What is God?

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Children are the best theologians. A colleague told me about a recent conversation with her seven-year-old granddaughter.

“Grandma, I don’t believe in God. Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do.”

Pause…..”What is God?”

Grandma felt a flash of anxiety, “Oh God, how do I answer that?” she thought.

I love the question. Not, who is God, but what is God? How would you have responded? In some traditions, any answer to that question is by definition not the answer because whatever God is cannot be defined.

I’m reminded of the story where Moses encounters the Divine Presence at the burning bush and asks for a name to take back to his peeps. All Moses gets is a riddle: “I AM THAT I AM”.

What is God to you?

Lately, I’ve been experiencing God as “The Background”, that backdrop of existence upon which all reality plays out. I’ve been contemplating God as the Silent Oneness from which all the particulars arise.

I recently had an amazing conversation with a Hindu teacher/holy man who described God as “Is-ness”. There is an energetic “Is-ness”, always present, but seldom in our awareness. The point of meditation and other such practices is not to escape reality but to return awareness to the “Is-ness” beneath, behind and permeating all reality. The contemplator, that being contemplated, and  contemplation itself, all become one.

“The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” Meister Eckhart

Why is this important? It’s not because “God” is some narcissistic, overbearing parent needing fawning attention. Rather, in awareness of “Is-ness” or “The Background” our lives find context. Only when we experience ourselves in the midst of this infinite background do we find the expansiveness needed to hold our woes and worries.

How to cultivate awareness of “Is-ness”? It’s more a matter of subtraction than addition. The Hindu teacher reminded me that my attempts to get there with my agenda to be in that space was counter-productive. This background is omnipresent. Every spiritual practice from chanting to gardening, from prayer to dancing a happy jig, is ultimately aimed at dislodging us from our self-absorbed stories so that we experience being absorbed into the Energetic Essence, which we often call “God”.

From that space we are free to see things as they are and make appropriate choices. We can let go of the narratives that keep us miserable and stuck.

One would expect this Silent Emptiness to be devoid of character, but oddly, I don’t experience this Background as neutral. I sense a grace,  a compassion, a gentle lovingkindness, a beneficence filling me when I return my awareness to “Is-ness”. Even the horrors of life, which we may think are opposed to this Presence, ultimately arise from it and are surrounded by its graciousness.

So, how would you have answered the seven-year-old granddaughter? I’m not sure I have an answer…only an experience that immediately vanishes as soon as I try to put words to it.

When my colleague was put on the spot to answer her granddaughter, she resounded with the first thing that came to mind:

“I think of a Bible passage I like which says, ‘God is Love’.”

Perhaps that’s about as good an answer as any.

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2 Responses to What is God?

  1. Jennifer Benes says:

    Very well put. I like “is-ness” and feel that that’s exactly “What God is”

  2. Eleanor Jordan says:

    Thanks, Scott, I need reminders that help me shift to the Is-ness space (a new term for me). Sr. Adelaide once referred to “the creator of the horizon,” a metaphorical reference that helped me have a sense of dwelling in a gentle Background. I feel real when your ideas help me sense the bigger mystery that I’m part of. I’m grateful for your insights. Eleanor

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