Where in God’s Name Did We Go Wrong?
by Jean-Claude Koven
When people ask me if I am religious, I tell them I love God far too much to be religious. “Oh, then you must believe in God?” they inevitably ask. “Of course not,” I reply with a smile, “does a fish believe in water?” For me, God is all there is. What’s to believe?
Although the world’s major religions all agree that God (however they define the term) is omnipresent, it seems that very few of their followers – including their clerical hierarchy – actually understand what omnipresence really means. And therein lies the source of the world’s ills.
For a start, we take our relationship to God far too seriously. We bring so much solemnity to the way we view God – awe, veneration, obedience, and the like – that we end up creating distance between us and the object of our worship. Expressions such as “God is my judge,” “God forbid,” and “God bless you” creep into our language, and consequently our thoughts. People are actually proud to call themselves God-fearing folk. For too many of us, God is somewhere out there, watching and judging us as we struggle through our imperfect lives.
And consider this: Some religions consider the name of God so holy that it is never pronounced. Instead they create a litany of substitute terms so they can talk about God without having to commit the blasphemy of actually using his name – much as many of the characters in the Harry Potter novels avoid pronouncing the name of Lord Voldemort lest they unleash some fearsome effect. When practitioners of these religions write about their deity, they are instructed to omit the vowel: G-d. Other religions take the opposite tack. They encourage their devotees to chant or meditate on the name of God for hours at a time. To their way of believing, focusing on God leads to a state of bliss that opens the door to transcendence and enlightenment. But if God is truly all that is, what can possibly make one of his names more powerful than any other?
For that matter, what is the purpose of naming him (or her or it) in the first place? Naming anything creates a subject/object relationship between you and the thing named, and that in and of itself means a separation. Every name of God, no matter how holy, drives a wedge between the creator and the created – which includes you and me. This separation is the primal breeding ground for fear, for we then see ourselves as tiny beings, abandoned (or evicted from Paradise) and living on the fringe of an incomprehensibly huge cosmos. It’s no wonder most of humanity takes this whole God business so seriously – it appears to be no less than a matter of life and death.
But what if the phrase “God is all that is” were literally true? This is what R. Buckminster Fuller must have understood when he said, “God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun.” His words, when I first read them, lodged in my mind. But I didn’t get their full import until many years later, during my first visit to Findhorn, the renowned spiritual community in northeast Scotland. It was there, sitting in a circle with my fellow newbies, that the penny dropped. One young man in our group, Peter, suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, wow, I finally see it. It’s not that God is in all things; it’s that God is all things.”
His exclamation triggered two remarkable realizations for me. First, the obvious is obvious only to those who are sufficiently present to see it. The delivery of Peter’s life-changing epiphany had virtually no effect on the rest of the group. Our facilitator was so consumed by his orientation agenda that he missed the moment completely. Thanking Peter for his contribution, he simply asked the group if anyone else had anything to share.
Second, what Peter said is literally true. In an instant, Bucky’s words became crystal clear. God is indeed a verb. He is not the creator. He is the ongoing unfoldment of creation itself. There is nothing that is not a part of this unfolding. Thus there can be nothing separate from God. God is infinite and infinity is One.
From that moment, everything in my life began to change. It wasn’t immediate; it was rather like a giant oil tanker slowly making a U-turn. As if I were facing in a new direction, I looked at the world in a new way “How,” I asked myself, “do we dupe ourselves so completely? How come so few people see what Bucky and Peter see? How could I myself have been so blind?”
When we perceive God as a noun, we envision him as the creator, the architect of, and therefore separate from, his creation. Identifying ourselves as part of that creation, we see ourselves not only separate from our source but separate from each other and all other manifest things as well. This is the fatally flawed axiom underlying virtually all of the world’s faiths. They may collectively call for love and peace, but the rampant divisiveness, greed, and competition that currently pervade human culture are the only inevitable outcomes of their separative philosophies.
Once I viewed God as a verb instead of a noun, my perception of life shifted. Everything around me, manifest or no, became God. There was only God. When someone spoke to me, it was with God’s voice; when I listened, it was with God’s heart. I invite you to try it. The small shift from noun to verb may well be the antidote to the forbidden fruit that banished us from Eden. As you begin to view God not as the creator but as the constantly changing dance of creation itself, you’ll discover him in everything you see – including yourself. The old you – that fish swimming blindly in search of water – fades away as you dissolve into the simple meaning of it all. Perhaps, when your vision finally clears, you will find yourself living in the Promised Land that so many others are still praying for.
Jean-Claude Koven is a writer and speaker based in Rancho Mirage, CA. He is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, the Allbooks Reviews editor’s choice for the best metaphysical book of 2004. Recipient of USABookNews.com best metaphysical book award. For more information, please visit www.goingdeeper.org.
©2005. Jean-Claude Koven / All Rights Reserved.
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