God Is (Fill in the Blank…)

My most recent post on excerpts from the book, “The Best Things Ever Said About God,” reminded me, as I mulled subsequent comments and conversations about it over the past several days, of a little exercise we did at the semi-annual retreat of my church’s Worship Associates a few months ago. Our minister gave us five minutes to mull over this fill-in-the-blank sentence: “God is…”, and then another five minutes to write down our thoughts.

It was brief, it was largely off the top of our heads, and it was from a group of Unitarian Universalists, who have established a rather well-deserved reputation, it would seem, for their free-thinking conceptions of the divine. The result was a quite lovely and varied set of 15 brief reflections that seem worthy of sharing and pondering, particularly as a natural follow-up to the post earlier this week.

They were also anonymous, which I found added to my own ability to listen attentively without the mental picture of the writer front and center in my consciousness.

So here they are. Care to add you own fill-in sentence on “God is…” in the Comments section? Please do feel free—from one word to as many as you’d like. Just what is God to you? Nothing at all? That’s a something. Here’s what he/she/it was to my Worship Associate friends on one October morning.

***

 

God is the web of existence—all people, animals, plants, the Earth and Nature.

***

 

God is not a word that I use much because it has too many meanings for too many people, some of which may be negative or oppressive. I intuit a connective life force. If I have to give it a name then Mystery would be more resonant than God. I don’t know what it is and I am content not knowing. I experience this life force in many ways: alone in the beauty of nature, in music, in others when I experience or observe acts of love, compassion, commitment, ritual and shared reflection. It is what makes life worth living.

***

 

God is the force for good that there is in this world. That there is life at all—and that there is more than we can ever guess at—is God. Some say that diversity is a gift from God, but I think that diversity (the fact that there are SO many things) is God.

***

 

 

 

God is not a physical being but rather the ether all around us. It comforts me to think that God is all around bearing witness in good times and bad.

***

 

God is this moment, the totality of all being, the mind behind each of our minds; the spirit of creativity manifesting in an evolving creation; the order and beauty of nature; both utterly beyond personhood and able to be in relationship as a person; It is me, It is you; It is Love— complete, inclusive, endlessly generous and all-embracing love, which has room for everything “good” and everything “bad.” It is LIFE.

***

 

God is the life force within us ALL; including nature, and the universe. Everyone and everything is connected. We are one.

***

 

God is a—no “the”—Great Mystery, the origin of love, design, beauty, compassion in our Universe and beyond. God is deeply experienced in the depths of silence, the honesty of real communication, laughter, rain, and also pain. God is found in the moment of insight which is beyond my creation. God is beyond what I can define or capture, but only glimpse like a deer running into the forest.

***

 

God is a baby’s smile first thing in the morning; my mother’s love; the sound of the rain this blessed wet day. God is acceptance of our most marginal neighbors, e.g., the Redwood Gospel Mission opening its doors to the sickest, most lonely and unloved, our mentally ill, our addicts. God is love of all the good and bad parts of us, our greatest mistakes and most wonderful successes. God is patience with individuals who tax us, with societies that keep getting things wrong. God is trust that we are good, that the world is good, that there is something bigger than ourselves that holds us to that.

***

 

God is infinite energy and flow. God is infinite love and compassion. God is the eye and heart of the Cosmos, guiding us always toward knowledge of the self and the Universe, toward the knowing without knowing, toward faith that the rhythms and stories that go before and after us are all a part of the infinite whole.

***

 

 

 

God is a higher thought/knowing/depth/connective tissue running through all that we see in our world (and beyond?). It is benevolent, or at least kind. It is this depth that I reach out to when on rocky ground, and serves as a network that I access to send love and prayers and healing thoughts. God is always with us, in all.

***

 

There cannot be a name because a name is like a boundary. The Universe expands in all directions and never ends, yet we call it a name, which is then a container to put it in so that we might pass it back and forth in conversation. There cannot be a name, only a sense that exists in all of everything. I have felt a presence at times that I thought might be “God,” and it is a feeling of deep compassion and watchfulness. And I am grateful for this feeling, yet question if I have conjured this sense out of my own need, but then I realize that it is not for me to know because it is so much larger than me and not for me to define.

***

 

God is what is left when we let go of all our images of how things are and should be? What is left when we stop worrying about whether we are loved or whether we are good enough or work hard enough or have enough? What is left after all our accumulated judgments dissipate? I imagine that the divine is what is left, vibrating or humming along underneath everything.

***

 

God is the power that bestows the spark of life. Be it a human, an insect or a single-celled amoeba. It is the Spirit of Life.

***

 

Whatever God is, God is not the Word, unless the “the Word” is taken to mean the wordless word beneath, in front of, behind, around words. God is beyond all language, so the task here is inherently challenged. That said, for me God is real in the sense of my abiding creator, sustainer, and redeemer. I have in my life been too blessed—carried, I would say—by an infinite loving presence (sometimes an active presence) to at this stage, turn and say that God is “just” an idea or a reflection of something everyday and human. I take very seriously the Biblical injunction to know and love God, to be grateful to seek to grow into God’s idea of all that I should do and be.

***

 

God is

The source

The ground

The context

The symbol

The depth

The projection

The go-to

The fall-back

The explanation

The elaboration

Of all that is

All that is holy

All that is common

All that is meaningful

All that is gratitude

All that is fierce

All that is comforting

All that is rapturous

All that exists in everyday life.

 ***

 

A great songwriter here, never quite sure whether to fight God or the devil or invite them both in for a drink…

 

 

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10 comments to God Is (Fill in the Blank…)

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Whoa – reading these last two posts – and the exchanges leaves my mental jaw agape! God is….
    ____ (space/context) – for me the notion of God is one of ineffability – the moment we jump to words we lose it but the sensing, the experience, the mystery embraced, the space in which all is created… begins to point to God for me… I am also reminded of the Dali Lama responding that “kindness is my religion” – this resonates for me… I am also left reflecting on how confounded we become hanging onto/investing deeply in beliefs… 1st hand lived experience seems to me far more trustworthy than any dogma/set of fixed beliefs… I love the various musings from your UU friends – could relate to all of them – the impossible task of defining that which exists beyond language, yet these hints that words can conjure are certainly worthy… found myself coming home from Tahoe with my 21 yr old daughter last week reflecting together on this very subject, what is God? Perfect for a 4 hr drive!! We didn’t get any closer than these lovely postings here – but had fun wandering around… including a hilarious exploration of the Higgs Boson or “God particle” and the Higgs field (which we can’t observe but various mathematical models suggest it has to be there/everywhere)… we were giggling like kindergartners trying to put our words around things beyond our ken (impossible for us to even paraphrase Wikipedia’s explanation!) – yet at the same time tap dancing around totally delightful territory… go figure!

  • Rev. Robert Gutleben  says:

    Again, an interesting blog, and equally interesting responses. Looking at the history of the Church, along with its theology and heresies, seems to say that if God is absolute, HSI (short for He, She, or It) is also everything (i.e. not absolute). Even fundamentalists can’t use the Bible to prove that God is a static being. In a way, I suppose I’m saying God is always one step ahead of us religious folk, and that is absolute. As I was reading from Gil Bailie’s book, Violence Unveiled, Humanity at the Crossroads, I came across an interesting passage. In it Bailie says,

    “There may be no more urgent task today than that of renouncing religious superstition and freeing ourselves from its grip, but we’re not likely to do so by abandoning the spiritual tradition that taught us to be wary of religious superstition in the first place.”

    It has been my view for many years that no one can pin God down. Any anthropomorphism we might choose to describe He, She, or It not only falls short of defining God, and as hard as people try they can never get enough of a handle who or what God is to nail (forgive the terminology) HSI down. Even if we got to the place where we think we got HSI spotted, by the time we reach that point HSI will already have moved on when we get there. Religion therefore, should be a search, not an answer.

  • Tamara S.  says:

    God is…. spirituality. God is something larger than myself… God is something to believe in. God is faith, understanding and safety. I am not someone that goes to church or reads the Bible but I have a feeling of peace when I can let things go… let things be “managed” by a higher power.

    Thank you for making me think about this Andrew – you are an inspiration.

  • dkahern1958  says:

    So interesting to me that God is seen as an almost universally positive force. God is perceived as life force, an affirmation of all that is good. But if he is all encompassing, as most Christian religions are going to claim (accepting here the UU is a different animal altogether), the problem of suffering, destruction, and evil becomes a thorny question. We posit Satan for that yang side of God and go about a game of theological twister to still keep him in charge the Big Show, yet excuse him for the horrors that exist. The whole thing has never washed well with me. I consider myself an agnostic. I can’t be an atheist as I can no more prove he does not exist than anyone else can prove he does. At best he seems indifferent to me. At times malevolent. Children get cancer, for instance. And at other turns benevolent. There is so much good in the world, but an awful lot of evil. I’m thinking the Hindus and the Greeks had it closer with their pantheon of imperfect Gods to account for the different aspects. One Loving God just seems to fall short. For me anyway. It seems to put Him in a tidy box that it comforting to us. My intuition tells me He is a lot bigger than that (an aspect many mention in your article). I’m OK with the paradox of not-knowing about God. Otherwise, all this “God is good but evil exists because…..” talk seems akin to the way Ptolemy devised a set of epicycles to explain planetary movements in order to preserve a geocentric model of the solar system. I’m just not going to give God the bye on all the bad stuff. Yours truly, Mr. Sunshine 😉

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Kevin, I don’t know how many times I’ve cited these classic T.S. Eliot phrases now, nor how many more times I will in the future, so apropos are they to so much of this discussion: “raids on the inarticulate” and “the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings.” “Intolerable” indeed, but we keep giving it a go anyway! At some point, there is a place and need for mere silence (as the monks & hermits know), but we’re social creatures with brains and great big unanswered questions, so there is something fine and noble about the effort to make sense of these matters, however impossible it turns out to be. Also: see if you can goad that 21-year-old of yours into chiming in here! I’d love to hear her take, and please tell her there are no wrong or shallow answers, the question being as deeply personal as it is. And how much more shallow can it get than “kindness is my religion.”? Cheesh!! 🙂

    Robert, I so appreciate that handy “HSI” moniker to both shorten its usage and also counter what always feels a touch ridiculous in labeling notions of ultimate reality with a “He,” as if it could have a gender. So thank you for that, and also for this jewel that I will now take with me forevermore: “Religion therefore, should be a search, not an answer.” Oh yessss, my friend…

    Tamara, that’s the nub of it, yes? Do as much as you can, then let it go, get into the flow, be gone with the delusion that you’re in charge. Not that any other being is either, but life and its currents sure have their ways once you’ve tossed yourself into the stream! But that tossing has to happen if we’re going to get anywhere at all.

    Oh, Dennis, that other-face-of-God issue is the Pandora’s box of all theology, to be sure. What ABOUT God not saving people suffering unspeakable tragedy, no matter how much they are praying for help and relief? (Meanwhile, HSI is answering the prayer of a basketball player who hits the key free throw to win the game, Hallelujah, God was with me!) Obviously, we have to account for evil, and yes, I think the Hindus do a superior job with the various gods tussling over the fate of the world and its people, compared to Christianity fobbing all evil off on some alien force known as the devil. That said, let me offer this in defense of the human tendency to cite God most often as a positive force: if we DON’T view God as a being but rather as the underlying ground of being, then we don’t have to account for the riddle of a good loving God creating a world of such intolerable suffering. So then “God” is freed from that duality, which thus frees us to use that term as the handiest image or nomenclature for “our best selves” and the striving we undertake to develop those selves. Doesn’t mean we deny or overlook any of the tragedy and evil that undergirds life, but only that we have some word or image to stand as a beacon, a north star, for our efforts to become better & kinder, etc. I’m hoping that’s somewhat clear, because it’s an idea I’m still wrestling with myself (intolerably!!) in response to your insightful comments.

  • dkahern1958  says:

    You make my feeble brain hurt, Andrew. And my head is going in epicycles. “Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Al Einstein, a pretty smart guy I’m told. I just want to believe Jesus had nice blond hair (he apparently had access to conditioner…seeing as he was the Son of Man and all) and well trimmed beard and looked, against all odds, like a kind surfer. Will you deny me this? I don’t know nothing about my best self.

  • Randy Jones  says:

    I think God is the sum total of the physical laws of the Universe (or universes), and we understand the sum total of the physical laws of the Universe about as much as we understand God.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Hey Dennis: try two Advil and a reading of, oh, I dunno, how about Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be.”? Might soothe you! (Or then again, might not; it’s been known to come with side effects…)

    Randy: that’s a nice and clean summation, with much to commend it and a ton of support from various philosophers, scientists, and philosopher-scientists. Good as far as it goes! I’d only ask this: what about the non-physical part of the universe, specifically the exceedingly messy realm of human emotion and thought and relationship? How do we account for and where do we place it in all the human discussion and speculation about God?

  • Marion  says:

    God is not a person nor a spirit nor the creator of the universe; God is a mythic personification that makes us feel better. The “exceedingly messy realm,” the pain of being human, the questions that come from our advanced brains creates some thing we can turn to make it all better. And given the nature of our brains, there’s one thing that people in every culture and throughout history have instinctively done: we have made up that thing so as to understand and relate to that which is unavoidably, undeniably a mystery. And, man, are we good at it!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Exactly, Marion: the human imagination is something else! Where I depart from the overt and often bellicose atheists is that I think imaginative stories of the creation and creators are mostly laudable if not necessary—at least for a good while longer in human life, until a whole lot more gets sorted out in our psyches. Most all the problems of religious war-mongering flow from taking those lovely and fanciful tales literally, especially when they contain marching orders to smote enemies and punish disbelievers. Shows the necessity to continue developing better, kinder stories, and for a lot more intelligence in interpreting the ancient ones we have through a modern lens. Thanks for these reflections!

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