What is in a name? As Shakespeare has said, “A rose by any other name smells just as sweet.” As such, is it even necessary for us to give a name to that undefinable experience some have called God? In the gathering of the contemplative community this week, we explored the nature of God’s name and through the wisdom of the Hebrew writers, a clue to the ineffable nature of the Divine is revealed. In the story from the book of Exodus where God appears to Moses in the experience of the burning bush, Moses asks God:
“But when I go to the Israelites
and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
“I am who am.” Four little words that speak volumes. The Divine simply is. As much as we attempt to name, define, categorize the Divine, it cannot be defined. Meditating on this simple phrase, “I am who I am” reveals to us the vast, infinite, ever revealing truth of that which some call God and invites us to set aside our societal or religious conditioning and preconceived notions of what we understand about the Divine.
The Hebrew people understood this truth and communicated this through the name that they assigned to God. YHWH. The name of God is composed of three Hebrew letters: Yod, Hey and Vau. The meanings of these individual letters are significant in revealing the Hebrew understanding of the Divine:
Yod– signifies creation itself and all of the metaphysical processes through which creation unfolds. Yod on its own stands as an important symbol of the Creator. According to tradition, that which is to come was created through the utterance of the letter yod.
Hey – According to Hebrew tradition the physical world in which we now live was created through the utterance of the letter Hey. Hey represents Divinity
Vau – symbolizes humanity and the restoration of justice. Vau represents completion, redemption and transformation. It is the letter of continuity uniting Heaven and Earth.
Putting this all together, we can see the vast experience that the Hebrew people had of that which they understood as “I am.” They understood the Divine as the Source of all that is and all that shall be. They understood the Divine as perfection and the Source through which peace and harmony are brought into being. They understood the Divine as beyond us as well as among and within us. They also understood the on-going revelation of the Divine.
Jesus echoes these sentiments when he called God, Abwoon. While Abwoon may be translated as “father”, this is an incomplete understanding of this word. In his groundbreaking work, The Prayer of the Cosmos, Neil Douglas-Klotz reveals the broader translation of the intimate word, Abwoon:
Abwoon is the source from which the breath of life flows and is present in all forms of vibration and light.
What this reveals to us is that in both the Hebrew and Christian traditions, the Divine is understood as being far more than what we can possibly imagine and by its very nature defines description, definition or categorization. The Divine simply is and all we can do is be open to the infinite number of ways in which the Divine may reveal itself to us.