God as Being, Part 4

God as Being, Part 4

Once the wave realizes she is the ocean her fear dissipates. Thich Nhat Hanh[1]

In the past few weeks I have explored the concepts of God as a being, as a non-being, and as love. Another imperfect analogy for God’s nature, one I find intriguing, if not difficult to wrap my brain around, is God as the ground of being. In other words, God as the foundation, substance, or energy from which all being emerges and exists. Imagining God as the ground of being is more easily grasped for me through the analogy as God as the ocean. Within the ocean there are countless varieties of fish, plants, and microbes with countless unique features between and within each unique species. They all exist within the ocean; they are completely dependent upon the ocean for their existence; they live their entire earthly lives within the ocean; they emerge from and die back into the ocean; yet none of them are the ocean. Rather, they populate what we know as the ocean. In our analogy, the ocean (God) is present within each unique aquatic individual and species, but no one individual or species is (God) the ocean.

We assume, perhaps incorrectly, that aquatic life has no more conscious awareness of its surrounding environment – the ocean – than we do of ours – the atmosphere. Is a shark conscious of the water in which it swims? Does a manta ray recognize the ocean as its source of nutrition and oxygen? Do octopi perform 8-legged praises to the ocean for its goodness and provision? For humankind there are biblical hints that the atmosphere is divine since in its original Hebrew, air, wind, and breath are the same word as Spirit, referring to the Spirit of God.

The late Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said, “Once the wave realizes she is the ocean her fear dissipates.” His illustration is insightful and thought-provoking. It implies that our lives can be likened to waves in the ocean – they rise and fall, appear and disappear. We, as human beings, also rise and fall, appear and disappear. Using the analogy of God as the ground of being, we rise from the ground of God at birth and fall back into the ground of God at death. While it is easy to see how inseparably the wave is connected to the ocean, it is much more challenging to understand how we are connected to God. It is easy for us to see how waves are connected with each other, but it is difficult to see how we are connected with each other. And while it is nonsensical for us to consider a wave as made of anything other than ocean, it is a leap too far for most of us to see ourselves as made entirely of God. Never mind that we are told in Genesis that humankind was created in the image and likeness of God.[2] We cannot imagine a wave existing apart from the ocean, yet we consistently believe ourselves to be separate from God.

Even so, just as waves are individual expressions of the ocean, so are we individual expressions of God. Waves can only be understood in the context of the ocean, and we can only be understood in the context of God. There is nowhere outside of the ocean for a wave to escape any more than there is anywhere outside of God for us to exist. Just because we cannot understand or visualize it does not make it less of a reality.

Picturing ourselves as waves in the ocean can be an uncomfortable image since waves come and go so quickly and disappear so completely. Most of us have no desire to be annihilated at our death as waves appear to be. And yet, waves are not annihilated when they crash against the shore. Waves return to their source. They are not destroyed; they are pulled back into the ground of their being. We too, at our physical death, fall back into the source from which we arose. We fear death because we fear losing the most precious and unique features that make us who we are. We forget that those features originated in the ground of our being. What makes us unique and individual expressions of God is not lost at our death, it is simply pulled back into its source. The wave does not lose its individual expression when it returns to the ocean, it becomes more of what it has always been. Once we better understand how we are inseparably rooted in the ground of our being we release our fears because we know that nothing can separate us from who we are. The ground of our being is our truest, securest identity.

This is the 57th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] Unsourced quote attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh.

[2] Genesis 1:26.

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