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Giving Up a Too-Small God

My latest column at Patheos is available on how to let go of the God of whom you are certain and open yourself to the One who is beyond your imagining:

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for an unknown God.

— from Amiel’s Journal, translated by Mrs. Humphrey Ward

John Cassian, one of the ancient desert fathers, describes three renunciations he says are required of all of us on the spiritual journey. The first is our former way of life as we move closer to our heart’s deep desires. The second is the inner practice of asceticism and letting go of our mindless thoughts. The third renunciation is to let go of our images of God—the idols we cling to so tightly—and to recognize that any image or pronouncement we can ever make about God is much to small to contain the divine. Even the word “God” is problematic because it carries with it so many interpretations and limits based on our cultural understandings.

We live in an age when fundamentalism has emerged as an overwhelming force in religious consciousness. In times that are chaotic and uncertain, our human minds grasp for a sense of control. One of the ways we try to make sense of things is to engage in black and white thinking. Establishing clear rules for how the world works, and who is inside and outside of God’s sphere, is a way of coping with this felt loss of an anchor or shared cultural sense of meaning.

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Make sure to stop by this week’s Poetry Party – always an amazing gathering!

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2 Responses

  1. Christine,

    I use this “saying” from Henri Frederic Amiel each time I send my e-mail. Since you refer to it as from his book and only name the translator, I wasn’t sure if you knew who wrote it. You can look it up – or take my word for it since you have a few other things to do! It is always inspiring.