Monday, March 31, 2008

Metaphors Redux

Years ago, in a message entitled "The Finger or the Moon," I wrote about how the words we use for God and our spiritual experiences are only metaphors for the experiences themselves. I was reminded of that recently, while reading The Hidden Gospel by Neil Douglas-Klotz, Ph.D.

According to Dr. Douglas-Klotz, the Aramaic word that Jesus would have used for "God" was Allaha, which is very similar to the Arabic (and Islamic) Allah, both of which can be translated as "Sacred Unity."

And here's where I see a problem: Our word for God is not Aramaic or Arabic, but Germanic, based on the German word Gott. Like the Greek word theos, Gott was originally used to describe an anthropomorphic deity. Odin (a Germanic god) and Zeus (a Greek god) were both depicted in human terms, with human appearances and human emotions, even though possessing supernatural powers. That is the image of "God" that I had in childhood, and it is the idea of "God" that I now reject.

Somehow, we have received the Judaic and Aramaic concepts of the divine spirit that unifies the world through the "lens" (or "filter") of Greek and Germanic language and thought. By contrast, Islam seems to have preserved its purity, maintaining a concept of Allah that cannot be reduced (or limited) to any image or other worldly metaphor, much as Taoism continues to speak of "the Tao" as something that is ultimately indescribable. (The very first line of the Tao te Ching declares that "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.")

Quakers talk about "the Inner Light" and "the Divine" as things that unite us, and that is the way I like to think now. There is a logic or force or principle in the world that is ultimately unknowable, and yet intimately connected to us all, and comforting. That is what I mean what I say "God."