What Do I Mean When I Say “God?”

What Do I Mean When I Say “God?” July 18, 2022

Javi Arji Ron/Unsplash

It has been a long time since the word “God,” for me, referred to a Being. It has been an even longer time since it referred to the Being I was taught about growing up, which was largely the whitemalegod that Christena Cleveland names so brilliantly. (Which, by the way, her latest e-book is amazing.)

Depending on the audience, I might refer to my new image for God as “the presence of inherent dignity,” or a “creative force” in the universe. If I’m in a church, I’ll use the word “God,” but quickly change it to “the Divine.” I recognize so many people, including myself, carry baggage around the term and so I feel no sadness in changing my language.

As long as God isn’t the Big, Bad, Being in the Sky, I’m not sure it’ll mind.

But I also look to the mystics to define the Divine for me – they do it so beautifully through poetry and intimate phrases, through clear wisdom, and challenging questions. So, below are three wisdom teachings that help me make sense of who and what God is. (I also wrote about what I mean by spirituality here.)


3 Wisdom Teachers on Who God Is

1 – Hildegard of Bingen

“A wheel was shown to me, wonderful to behold…Divinity is in its omniscience and omnipotence like a wheel, a circle, a whole that can neither be understood, nor divided, nor begun nor ended…God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.”

In this short and wonderful statement, I get the sense that the Divine is everywhere all around me, affirming me, and always present. God is intimately close – like a hug. More than that, the Divine isn’t here to be understood, but instead felt as a loving force that can’t be divided, nor begun nor ended. God simply is.


2 – John of the Cross

In the following poem, St. John of the Cross connects the Divine and the natural world for me in a way that resonates deeply with my own experience. Similar to Mary Oliver, this image of God is one that is deeply intertwined with creation. That, as a creative force, God pours godself out into the creation. Just like a ceramicist who creates at the wheel and pours herself into the work, so the creativity that is God dwells within all things.

My Beloved is the mountains,

And lonely wooded valleys,

Strange islands,

And resounding rivers.

The whistling of love-stirring breezes,

The tranquil night

At the time of the rising dawn.

Silent music,

Sounding solitude,

The supper that refreshes, and deepens love.


3 – Rumi

“Silence is the language of God.”

Just like Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr and so many others have said, silence is the universal language of all things. And therefore, the Divine speaks through silence. This creative force who surrounds us always speaks in the in-betweens and is therefore always speaking because we are always in-between.

This image of God is mysterious and can’t be pinned down – but it also feels more true, more deeply intimate, more real to me than any other personified image could.


A Tool: Wisdom for the Moment

Have you ever felt “in the midst of it” and just needed a little support? I recently made this tool for folks looking for wisdom, no matter what’s going on in their lives.

Here’s how it works: It’ll ask you a couple questions about how you’re feeling right now and then present you with two wisdom teachings that you can sit with and reflect on for the week.

I hope you find it helpful!

Pick up my free resource Wisdom Teachers + Body Practices to Guide Us here.

Get my Quick Guide to Engaging a Contemplative and Embodied Spirituality.

About Andrew Lang
Andrew Lang is an educator in the Pacific Northwest, an alumnus of Richard Rohr’s Living School for Action and Contemplation, and author of the forthcoming book, Unmasking the Inner Critic: Lessons for Living an Unconstricted Life. Along with blogging regularly, he facilitates workshops helping people to navigate their inner lives and explore their sense of identity and spirituality. You can read more about the author here.

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