Saturday, November 7, 2015

defining terms

Before I go off on my next idea, I've got some explaining to do. I want to be able to use the word "God," but of course, when I use that word it may mean something entirely different to me than what it means to you, leading to some confusion.

It certainly means something different to me now than it did when I blithely told a young Jewish man I met at an icebreaker in college how happy I was that God was my best friend. (Yes, I really did do that and it gives me shudders down to my toes to think about it now).

I didn’t use the word “God” at all for a long time—I avoided it even in my head. When I tried to use it, I found myself in a minefield of difficulties. There was the white-bearded-man-on-a-throne-in-the-sky image from my childhood, the presence of Sophia/Wisdom from my feminist spirituality friends, the Divine Source of Light and Positivity from my New Age friends. It had become so loaded with different meanings that none of them worked for me anymore.

Who the heck is God, anyway? I’ve said this before, but is “God” some kind of sentient, all-knowing, all-seeing Being in the Sky? Is he/she/it a cluster of ideas shared by a community that takes on a life of its own in the collective mind of the group? Is it an understanding individual to each one of us? Is God, as the new age folks used to tell me, within me? And what the heck would that mean? Is God a Higher Self, a Divine Source, a Deity Within?

I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. Further, I don't think it's possible to know. But I sort of tentatively decided awhile ago that I I could go back to using the word "God" to describe a certain force in my life for which I have no other name. I don’t really understand what that force is. (ouch, I just remembered Star Wars and The Force and that’s not what I mean here, but how else am I going to say it?) It's convenient to have a name for it whatever it is, and God works as well as anything else.

It also enables me to have conversations with other believers without endlessly saying “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.” Although in that instance, it may unfortunately give them the idea that I agree with them about the nature of God when in fact I probably don’t. How could I, since I don’t really know what God is?

The point that I’m so convolutedly trying to make here is that when I use the word “God,” what I really mean is “What-I-think-of-as-God.” But it would be entirely tiresome to type that out every time I want to refer to “What-I-think-of-as-God.”

So, that’s all I'm saying. Just don’t take the word “God” too literally-- here, or anywhere else, come to think of it. And I'm still capitalizing it. I considered not doing that, but it just didn't seem right.

(this is an edited version of a post I wrote in 2009. I need it for something I want to write about tomorrow, or maybe the next day.)


KarenB said...

The spirit of love and goodness and creativity and life that binds the universe together? That's about as close as I can get to what I mean when I say God. YMMV obviously.

Cheery-O said...

One of my favorite insights from C S Lewis is that all of our images of God are "idols" (mistaken ideas of God shaped by our histories and our own wishful thinking) and all our prayers are arrow prayers, aimed in the general direction of that idol.

--from C S Lewis' poem "footnote to all prayers"

"...all prayers blaspheme
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word."