Within the past month I've started a new gig that may go until the end of the year: interim minister for pastoral care at a lower Fairfield County UCC church. It's part-time, which is all I can do since I'm still the stay-home mom, hence RevMom. Gives me an opportunity to keep my hand in (can I say that as a clergyperson?) while still having some summer days to spend with my daughters; then come the fall, work while they're in school.
The commute is not bad: 45 minutes shared by backroads and the parkway. And the drive alone gives me time to think, reflect, sing loudly with my CDs, or listen to NPR sans interruption or complaint. This morning, as I headed to church, I saw a doe while paused at a stop sign. My hybrid's engine shut off, leaving me to enjoy the moment in total silence. When she walked toward the woods and into the dense growth, I said "thank you" to God for a gift unbidden.
But then I thought, how dare I connect something so personal, dare to call the One who created the cosmos, something so personal as "God". To me, it seems more appropriate (and more bold) to think that the One who created the cosmos can be so intimate with the creation; not by gifting us mere mortals with "Taster's Choice" moments with animals, but by simply inviting us into a relationship. But for me, naming this reality as "God" carries with it the baggage of theism, of a God intimately involved in personal lives who is removed from the natural order of things. When praying with children I will use the words "Dear God" but in moments for which words of gratitude seem necessary, "God" seems to trivialize the gift and the giver.
I have read of an Aboriginal tribe's use of the words "Divine Oneness", which to me implies an intimacy yet also an appropriate respect for the One whom we are addressing. This is not a great uncle or aunt who sends the best birthday and Christmas presents every year, or the dear friend who calls just when we need them the most, or the Great Genie of Parking Spaces & Wish Fulfillment. This is the "Eternal Spirit, God of our savior Jesus Christ and our God... [who calls] the worlds into being, creates persons in [the Image] and [sets] before each one the ways of life and death".
The divine Presence (Barbara Brown Taylor has a fondness for this one) makes itself known in a myriad number of ways but never reveals a name. The closest we get is "I Am Who I Am" or "I Will Be What I Will Be". From that we derived YHWH--Yahweh, then Jehovah. Then Jesus gave his disciples the invitation to call this god "Father": Abba or our English equivalent of "Daddy", which implies relationship, conversation, compassion, care, instruction, admonishment, and most of all, love. But we have abused this intimacy into a reversal, thinking we can understand the mind of the One who created all that we observe. We think if we can know the cosmos, discover its secrets, we can know this God, this poetry of our souls and of the universe. Ha!
A name is intensely personal to one's identity, yet being named, being called by one's name does not imply that one is truly known. It takes a lifetime, perhaps even more, to truly know someone, to know the person behind the name. What makes us think that by addressing the holy as "God" that we know anything about this ineffable Presence that instills both wonder and confusion in the hearts of humankind?
So here is an incomplete list of my favorite images/names for the Holy One in our midst:
Womb of Compassion
Breath of Fire
Persistent Friend, Insistent Enemy (Ted Loder)
Life for Others (in reference to Christ)
Way of Anguish
Word Made Flesh
Ground of All Being (Paul Tillich)
I'm always hungry for fresh images to spark inspiration and creativity. Give me some of your most daring or cherished classical images of the divine.