A reader writes…
Carl, I am a theoretical physicist by training and have struggled with the idea of supernatural concepts like God. Even so, contemplation has increased my sense of God being part of me, which I like very much. So here is my question: Do you think it is too radical to say God IS your consciousness? After all, Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” Personally, it seems wonderful to have such awareness of God 24/7. Since we have no idea what consciousness is, saying it is God seems OK to me. What do you think?
I suppose most Christians would hesitate to say God “is” human consciousness; and I think the danger lies in trying to fit limitless, boundless God into the structure of finite human consciousness. We can say that a drop of water is the ocean, speaking rather poetically, but we get the point. And yet, there’s no squeezing the ocean into the drop. And the drop gets into trouble when it thinks it’s the whole thing.
So many of the mystics, from Meister Eckhart to Julian of Norwich to George Fox to Thomas Merton, have spoken (in different ways, using different metaphors) of God’s presence within the human soul. My favorite quote along these lines comes from Merton:
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
— Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
How do we behold this “point of nothingness”? I would say, only in silence, and darkness, and unknowing. I agree with Merton: it is “inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind.” To gaze deeper than the depths of my soul, only God could meet my gaze. The problem, of course, is that so often our gaze, our beholding, simply doesn’t go deep enough. We get lost in the “brutalities of our own will” and we confuse that for God. We’re just another drop, convinced we’re the whole ocean.
“We have no idea what consciousness is” — how can an eye truly see itself? The most we can hope for is that our consciousness will reveal God — Love, Divine Love — to us. But in order for this to happen, we have to get out of our own way. Repentance is not so much about behavior modification (although I imagine true repentance must necessarily lead to a radical change in behavior) — rather, it’s about letting go of all the tangled thoughts within us that generate the hubris, hatred, cynicism, greediness, hyper-consumption, sexual objectification, indolence, and narcissism — thoughts that form the root of what Christianity calls sin. Repentance — metanoia — means letting go of these life-strangling thoughts, to gaze deeper into the vast silence that lies beneath them. That’s a kind of spiritual free-fall, but it’s what is necessary of we want to find that place where “my” little consciousness, and God’s boundless being, remain not-two.
So to my friend, who wrote me the question, I say this: it’s very radical to say that God is consciousness, or consciousness is God. It’s radical because it takes you to the root of things. Go beyond the root of your thoughts, your need to control your experience with your running internal commentary on it. Go to the root, and then beyond the root. Let go of the thoughts. Free fall into unbounded silence. And then behold. You won’t be alone. As Eckhart says, “The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.” One Silence and one Love. The minute we start thinking about it, we’ve lost it. We’ve climbed out of the silence and back into the safety of the tiny shell that is our “mind.” We always do this, so there’s no harm, no shame: simply an ever-present invitation to let go again, fall into silence again, and behold.