Defining The Divine - What Does It Mean To You?

I wrote a post recently about my concerns over the best way to introduce the idea of God to a child. I received a few wonderful responses to this across social media and it really opened my eyes to that fact that whilst introducing a concept as huge as God is challenging, it is something that I really shouldn't be worrying too much about. In the end, the search for God (or the quest to "define the Divine") is a life-long thing, so really introducing the idea of God is just the first step, why panic about it?

But it got me to thinking - as an adult who has spent the past 14+ years trying to figure out what the idea of God means to me, how would I "define the Divine"? 

My typical response is, of course, that I can't. God, to me, is so immensely huge that no words I could ever use would come close to defining who or what God is. But that's a bit of a cop out really isn't it? The reality is that I feel uncomfortable with the idea of a personal God, someone who can be defined as an entity in and of itself with particular desires for us and the world. And in essence, that sentence sums up the entire reason I don't really feel like I belong in the Christian community, for example.

And yet, when I read parts of the Bible, especially those which talk about Jesus' ministry and the words of the early Christian writers (those who considered themselves followers of "The Way") I feel deeply connected to the message at the heart of Christianity - that of Love.

And this is a message I see also in the sacred texts of other religions as well as the writings of authors in today's spiritual market. Love and fear, it all seems to whittle down to these two things in one form or another, and in that respect I begin to "define the Divine" as Love and the absence of a connection to the Divine as fear.

But that's nowhere near an adequate description of what the Divine means to me, so how else can I begin to define it? Perhaps the walk I had this afternoon will help. Instead of rushing back to try and tackle my epic to-do list (you know the type - too many jobs and not enough time!) I chose to take a walk in the nearby Arboretum. You'll have noticed by my Magic of Trees series that being amongst the trees means a lot to me, but I haven't gone for a walk just for the sake of walking in such a long time. I took my camera, started snapping the things that spoke out to me, and then suddenly I found myself overcome by an energy I can only possibly describe as "The Divine".

It is a sensation I have felt strongly in the past - a feeling of being connected to all of life, that I can almost feel the heartbeat of the earth itself, and that everything around me is a part of me, and I of it, and nothing else truly matters. I felt supported and uplifted and momentarily like I had been taken out of time and into a whole other world. It was, quite simply, a mystical experience and one which took my breath away, brought me close to tears, and made me realise just how closed off from experiencing this joy I have been in recent years. I didn't want it to end.

But end it did, and I found my way back home and onto my laptop with so many thoughts running through my mind. How can I describe an experience like that, other than it was like touching The Divine? And that was the point... in trying to "define the Divine" I find I am unable to. I can explain that it is a sense of wonder and magic and mystery and as far from an individual entity as it could possibly be (other than in the sense of everything being connected and as one - you, me, the entire cosmos!) but that still doesn't make any kind of sense in the usual way of speaking. The Divine is something I think you can search for all your life, but until you experience it you will struggle define what it means to you, and then when you do experience it you'll find words are simply not enough.

And this, for me, is the whole explanation for why we have so many different faiths and religions within our world, all so different and yet so similar at the same time. Each one, from the most ancient to the most modern, is created and developed through our attempts to explore and express what the experience of God means to us. The more I learn about theology (through books about it and online courses such as this one run by Harvard and edX) the more I realise that the way in which we understand spiritual texts and scripture changes with time and location, and so when we read a text and somethings speaks to us from it, that is a shared experience between us and the author. Equally, when we read something that we cannot relate to, that doesn't mean one of us is right and one of us is wrong, rather that we have experienced the Divine in a different way to each other. 

So how would I "define the Divine"? Well, for me it is that which is both seen and unseen, the Great Mystery, the creative energy and spark of life that runs through everything, the "Alpha and Omega" or beginning and end, and everything else inbetween. When I go to church I connect with God through scripture and worship, when I walk in nature I connect to The Divine through the wonders of life all around me, and when I lay in bed next to WB and realise there is nothing I wouldn't do for that boy I see Love as the great connector in life. All of this, to me, is The Divine at work in my life.

Tell me, how do you "define the Divine"?

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Amanda Shortman

I'm a 30-something mum to one, blogging her way through the completely beautiful and yet utterly confusing world of faith and spirituality. Ever since I started uni I've been on a journey of self-discovery that has led me to where I am today, somewhere between liberal Christianity and New Age Metaphysics, with a deep interest in interfaith dialogue. My greatest hope is to raise my son in a way that engenders confidence to find and walk his own path in life.