God is not what you think

The via negativa is the “negative way” of getting to know God. It is the way of letting go.

The basic assumption of this method is that God is much greater than anything we can imagine. As human beings of limited intelligence, we have a tendency to get attached to ideas of God that are far inferior to the reality of God.

Once we have an idea that works for us, we get lazy. We hang onto our idea, fixing it in place, and we start taking God for granted. We assume that our idea is good enough for practical purposes and do not bother to look any deeper into the truth.

Fixed ideas of God are like tranquilizers to the spiritual life—they slow everything down to a crawl and inhibit normal functioning. As soon as we think we know what something is, we stop paying attention to it. It is the same with our relationship to God.

Via negativa suggests that we be proactive and dump our intellectual baggage as soon as possible. Think of it as a third step for your concept of God.

Surrender to God all your ideas about God.
Once the mind is clear, we can experience God directly. No more big ideas getting in the way.

In via negativa, also called the apophatic tradition, people often create “definitions” of God that are simply a list of things that God is not. In these lists, the authors place ideas that the members of their faith tradition hold dear. The idea is to shake things up by poking at those ideas that are the most fixed in our minds.

What follows is an attempt to phrase an apophatic definition of God for Big Book folk. It’s short, and stands to be expanded, but it probably contains enough to get you started on the negative way.

Take a deep breath.

Get centered.

Read out loud, if only in a whisper.

Read s-l-o-w-l-y.

If you find yourself wanting to defend a fixed idea, give it up.

Via Negativa for Big Book Folk

God is not a Higher Power.
God is not a psychic change.
God is not love, superhuman strength, and direction.
God is not the Great Reality deep down within us.
God is not Creative Intelligence, Universal Mind, or Spirit of Nature.
God is not Creator, nor is God Maker.
God is not Director, nor Principal, nor Father.

God is not a power that pulls chronic alcoholics back from the gates of death.

God is not everything, nor is God nothing.
God is not God as we understand him.

God is not freedom from mental obsession.
God is not a spiritual experience.

God is not a miracle of healing.
God is not the Presence of Infinite Power and Love.
God is not a Fellowship of the Spirit.
God is not the Road of Happy Destiny.

God is not a defense against the first drink.

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6 Responses to “God is not what you think”

  1. amy Says:

    ouch! it hurts, but i like it.

  2. 8YSTEM Says:

    Nice! Dzogchen-style step work, lol.

  3. jayson Says:

    Dry Booze andBeing honest.
    I dropped into your blog from Keating’s Centering Prayer & 11Step Outreach all point to my belief you’re an EX cleric.I’m an Ex OMI also SJs
    Becoming Sober is grace I never thought I would receive. 18 yrs sober and for 12 yrs a ‘Dry Drunk’.Chpt 13 4th Ed got me on the road to HONEST Sobriety. Thanks to Rolheiser’Holy Longing and Henry Nouwen’s ‘Reaching Out my journey has been an Aventure.
    I woul appreciate keeping in touch,I am a
    blogger iliterate

    • James R. Says:

      Not an ex-cleric myself. But because you are, I’ll take that as a compliment. 🙂
      I like the Keating people, too, and have enjoyed 11th Step Outreach. Maybe that’s what you are picking up on?
      I’d be happy to keep in touch. I’ll send you an email.

  4. DW Says:

    As someone who unfortunately still needs to label himself in AA, so I would say a Taoist Catholic, I find this pretty good stuff.

  5. bob kay Says:

    God is not what you think IS as far as I need to go….the big negativa. We are still thinking when we compile lists via negativa. This or that AND/OR not this or that are simply dualities. God is not found in or by the binary mind, but somewhere in the infinite Unity containing the binary minds. Open-mindedness and willingness are the necessary qualities to apprehend God, as God is just beyond what I can think God is……who owns this dance floor, anyway?

    in gratitude….bob kay

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