God the Adjective, part 3
God as a noun begs the question: what properties does this noun have? Is God loving or angry and punitive? Merciful or just? All-knowing or just very knowing? All-powerful or just very powerful? God the noun begs the question: what does this noun do? Does God intervene in human affairs daily? Or did God create the universe a while back, and is now watching it unfold, the way a child watches carefully laid-out dominos fall?
While God the noun has properties – leaving us humans to argue what those properties are -- God, the adjective is a property that we can pretty much agree on. Most of us can agree that life and the universe is awesome and sacred.
If God is a noun, then we must face the question of whether God is the sort of noun that the Catholics describe, or that the primitive Baptists, or the Eastern orthodox, or the Jews, or the Muslims, or the Hindu describe. If, for example, you posit God as an ultimate cause, then you can’t help but get stuck in conundrums like what caused God? In one form of Hinduism, the earth rests upon the back of an elephant. There’s a story of an Englishman encountering an elderly woman of this Hindu faith. What does the elephant stand on? he asked. The elephant stands on the back of a monkey, she answered. And what does the monkey stand on? The monkey stands on the back of a turtle, she replied. And what does the turtle stand on? he asked patiently. The turtle stands on the back of another turtle. “And what does that turtle…?” he started to ask. At that point the woman interrupted him. “From there on,” she said, “it’s turtles all the way down.”
See? That's the kind of conundrum you get stuck with if divine and holy are made into a noun. We get arguments about different conceptions of that noun.
“Do you believe in God?” is a question used to divide people. I believe in the adjectives, and they don’t divide.
I believe in green and growing, dark and peaceful, loving and kind, amazing and wonderful.
I believe in the beautiful and tragic quality of life.
I believe in religious qualities.
I believe in awesome, in grateful, in hopeful, in joyful.
I believe in full.
I believe in earthy.
I believe in wise, and compassionate.
I believe in sufficient: this life, this world, come what may, it is enough. It will do.
I believe in a god world: a world not of our own making that supports us and sustains us, which grounds us for the meaningful pursuit of ideals.
I believe in the god life, which can be experienced by people of any religion or none – a life of awareness, a life of attention to the interplay of forces, a life of deep sympathy with all of them even when it does come time to take a stand against some of them.
I believe in holy, for each breath is holy. I believe in sacred, for each step is sacred: we have but to be mindful and know it.
God the noun is an ultimate cause of things. God the adjective is a quality we can perceive of the flow of all the causal forces, none of them ultimate, interacting continuously. We experience those forces adjectivally: luminescent, transcendent.
I’ll close with three further illustrations of the importance of the adjectives. First, Tagore:
"Is it beyond thee to be glad with the gladness of this rhythm? To be tossed and lost and broken in the whirl of this fearful joy?"Notice that it's the adjectives that convey the force of Tagore's words: glad, tossed, lost, broken, and fearful.
Second, the well-known e.e. cummings’ passage:
“I thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes ...”It’s the adjectives that carry the impact: amazing, leaping greenly, blue true, natural, infinite – and yes, which cummings is using as an adjective.
A man fleeing from a tiger came to a precipice, caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him. Then some mice appeared and began gnawing at the vine. Just then, the man saw a strawberry growing near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How luscious and sweet it was!Again, it’s the adjectives that carry the punch: luscious and sweet.
Our time here is short, before the mice hand us over to the tigers. All we can do is notice, notice, train ourselves to notice – notice the god quality in every luscious and sweet moment.
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This is part 3 of 3 of "God the Adjective"
Part 1: How We Argue About God
Part 2: Thinking God an Adjective