Wednesday, August 18, 2010


In the Bible, one of the most ancient names for God is El Shaddai. It occurs five times in Genesis, and once each in Exodus and Ezekiel. The most likely translation is “God of the mountain.” Apparently, when one’s home valley encompassed the entirety of life, the looming mountain seemed to be the dwelling place of divinity.

Over the centuries, the realm of God has expanded together with our human experience. We grew from the God of our nation, our civilization, our planet, our solar system, our galaxy to the God of this immense, complicated universe. Today, we even talk of a possible multi-verse, a collection of universes. We are increasingly aware that we live in three realms. The macrocosm of stars, galaxies, black holes, dark matter, with dimensions and powers that boggle our minds. If creation is so vast, how vast is our creator, the ground of all being. We also live in the microcosm of the infinitely small, of molecules, sub-atomic particles, quarks, quanta, neutrinos, bosons and the like. We may tend to dismiss them as too esoteric, but these intricate forces power our computers, lasers and nanotechnology. And finally we live in the realm of human interaction. Relationships, family, ethnicity, race, politics, religion. It is here that we discover the wonderful reality that the God of the galaxies, and the God of the molecules, is also the God who is Love. Wherever we encounter authentic love, we find a pathway to God.

That leads us back to El Shaddai, the God of the mountain.

Some mystics have compared the spiritual life to climbing the mountain of God. Like those seeking to ascend Everest, we may start from base camps located in totally different nations many miles apart, but as we climb we draw closer not only to God, but to other climbers who may have started on different faces of the mountain. Our commonality gradually trumps our diversity. However, some of our colleagues remain focused on their base camps far below: Muslim clerics preaching a Jihad of violence; Hindu extremists enmeshed in xenophobia; Protestant fundamentalists fixated on culture wars; Jewish rabbis fighting about who is or is not authentically Jewish; and Catholic hierarchs trapped in morass of pedophilia pettiness and partisan politics. Religion can lead us away from God as well as closer to God. Our base camp can imprison us at the bottom of the mountain, or fortify us with qualities of magnanimity, compassion, humility, generosity and a thirst for justice, all of which open us to El Shaddai, the ancient and ever new God who dwells not only on the heights, or in the vastness of space, but also deep within our hearts and in those of all other seekers.

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