God Knows. We Search.

by Rev. Ellie Barrington - September 1, 2013 A reflection on Psalm 139 Listen to the audio recording

“O God You have searched me and known me….”

God knows us… And we search – for authentic words to share our God.

Psalm 139, this ancient poem and song, is a personal outpouring about the God the psalmist so evidently knows. One commentator suggests that this psalm was likely a passionate defence against some charge of heresy, a false accusation that the author had somehow turned away from Jahweh. In response to this charge, the writer pours forth words from his heart, convincing his hearer of his authentic relationship with the Holy. This is no intellectual “theological reflection”. The psalm moves us because it is “a primal religious meditation.” We feel his sense of a divine companion – eternally close. Of an awesome creator – all knowing and yet, notably, never judging him. This psalmist’s God is an intimate and loving personal presence. A God he can talk to and talk about…eloquently. And some of us are swept up by his poetic imagery.

Yet someone I asked to read this psalm felt uncomfortable proclaiming the psalmist’s words as if this were their own. In truth, many among us today don’t feel authentic, speaking about God in quite this way. At Trinity, we want to be honest about God, with our self and each other and God. We need to be real about our relationship with the Holy – or about our search for that relationship.

In the psalmist’s age, gods were prayed to in the capitalized You – that second person formal address. And the One God of the Hebrews was usually imaged personified and male, his eye and his hand formed by human words into our image. This psalmist spoke his truth in the address of his time, evoking his genuine awe for God, so I bet he was heard. His message would have been a winning defense, felt by others who loved God and recognized their own sense of God in his words.

I still resonate with many of his verses: The God who is so near and so everywhere. The God who knows me inside and out, and yet I’m safe to be myself. But perhaps we could all write our own psalm 139, describing how we feel God, in our own way, in our day?

I’d say God, you don’t need to search me, you already know me through and through. But I need to search for you in my world. And to search for words that proclaim the ways you meet me, in my life.

God has got to be the ultimate ‘word search!’ That ‘holy something’ is always somewhat hidden behind our alphabet of overlapping descriptives.

The great 20th Century theologian Paul Tillich refashioned God for a generation as ‘the Ground of our Being.’ Some of you will remember the breaking news when philosopher Buckminster Fuller freed a living active creating God from the inadequacy of static names and nouns, by declaring that “God is a verb.”

And in our time, we finally said it in church: God isn’t a guy! Personally, I find ‘he’s’ and ‘she’s’ for God distract me from the Holy presence I recognize in spiritual experience. These gendered pronouns are the unfortunate limitations of our language, which demotes with the only non-gendered alternative – ‘it.’

My usual shorthand for evoking God is that capital S Spirit that I really feel, like a warm wind wafting invisible but palpable through my life, bringing me guidance and energy and inspiring creative hope.

What about you? Where are you with your word search for God, at this moment on your spiritual journey? What words and images work for you? I know our Momentum for Mission group struggled with this. They used ‘The Holy’ in one draft but some people said “What does that mean? The Holy?” They settled on “The Divine” that can be recognized across other religions and spiritualities. My intervention in their independent collective process of Momentum for Mission was a request to include the word ‘God.’

Bob and I recently enjoyed a weekend retreat at the Omega Institute with Barbara Marx Hubbard. She is an 82 year old voice for world peace, who is a force of Spirit in herself. She spoke of this current stage of evolution as the No-osphere – earth’s collective consciousness, in which we creatively participate, the universe knowing itself as ‘the divine leading us to the divine.”

Afterwards, Bob said: “The God-talk of our time doesn’t use the word God very often – and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we catch a glimpse of it.”

Our search for God is a personal and ever-changing relationship, as we have new experiences and revelations of ‘that something greatest.’ God, by definition is ‘ineffable” – inexpressible. We have only our honest words, our own humble authentic images and art and metaphors to suggest our ‘knowing.’ New descriptors are always needed, alongside the old, to keep God alive in each time. And to answer our human need to communicate the endless creativity of that spiritual source and force that our tradition calls ‘God’.

Those are two more words I sometimes use for God. ‘The Source’ and ‘The Force.’ They communicate with a lot of people who shy away in disbelief, from their childhood images of that God guy in the sky. Like the psalmist, we can’t credibly convince others of our relationship with God with one simple declaration. We have to show and tell till the layers of our passionate, engaged feel for the Holy, connects with the listener’s own spiritual truth.

Sometimes lately I call God ‘the ultimate context’ of all life. Isn’t God ‘the widest possible perspective’ on the meaning and purpose of our lives?

I learned recently about the Akashic Field of physics and cosmology… an ultimate field of fields, out of which everything arises. You’ve heard about what they call ‘the God particle’ in the news? Well there is also this generative ‘field’ that encompasses all Creation evolving, and all time, from before the Big Bang. So maybe the Akashic field is a physicist’s nickname for God today? What could be more inclusive? More creative? More awesome?

Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about how exposure to quantum physics shifted her image of God, which she now describes enthusiastically thus: “God is the web, the energy, the space, the light – that singular vast network of relationships that animates all that is.”

How about God as the mind of Creation or the Supra-mind – encompassing all minds? There is also ‘the transcendental core consciousness.’ Or more actively: ‘the divine, processing in cosmic evolution?’ And let’s not forget Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling title for God: ‘The Eternal Now.’

Poetry and music, from the psalm onward, are often our best language for God. Our own words and images, our musical notes and compositions for God – we need to keep them coming – always passionately fresh and personal, alive with our relationship with God. We can take the ancient psalmist’s example and sing out our praise like he did, in defense of his beloved God.

What or who or where or when is God real for you?

God is with us.

VU # 267 Like a Mighty River Flowing



Be the first to add your voice to the discussion!

Every response that is respectfully offered is a welcome contribution. Please keep to one paragraph, to make room for others.