Letting Go of All Ideas About God


Q: The inevitable end of the letting go process requires one to let go of all ideas about God, including belief in God. So one is presented with a paradox or koan: to reach the goal by giving up the goal, or denying there is a goal, ultimately being thrown back on the primacy of just being. I find myself time and again faced with the fact that I can know nothing about God. The most I can say is that God is Being and Being is God. The rest is silence. Am I making any kind of sense here, or have I lost my way?

A: Thank you for your question! I’m sure many other people in this community may be pondering something along these lines as well. Our Centering Prayer is a practice of letting go and helps prepare us to awaken to the gift of contemplation. As you talk about “just being” it sounds like you are experiencing moments of contemplation. Your prayer is bearing fruit, and is likely reflected in other areas of your life. And your path so far includes, as you have written, realizing that it is time to let go of any ideas about God.

Thomas Keating has written some beautiful things about the contemplative experience in Reflections on the Unknowable, particularly in the essay by that name (Chapter 11), that may resonate with you.

“Seekers resonate to the sound of sheer silence that is provided by the opening of the inner eye of faith. …The common bond of seekers is to become like a calm lake that reflects the blue sky, in which all the ripples have merged into the surface of the lake as a whole. The lake can then reflect the blue sky, which is boundless in every direction – height, length, depth, and breadth.”

He follows that with:

“Awakening to the contemplative dimension of life is a better term than discovering, which suggests searching outside ourselves for what is already present within….Christian tradition holds that contemplation is a pure gift. But it must be emphasized that it is a gift that has already been given.”

What a beautiful reminder that we are not looking outside ourselves for anything; it has been planted within us from the very beginning. And rather than trying to attain any particular state or experience, we are more like a calm lake, intimately reflecting the infinite, the unknowable. At the end of this essay he addresses your point about God directly:

“The highest experience of God is no experience. It just is. We no longer see the face of Christ because we have in some way become that face. Or more exactly, Christ has become our particular form: ‘You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3).'”

There is a lot in these passages, and if we were to take time to read it aloud and take it to Lectio Divina we might discover more about what lies within it for us. In the current context of Advent, I find a rich message there about being bearers of God, as Mary was, in ways we may not even fathom. What more might God be asking of us, this season?

I’ll just add here a couple more thoughts on your comments. For one thing, I’m not sure there is actually an end to the letting go process – at least in my experience and in what I have read. Except for very rare people, we all have more and more subtle things to let go of: not just of a sense of who we think God might be, but also of ourselves, with whatever identifications we may have. These identifications can even include a sense of being spiritual or contemplative people, or as competent or loving, or as anything else we might aspire to be. As Keating said earlier in the same book, “Letting go of every form of self-identity or reflection is the nature of pure consciousness: to surrender to God just as we are and to surrender to God just as God is.” (p.70)

We are not really talking about letting go to a vast “nothing” — our core intention still remains, to say yes to God as Mary and so many others did, but once we have offered it we let even that go. Our intention quietly continues deep within the spiritual awareness, emerging from and completely one with the divine awareness at the center.

Lastly, it’s good to remember that there are times in our Centering Prayer when we sink more deeply into this sense of “just being” that Father Thomas talks about, and other times when we may be continually letting go of various thoughts. Both are precious, and both cultivate deeper relationship with the Ultimate Reality. As you mentioned, we want to let go of even a goal here. We offer our intention, and let go and rest in just being, as you say, and this true Being takes care of everything else.

Thank you so much for sharing, and blessings on your journey!!

Joy Andrews Hayter