Thursday, July 13, 2017

God as Metaphor

Recently, J and I had the distinct privilege of spending some time with author, teacher and Franciscan Priest, Father Richard Rohr at his center in Albuquerque. I have been a fan of his books for years, but until this occasion had not attended one of his public appearances. It was truly a blessing to spend a Friday afternoon sitting with an intimate group of twelve listening to Fr. Richard’s wisdom and interacting with him. We also attended an event that evening at which he spoke.

While walking around the courtyard during one of the afternoon breaks, I gathered my courage and walked over to Fr. Richard. I introduced myself, and told him that I was feeling a bit “star struck.” He laughed and assured me that there was no reason for me to be. Unlike some who enjoy celebrity status, he was warm, open and generous. He put his hand on my back and said, “God just made it too easy for me,” referring to what I observe as his remarkable ability to synthesize complex information and mystical teachings to make them accessible to the rest of us.

I seriously doubt that he would make the claim himself, but I believe he is a mystic and a prophet for our time. Fr. Richard has been on the journey for many years consciously awakening to his Spiritual Mastery and mastering it.

J and I both took copious notes. There is too much to attempt to capture in one post, but I will share something that I have been pondering as I continue to live in the question…

What does it mean to be a Spiritual Master?

A Spiritual Master knows that ‘God’ cannot be defined.

Fr. Richard stated that metaphor is the only language we have for talking about God. I am sure I had read that in one or more of his books, but hearing him say it out loud made it resonate with me as if I was hearing it for the first time.

The spiritual master, Jesus of Nazareth, when speaking of God used “Father” as a metaphor. He spoke of God as a benevolent “Father” and us as his children. When he taught, Jesus would often say “the kingdom of heaven is like…” using metaphorical language, such as a “mustard seed,” “leaven” and “pearl of great price.” He spoke of himself in metaphorical language as well, saying things such as “I am the…’bread of life,’ ‘light of the world,’ and ‘vine’.”

Since I began my study of New Thought, I have resisted speaking about God in anthropomorphic terms; that is, assigning God human characteristics. I have often cringed when listening to songs that talk about “God’s eyes, hands or arms,” or when hearing someone talk about God wanting or feeling something. I have categorically avoided using such language when talking about God.

With great appreciation for Fr. Rohr, I am enjoying a newly found acceptance for that language. I recognize now that speaking of God in human terms is not necessarily anthropomorphic, but may instead be metaphoric. Further, that doing so may, in fact, bring comfort and solace.

This morning I awoke feeling lethargic and apathetic. As I sat to meditate I realized that I was feeling lonely and afraid. When I connected with those feelings, I used my meditation time in what, for me, is an uncustomary way. I imagined myself rocked in the loving arms of God as Divine Mother. It was helpful for me to envision God with arms, and hands and a smiling face. The metaphor of God as Mother was comforting.

Imaging God in that way or speaking of God in those terms does not mean that my perception of God has changed. I do not perceive of God as a being. I hold that ‘God’ is the ground of all “beingness.” ‘God’ is shorthand for Allness, All that is, the All that cannot be limited or defined with words. And within that, we are One. There is no separation – from others, or God. God is not a being outside of us.

I resonate with what H. Emilie Cady stated in her seminal text, Lessons in Truth,

Many have thought of God as a personal being. The statement that God is Principle chills them, and in terror they cry out, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him: (John 20:13). Broader and more learned minds are always cramped by the thought of God as a person, for personality limits to place and time.

God is the name we give to that unchangeable, inexorable principle at the source of all existence. To the individual consciousness God takes on personality, but as the creative underlying cause of all things, He is principle, impersonal; as expressed in each individual, He becomes personal to that one – a personal, loving, all-forgiving Father-Mother. 

Sometimes, as in my case this morning, we just need a personal, loving, forgiving, compassionate God to hold, comfort and protect us.

From now on, I intend to be less judgmental when I hear others speak of God using human terms. What excellent opportunities this will present for me to “Master my Mastery!” I suspect the same may be true for others as well.

Join us on Sunday at 10:00 as we continue to explore what it means to be a Spiritual Master.

For more information on Father Richard Rohr and his work, please visit


  1. Isn't comfort at the core of needing to know there's a God however that's defined? I'm okay with most definitions of God as long as they not the 'true God'. Besides, isn't language it self just symbolism of thoughts, filled with it's own shortcomings. I like to think of God as the source of the universe, that guides and directs it. Thanks Rev. David, I love this topic.

  2. Thank you. Once I was introduced to New Thought, I too resisted what I perceived as my former, limiting, anthropomorphic descriptors for God. But, candidly, at times I've missed Him/Her. Sometimes, I've even prayed "God, I wish I could still think of you as a Being sometimes because I think it would provide comfort." So nice to realize these sorts of metaphors are just as constructive as the many other metaphorphic ways I quite comfortably consider and express the Divine that is beyond all descriptors and incapable of being limited by them.

  3. I understand the idea that God, the All of the I Am, is not a being. Whatever words we want to use to express it, words will always be inferior descriptors. Words are just symbols of our thoughts and we have not given every thought a word yet...which would make our vocabulary veritably uncontrollable.

    What I need from my God is intention. It is not as important to me, at this time, that God has any other quality than intention. Without intention, does it matter what else God is? How is unintended, or non-intended, or unintentional love the greatest love in the universe? From my infinitesimally tiny being, being loved without intention is, metaphorically, like hitting the lotto without having any ability to determine how the lotto prize is used. I don't see the point.

    I know that spiritually I understand about as much as one grain of sand. There are many more grains of sand that I need to understand just on this planet; many more beaches and desserts with sand that I still need to discover, let alone understand. I understand that I do not understand.

    The hurdle of intentionality is one of my biggest quandaries. Intentional love is the best way I have ever received love. The next best comes in third. Without the intention to love me, it does not seem to me that I have been given anything. The idea that I should love with all my heart and soul a God that doesn't intend to love me, doesn't resonate for me. I feel left out, like I'm missing something huge, like there is something wrong with me. That is a rabbit hole I cannot enter at this time.

    Thank you David, for giving me as much as I can handle to think about again. Your gifts are my blessings, even when I don't understand.

  4. We are all doing our best to expand our Spiritual journey, understanding, appreciating, connecting within us, loving and respecting God. We are also doing our best to be expressions of God's wonderful expressions, like Love, Peace, and Joy. Our journey includes learning what we can from our Church lessons.

  5. Thank you for these beautiful and honest thoughts. I have had IMMORTAL DIAMOND on my bedside for weeks and believe it's time to dig in!