Skip to main content

Peter asks, “By what name?”

This is Peter writing, for the first time in much too long.

Quaker meeting was good for me today, and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that. For months now (maybe even years) meeting has been about trying to tune out the incessant internal chatter of my own brain, or about trying to sit comfortably on benches that are about four inches too low, or (most debilitatingly of all) about struggling to stay awake.

But today, although I can’t say whether or not the whole meeting felt covered, I know I felt covered. A Pagan might say “cloaked,” and a better word than either might be “embraced,” though that also doesn’t quite convey the experience. My wife, when I protested that I had no words to tell her what it was like, told me to go ahead and tell her anyway, so I came up behind her and placed one hand over her heart and the other over the space between her shoulder blades and pressed gently, and she nodded and said, “Oh, that. Yes, it’s good when it’s like that.”

And on the way home, I was thinking about how the other thing I don’t have words for is the… the…

The thing that was doing the thing. You know. God or the Light or whatever.

I’ve written about this before, but that was from a more linguistic, philological approach. Today it’s more like I’m gazing upon my Beloved, who never seems to tire of unfolding more and startlingly different manifestations of Him/Her/Itself, and asking for the umpteenth time, “By what name shall I call you?”

There’s “God,” of course. But “God” carries so many connotations of Creator of the Universe and all that, and the—presence—that I feel in meeting for worship… If it is the Creator of the Universe, that’s not exactly relevant right then. It is present, Here, Now, very intimately with me, and who or what it was thirteen billion years ago doesn’t really matter.

It’s not “Herne,” the god-form that was my patron deity for most of the time that I was most actively Wiccan/Pagan. I knew even at the time that “Herne” wasn’t His name. Again, it was His intimate presence more that his name that mattered. And the presence of Spirit in Quaker meeting isn’t exactly the same as “Herne” was. Though it feels like it partakes of the same Divinity, sort of like the three Persons of the Trinity are all said to be the same as God and yet not the same as each other.

“Spirit” is a nice, generic term, but much too wishy-washy. “Spirit” sounds like something that would waft through the room like piped-in music, not come swooping down on you to massage your heart. Not something that would have a personal identity, that could make you smile and think, “Oh, it’s you!”

“Lord” is a term of address that feels familiar to me to use in the presence of Deity, but it doesn’t feel right here. “Lord,” in common English usage, means a kind of ruler, and Quaker worship is not exactly about being ruled. And the word “Lord,” used anywhere that Christians are present, is also the word used to translate the Hebrew name “Yahweh,” and the Light that covers a Quaker meeting just seems nothing at all like the terrifying and capricious pastoral deity who demanded that blood be smeared on the horns of his golden altar.

“Guide” eliminates the Yahwist connotation, but again, it names the presence for one of its lesser characteristics. Like if someone called me glasses, or beard, instead of husband, father, teacher, writer…

There’s “Light,” of course, but the experience is much more tactile and visceral than it is visual.

“Holy Spirit” is probably the most satisfying name I’ve come up with so far. If you take it just as two words in English, they mean a spirit that is holy, and that’s right. That works. It’s got more oomph than just “Spirit.” And if you relate it to the Greek “paraclete,” which is the word in the Bible that gets translated as “Holy Spirit,” that word literally means “advocate” but it also gets translated as “helper” or “comforter,” as in John 14:16-17.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (KJV)

And that feels more like what I’m talking about. It’s likely to give my Pagan friends hives, and maybe to lull my more Christian friends into assuming we have waaaaay more in common than we do and leave them feeling duped when they realize it. I can’t help either of those. All I can do is sit with the experience.


Jeff said…
Well, I'm a pagan friend who knows exactly what you're talking about. ;-) The odd thing is that I feel like that (held by a/the Holy Spirit) almost all the time, and it's been rather odd to gradually realize that this isn't the case for everyone.

A few years ago I did an exercise suggested by a friend that allowed one to meet and 'see' one's primary spirit guide. When I tried it, at first I didn't see anything, and then suddenly I realized that my guide was permanently embracing me in a hold so tight that our bodies actually overlapped. It was pretty freaky.
Melissa Foster said…
Thank you for naming the very thing I've been struggling with. What to call this Presence that isn't limited by gender and doesn't make it small, limited, boxed-in to some pre-established definition that has little to do with what I experience. Right now, I'm using "My Friend God" which isn't quite right either but is closest to how I feel.
Hystery said…

It was good to read this. You have given voice to a concern that haunts me and in so doing have made me feel less alone. Thank you for that.
Alyss said…
This is something I've been meditating on for the last week or so as well, though the concern for me is more the "form" of "it" than the "name". I spent a lot of energy during Holy Week/just before Easter exploring Jesus and my relationship with that aspect of the divine. I felt exhausted after Easter because that is not a primary way for me to relate to the divine so I have been really delving back into the pagan aspects that feel more natural to me. My evening prayers have focused on flowers and rain all week :)

This blogger, who is well written and amazingly insightful, uses the phrase G!(d)dess. I kind of like that :)
Nate said…
Well done!

I sort of focussed on, "If it is the Creator of the Universe, that’s not exactly relevant right then. It is present, Here, Now, very intimately with me, and who or what it was thirteen billion years ago doesn’t really matter." and that's sort of the difference between religion or theology and the experience of the divine that resonates with me.

Thank You
Gabby said…
I have had the same a name to the divine.....I am a Pagan as well and I can tell you that you this gives a voice to one of the questions for a project of mine.... "How can I get people to understand that you don't need to tease people about their religion because we all serve the divine?" and your post gives me part of an whatever the name, we all serve the divine, but in by other names/faces. Like She might come to you as The Mother, Te Maiden, or The Crone.

I have done some meditation on this and what I found is that She is always with us, embracing us, loving us and no matter what shape She comes in or what face She wears, She is in all of us, and we are Her children.

blessed be
Iron Muffin said…
Peter, you speak my mind.
Mr. Bishop said…
Thanks to all who responded. I was just kind of musing, going through my thoughts like papers in an old attic, and I had no idea I would touch on so many other people's struggles.
Yewtree said…
I like this post.

The Unitarians have a great hymn that goes, "Before God was, I AM."

Unitarian ministers are in the habit of, every time they use the word God, then referring to She / Her. I like this (suitably gender-bending).

I tend to refer to "the Divine", "the Source", "the Tao", sometimes "Spirit of Life" (UU terminology).

I like Melissa's "the Presence" (implies the Shekhinah to me).

Alternatively, try "Linda". (Srsly.)
kevin roberts said…
And the word “Lord,” used anywhere that Christians are present, is also the word used to translate the Hebrew name “Yahweh,” and the Light that covers a Quaker meeting just seems nothing at all like the terrifying and capricious pastoral deity who demanded that blood be smeared on the horns of his golden altar.

Um, that would be the Jews, I think. The Christians came later.

I personally stick with "Light," and live with the clumsy metaphors.
Karen said…
I kind of like Thorne Coyle's often-used phrase "God Herself", though I am of the belief that my friend Sarah Avery was spot on when she referred to "the Living Universe" many years ago - it really resonated with me and has been the way I think of the Divine ever since.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Peter for your reflection. I find it very insightful and I often struggle with how to talk of things that there are no words for. I now know that I will never find the words unless I try and I know that I will be disapointed with not getting it right, but happy with the glimpses (word?) that are reveled.
Anonymous said…
the Light that covers a Quaker meeting just seems nothing at all like the terrifying and capricious pastoral deity who demanded that blood be smeared on the horns of his golden altar.

I've seen this association mentioned here before, and — although I know you are speaking from your own experience, out of a sense of what each name calls up for you — as a Jew it still unnerves me the way this phrasing seems to elide the last 2500 years of development in Judaism. The Four-Letter Name is still an integral part of an evolving faith tradition.

Is Herne, too, not inseparable in his origin from the idea that the passing of life force at the violent death of a food animal is a sacred and integral part of the natural order of things?

On a more agreeing note, I like "Holy Spirit", "Presence", "embraced"... I might even say "Big Hug".

Popular posts from this blog

Confronting Racism, Yankee Pagan Style

I am a Yankee.  Right down to my Pagan soul.

My understanding of what it means to be a Pagan is to try to live in right relationship with the gods, the land, and the people, including the ancestors.  My gods are those that are comfortable in New England’s woods and hills.  My land is this rocky landscape of New England.  And my people and my ancestors–on Mom’s side, at least–are New Englanders: sea captains and dairy farmers, teachers and laborers.  Whatever granite is in this place or in my ancestors lives on in me and in my Pagan practice.

And that granite is why I am so driven to speak out against racism.
To help me explain what I mean, I’m going to go ahead and borrow an ancestor: my friend Kirk White‘s father.
A Yankee like a Rock Kirk’s ancestors, like mine, were among the first Englishmen to arrive in North America.  Like mine, this landscape was where they found their home.  And like me, my friend Kirk and his family before him has loved New England–Vermont in his c…

Bears Eat My Lettuce

I love where I live;  since moving to our new home four years ago, I've been able to build a relationship with a piece of land for the first time since I was a child.  It's everything a dirt-worshipping Pagan could ask for.  I have a garden, and I grow much of my own food, and that is as much a spiritual delight as a taste treat.  And I have woods again as neighbors: glacial boulders, white pines and black birches, owls and white-tailed deer.

And bears.

And the bears eat my lettuce.

I'm not kidding about that.  Oh, it's winter now, and the bears are huddled up in their dens.  But this past spring, I grew lettuce.  Award winning, gorgeous lettuce: three different kinds!  They were nourished to extraordinary size and succulence by the cool, wet weather we had, and each night, I would gather just a few outer leaves, knowing that careful tending would mean tasty salads for months.

And then, over the course of three days, the bears ate every single one of my lettuce plants…

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected.

For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical.
A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, looking v…