When we talk about or make reference to God, how can we make sure the other people participating in the conversation are talking about the same God we are? The short answer is, you cannot. The idea of God is so personal that the way each individual relates to God (with fear, awe, devotion or worship) is as unique as themselves (not to mention framed by their current worldview and loaded with shadow material from the unconscious mind). God will look and feel completely different to a 7-year-old Hindu boy in India than to a 40-year-old Jewish woman in Brooklyn. However, in the interest of increasing the quality and effectiveness of our collective spiritual dialogue, there are a few general points that we should outline up front.
There are three perspectives from which we can discuss God (or the idea of God) — 1st-person (the personal, meditative, internal and individual arising of Spirit, I-I, “thou art that”), 2nd-person (the relational, one-on-one, devotion, prayer, God the Father, Mother Earth) and 3rd-person (the physical universe, scientific/contemplative, God-as-the-Kosmos, Spirit-in-Action). These three value spheres (also identified as the beautiful, the good and the true) are useful when discussing or contemplating spirituality. All three are very real perspectives, as all three simultaneously arise together.
The following is an excerpt from the “Spirit Module” chapter of the book Integral Life Practice. It’s the section that addresses 2nd-person (Spirit in Relationship) perspectives of God.
“We are free to love and worship God in all stages of spiritual development. Our natural devotional impulse need not be suppressed, no matter where we are in our spiritual growth. Our human neurology is wired to enact relationship. Humans evolved while living together in hunter-gatherer clans and are neurologically structured to relate to others. We can engage our functions most fully when participating in relationships. Thus, the authentic and powerful processes of theistic spiritual life — which enable us to enact the living drama of a personal relationship with Spirit — are among the richest natural expressions of a truly Integral spirituality.
As spirituality evolves, it transcends “belief in” an objectified mythic creator deity. Integral spirituality is sometimes identified as transcending theism and arriving at panentheism, which is the view that divinity is both immanent (in the world) and transcendent (beyond the world). Ultimately, Integral spirituality transcends and includes all categories. This means that as it transcends old ways of relating to God, it re-includes transformed versions of all ways of relating to God that are even fuller, richer, more intimate and profound …
Religion is considered theistic when it presumes a relationship with God (or multiple gods). As we awaken beyond mythic conceptions of God, “belief in” an objectified God falls away. Often at this point, people lose touch with the feeling of devotion altogether.
But we don’t have to lose a sense of devotion as we grow beyond magical and mythical thinking. A higher level devotional practice is still possible. We can always relate to God as our Ultimate Beloved — and even as the nonobjectified Mystery beyond all perspectives. As we climb the ladder of development, this can naturally blossom.”
Try the following exercise:
Ask someone you love, “What does God mean to you?” and see which perspective they respond from.
Then shift the conversation to one of the other perspectives and see how the language that you use to describe God begins to change.
Sometimes we have a problem sharing “our” God language with others in a pluralistic setting for fear of being made wrong or different. God may feel “warm” and “connective” and “enveloping” to me, but “wise” and “all-reaching” and “powerful” to another. However, it’s in sharing that language that God becomes ALL of those things.
Integral Life Practice is available online. We recommend it as the primary reference for cross-training of the body, mind and spirit.