For a decade as a young adult, I couldn’t believe in God.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. I’d grown up devout, but I just couldn’t make myself believe. Around that time I ran into Heinrich Zimmer, a religious historian and anthropologist. Writing about transcendence, he said something like this.
The greatest things are too big to be talked about.
The second greatest things are our attempts to talk about, things too big to talk about.
The third greatest things — that’s just us talking about stuff.
It planted the seed in my mind, that the word “God” is code for a bigger reality. I should have known that. It’s been a cornerstone of our tradition from the beginning.
That we can’t talk accurately about God is not a bad thing. Who would want a version of the deepest deep, that is so small we can figure it out? Where’s the awe in that?
To help us, our tradition has left us a lot of ways to imagine God. A good one, The Ground of Being.
God as soil.
God as dirt.
It changes the spiritual journey we travel, when we explore the Divine, as plants to soil. If God is an always-present source of nutrients and energy, an always-present substrate in which to draw life and strength — well, that changes things. If Divine Life is the soil in which we have our being, our spiritual lives are an always-connected arrangement. We are to the Divine, the way a plant is to soil, inseparable, indivisible. Separation is unimaginable. A tree isn’t a tree if it’s not in soil. We aren’t human, if we’re not connected to Divine Life.
A different image of God invites a different spiritual journey.
What I Learned
When God was my heavenly father, on days of tragedy or heartache, my most pressing question was why I’d been abandoned. But when I began to imagine God as soil, I asked different questions.
What is in the soil for me in this moment?
What is here to sustain me now, in this heartache, this pain?
Years ago, my daughter came to me troubled. She’d just gotten engaged and they were making life plans together. She was feeling what we feel, when we begin to love someone deeply. She was feeling vulnerable. She could already feel how painful it would be to lose this man she loved so deeply.
Our conversation could have gone many ways, but we ended up talking about images for God. And we began imagining God as dirt.
If your brother falls off a mountain on his big adventure (at the time, he was traveling the world climbing rocks), or if Mom or I die horribly, or if Nick is taken from you, here’s something that cannot be taken from you — your human being. And if that being is rooted in, and draws from, the Inner Divine, even in tragic loss, you will always have access to the fruit of the Spirit, to love, and peace, and goodness, and life. And that, Sweetie, that changes everything.