancholy and passion of this life, we simply know this Vitality; more we encounter its mighty Power that crushes death and sin, an encounter registered in our whole being, organic and total, body and soul, that is the claim of this Life upon ours.”

We see this dynamic play out in the Bible’s stories as Spirit shows up to Moses first via a burning bush, later as a powerful cloud/storm-like presence on a mountain, and by showing him the “backside” of God’s glory.  Job, likewise, experiences Source as/thru a whirlwind.  When Moses asks YHWH to “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33.18), I AM responds with: “I shall place you in the cleft of the rock and shield you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I shall take my hand away, and you will see my backside, but my face will not be seen.” (Exodus 33.22-23) One thing this tale indicates for me is: Generally, we “see” God best in hindsight, as we reflect on an event or season and, retrospectively, notice how the Spirit was clandestinely at work the whole time, like a Love Ninja!

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Contemplating my Divine moments in hindsight gives me insight into how I can taste them in the present.  In seeing the ways God has met me in the past, I realize it’s like a feeling inside me, a whisper in my mind, a soothing of my body, a spirit in those around me, an “ah” in my heart, a song in my soul, an energizing of my being, and so on. Shifting my perception of the Maker from a person on a throne up “there”, to a presence, dynamism, energy, sense of connection, and lifeforce HERE, has been like a poor man winning the lottery!  This swing in signposts I use to relate with the Divine has been rags to riches for me.

Rumi perfectly captures pretty much everything I’m saying with: “When I am silent, I fall into the place where everything is music.”  Getting out of my head (and all its words), into my body and spirit, and toward unfiltered awareness (i.e. feeling and being without labelling what’s going on in my mind) puts me radically and dynamically in touch with the God who is literally EVERYWHERE.

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Being with God by moving away from words and mental images has been like a fabulous explosion of dynamite in my soul.  It’s sometimes so overwhelming I feel like I’m going to be swept away.  Some of the tools that bring me increasingly into this space include practicing yoga, meditating, contemplative practices, being in nature, breathing a mantra, breathing as if every breath is an inhale of Spirit, gazing at beautiful sights, dancing, feeling and enjoying my breath (especially with eyes closed), gently looking around outside and letting my eyes go slightly unfocused, feeling the energy around and in me via my fingers (most accessible after a workout and with eyes closed), gazing with eyes closed and face soft between my eyebrows, feeling the energy move up and down my spine through the crown of my head (easiest with eyes closed), and so on.

Meister Eckhart famously said, “I pray God to rid me of God.”  The moment we wrap our brains around it, categorize it, and define it, it’s no longer God.  So, Eckhart prayed to be free of “God” and any other word or image that sought to capture the Divine, in order to more fully experience, worship, and be with God.  I find the same is True for me, pray my sharing blesses you, and would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

 

If you enjoyed this you can sign up for email notifications of future blogs on the top right.  Additionally, I have a Facebook page where I regularly post articles, blogs, quotes, meditations, etc. to encourage us to more Light and Love.  Again, to the top right there’s a link for you to “Like” the page, as well as my Instagram account if you’re interested. ❤

MUCH Love and Many Hugs,

Lang

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