Writing the Unwritable

Susie Miller at Sojourn Ministries has an interesting post which brought back memories for me: why i write G-d…. Coincidentally(?), my friend Trev sent me something he’d written, also using “G-d” throughout. During most of my undergraduate years, I was part of a Messianic Jewish congregation in El Paso, which observed the Jewish reverence for the divine name by writing it with a hyphen, G-d.

That reverence is why the Old Testament is filled with the phrase (usually in small caps) “the Lord” instead of the ancient divine name, Yahweh. Most translations follow that tradition, which causes many verses to lose their original meaning. Compare “the Lord is God,” with “Yahweh is God,” which implies that Yahweh is God, and Baal, Moloch, Ashtoreth, et. al. are not.

Susan writes:

Thus i write G-d, like the Hebrews do: to allow there to be Mystery within the very name i use for The Incomprehensible Eternal One….to acknowledge the limits of our rudimentary language and its awkward inability to really name anything, beyond the accepted semiotic usage of the day and time…

On the mystical path, all words and pronouns seem woefully inadequate, and writing “G-d” calls attention to the fact. I might do that myself, except that I hate hyphens as no other mark of punctuation! Jacques Derrida would probably write “God” to show that we’re just borrowing a word for Something beyond all concepts.

icon of ChristA strictly impersonal metaphor, such as the Tao, could be “It”. . . but even capitalized, “It” seems too impersonal. The Sanskrit word Tat (That—capitalized) seems much better, since “that” can be personal or impersonal. Early Buddhists spoke of Suchness, and called the Buddha “the one who has come from Suchness.” Some Christian mystics used similar words. Meister Eckhart called God “Isness”mdash;emphasizing “him” as the Ground of Being, and Hildegard of Bingen called God hæcceitas, This-ness.

Eastern Orthodox icons of Christ have the Greek words Hō On (The Being) written on the halo’s cross (left), which is the Greek translation of “I am that I am,” the divine name in Exodus 3. Eckhart Tolle also uses the word Being as a substitute for God.

Pronouns are a special problem. The default divine pronoun is masculine and personal, in view of the very common (and often misleading) personal, masculine metaphor of God. Using “divine” sometimes gets around the need for possessive pronouns, but it seems rather weak. I like the definite quality of This, That, and Such, although they’re probably too strange for prime-time, and should be used sparingly.

For God so loved the world, that Such gave This only-begotten Son…

I usually fall back to the “defaults” for convenience. Any thoughts out there?

This This-ing

pen scratching paper, making pretty marks
marks stand for sounds,
sounds stand for thoughts,
thoughts stand for the jokes,
the jokes we call our selves.

pen scratching pager, making pretty marks
the question shows corruption;
the innocent can’t ask why,
there is only wow.

don’t ask why i write.
don’t ask what it means.
i needed meaning when i was lost.

now that i know that i don’t know
what meaning can i need?
no one writes–there is only writing.
no one questions–there is only asking.

there are no nouns, only verbs
no i, no we, no you, no other.
only this,
doing this, now, thusly.

be god, be this, be natural.
god, you, i
appearing and fading
here and there
as needed, as needed.

when a universe is needed
let there be light
and light there is.

nothing is done,
no one does.
there is only this thising.

© jon zuck, april 12, 2005, norfolk

Doubting and Faith

Today, I received an email from a reader in the Netherlands troubled by doubts. For me, I only began to believe after a time of doubting. I got the doubting out of the way in my youth, but I had to be an agnostic for long months before I became a believer.

Yet faith changes continue. My conception of God has changed from being “personal” (God has the attributes of a person) to being mostly impersonal (God is something far beyond personhood). I keep going back to the phrase “the Ground of Being,” used by Christian mystics for centuries, from The Book of Privy Counseling, to Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. *The Ground of Being* means that Beingness, Existence itself–with all that it contains–space, time, the Universe–springs from something that is so incredible it’s beyond the concepts of being or existence. Yet existence comes from it like the grass from the ground.

A friend of mine was shaken by a spiritual experience he had, because God didn’t seem to be there. Of course not. In these glimpses where the Matrix is dissolved, God can’t be seen because there is no separation. In One, there is no “you” and “God;” there is just One.

Yet, in the manifested world, It is personal, because It manifests persons, and all that is. Everything we use to describe this Ground of Being falls short. It is mystery. Nothing stops us from trying to explain and describe It, but we can only describe Its energies and actions, as we can only see the wind by the movement of the clouds and dust.

Children sense this intuitively:
What created the Universe?
The Big Bang.
What made the Big Bang bang?

Who made the world, Mommy?
God did, Honey.
Who made God?

So we use words: God, Tao, Brahman, the Unconditioned, Emptiness, and on and on, though all words and names are insufficient. The Mystery pervades everything. Explanations are only invitations to engage the Mystery at a deeper level. Why do living things grow? Because their cells divide. Why do cells divide? Because of DNA. How does DNA make cells divide? Silence.

I ended my email response to him with this:

My teacher once said “the Universe is a mystery. If you could explain it, there wouldn’t be a mystery anymore.” . . .

Move the consideration from being a question in your head to a wonder in your heart. Love the mystery, devote yourself to IT, not as a question or problem, but as your life. Because, well, it is your life, and all life. Everything comes from the mystery, and there is nothing which isn’t full of the mystery. The mystery will sustain you as nothing else can. It’s the only thing there is!

It’s not about belief!

Farewell, John Paul

I haven’t read the book, but I’ve heard that in his novel Angels and Demons, Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code) imagined the world largely ignoring the passing of the Pope. He was wrong. Very wrong. In fact, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Millions—no one knows exactly how many—flocked to Rome to say farewell this week. Mourners included not only Catholics of every nation, but thousands of Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims. The heads of state of Iran, the United States, Israel, and Syria sat close together, and the latter two shook hands and renewed their commitment to peacefully resolve their differences.

Why have so many people been affected, including hundreds of millions of non-Catholics and non-Christians? Because he spoke to our most pressing needs—freedom, peace, and holiness. Yes, many of us felt he was not speaking to other important needs, but seldom has mankind ever been graced by a more fierce and dedicated champion of freedom, peace, and holiness, and none greater in the age when nuclear annihilation threatened to destroy the world, and materialism to destroy the soul.

Peggy Noonan has written a most illuminating account of how the Pope’s visit to Poland in 1979 precipated the collapse of the entire Iron Curtain. Read “We Want God“.

Blessed are the peacemakers. They shall be called the children of God.

Come as a Child

Akilesh has a wonderful post at Graceful Presence about how awakening is a restoration of the original mind of the child. I hightly recommend it.

Jesus said so many years to go to just come as a child. We can’t accept it. We think it means have childlike faith in the Biblical narratives or the Nicene Creed. It just means to see the divine magic of reality.

Trev Diesel recently posted his thought, “How strange that we should be here at all.” The wonder doesn’t lie in explanations, even the explanation that God loves us so much that he made the Universe. The wonder is just this. And the other wonder is that we don’t see it.

The Pope is Passing

pic of JPIIThroughout the day, I’ve gone to Yahoo! and refreshed the page to see if there’s been any more news concerning the Pope.

I’m 44 years old, and I was raised Baptist. After a born-again experience that radically changed my life when I was 13, I devoted myself to apprehending as much as I could of what God had for me. The adventure took through every major expression of Protestantism, and 10 years ago, into the peace and turmoil of the Catholic Church (and beyond). I’ve never really known a Catholic Church that wasn’t headed by Karol Wojtyla, the pope known to the world as His Holiness, John Paul II.

By the time you read this, chances are that John Paul will be “dead,” a word that I have to put in quotes, because any mystic knows that there is no such thing as death. But his smile, wave, and sometimes-infuriating tenacity will be gone.

Most popes have been chiefly administrators of the Church. John Paul II was a maverick. He traveled to every continent and nearly every country of the world, praying for peace and preaching peace. Behind the scenes, he would meet with dictators and urge them to practice tolerance. He was instrumental in preventing the democratic movements in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from going the way of Tiananmen Square.

He lobbied consistently on behalf of the poor, against the exploitation of poor people by rich people, and poor countries by rich countries. He argued for dignity, fairness, and kindness to all, since all are created in the image of God. He fought against war and the death penalty; he had seen up close the horrors of war and killing, when the most terrible seizure of brutality that humanity has manifested enveloped his country.

He never wavered in proclaiming Christ as the Savior of the world. Yet he reached out with kindness and love to leaders of other religions, and invited the world to dialogue. He publicly asked God’s forgiveness for the Church’s past sins.

To many Catholics like myself, his weaknesses seemed to be in his official role of governing the Church. He resisted the reforms of Vatican II, and interpreted them as narrowly as possible. He scaled back the ministres of laity within the Church, as the priesthood continued to wither away. He often seemed unable to give the grace to more progessively-minded Catholics that he would give to the world in general. Proponents of change often found themselves silenced or censured, such as Matthew Fox OP, Anthony deMello SJ, Leonardo Boff OFM, Tissa Balasuriya OMI, not to mention dozens of lay teachers. The Church remains a largely pre-modern institution in a post-modern world, locked in Thomistic views about sex, birth control, and the capability of women to minister.

But whatever else can be said of him, he gave his all. He gave his heart, his hope, his health, and his life for his convictions and the world. He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and he loved his neighbor as himself. He will be missed, and he will be remembered.

Requiescat in pace, Papa Johannes Paulus.

Frontline has an excellent biography of John Paul II.