Names for God: Part 2 of a Series
Woven into the fabric of Hebrew tradition is the wise teaching that the name of God is never to be uttered. The powerful and mysterious name, given in the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the form of a burning bush, is usually translated “I Am What I Am.” It’s the designation of something more than we can grasp, not to be treated lightly. A reader of the Hebrew substitutes adonai, or “the Lord,” when reading scripture aloud.
Any other name denotes an individual we can know, someone with particular characteristics and habits, whose existence necessarily means limitations, a being among other beings. But this name is different, one that we cannot wield with understanding, a name beyond names.
I’m drawn to that mystery, but if God is beyond what can be named, it’s hard to know where to begin. How can I even think about, much less have a relationship with, the unfathomable source of life?
A sense of divine presence is somewhere to start, or the longing to experience it. The Psalms speak to that kind of knowing: As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. We can’t claim the stream, or apprehend its course; but we know our need for it and the experience of being refreshed by its waters.
And we have not only our own individual experience to draw on, but that of countless generations who have gone before. Many left their mark on the world’s faith traditions. When we find a line of liturgy or scripture or interpretation that resonates, we have a guide who helps us prepare for our own experience of the divine. We have gifts of poetry, art, and music that can open our hearts and point the way. The earth itself speaks eloquently of divine beauty, renewal, and creativity.
The unutterable name of God is spelled out everywhere, if only we can learn to read.
I’d love to hear about your experience. What stirs in you a sense of divine presence, or longing? Is it something you seek out in the rituals and routines of your life, or something that takes you by surprise?
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