Today, I let you listen in on a conversation from several years ago. A member of the congregation I served as pastor and one of my contemplative students dialogued with me, over email, on the nature of God. At the heart of the contemplative path is the realization that God is beyond conceptual grasp. Beyond that grasp, however, we experience the Mystery of the Divine alive and encompassing us, indeed all the universe, in Love. The path of prayer leads us to the Silence of utter astonishment at the Mystery of the Wholly Other who is yet the Immanently Other, as near to us as we are near to ourselves; words dissolve in the calmed awe of praise.
Preceding the letter, I give two pertinent quotes on language, given by a contemporary writer; however, he is saying nothing new. Mystics, across time and culture, have been telling us and warning us of the limits of language and logic in matters of Mystery, of God.
The description of the world does stand in between. We create for ourselves a word-built world. We lock ourselves into this world to the extent that our thinking processes become dependent upon semantics. But we should not confuse our word-built reality with what actually is ‘out there.'
There is an alarming entropy to language which we have to watch out for. Metaphysics also presents many situations where language no longer imparts any information.
*Michael Talbot, Mysticism and the New Physics.
It seems to me that the core religious and human issue is "What is God?" God can be referred to well and beneficially in theistic (personal) and nontheistic (abstract) terms and both, and often confusion results from literalization of terms.
This literalization of our language has been called "fact fundamentalism"—like looking at the surface of the ocean and claiming that the surface is the whole ocean and, so, a reduction of metaphorical depth to concrete surfaces—an error of religious fundamentalism and scientism (i.e., the prevailing acceptance in the West and for centuries that science can explain all reality by the present scientific method).
Our words are always one step from Reality, if not more, and within what W.H. Auden, 1956, Inaugural Address at Oxford University, called “secondary imagination.” “Primary imagination” is the thingness of whatever, prior to it passing through the conditioned sieve of the mind and, thus, necessarily contorted by that passage.
So, one can speak of God without knowing he or she is doing such, if one is referring to that which is God or of God in words we do not typically think of as theistic. I can speak of the moon while calling it the sun, and vice versa.
My words do not define the reality I speak of, otherwise the reality would be subject to my words, and that is impossible. God cannot be subject to my correctness of thought or word, or God would be subordinate to such. This is my concern with creedal religion: not that creeds are in error inherently, but that the creed can come to be seen to define God and the ways of God.
God is not dependent on my awareness of God. God is not "God"; however, God is always and forever God. See, the paradoxical conundrum of our language divides many, as is told in the etiological tale of the Tower of Babel: the Tower of Confusion. Yet, division results from communication and such is so for our communication, with its words, is such an artful means of unity (i.e., language is both a means of unity and disunity).
Now, I realize that what I have written is possibly fit only for file 13. However, somewhere in it all is some truth.
You are Special, and I rejoice in your Good Fortune!
1. How can theology be a word-built world?
2. What is “metaphorical depth”? Contrast this with “concrete language.”
3. What is “fact fundamentalism”? How do many Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists share the same “fact fundamentalism”?
4. How can one speak of God and not know he or she is doing so? How can one think he or she is speaking of God and not be speaking of God?
5. How does “primary imagination” and “secondary imagination” relate to the difference between non-contemplative and contemplative spirituality?
God, I use such words as “God” to pray. I call you “you.” However, thanks for those wonderful times when I lay aside the baggage of language and rest in Love. Give me the wisdom rightly to use words and the courage to live beyond them, at the same time. Amen.
Brian's book of mystical love poetry,
An Ache for Union, can be ordered through major bookdealers.
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
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