One summer's day last year, I was cycling along Regent's canal tow path to college, as usual. The sun was out and the stretch through Regent's Park zoo was particularly lush and verdant, full of willows in young leaf, wild flowers in delicate bloom, coots strutting about on their floating nests of twigs and polystyrene; and the air was full of exuberant birdsong. I felt a surge of thankfulness for the gift of this route, given that the alternatives in London tend to be noisy, pollution-ridden death traps. To whom was I thankful? God? And what does the word 'God' mean to me now - or for that matter 'Jesus', 'Lord' or any other of the standard titles used in the Christian world? I get wearied by the confused feelings they engender in me.
Then a light switched on in my head. I thought to myself, "Let's
call Him by a completely different name - one that I have never used before"
"The Infinite" came straight to mind.
Not terribly original, I know, but because I had not used it before, there were no associations. So I reached out to praise the Infinite for his stunning creation, for the sense of mystery, and the sheer pleasure it stirred in my soul. And for those few moments I experienced an uncommon joy and inner liberation.
And I realised how all the familiar references to God had become festered and cluttered with contradicting associations, making my understanding and perception of Him distorted and sullied.
When I got home that night I scribbled down a spider chart, with God etc written in the middle and, around these names, all the associations - descriptions, ideas, feelings, phrases - that sprung to mind. Few were positive; most were negative; but I observed that the positive ones tended to be intellectual concepts whereas the negative ones generated strong feelings. I wrote down love, mercy etc and felt little, if anything, but when I wrote down guilt, disapproval, etc., boy, did I feel it. "Well He sees and knows it if our light grows dim..." jumped into my head from some ancient children's hymn sung in Sunday school.
From early childhood experience in the Brethren, teenage years in the Elim, early 20's in charismatic house churches, endless reading of Christian books… these names for God had gathered associations like iron filings to a magnet. Then they merged until the whole notion of God seemed like a horrible unfathomable mess.
But how many of these associations were from my direct, personal encounters with God? Shockingly little. Most of the ideas were imposed on me from outside. Those rare, but wonderful, direct encounters seem always to be unanticipated and fleeting. And they fade quickly from my memory because I can't relive them or make them happen again of my own will. Whereas I can relive childhood visions of hellfire any time.
It seems that in the virgin territory of a small child's mind, the first associations take root as powerful feelings and reside deep in the memory. And there they remain, impossible to shift, limiting the effect of and colouring any new related information. And while they are still there, the seeds of grace, acceptance, unconditional love, which I experience briefly and ecstatically from time to time, just won't take permanent root.
No wonder when I reach out to these "labels" I am in conflict! But, for me, "The Infinite" is unadulterated, with no imposed association and nothing to stop my soul from soaring to embrace him. No contradictions, no desire to escape, no laws to break, no bible I am obliged to read, no demands, no expectations. Spontaneously I want to love him, seek his truth and walk his path.
The true freedom Christ spoke of became distorted through time, traditions, and all manner of interpretations.
This isn't to say Eureka! I'm finally free. But when I feel low and engulfed with negativity, I turn my thoughts to "The Infinite" and recapture the sense of his presence.