Date Published:March/April 2010
The words that come most authentically from the heart when I speak of God are these from one of our most common prayers: "Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being." Granted, when Paul used these words in addressing the people of Athens, he cribbed from a Greek poet to communicate in a new context. Now, fully part of Christian prayer, these words remind me that God is not "out there," nor is God "ours." No, we -- and that means all of us -- live within the complex, vast, intricate, and ever-evolving being of the one we call God. Our spiritual life is not about being lifted out of the mundane, but rather about recognizing the infinite faces and facets of the one in whom we live. It is about growing in knowledge of the One in whom. It is about the deep-seeing of prayer and meditation and the deep-seeing of scientific and humanistic research.
Of course, the one we call God transcends our own understanding, even our deepest insight. Our compass and guide is to know that the most important thing for us to know is what we cannot fully know, but try to know. Those of us who are Christians evoke the complexity and mystery of God with the mind-boggling language of the Trinity. Jews write the unpronounceable "I am" who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. Muslims do not image God in any form at all, and Hindus speak of 330 million gods, which perhaps amounts to the same thing. As the Taittiriya Upanishad puts it, Being itself is that "whence mind and speech, having no hold, fall back."
But we don't leave it there. Faith is personal. My faith as a Christian puts it this way: the One in whom we live and move and have our being is not simply a cosmic abstraction. In this Being, we are not aliens, but participants. The in whom is also as close and intimate as breath itself: the fire, energy, and intuition we speak of as the Holy Spirit. And the in whom is part of the unfolding of the human story, the one we see in Jesus Christ, who is nowhere if not present, who calls us from our workshops and nets into relationships of risk and love, who cherishes the marginalized, who suffers and dies along with us, and who appears to us on countless roads to Emmaus when we do not recognize him at all. Our task is to open our eyes, to see.
Our stories differ, but as human beings we glimpse the vastness in whom, but live in the presence, right here. Allah is as "close as our jugular vein," as Muslims put it. Campantar, a seventh-century Tamil poet beautifully translated by Indira Peterson, praises Lord Shiva, who spins the cosmos out of his very being, and also writes of Shiva's presence in his village by the sea:
He loves Venkuru, where, at night,
waves dash against the shore, and scatter
shells and oysters on the sand ...