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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Naming the Unnamable

a field on my drive to work

In “Ludicrous God Talk,” an article in the current issue of Spirituality & Health, Sam Keen writes about naming God.

“The Emperor of the Cosmos is everywhere present but nowhere to be found.”

About trying to name the Unnamable “Maybe it’s like pushing with your tongue against a tooth that is about to come out. The slight pain is slightly pleasurable.”

morning clouds

“No matter how mundane the medium, the experience of the holy is beyond predication or description. We don’t have the linguistic or conceptual needles with which to knit it.”

18 comments:

Nathan said...

This is one of the theses of Agnosticism. But the wonder and love of the God I believe in is that there was indeed a contact between the Divine and the finite in which God revealed to humans God's name: I AM. Now, in the name I AM there is of course a degree of "unnamableness" because I AM (or, I AM THAT I AM) refuses to be "known" in the sense that Larry or Zeus might be known. If the voice coming from that burning bush really was the Divine, and I AM is the Divine's "name," then we have been granted even a small portion of knowledge about the God of the Universe!

Also see Jesus' not-so-subtle claim of divinity using the Divine name.

lesleyanne said...

conceptual knitting needles.
i like that.


those photos are amazing.
you're getting better and better every single moment.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Les! I thought you'd like those knitting needles. :)

Ruth said...

Nathan: Why must we name? The need to name “agnostics” or to name God, it seems to me, comes from a need to believe we understand, that our cognition is what connects us, with God/Source/Being, and with others. There’s nothing wrong with using names, and yes, I feel the Bible is a continuous telling of ways that man has understood God, including the names people used for God. But do the names matter? Is there truth inherent in them? Knowledge and understanding come from direct experience. Naming is an imperfect expression of that experience. Like by writing a poem, I might express something the reader will understand. The reader finds truth IN the poem. But is the poem itself “true”?

Ginnie said...

I love this back-n-forth, Ruth and Nate. I "just happened" to be reading about this in Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth this morning. He'd go a step futher and say that once we strip away our OWN set of identification or attachments, we ourselves end up with "only" I AM, which is the essence of being conscious/aware. It's no longer attached to our EGO.

And Ruth, I totally agree with Lesley: your photos are amazing. I'm in awe of what you're doing here!

Ruth said...

Thanks for the reminder, Ginnie. "I AM" is the essence, life. I guess I don't even think of it as a "name"!

rachel said...

Your entry reminds me of a Sinead O'Conner song. It is on her album, Universal Mother, that she composed for her son. The words are:

All babies are born saying God's name
Over and over,
All born singing God's name
All babies are flown from the Universe
From there they're lifted by the hands of angels
God gives them the stars to use as ladders
She hears their calls
She is mother and father
All babies are born out of great pain
Over and over
All born into great pain
All babies are crying
For no-one remembers God's name

There's only love
There's only love
There's only love in this world

Ginnie said...

What an incredible song, Rachel. WOW!

Ruth said...

Rachel: I love thinking about babies KNOWing. Thank you for sharing the song.

Nathan said...

"Why must we name?"

just to clarify: i don't think "we" name God; i think God revealed God's name to humanity. we humans couldn't know anything about God except that which God chooses to reveal. (this, of course, understanding that the name God revealed points to more mystery). also, when i stated that "this is one of the theses of Agnosticism" i wasn't necessarily naming. i was stating that a group of people who call themselves Agnostics have a thesis which matches up with the thoughts in your blog post.

your point, "[naming] comes from a need to believe we understand" is well-taken, and i have two responses to it:

1. i think that naming is an essential/necessary aspect of human existence. true, one could meditate under a tree for hours and never think with labels or names or, as you say, cognition. but this doesn't pay the bills, so to speak. when the meditation time is over, it would be necessary for the meditator to know the difference between the poison mushrooms beside her and the non-poison mushrooms. this requires naming. and so forth.

2. the "need to believe we understand" something is a loaded phrase, but one which does not disagree at all with my statements so far. i don't believe that humans are capable of naming God (although we try to quite often, i.e. "God is my co-pilot" whatever the heck that means). rather, God revealed God's name, out of grace, perhaps knowing that we humans can more easily access knowledge of the Other through such information. in other words, cognition and spirit/soul/nephesh are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Nathan said...

PS. i gotta get back to work, but i'd rather go home and read about Platonic Forms and their correlation to this discussion. that would be fun.

Ruth said...

This is fun!

About naming being essential to human existance, I think that's true mainly for relating to others and sharing experience. If I recognize the poison mushroom as poisonous, I don't have to name it for myself. I just recognize it for what it is and not eat it.

About God with Moses (and Jesus later) saying "I AM" -- I wonder if God/Jesus would call that a "name"? Tell them I AM sent me. Before Adam was, I AM. I think that's a statement of WHO he/they is/are, and that is different from a name!

dreamwalker said...

Agnostic here:)
”A” means “without” and “gnosis” means “knowledge.” Hence, agnostic: without knowledge, but specifically without knowledge of gods.
This of course means that I don’t have a god to name, so I am obviously coming at this from a completely different perspective. I accept the term God for the basis of the beliefs of others. I was raised as a Catholic so I have more knowledge of the Christian God rather than of other monotheistic faiths, and little knowledge of polytheistic religions.
I pretty much feel that a name is a subjective thing, and I cannot believe it would matter to a creative being (as I'm assuming God - Christian God for all here? - is in this context) what the objects of that creation choose to call him/her/it. While I think Empress of the Cosmos is good, to worry about a name in this universe/dimension is such a small and human type of worry. Surely a god would be above such minutiae of existence, and not mind by what name whatever is God/Creative Force is known?

Why bother with a name..hmmm. a method of identifying an object/subject in order speak/discuss it or it's properties with others. A name makes this easier? A choice of name can also show honour to that which is refer to, eg. an emperess is known to be someone above the common people so in using that term it goes without having to specify that one regards what ever one is refering to as 'above others' in some respect.

Ruth said...

Thank you for your comment, Dreamwalker! I think I have agnostic tendencies, not because I don't believe there is a creator God, but because a) I don't think I can KNOW what that is and b) I'm looking for more answers and questions all the time.

Ginnie said...

I really think there is something very freeing about not being able to peg this stuff down. It means we DON'T have to have answers. Nor do I think that means we can think anything we want willy-nilly. As the bud starts opening up, it becomes something it wasn't before and yet always was. It's still true to itself but different, becoming.... Make sense?

Swede said...

You're all saying God is the same thing, the I AM. One of you is saying that the I is outside of themself, and not within, and not just another aspect of himself in the same way. Label what you want, name what you want, or don't name what you want. Claim it is knowable, or claim it is unknowable. Each of you experience it no matter what it actually is. We all know what it is even though we get caught up trying to explain it to other people. We have no business trying to name it to other people, because everyone's name is going to be different. One person might see a duck and call it white, while the other one calls it soft. Everyone has the truth, we can't avoid the truth. The truth is right in front of our face and we can't stop looking at it. As my first philosophical teacher said, "The truth is the truth is the truth is the truth, no matter what, it doesn't change, regardless of how you interpret it."

Swede said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ruth said...

Swede: I deleted your second post since it was an inadvertant copy of the first.

Thank you. Thank you. Yes, 100% yes. I couldn't get rid of a sick feeling that our discussion/argument is futile. This goes beyond it.