If you read Meister Eckhart, and I certainly recommend that you do, you’ll find numerous references to freeing ourselves of “God”—the false thing— so we can truly get in touch with God—the real thing (there are lots of translations of Eckhart, this Penguin Classics book is my favorite). Here’s an example, where Eckhart praises genuine spiritual poverty:
I said before that a poor person is someone who does not even will to perform God’s will, but who lives in such a way that he or she is as free both of their own will and of God’s will as they were before they were created. Of this we say that it is the highest poverty…. And so we say that we should be so poor that we neither are nor possess a place in which God can act. If we still have such a place within us, then we still have multiplicity. Therefore I ask God to make me free of “God” for my most essential being is above “God” in so far as we conceive of God as the origin of creatures.
OK, Eckhart, a 12th century German Dominican, isn’t crystal clear here, but this is part of his point. What about God is clear? What about God could be clear? Who are we to believe that we know anything about God, the ultimate reality? Maybe the only true word we can utter about God is…mystery. Consider this recent news article about some high school cross country runners who stop by the side of the road to pray and get hit by a car, killing one student and injuring three others.
What theologian is going to be able to explain this, except in the most platitudinous terms: “God works in mysterious ways.” Well, yeah, that’s for sure. God rewards prayer with death. And he rewards not-praying with death. Everyone eventually gets the same reward, so go figure.
More and more, I’m most proud of the spiritual tenets that I don’t believe in, rather than in those that I do. Belief is a waste of time. Certainty is what we’re after. Beliefs separate us from other people. Aren’t we after unity, rather than separateness? Whatever the nature of ultimate reality is, I’m convinced that it is the same for everybody. I guess you can call that a belief, but at least it is a belief solidly grounded in science—which similarly finds that a single reality, not many realities, best describes the cosmos.
I’m increasingly disgusted by those who believe that they have a lock on spiritual truth, especially when they’re in a position of power. That army general who considers that his Christian God is more powerful than that wimpy Islamic God is a sad example. A Washington Post editorial charitably calls General Boykin’s remarks “wrong and divisive.” Stronger words would be even more appropriate. More disturbing, neither our President nor our Secretary of Defense seem to disagree with Boykin, probably because they also believe that God is on the side of the United States in our war against terror.
I’d love to send each of them back in a time machine to hear Meister Eckhart speak. Here is how he ended one sermon:
Whoever has understood this sermon, I wish them well, Had no one been here, I would still have had to preach it to this collecting-box. There are some poor folk who return home and say “I wish to sit down, to eat my bread and to serve God.” But I say by the eternal truth that these people shall remain in error and can never attain what those others attain who follow God in poverty and in exile. Amen.
But it isn’t just religious conservatives who believe that they have a special connection to the God’s Will Hotline. Here’s a piece about the first openly gay Episcopal bishop which says, “He feels strongly that God wants him to go through with his consecration on November 2. ‘God and I have been about this for quite a while now and I would be really surprised if God were to want me to stop now,’ he said.
Give me a break, Rev. Robinson. Am I supposed to believe that you’ve been chatting with God about your ordination, and have gotten direct word from the Word that you’re indeed doing God’s will? I’ll now add you to the Eckhart sermon audience.