Thursday, 25 February 2010

Stop 'effing' God

Ineffable: Incapable of being expressed; indescribable or unutterable.

God, or the ultimate reality, is understood to be profoundly unknowable in most of the world's religious traditions. This divine entity is powerful and present in ways that put it vastly beyond our experience and our understanding. Recall in the Hebrew Scriptures how Moses had to turn away when God passed by, for none can look upon the face of God and live. Recall that the very name of God is unspeakable in the Jewish faith.

The three Abrahamic faiths - Islam, Christianity, and Judaism - forbid the worship of idols. Such images can only be false and lead one away from the true essence of the divine. Hindus may worship avatars, but the ultimate divine entity - Brahman - remains an unknowable "trancendent absolute being that pervades and supports all reality."  Taoism proclaims the unknowability of the ultimate reality. In the words of Lao Tzu:
Tao, the subtle reality of the Universe cannot be described. That which can be described in words is merely a conception of the mind
In all of these great traditions, there is a powerful strand that recognizes the divine as something incomprehensible, unnameable, and indescribable.  Being human though, our immediate impulse is to describe the indescribable and provide a name for the unnameable. We want a God we can related to, look at, and even to touch. We want to 'eff' the ineffable!

Hence we depict God, we create idols, we designate specific beings as the incarnation of this entity so that we may more easily grasp and contain it. In doing so, we risk distorting and misrepresenting the divine. We may well come to worship only our idols and our rules - the form, rather than the ineffable reality.

In the New Testament book of Galations, Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control." Following Paul's lead, I want to suggest that our notion of the divine and how to follow the sacred path should also be identified by its fruits.

I know that I am in tune with the sacred when I become more loving and more compassionate. I also know that the path to these fruits is not the same for everyone. We are different and will find different ways toward a sacred wholeness, but our guide is there always in the results.

This pragmatic view of spirituality is beautifully encapsulated in a poem by Hafiz, the 14th Century Persian Sufi mystic (via Daniel Ladinsky), in which Hafiz describes his response to a man who asked if his visions of God were authentic:
I would say that they were if they make you become more human,
More kind to every creature and plant that you know.

1 comment:

  1. Many Pagans also recognise that deities are an anthropomorphic interface for the ineffable - the human or animal face that we put on spirit in order to communicate with it.

    I rather like Abraham Lincoln's pithy statement that "I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it", which is another way of saying what Hafiz said.