by Michael Maciel
We live in a great being. Should “great being” be capitalized? It should if we were to use it as God’s name. But as names go, it’s not a very good one. Too cold, too “scientific,” and too limiting. But nonetheless, “great being” is a good descriptor for what God is. And it gives us a way to make God real in our lives.
God is not the universe, although there is a certain majesty in that. The sheer infinity of it is awe-inspiring. And its complexity is marvelously intoxicating to ponder. But science has kind of ruined it as a literal God by the way it reduces it to vast, cold, empty space, filled with intermittent hot gasses, whirling nuclear furnaces, and enigmatic black holes. Black holes. Who could worship that?
But just as God is not the universe, neither is the universe “the universe.” Not really. Every year, we learn something new about it. It is never the same in our understanding or our imagination. Just when we think we know what it is, we’re told that there are multiple iterations of it – the multiverse. If, then, we say that God is the universe, we are left with the conclusion that there are multiple Gods. If one God is unfathomable, how much worse would multiple Gods be?
And yet, there is one thing that we know about the universe that makes it useful in the way we worship God: it’s alive! And not just alive in the same way that protoplasm is alive, but alive in the sense that we are alive. Just like us, the universe is intelligent and imaginative. Imaginative? Just look at the bizarre deep-sea creatures, the ones that look like ghosts and neon lights. If that’s not imaginative, I don’t know what is. Clearly, the universe is capable of imagining the unimaginable.
Is God a person, or is God a thing? This is the perennial question. Things are hard to worship, and persons are too…well, personal. We’re too used to thinking of other persons as being separate from us. And if they’re separate from us, it’s all too easy for them to be absent. Over-personifying a deity can be deeply problematic.
If we fixate on God as a person, it’s very hard to feel empowered. It tends to make us see our own personhood as somehow flawed and insufficient, which makes any kind of intimate relationship impossible. Unless, of course, you’re into being dominated and mistreated. Seeing God as an all-powerful person (with the emphasis on “all-powerful”) becomes the perfect recipe for feeling perpetually persecuted.
And God-as-person always seems to take on the look and feel of a parent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But who among us had perfect parents? Anyone? If we see God as a parent (whether father or mother), we wind up projecting all of our hurts and disappointments on Him or Her. It’s inevitable. Add to that the insidious terror of being abandoned, and you cannot avoid resenting God altogether.
One thing we can safely assume: nothing is as it appears to be. This doesn’t mean that the refrigerator is actually a cow or that physical substance is somehow unreal. No, what it means is that things are deeper than they appear. Everything in this world (ourselves included) is but the tip of the iceberg. Everything (ourselves included) seems to emanate from within itself, a kind of radiance that is alive, intelligent, and imbued with intention. Not intention as we normally understand it, but intention as in “purpose.” Everything fits. Everything, in the broadest sense, is in its native environment. Where else could it be?
When we contemplate this, it becomes clear that we too are in our native environment. We are in the universe, not merely on or of it. This is where we are. It is where we have our being. We become aware that this is our home. But not the “this” that is apparent, but rather the deeper “this,” the part of reality that extends far below the threshold of our conscious selves. It is from this deeper part of us that God emerges. It’s as though the universe is inverted. The entire thing is within us, right here inside our being. We don’t have to go anywhere to find it. We carry it around with us everywhere we go. It is existentially impossible to be separated from it.
Only when we drastically change our perspective, as I’m describing here, can we hope to enter into a real relationship with God. We cannot worship the infinite with a finite mind. Until we find the infinite within ourselves, we cannot worship God. The only thing we can do is worship an idea. And that’s no kind of worship at all.