One Mystery, Many Names
By Robert C Morris
October 12, 2003
Isaiah 11:12, 1 Cor 10:13 & Phil 2:12-13
A Sermon preached at Christ Church,
Summit NJ, by the Rev. Robert Corin Morris, Executive Director of
Interweave Center for
Wholistic Living, on Sunday, October 12, 2003.
allergic to the word itself,” said a woman deeply dedicated to a serious spiritual search.
The word, of course, was G-o-d.
She’s not alone.
In over twenty years of offering courses on “spirituality” at Interweave, I’ve encountered many intelligent, sensitive seekers who want to find depth, meaning, even some kind of Higher Power, who have serious problems with G-o-d.
I’m not surprised.
For some people, the very word itself conjures up one or more of the terrible ideas of God that can be fed to children — cosmic spy, vengeful judge, eternal punisher.
For others even the positive notion of an almighty, loving Father becomes a problem when they look at a world full of suffering and wonder why such an all-powerful love would allow such things.
think it’s the word itself that is the problem. For this woman, “Spirit” works
better as a descriptor. One of the creative spiritual trends of our time is the
extensive revisioning of the whole idea of G-o-d both inside and outside
If we think
there’s no G-o-d at work in human life, we may be looking through the lens of
the wrong image, victims of distorted, even outmoded ideas. When people told
the great mid-20th century German-American theologian Paul Tillich they were
atheists, he used to say, “Tell me what God it is you don’t believe in. I
probably don’t believe in that God either.”
I remember the
bright, mavericky kids in a small weekday afternoon personal growth group, none
of whom believed in G-o-d, even though they all were active members of their church
youth group. Arriving outside the meeting room door late one Wednesday
afternoon, I heard them in animated discussion about “cosmic mind.” One young
man had heard a speaker talking about Albert Einstein’s belief that the
“universe is more like a great thought than a machine,” and his belief in an
underlying cosmic intelligence. The room was filled cascades of “wow … neat …
great … wonderful.” As I entered, they enthusiastically shared the newfound
discovery, which was helping them make sense of their universe. I said somewhat
gingerly, “Well, you know, that’s very much like what most philosophers have
meant by ‘G-o-d’ through the ages. “No
way!” they responded, opening a vigorous session. At the end, we all agreed we
could call this reality “the Mystery” to indicate the need for open-mindedness,
exploration, and willingness to be surprised.
people say they don’t believe in G-o-d, it’s because they see no evidence that
some giant heavenly King is hovering over the world pulling the strings. I’ve heard such ideas of God compared
scornfully to belief in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy in recent movies and TV
shows, as part of a growing cultural trashing of organized religion. Since
Chuck has recently raised the issue of how conventional Church tradition has
often given us rigid, narrow ideas of God, and suppressed older ideas of God
like the Divine Feminine, I thought I’d continue that series today by
considering some of the neglected images of God in the Bible and Christian
are childish ideas of God abroad, but a great many human experiences of the
Mystery have little or nothing to do with such a giant humanoid figure. For starters, the very word translated “God”
in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, elohim, means something like “energies”
or “powers.” It’s a very ancient word arising out of the primal human
experience of the wonderful mystery of all the powers at work in the world—very
easy to experience, but very hard to put into words. In time these “powers” came
to be understood as One but the Hebrew monotheists retained that old plural
word, because they knew this One was manifested in many ways, easy to
experience but hard to capture in a formulated phrase. As the ancient Chinese
classic Tao Te Ching puts it, “The mystery that can be named is not the
Mystery,” and yet “naming is the mother of ten thousand things.” 
example, could you capture “love” in one image or definition? Do we paint a
picture of a mother nursing her child? A father’s eyes alight with joy at his
daughter’s first soccer victory? Two sisters laughing uproariously, remembering
eccentric old Aunt Sally? A soldier holding another man as he weeps over the
death of his best buddy? No one image or idea captures love, yet all are
manifestations we recognize as part of one reality. This ‘spiritual’ reality is
one of the most solid and important forces shaping our lives. So it is with all
the powers or energies that go together to make so many people through the ages
believe in some underlying cosmic intelligence, called God, Spirit, Mind, the
Way of Heaven, or some other term.
revisioning of the Mystery often involves a shedding of conventional ideas in
favor of seemingly new perspectives like “the Gaia Hypothesis,” the idea that
the earth itself has an innate intelligence, or Einstein’s “cosmic mind.” Often, these new perspectives
are new versions of very ancient spiritual ideas. “Gaia” is the ancient wisdom of nature, “Cosmic Intelligence” a
new version of the ancient Stoic, Jewish and Christian idea of the “Logos” or
“Reason” displayed in the Universe.
I know more than
one person who knows Spirit as an “intelligent energy” that inspires,
illuminates, and guides them. This sounds very much like the “Spirit of wisdom”
the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah knew.
Another friend calls God “the challenger toward greater personal growth.” One
of the central, and least talked about images of God in the Bible is as the
power that sets “tests” to challenge people toward greater strength — and who
works within that person to help them meet the test.
image startling to people is “dazzling darkness,” a common theme in Eastern
mystical tradition, including Eastern Christian orthodoxy. One Sunday dinner I
was tackled in conversation by a brilliant woman, an artist, who was having a
sort of mystical awakening. She was a convinced atheist, and therefore a bit
perplexed. She described in vivid detail—with finely crafted pen and ink
drawings—the “layers of psyche” she had traveled through in her meditations.
“And then,” she said, “you come out into this vast, wonderful, spacious
Darkness. It’s not frightening at all, but very awesome. Being there is, well,
it has some kind of good effect on me.” Dessert arrived. I pondered what to
say, and finally decided just to be straight with her: “All I can say is that
what you’re describing is what many mystics through the ages have called
‘God.’” She, of course, was astonished and a bit incredulous, but had new food
One of the most
powerful revisionings has to do with gender. After almost three thousand years
of thinking of G-o-d in masculine terms, millions of men and woman are having
direct experiences of Spirit are nurturing, embracing, supportive, comforting
and full of fecund creativity—qualities traditionally associated with the
feminine. These new experiences are parallel to the ancient believes in the
Goddess in folk religion, and the feminine images of Divine Wisdom in the
numbers of people in 12-step programs have a daily experience of a “higher
power” that helps them stay drug-free. As one young man put it, “I don’t know
about all those big ideas about God, but whatever This is that helps me keep
off drugs is God enough for me at the moment.”
That’s the test
of any idea or image of the Mystery—what effect for good does it have on the
human spirit? Does it help you relate to reality in a more constructive
No one word does
justice to the variety and subtlety of human experience, nor the rich tradition
of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others throughout the centuries. No
one word will ever capture the mystery. And no one word should be a barrier in
the path of anyone’s search for signs of some Greater meaning and purpose in
— Robert Corin Morris
You can reach Bob at ,
or visit the Interweave website at www.interweave.org for details about
 Lao Tzu, Tao
Te Ching. My own translation of poem 1.
 See Isaiah
11:12 in the Hebrew Bible.
 See 1
Corinthians 10:13 and Philippians 2:12-13 in the New Testament.
 See Proverbs
8 in the Hebrew Bible, and also The Myth of the Goddess.
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