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Naming God

How do you address God?

There are more names for God than cultures in history. ‘Divine Intelligence’, ‘Universal Love’, ‘Spirit’, ‘the Universe’, ‘Source’, ‘Creator’, ‘First Cause’, ‘Infinite Intelligence’, ‘Oneness’, ‘God’, and at least a handful of other names are used with regularity today in my own culture. Multiply that over many thousands of years and we get an idea of how prolific humans are at naming.

The plethora points to several more significant things as well. First, the importance we give God. Second, we all have slightly different ideas in mind when we think about God – even if our understandings share fundamental characteristics. Third, there is no truly satisfying name to give such a concept.

To call God a “concept” is already problematic. It points to the related challenge of having a truly satisfying name for the totality of Divinity. Words are meant to distinguish. If we are trying to evoke the absolute, undistinguishable, undividable connectivity of Everything, the use of a word automatically gets in the way more than it helps. [See this month’s bonus post on words if you’re interested in such reasoning]. In fact, I might suggest that naming God at all is the start to misunderstanding God.

To choose a name based on our own, personal “understanding” is even a shaky intellectual project. To name something denotes a certain grasp of what that thing is, which few can claim when it comes to this subject. Of course, any organized religion will have a preference. The core of religion is a claim to some authority about the Truth and therefore an ability to choose a name with confidence. Others may have a preference rooted in their individual knowing and experience of God.

Here we arrive at the final reason we have so many names for the same God, each as unsatisfying and unable to please everyone as the next. Any word will necessarily carry the weight of cultural and personal baggage. It might be triggering for someone angry at their Catholic school upbringing to hear “God.” Maybe it carries the ring of patriarchal oppression. “Spirit” brings up shadows for those prone to roll their eyes at anything “New Age.” We want our relationship with God to be free of cultural and historical weight. We don’t want our unresolved traumas and shadows to taint the invocation of that which we believe is beyond such concerns. And yet, if God is Oneness, nothing exists outside it.

Following the logic that there is no adequate name for God means there is also no wrong name. So, unless it’s already too late, let’s not overthink it. I use several words interchangeably in my work because, to me, they are all referring to the same great, unknowable Divinity of which we are a part. ‘Beloved’, ‘Divinity’, ‘God’, ‘Love’, and ‘Spirit’ all show up with some regularity. In most public contexts, like this one, I’ve taken to using ‘God’ most regularly, having worked hard to reclaim the meaning of this word for myself from the miasma of organized religion. When I hear any name, which I intellectually know is meant to evoke God, I tap into the feeling of connectivity, alignment, and Love through which I most identify Divinity. Thereby, I can bypass any potentially triggering ways that those around me refer to the Creator. Before long, they all begin to meld together. The shadowy baggage of cultural and personal ideas falls away entirely. If I conceive of God as ultimately unknowable, which I do, then what possible authority do I have to be particular about what word(s) myself or others use to evoke God?

As we embark on this journey into mystical concepts together, I encourage you to rewrite the story around naming God. Perhaps you feel hemmed into a certain name, like “Source,” for example, because it has the least amount of cultural and personal baggage for you. Maybe you use a name that seems to best fit your own, innermost relationship to however you conceive of God. My suggestion is, instead of thinking about how you conceive of God and going from there, consider how you feel God. What is the feeling you have when you are connected to pure Divinity? Maybe it’s the love experienced for a child or when sitting around a fire in ceremony or laughing hysterically with friends. Now, consider how you might put that sensation into words. Can words capture it in a way that someone else would be able to fully grasp? To describe God is to tell a stranger about a dream. They can get the narrative, the ‘what happened’, the concept on an intellectual level. But for them to experience the unique and perhaps surreal sense that the dream gave you would require some level of poetic mastery that I doubt most of us possess. If whatever name we choose for God is going to fall so very short, maybe let go of worrying about it and just focus on feeling, aside from any name.

God as ‘Hu’

Last year, I began exploring God as ‘Hu’. In the Islamic world, Hu or HU is sometimes used as a pronoun for Allah – the assumption being that to gender God is something of a diminishment. But, for me, it is not associated with this historical and cultural tradition. I did not even know of it until the word came to me from another source and led me to do some cursory research. When I felt into ‘Hu’, it evoked God as Nature – the physical, raw, unapologetic, and incontrovertible supremacy of the energetic Soup in which we apparently exist. It is not just “Mother Nature,” which suggests Earth Herself, an embodiment of Divine Femininity within physical Creation. Instead, Hu is the connective Unity, manifest in the physical but stretching through all realms, dimensions, and times via some unseen force – unseen, but felt and perceived if we pay attention. Hu is my way of reaching through the wind as it blows to that which is beyond the wind.

God as ‘Hu’ is very specific and precious for me. The term represents the Divine essence present in all life – in each leaf as it falls gently out of the sky, in the raging river making its way down a mountainside, and even the angry honks of a car horn announcing the distress of some human stuck in traffic. It is my own private (until now) word that I rarely speak aloud, but rather hold as the best way to get at the feeling in my heart when I experience Wholeness.

Hu is the energy of everything, evident in our material existence. It is observed most readily through the elements and viscerally felt as the raw power of nature. The hurricane that rips down steel towers, the fire that engulfs a forest, the ocean water that reaches up and buries a 200,000-ton ship, or the earth that splits open and brings a city crumbling to the ground are all Hu. The same power springs forth vulnerable flowers, Ghost Pipes from the soil, rainwater pools in a shell and offers nearby bees a safe drink, the fire of the sun warms our bones on a cool day, and the wind allows the vultures to float effortlessly through the sky.

The intention of my work is to begin to bring us all closer to a sense of the absolute saturation of Divinity. To understand that the tornado destroying our house and cool water sipped from a stream are the same is to be at peace. ‘Hu’ most potently reminds me of that state of being. It takes God down from a place ‘on high’ somewhere ‘out there’, Father God up in the heavens watching over us from other planes of existence. Instead, Hu permeates the material realm thoroughly. If this all just sounds like ‘God’ to you, then I think we’re on the same page and my work today is done.

My point is not to get you to call God ‘Hu’ or claim that it offers some special path to understanding the Divine in everything. It is to invite you to think about God as your own feeling, rather than an intellectual concept. If your current repertoire of words falls short, find better ones.

It is not a matter of ‘defining’ or ‘redefining’ God, but of finding the name that makes God most accessible. For me, the word ‘Hu’ evokes an awareness of the absoluteness with which we are embedded in the Divine Creator. It does so more precisely and with less baggage than any other name I’ve heard. Even more potent than the combined letters ‘H’ and ‘u’ is the symbol that constitutes the logo for this site. It came to me, a very non-visual person, when I tuned into my sense of ‘Hu’ upon first receiving a connection to the word. It embodies a sense of God – and with more precision than anything found in the alphabet. I did not fully understand either the word or symbol then and I’m still unpacking it. But, in the spirit of mystery or, perhaps, the mystical, the unknown elements of it are even more reason that it felt like a fitting flag for my mission here.

The goal today and each going forward on this site might be best described as overcoming any limiting beliefs, embodied in language, to the point that we are largely unconcerned about what God is called. Perhaps we can even become as inclined to say ‘Inkwell’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Table Lamp’, ‘Caterpillar’ as any ‘pre-approved’ and academically sound word for the Divine. If it makes you uncomfortable to equate the Almighty with a table lamp, that’s understandable. However, this blog and its reflections on mysticism are here to serve as a reminder that we might overcome such unease. In the process, we might find ourselves unshackled from our false sense of separation from God. This is the Path we are on – to be aware of God in everything, at every moment, and to celebrate that fact.

In closing, I’d like to offer a suggestion. Choose whatever name best evokes God for you. You can use it to replace any word meant to describe the ‘unknowable divinity of which we are a part’. You might make it up. It might come to you in a dream. It might be well established. But consider something that, like ‘Hu’ for me, points toward a feeling rather than an intellectual concept. To that end, it might be helpful to avoid words that others use or have used. You might try words that are not words at all. Test a few out. God likes us to play.

- Winged Bard

P.S. On Words

I did not intend to start my website with a series of posts and stories about how inadequate words are for dealing with mystical matters. But my writing all started steering that way. I became concerned that perhaps blogs and books are just a means of talking ourselves into something our heart already knows. External expression might not be necessary or even useful. The Path to salvation lies within, after all. To write about mysticism, I thought, might only entail explaining how silly it is to write about mysticism.

Yet, here I am, choosing to write about a topic that is impossible to write about. Spending my days using words to explain that the ultimate goal is for us all to arrive somewhere beyond words. My effort is quintessentially self-defeating. If I’m in any way successful, I’ll have rendered the existence of my work useless. Maybe that’s the point.

So that we can all move forward, however, I’m including a deep dive on words as an extra post this month. It’s an effort to work it out of my system and acknowledge that, yes, this is all silly and futile but also may be useful and important. If you’re interested in paradox, looping logic, the utility and futility of language for our spiritual path, among other themes, check out the bonus blog post “On Words.”

Otherwise, you might skip to the tale of Atiataalaq and get to the damn point already. See you next month!

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