“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” ~Anais Nin
God: A Three Letter Word
By: Ian Lawton
What images does the word “God” conjure up in your mind? For some it is a personal being, a human looking character. For some it is a sense of peace or presence. For some it is like the relationship between the ocean and a wave, all things in harmony. God might be perceived as manifesting
whatever is lacking in our lives. God might represent unconditional love.
Or else God might be the creator who sets clear boundaries of right and wrong in the world. It seems that we are both created in the image of God and also that we create God in our image. We see God as WE are rather than as God IS. That’s a whole lot of pressure for a three letter word like “God.”
Of course we shouldn’t be surprised. We’re not the first to create God according to our personal needs, and our cultural language.
Take for example the ancient use of the word, “God.” Many modern Hebrew scholars think it most accurate to write the word as “G-d” to reflect an inability to pronounce the unknowable. Then there was the Canaanite idol known as ‘Gawd’, the god of good luck. Read Isaiah 65;11 to get a sense
that God and Gad may not have been on best of terms nor on first name terms. In Indo-Germanic dictionaries, the only word that resembles god is ghodh. It means sexual union.
So we have God, G-d, Gawd, Gad, Ghodh and Godde (referring to just one Goddess) and they are all pronounced the same way but mean subtly different things according to the context. That’s without even addressing the vowel less YHWH. One word that can be pronounced is HaShem. That simply means “the name.” I’m starting to feel like the dyslexic seminarian who wrote on his Greek test, “I no longer believe in dog,” or the fisherman who decided “I can’t get a handle on cod” after a long and
fruitless day on the lake.
If we attach too much meaning to a word, we are liable to end up in a muddle. So much seems to hang on the twist of a letter. The fact that a solicitor is a lawyer in Australia and a homeless “beggar” in America may be ironic, but it’s not life changing. When it comes to different names for the Almighty, we can end up with more of a problem.
The Washington Post awards prizes to entrants who add, subtract or change one letter in a word to create a new and creative definition.
One of the winning words in 2005 was “Sarchasm”, the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it. For example, I am hoping to avoid any sarchasm in this column.
Maybe some readers will decide that I’ve come down with a dose of Hipatitis, a breakdown in coolness.
You see, what I’m wondering is whether over attaching to the word God is like being surrounded by a bozone layer, where many bright ideas are filtered from penetrating because of a thick wall of presupposition.
When scribes penned the stories of Hebrew communities, they were attempting to describe an experience of transcendence. Something really big and mysterious was taking their breath away and they wrapped it in the only language they had; mythic or otherworldly “God” language. The problem
with much of modern Christianity is that it has taken this ancient mythology, and wrapped it in very precise and rational language. So we have ended up with a very specific and personal interventionist God. God has become a white bearded grandfather, or else a slightly moody benevolent dictator.
Transcendent experiences, like the Hebrew experience of what they called G-d, can’t be described precisely or else they wouldn’t be transcendent. As an aside, why did the guru have teeth pulled without anesthesia? Because he wanted to transcend dental medication.
This modern use of rational language to describe God presents the same dilemma as the enlightenment movement. We tend to strive for something that is all about not striving. We grasp after an experience that can’t be held on to. We try to think our way into an experience that defies thought. This is what Rami Shapiro calls “fishing for Gefilte fish”. There is no such fish.
Enlightenment happens when we find ourselves in a situation, fully immersed in the moment and we sense the wonder and connectedness of it all. Research points to the value in practices such as meditation to heighten and lengthen these experiences. But it still can’t be contained by language. It is just experienced and then at best it might be described. It can never be defined. To define God or enlightenment would be to confuse the menu for the meal, or the map for the terrain.
Maybe if we have learnt anything from the Hebrew experience, we should write it as “nlght-mnt”. It’s just a small acknowledgment of the ineffability of the experience.
God is not something outside of you to be sought. God IS you, in your every sensation and impulse. There is no part of you that is not God, even if Godis more than you as the sum total of all other experiences as well. It doesn’t always feel like that, but transcendence is about coming to realize this experience.
Enlightenment is not something outside of you to be sought. Enlightenment IS you, in your every sensation and impulse. There is no part of you that is not enlightened, even if you are not completely awake to its ever present wonder. Enlightenment is an act of paying attention.
Maybe this is best left to a Hasidic tale to conclude.
“Tell me, Rebbe,” a man demanded during Shabbat evening prayers, “Just what is God?”
“Tell me,” Reb Yerachmiel replied, “Just what is not?” Can I define the Nameless? Of course: God is All. What does it mean to be All? God is the only Reality. God is the Source of all things and their
Substance. Thus we read: I am God and there is none else (Isaiah 45:5).
Not simply that there is no other god but God, but that there is nothing else but God.
God is not inside or outside, God is the very thing itself! And when there is no thing, but only empty space? God is that as well. Picture a bowl in your mind. Define the bowl. Is it just the clay that forms its sides? Or is it the empty space that fills with soup? Without the space the bowl is not a bowl. Without the sides the bowl is not a bowl. So which is the bowl? The answer is both. To be a bowl it must have both being and emptiness.
Thanksgiving Day Gathering and Feast at C3/CCC
9:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Gathering in the Sanctuary
We have a wonderful tradition at the Thanksgiving Day Gathering where we
all bring grocery bags of food and personal products as part of our
morning offering. Donations are greatly needed for the pantries at the
People Center and at Christ Community. We thank you for your generous
Thanksgiving Day Feast from 12:00-3:00 in the parlor
ALL are welcome to enjoy great food, kind service and good company
anytime between 12:00-3:00. This is the 13th annual feast which offers a
traditional dining room atmosphere Thanksgiving dinner.
Food in abundance, free of charge!
This is a time to celebrate the holiday with a spirit of gratitude.
This meal is supported and sponsored by area churches and service
Delivery meals are also possible. Please contact us at 842-1985 if
interested in having meals (any number) delivered to your place of
Transportation to and from C3/CCC can also be arranged ahead of time.
If interested in volunteering at either shift (11:00-1:30 or 1:30-3:30),
please call the church office, 842-1985.
Experience Advent This Season at Christ Community Church
Don’t miss all the incredible offerings this Advent season at Christ Community Church.
Our Sunday morning Advent gatherings will be creative and warm experience
thanks to the work of so many talented members of our community.
Gatherings will be held at 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.
During the Advent series Ian will take 4 unique approaches to the Christmas
story. Gatherings will be enhanced with a variety of experiences including
dramatic performances, the Sanctuary Choir, and Eucharist.
November 27 — “The Advent of Superstition: A Practical Reading of the Christmas Story”
December 4 — “The Advent of Skepticism: A Critical Reading of the Christmas Story”
December 11 — “The Advent of Relativism: A Post-Critical Reading of the Christmas Story”
December 18 — “The Advent of An Integral Vision: A Progressive Reading of the Christmas Story”
Midweek Advent Community Gatherings
All are welcome to join us Wednesday November 30, December 7, and December
14 as we come together for meaningful meals, gatherings, and Eucharist.
*6:00 p.m. Potluck in the Parlor
*7:30 p.m. Advent Gathering
*8:30 p.m. Practice of Silence
Come for one part, of come for all!
Don’t Miss the Alternative Christmas Market December 11
The Alternative Christmas Market will take place in the parlor between
9:00-12:00. This event is an opportunity for you to receive glimpses
and descriptions of many national and global situations and peoples needing
attention and support.
This event seeks to raise money for a wide variety of projects, new
initiatives and people by inviting direct “gift giving.” Instead of
buying another sweater for someone, you could purchase a share of crisis
relief in Pakistan or Louisiana in the name and honor of someone you love.
You support empowering causes and subvert the predominant theme of
rampant materialism as well.
This event allows us again to being active, global neighbors in very
The event will include:
* a broad variety of projects and people to support
* Great food and coffee
* Live animals and exotic birds to pet and enjoy (great for young kids andfamilies)
* Tables and booths featuring Re-Member, International Aid and Rx for Child Survival Campaign
* Grand Haven Bake House appetizer and bread
* Live belly dancers
* A bazaar-type atmosphere
The Alternative Christmas Market is put on in conjunction with Alternative
Gifts International who is celebrating their 20th year anniversary.
Check out AGI’s Mission Statement
The global mission of AGI is to send authentic, life-giving gifts to a
needy world – gifts that build a partnership with people in crisis and
that protect and preserve the earth’s endangered environment – to
nourish and sustain a more equitable and peaceful global community.
AGI is a nonprofit, interfaith agency. AGI provides global education for
people of all ages and raises funds each year in its Alternative Gift
Markets, and from individual donors. Designated grants then are sent to
the established international projects of several reputable nonprofit
agencies for relief and development.
Check Out the Bulletin for This Sunday and the Bulletin Archive!
Whether you will be with us on Sunday or not, we hope you can be
by this blessing:
May you trust your highest power that you are exactly where you are meant to be…
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that
has been given to you…
May you be content knowing you are a child of God…
Let this presence settle into our bones, and allow our souls the freedom
to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us…
The C3 Bulletin Archive has turned into a great resource center for other
progressive communities around the world. Thanks to the wonderful talent
on our staff we are quickly becoming a leader in Progressive Christian
liturgies. Check out our Bulletin Archive for more progressive Christian
Click Here for Bulletin
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