Augustine’s question, “who do I love when I say I love my God?” is an apt one. It’s honest. For all of our highly articulated dogma’s or “namings” we must acknowledge, in the end, that a question mark lingers with the person of God. The face of God, unrevealed to Moses, is still no more revealed to us. A hazy gauze lingers there, and a promise that one day “we will know even as we are presently known.” In other words, the “event” of God–the experience–is still a Mystery (something known but not understood). While we have many names for this underlying event (and it takes all of them to even begin to touch the event they house), no one of them takes the cake, so to speak.
But my point isn’t that we shouldn’t attempt to give name, or honor the particularity of names (such as Jesus). Like the writer of the gospel of John, I think it would take all the words in the human language, and fill all the books ever written, to describe the presence of God. No, I think part of what we must do is labor to give birth to better and higher articulations. My feeling is that we must exhaust every available resource in the knowing of God in order to fall backwards into enjoyment; tossing our hands up and proclaiming, “this is a mystery.”
So I search for better names and better namings. Last night I came across a simply beautiful phrasing of “the event of God.” I was really blown away by it. I think this most clearly articulates my current understanding of who God is and how we interact with Godself. It’s from a book I’ve been reading called, “The Sparrow“. This is a lovely novel. I can almost guarentee it will make my top 2009 list. Amazing. If you haven’t read it, please consider doing so. Anyhow, here is the part I was drawn to, a working definition of who I love when I say “I love you my God”:
There are times…when we are in the midst of life–moments of confrontation with birth or death, or moments of beauty when nature or love is fully revealed, or moments of terrible loneliness–times when a holy and awesome awareness comes upon us. It may come as deep inner stillness or a rush of overflowing emotion. It may seem to come from beyond us, without any provocation, or from within us, evoked by music or a sleeping child. If we open our hearts at such moments, creation reveals itself to us in all its unity and fullness. And when we return from such a moment of awareness, our hearts long to find some way to capture it in words forever, so that we can remain faithful to its higher truth…
…when we search for a name to give to the truth we feel at those moments, we [may] call it God, and when we capture that understanding in timeless poetry, we [may] call it praying.
Isn’t that beautiful? I know that some will object to its universality, rather than its particularity (Russell doesn’t point to any one religion in this passage as the “name above all names” does she?). Still, let’s not cut off our nose to spite the face. Or in this case perhaps, let’s not cut off the face to eccentuate the nose. The experiences and names we give God will (conceivably) be particular to our situations and context. I don’t think we have to work at bringing God down to our context, if anything we have to work at allowing God to be as big as he is. As one of my friends put it, “there are thousands of types of lungs, thousands of ways to breathe in the air–still there is only one air…and I’m not sure if it cares what you call it…it still does it’s job” (my paraphrase). We do well to remember the differences and diversity–we also do well to remember the unity and BIGNESS of God.
One final thought: if God is indeed who I imagine him to be then he will most certainly be bigger than my ability to imagine him.