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Describe God

3 November 2010

For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. In him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, For we too are his offspring.

Acts 17: 22  28

Observe the flower. What do we see? If I were to ask you to describe the flower what would you say? You would likely describe its colour, its shape, its design, you may describe its fragrance. But what don’t we see? Sunshine, clouds, rain, the air, the soil of the earth, the minerals, even the gardener, the elements that make the flower what we see.

When we describe something, we only describe what we see according to our mind. But the flower is not just what we see. Its being includes many non-flower elements. In many ways to correctly describe the flower is to point to its source, which is as much what it is as is its form.

A flower could not exist without the sun, without light, without the clouds, which bring rain, which provides water, without the earth, without the minerals to be what it is, it needs the others. So when we describe something, we are describing an entity that exists in and because of other things that it is not, and yet which contains it.

If I asked you now to consider God, to describe God, where would you begin? If your answer is, I don’t know, that may be the most honest and correct response. For when it comes to talking about God, we are not talking about somebody or something. There is great honesty in the altar at Athens, to an unknown God. Notice what Paul does in his writing. He doesn’t describe God, he points to what they cannot see, the source of their being, the source of creation, in which we live and move and have our being. Can I know the source of my being? This question goes to the fundamental nature of my life, of who I am.

The old words we used to describe God are to say God is ‘omnipresent’, meaning God is everywhere, God is ‘omnipotent’, meaning God is all-powerful. If we are honest we have come to think of God as an entity that is all knowing, all-powerful, ever present. When we think of entities, we think of them being somewhere. And so we become dependent on words and images that attempt to describe God’s nature and entity. If we say God is here or there, I am trying to place God. But a God who can be somewhere is not God, for God is everywhere.

What is everywhere? Nothing, emptiness, space. It is within nothingness, emptiness, within space that something exists. My naîve understanding is that science can tell us that things can come from nothing. Science will also suggest that it is possible for galaxies to collapse into themselves and so become nothing. When we talk of space we are not talking about planets, galaxies or solar systems. Space is the vast emptiness in which life exists. So what is everywhere? Space, emptiness is everywhere.

So I ask again, describe God. What can we say? If we say God is love, that is something we can attach to something, and God is not something, God is everything. Even if we attempt to say what God is not, that is to suggest that God is something and not other things, but God is not something. What God is and what God isn’t can easily be open to distortion, and we know that many wars have been fought based on what people think God is and isn’t.

What isn’t open to distortion? Nothing, emptiness; Emptiness is emptiness and space is space. We cannot know where space begins or ends because it is simply that, space, emptiness. If it had a beginning and an end it would not be space.

So the starting point to knowing God is to enter into emptiness, to enter into the unknown, enter into the nothing space. When I was a child I couldn’t imagine anything coming from nothing. Something had to create something. Human life as I knew it came from human life recreating itself. God in my childhood became the something that created the something that I knew and experienced. But the source of something is not another something, the source of something is space, emptiness. Any something is an entity. To say something is an entity is to say it has limitations; a beginning and an end; it is finite.

So God is not an entity, we cannot describe God. What we can describe is the fundamental nature of who I am, and the fundamental nature of existence. And our fundamental nature has its source in space; that which is everywhere, ever present, ever powerful so as to be the vast emptiness that makes it possible for the somethings to be.

Fr Thomas Keating says the journey of faith begins with the experience of there being an other, something that is separate, something that is not me. He says that we go in search of that other, to understand that other, to find the something that is not me. He says that Faith is surrendering that there is no other, that there is only oneness, all is one because all is space, emptiness. The space contains us, contains life, contains all things, everything is a unique expression of emptiness.

It is possible, I think, to speak of God as Love. The Mystic William Johnston talks of God as “Being in Love” itself. When we think of love, speak of love, we have particular concepts and experiences in mind. Even to speak of unconditional love can cause debate. But if we sit with the thought that unconditional love is simply the giving of the self without restriction, one can say that emptiness, space, gives of itself so completely for life to take shape and form within it. So what is our nature? Our nature is emptiness, and the nature of emptiness is to give of itself so completely so as to give life, this is a way of speaking of unconditional love. This is a way of speaking of God as Love.

The source of my being is space, is emptiness, is nothing, it is unknown because it is not an entity, it is emptiness. God is emptiness, the space. How can I know God? By experiencing emptiness. How is this possible? By not clinging to things, by being aware beyond form, beyond what we think we can see, beyond the descriptions. By being aware of emptiness. By loving unconditionally, which is our fundamental nature.

Awaken to a new perspective – the Unknown god in which we live and move and have our being.

Peace be with you


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