How has God become offensive?

VATICAN SISTINE CHAPELI am part of a non-profit in St Augustine called Unity & Peace.  It is an organization that is committed to promoting the consciousness of Peace and the understanding of Unity – that all religions, peoples and cultures are one family of humanity.  Yet I find myself struggling with how to speak of the Oneness that binds us all together.

As part of Unity & Peace I am both writing material for the website and leading meditations for World Peace, and I find myself shying away from any words that point to God. I love God. I think about God all day long and I pray to do God’s Will in as many moments of the day as I can – and part of that for me is being an Interfaith Peace activist. I am an Everything – I love God with every name I can think of.  But if I say God and I don’t also say Allah and Jehovah and Shiva at the same time will I fail to be all-inclusive and honoring of the Unity I profess? If I refer to God as a He will I offend the feminists among us (myself included) and be accused of perpetuating the patriarchy? If I speak of manifesting God’s Peace on Earth will I exclude atheists or humanists from joining in our intentions for a world of harmony? If I call upon foreign Saints and Masters will I alienate those Christians who are joining us? If I invoke Christ or the Holy Spirit will I offend the yoga enthusiasts who have bad memories from childhood?god-2

I came across the perfect expression of this grappling with the name of God in the book ‘Eat Pray Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. She writes of the loaded word – GOD – and sets out to explain what she means by it, “just so people can decide right away how offended they need to get.”

Let me first explain why I use the word God, when I could just as easily use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus. Alternatively, I could call God “That” which is how the ancient Sanskrit scriptures say it, and which I think comes close to the all-inclusive and unspeakable entity I have sometimes experienced. But that “That” feels impersonal to me – a thing, not a being – and I myself cannot pray to a That. I need a proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this same reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe, The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God’s name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels: “The Shadow of the Turning.”

I have nothing against any of these terms. I feel they are all equal because they are all equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the indescribable. But we each do need a functional name for this indescribability, and “God” is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that’s what I use. I should also confess that I generally refer to God as “Him,” which doesn’t bother me because, to my mind, it’s just a convenient personalizing pronoun, not a precise anatomical description or a cause for revolution. Of course, I don’t mind if people call God “Her,” and I understand the urge to do so. Again – to me, these are both equal terms, equally adequate and inadequate. Though I do think the capitalization of either pronoun is a nice touch, a small politeness in the presence of the divine.

It is strange to me that God – the Presence of Love that is pure goodness, pure peace and infinite Light and that unifies all together as One – can be such a contentious word. It seems to me that it’s just another out-picturing of all our bickering over God – is God male or female, personal or impersonal, infinitesimally small or omnipresent, Caucasian or Arab or Indian?  It is ridiculous to think God is any of these things and yet equally ridiculous to think God is NOT these things as God is everything.  In the end, what is important is simply that each person connects to that Power of Love inside our beings, by whatever name works.  Maybe it’s time we stop worrying about offending each other, stop worrying about the pronouns or what word we each use. All words are equally adequate and inadequate to describe the indescribable eternal infinite lovingness. So, let’s just focus on the Love.

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