Back in the 19th century, Rudolf Otto described the Holy One that we encounter as: “mysterium, tremendum et fascinans.”“Mysterium” captures the indescribable nature of the Holy. “Tremendum” …we get our word tremble from this; and in the presence of the Holy we tremble because the Holy is so far beyond our abilities to cope with. And yet we are “facinans,” fascinated to the point where we long to return over and over again into the presence of the Holy. Sadly, the image of God that has been created for us by religion can’t possibly contain all that the Holy IS.
In his book “Insurrection” Peter Rollins insists that, for a multitude of reasons we are all too willing to settle for what Bonheoffer called the God of Religion. For Bonheoffer, the Church approached God as a “deus ex machina.” God was merely an idea clumsily dropped into our world in order to fulfill a task. God was introduced into the world on our terms in order to resolve a problem rather than expressing a lived reality. The result is a God who simply justifies our beliefs and helps us sleep comfortable at night. God is brought into the picture only when we face a problem of some kind that doesn’t lend itself to solution by other means. This “deus ex machina” falls far short of the God we meet in the Thin Places of our lives; those places or events in which we encounter the Divine. Only by letting go of the god we have created for ourselves can we begin to describe the encounter with the ONE who IS.
Tomorrow, I will get into my car to begin the nearly three-and-a-half-thousand kilometre journey to Vancouver. When people ask me why I’m driving so far instead of flying, I tell them it is because my sabbatical affords me the luxury of taking my time. But I suspect the real reason has something to do my love of this immense land in which I have the pleasure of living. From behind the wheel, I will have the freedom to explore just a small part of Canada and I can hardly wait to get beyond the familiar routes of my day-to-day life and out on to the open road, knowing all the while that in the far off distance, beyond the rocks and trees of Ontario, the open expanse of the prairies lie the mountains. I will linger in the mountains before making my way to the Vancouver School of Theology, on the grounds of my alma mater the University of British Columbia, where I will spend six glorious weeks reading and reflecting upon the many emerging connections that are happening in progressive christian theology. So, filled as I am, with anticipation of all that tomorrow promises, I am also filled with memories of other trips into the splendour of creation.
When I was a student in the Religious Studies department at the University of British Columbia, I decided that if I was ever going to be able to understand religious practices that I would need to do more than simply study them from an academic perspective. Longing to understand more about Buddhism I decided to learn how to meditate. I went to a Buddhist retreat centre to try to learn the fine art of meditation. While I learned a great deal in the process of learning to meditate, I found the experience of meditation to be very frustrating. I’m drawn to ideas, and reading, and studying. I love roaming around in the words that have been strung together by scholars, or historians or theologians, or philosophers or psychologists or even novelists. I thrive on the written word and so the scarcity of words that the discipline of meditation demands can often frustrate me.
I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my particular spiritual quest would need to be one that entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words.
I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation. I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offense, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain.
Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature.
I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words. I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession that is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words and made me promise that I’d meet him at his workplace the very next day.
Bryan is a pilot; a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to fly helicopters he would share with me all of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I wasn’t too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who is determined to develop my left brain.
That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter that for some reason had no doors. I was strapped in and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out but there was something about all that fresh air that seemed a little too close for comfort. So I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of followed by Blackcomb and Whistler the sheer beauty of all that lay before me filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendor my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses. It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words.
I asked Bryan where we were going and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place that he knew that I would love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range but could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land.
As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained. It was too dangerous to actually land. Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever been, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.
I was relieved that Bryan hadn’t explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to the journey. But out there the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist.
As the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die, but I was much younger then and far more reckless, and in seconds, I was hugging the earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound left, it was replaced by the roar of a silence I’d never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was literally on top of the world. I’ve rarely tired to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years. I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words I’d rob it of its, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it.
Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit I could almost reach out and touch, blanketed by a sky that I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed.
I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone.
I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was.
Words don’t do it justice.
I was surrounded by it.
Not “it” really but “is”.
“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it.
I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, our upheld by or embraced by or touched by or loved by ISNESS.
GOD IS TOO SMALL A WORD TO DESCRIBE THIS ISNESS.
But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS, it was enough to simply be.
All words, and thoughts slipped away and it was enough to just be.
To be in the presence of BEING.
It’s more than beyond words, but as I try to explain what I felt on that mountainside, I’m struck by the fact that our ancestors speak of this ISNESS as YAHWEH…I AM WHO AM.
The verb “to be” is the very name of the God who is the source of all BEING.
The clearest way that I can point to and say “there that’s it that’s the pathway where you will meat this ISNESS” is to point to creation itself and say there, there right there in the creation of the Creator you will discover all that you need to know this ISNESS.
Standing there in the presence of ISNESS I could feel it.
There was no stillness except in me.
I was absolutely still except for the breath breathing in me.
All around me I could feel the energy of the meadow, the movement of the mountaintops that lay below me, and the dance of the sky, and the Breath of it all caressing me, holding me, touching me, holding me, moving in me, loving me.
As I loved it all, I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks, taste them, as the spilled upon my lips.
I sobbed with delight.
As the WORD itself spoke to me through all that IS.
The Hebrew word in Genesis and in the first chapter of the Gospel of John that we translate as the “WORD of God” means so much more than our word, WORD can capture.
For us words cannot convey what the ancients spoke of when they tried to describe the creative energy that speaks into being all that is. The voice of God that says, let there be light and so it was IS more than our word WORD or words about the WORD can express or convey.
The Hebrew word that the ancients used is DABHAR and it literally means: “word and deed”. For the very utterance by the Creator of all that IS, is in and of itself a compelling creative energy.
THE DABHAR, then is the compelling force of creative energy that IS. So, we often describe it as the WORD, in all capitol letters.
For in the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with GOD and the WORD was GOD. For GOD DABHAR light and it was, it was Good. GOD DABHAR the sky and DABHAR the waters and the earth below and it was good.
God went on Dabharing and Dabharing and this compelling creative word and deed that is God called forth all that is or ever shall be and it is good. We live and breathe and have our being in this very ISNESS that is all that IS and ever shall be. This Creation IS, and in this ISNESS we are held, and touched, and loved, and moved to be all that we are.
Can you hear the verb “to be”? Can you feel it?
When all words fall away it is the WORD that remains. The very DABHAR of our GOD who IS.
Creation is the sacred WORD of God. ALL that IS is in GOD.
If you want to know God you can catch a glimpse of God in all that God has made. Creation is the sacred DABHAR, the WORD AND DEED of GOD.
As part of creation each of us is DABHAR, for the WORD became flesh and dwells with us. You are God’s WORD and DEED. God speaks in with and through creation and so God speaks in with and through you.
The great Christian mystics speak of their experiences of God by pointing to creation. Hildegard of Bingen says, “The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.”
Meister Eckhart says, “Every creature is a word of God and is a book about God.” Creation itself Eckhart describes as the primary scripture, a Bible.
Our spiritual task is to get out of its way long enough that we might be filled with it and go about our task of healing, celebrating, and co-creating. For DABHAR the WORD wishes to incarnate us. Let the DABHAR the WORD become flesh and dwell among us.
Hear words as we begin to try to translate the New Testament in more Hebraic terms:
In the beginning was the DABHAR the Creative Energy:
The Creative Energy was with God
And the Creative Energy was God.
It was with God in the beginning.
Through it all things came to be,
Not one thing had its being but through it,
All that came to be had life in it
And that life was the light of persons,
A light that shines in the dark,
A light that darkness could not overpower…
The DABHAR, the Creative Energy was the true light
That enlightens all people;
And it was coming into the world.
It was in the world
That had its being through it,
And the world did not know it…
But to all who did accept it
It gave power to become children of God…
The Creative Energy was made flesh,
It pitched its tent among us,
And we saw its glory,
the glory that is its as the only Child of the Creator,
full of grace and full of truth.
Creation itself is a sacrament. Creation itself is the primary sacrament.
As I partook of that sacred sacrament on the mountainside, I never wanted it to end. But as the chopper came into view, I was keenly aware of how glad I was to be able to return to the world. Bryan insisted that he’d only been gone for five minutes but in those five minutes all of eternity had come into view. As we sailed passed mountaintops, I wept for the sheer joy of weeping. Long after the hum of the choppers noise subsided in my ears I could feel the ISNESS breathing in me as Bryan and I drove through the streets of Vancouver. All around me the beauty of the world was so clear, and I knew that God really does love it because I had a sense of why.
14 billion years is the inkling we have of the age of the universe. 14 billion years of creation that we know of, coming together to create all that IS now here in this place, in you and in me.
This ISNESS, this Creation is the original blessing that is life. You don’t need to travel to a mountaintop to see it. Wandering out into creation, the DEBHAR of GOD is not just speaking, God is shouting, declaring God’s love in the splendor of the leaves whose vibrant colours positively sing out I love you! Standing in the presence of the many children of God, you can almost taste God in the sacrament of DABHAR that each person is. The ISNESS is here all around us, breathing in with and through us, for the WORD has become flesh and dwells with us.
Let all creation sing out with joy!
I am indebted to Mathew Fox whose book “Original Blessing” provided me with words to express the inexpressible!