“God has managed the amazing feat of being worshiped and invisible at the same time.”
That is the opening sentence of Deepak Chopra’s “How to Know God.” In every place and generation, humans have sought to draw closer to what we call God. All who find our self on the spiritual seeker’s path, whatever our religion, yearn to experience, to understand and to align our lives with the Holy. How do we know this ‘highest power’?
Not by the name ‘God.’ Our tradition teaches us, rightly, to stumble over any name for the Holy. We can’t keep God in a box. Any word or image we use to claim the ultimate reality is inevitably bounded by our limited human perceptions of the All, and our propensity to project our self and our own world-view onto the blank screen of the invisible Creator. This Exodus story from the Torah illustrates, that the only name we can use to identify G.O.D. is an awkward, tenseless and eternal form of the verb: to be. Moses hears Yahweh self-identifying as: I AM THAT I AM. In the Hebrew: ‘ehyeh, asher, ahyeh.’ Marcus Borg reads this as “God is the Presence who is present in every here and now.” With Moses, by the burning bush, we meet the God who promises us all: “I AM, with you.”
Most of us grew up with the notion of a deity who hails from the human projections of pre-modern times – ancient peoples with mythical worldviews presumed a male, super-human figure located above the dome of the sky. We still automatically look up for God, don’t we? But our Bible actually offers us a much more all-encompassing and permeating sense of God. There are so many ways of knowing God, according to the Bible, including as Jesus’ ‘Abba: daddy’ and Paul’s ‘the One in whom we live and move and have our being.” Often, in spiritual counseling, I help individuals explore their view of God, and perhaps find another way of relating to God, that is more helpful to them in their healing and growth.
Nowadays, we are using the term ‘panentheism’ to enlarge our always limited conception of God. It means ‘everything is in God’. And so God permeates all of Creation – including us. Along with ‘the whole earth,’ we too are ‘full of God’s glory,’ that can shine from our faces, as it did from Moses’.
This passage from Exodus offers us God in all three persons – grammatically speaking. Moses’ priestly role alludes to God in the third person – that distant, transcendent he/she/it deity, to whom Moses points his people in worship. Then we meet the deeply personal second person ‘you’ God, to whom Moses speaks in conversation. The You whom we address and commune with in prayer. And then we are taken off guard, perhaps, by the least familiar, the un-nameable first person “I AM” God, who simply is. In whom ‘we are.’ The God of existence.
Does it matter, really, how we characterize or describe God, today? Yes. Contemporary philosopher Ken Wilbur makes the impact of our God-sense on our lives clear. Famous for his writings integrating science and psychology with eastern and western spiritualities, Wilber illustrates how the way we understand and relate to God is both the reflection of how we perceive our self and the world, and the generator of how we relate in life. Wilber has developed a hierarchy of Human Consciousness that connects our personal ‘God-view’ with our ‘Life-view’, as well as the emotions and energy each level of God-sense releases in us – and through us into our world of relationships. In seeking spiritual growth – rising into a more holistic relationship with God – we evolve in our being and our behaving. For example, the person on the lower spectrum, who ‘believes in’ a punitive God, experiences life as frightening. Judgmental of self and other, they will be prone to fear, anxiety and withdrawal. Or, if you perceive God as Loving, your view of life is more safe and benign, you can more easily risk loving others, you feel reverence for life and so you will notice God around you, having your own holy moments of revelation.
According to Wilber’s system, the highest God view is Self – that’s the Capital S Self – unseparated by the defensive boundaries of our ego, free of attachment and judgment. We Are and Life IS. This is the spiritual state of enlightenment, with an inexpressible feeling of pure consciousness. Be-ing. Enlightenment, of course, is where Jesus lived, where the saints of all religions reside, and where most of us may occasionally visit.
Most of us slide up and down Wilbur’s hierarchy of God-consciousness, in the course of life’s game of snakes and ladders. In the Bible we encounter people who are on each level, projecting every kind of God. But only in Exodus do we have God naming God to Moses – as pure being. I AM…
Deepak Chopra has his own ladder to explain human ways of relating to God. We move Stage 1: Fight or Flight Response, where we see God as Protector, to the Reactive Response where God is the Almighty. Stage 3 is Restful Awareness where God is Peace, then the Intuitive stage, of God the Redeemer. Stage 5 is the Creative Response with God as Creator. Then the Visionary Response with the God of Miracles.
At Chopra’s summit stage 7: Enlightenment, our perspective joins with God in the all-encompassing view. Chopra says that at this pinnacle, you kick the ladder away. As in the quantum worldview, “In stage seven, you no longer project God; you project everything. Which is the same as “being in the movie, watching the movie and being the movie itself.” Confusing? Kind of like a burning bush that doesn’t burn up?
In stage seven spiritual consciousness, the only answer to the question “Who are you?” Is “I am.” Have you ever been there? Floated in that oceanic bliss of pure being, beyond your ego identity? Perhaps in meditation or revelation, in near death experience or maybe in music?
The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rosseaus had such a moment, after of an accident. He fell from a horse, unconscious. He came to in a world with no boundaries, in which he was “a speck of consciousness, floating in a vast ocean, fused with everything: the earth, the sky and everyone around.” He described that state as ecstatic and free.
The poet Wordsworth calls these ecstatic awakenings ‘spots of time.’ They make us want to keep coming back home to just be-ing. To the I AM of God!
There is a God who, paradoxically, can only be experienced by going beyond experience. Our religions offer us many paths and practices to lead us home to this ultimate, unseparated God. Chopra tells the story of his stage seven moment, during pilgrimage to Vasishtha’s cave by the Ganges, where meditation had taken place for thousands of years.
“We were told to look for a door to a cave on a cliff, but the Ganges cuts a roaring gorge below the winding mountain road and there were cliffs everywhere. A bend in the road swung us close to the edge of the canyon, and then someone cried “I think that’s it.” We pulled over and scrambled down the trail to a rotted door, leading to the holy cave. Inside was a tunnel….We snaked through the darkness, lower and narrower like a mineshaft, before opening into a cave where we could stand up straight. Only a faint glimmer penetrated from the outside world.
In the silence in this cave, I felt the world was disappearing. I could hardly remember the winding road above the Ganges. I began to loose the thousands of invisible threads of time, place, identity and past experiences that tied me to the world. I wondered: could I go far enough to forget myself? The feeling then, involved nothing I was consciously doing – it was more like a memory lapse.”
In the cave of Vasishtha, Chopra’s mind stopped buzzing with the thoughts that formed his identity and thus assured him that he was real. His self blended into the scenery and memory ceased to flicker. Then…nothing. God. The ultimate God in an empty room… unborn, undying, unmanifest…infinite. Existence. The God of pure being.
I AM THAT I AM.
We, like our biblical ancestors, can know God as pure being. Through a burning bush revelation, a fall from a horse, a moment of profound meditation or an experience of artistic creation, we can know God, not by naming or claiming God as ours, but by giving way to just being, and thus becoming. In our whole lives, behaving more and more as the God who just IS….goodness!
God, Who Gives to Life Its Goodness V.U. #260.