Who Are You, God?

by Gay Edelman
Shrewsbury Meeting


When talking with folks about matters spiritual, I often use the word “God” because it’s familiar and easy. But “God” is just a placeholder for the mystery that can be too slippery to hold for long. For that ineffable something, I have heard, and used: higher power; universe; universal consciousness; source energy; truth; great spirit; mother nature; the infinite; the eternal; adoring all; spirit; Allah; inner GPS; Atman; true self; Yahweh; loving presence; Yeshua; Jesus; Buddha; goddess; the light.


But before I could begin to call God anything, I needed to clarify who I was talking about. A friend I’ll call Joanne shared how she deleted the cruel deity of her upbringing, a force unfortunately modeled on a brutal home life, and a harsh childhood religion. Her shift came at a retreat. The leader asked everyone to list all the higher powers they’d had in their lives—parents, teachers, coaches, doctors, pastors or priests, older siblings and the like. 


Next, each person was asked to list the negative qualities of those higher powers. I wasn’t at the retreat, so here’s my list: hypercritical; negative; controlling; intrusive; boundary-violating, relentless; cruel; unsympathetic; needy; demanding; unjust; disrespectful; unavailable; capricious; wildly impatient; opaque; uncommunicative; explosive; violent. The leader then held up his hand in a stop-traffic gesture and said, “Fire that God of your misunderstanding!” He suggested creating a new, loving higher power of your choosing. Here’s mine: always available; unconditionally loving; totally kind; totally strong; not one little bit cruel; totally patient; full of love; excellent, kind teacher and guide; always respectful; wiser than I can know; empowering; life-giving; healing; energizing; inspiring; joy-giving; infinitely forgiving and generous; endlessly nurturing; beautiful beyond measure; peace-making; supportive of free will; collaborative. 


Knowing the qualities of my higher power helps me commune with it, say, in my morning scribbles. I like to dialog in writing with God to see what support and guidance will come through. I often start with the lovely prayer (attributed to St. Francis of Assisi), “Who are you, Oh, my God, and who am?” and move into what my friend Suzanne calls a Dear God letter—with answers. This chumminess means that on any given day I use what deity name feels right that day. It’s almost like good old HP (higher power) says, “I don’t care what you call me. Just call me!” Similarly, when I talk with others about matters spiritual, I listen—in that lovely way Friends can have—for what language works for them. That’s just good listening, and kindness in the manner of Friends. Who cares what we call our inner guide? We’re connecting in and around spirit! 


And then there’s the glorious spaciousness beneath talk. The best part of Quaker practice for many of us in the spaces below words. You know those moments when Friends go together to the still place? All our words, as lovely and thoughtful as they are, are just the prelude for that gathering. Talking about God for me is a tool for going to that mysterious, ineffable connection that can happen in the silence. As in, the silence of meeting for worship. The silence called for when a business meeting is falling out of worship. The silence that begins and ends each conversation I have with my Quaker and other soul friends. The silence that calls us home, wherever we are, whoever we’re with, and gathers us as One.