The Pronoun “God”

by Tim Muldoon

Leonardo da Vinci, St. John the Baptist, 1513-16, Louvre

The word “God” is a pronoun whose antecedent we do not know.

When we are struck by beauty, when it lays claim to our attention and nearly takes our breath away, or when beholding the beautiful makes us for a moment deeply aware that there is much more in the world than we can possibly understand, even if we should read all the books and gather all the data–then we are beholding God.

When we allow ourselves to fall in love–to release ourselves to love, to be overpowered by love such that we cannot control the cascading of emotions (heartsickness, profound desire, anguish, overwhelming joy), we are allowing ourselves an experience of God.

When we act in faith–that is, orient our lives toward something we can only partially understand right now, like who we’ll be when we grow up, or how we’ll make our way in the world, or how our talents might unfold in the future–we are breathing the breath (Lat. spiritus, Heb. ruah, Gk. pneuma) of God.

These and other experiences remain only experiences until the point at which we begin to reflect on who God is.

God is, as Augustine says, “more intimate to me than I am to myself.”  But just as I may be unaware of the most interior parts of myself, I may be unaware of God.  If I am of a discerning mind and heart, I will come to acknowledge God, but I will never come to know him.  Only God can reveal himself to me.

We cannot name the experience of God, lest we limit it and thereby lose its full meaning.  We cannot explain it to another, even with the cleverest of parables or allegories.  The best we can do is point others to how they too might name their experiences of God.  In the ancient days, the prophets reminded Israel that God was at the heart of who they were as a people.  God revealed himself as the giver of the law, the principle of right action for the individual and the community.

John the Baptist, another prophet, said that the one who is to come will show us God.  He reminded us that sin gets in the way, and that repentance is a clearing of obstacles to knowing God.

Jesus taught in parables in order that we might turn from sin toward God.  Jesus showed us the way to the Father.  He is the supreme parable, icon, sacrament of God.

Following him, what remains is the life of deepening friendship with God, whereby we gain our freedom.  We deepen the life of God in us and move ever closer to God.

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Tim Muldoon

Contributes to Patheos at Culture at the Crossroads
Tim Muldoon is the author of Longing to Love, Seeds of Hope, and The Ignatian Workout, as well as many essays. He was the inaugural director of the Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College, where he now serves in the Office of University Mission and Ministry and teaches in the Honors Program. He, his wife, and their children live west of Boston.

December 10, 2010

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