If God Is a Circle, Where Are We?

There is space for all of us.

Posted Jul 16, 2018

 Guggenheim Museum, NY/Seaburn
Source: Guggenheim Museum, NY/Seaburn

On her podcast, On Being, Krista Tippett was interviewing the Kabbalah expert, Lawrence Kushner. He suggested that most western religions think of God as a large enclosed circle. And we are small circles outside the large circle trying to communicate with it, with God; trying to understand God from a distance; separate but trying to find our way in.

Kushner proposed a different perspective, one that has roots in the Kabbalah and other religious and philosophical traditions. God is a big circle and we are still small circles, but the difference is that we exist inside the large circle; we are all part of God. Because of this immersion, the boundary between the big circle and the small ones may even seem to disappear. This is mysticism, the erasure of lines that separate, the blending of all otherness into one.

The New Testament calls this love. Not the romantic kind, by any means, but love as compassionate union, love as recognition that we all live inside the same sacred space. And since we do, our differences are all pieces of a single wholeness; and by celebrating those differences, our shared humanness is enriched, made holy. This is what the philosopher, Martin Buber, meant when he distinguished between I-It relationships and I-Thou relationships.

I love all of this. Especially the notion that mystical experience isn’t thunder and lightning from above; but rather it is something that happens in the everyday, in the simple moments, in relationships, in looking closely and seeing each other, in extraordinarily brief encounters where boundaries are erased and quite unexpectedly we experience connection, unanimity.

When I look around my small piece of the larger circle, I see a lot of I-Itness. I see division, loss of trust, suspicion, deliberate clouding of what is true; and the denigration of those whose beliefs are different, whose skin is different, whose gender is different, whose personal identity is different, who language is different, whose home is different. I'm sure there are times that I have contributed to this. Perhaps you have, as well.

 I take comfort, though, in several things. First, from this perspective, God does not set boundaries, does not separate, does not exclude, but rather is that ‘something’ that urges us to erase any human boundary that creates unnecessary limits, fosters prejudice, or encourages the deprecation of others. Second, I don’t have to fight to get inside this circle; I don’t have to have particular beliefs or creeds; I don’t have to swear allegiance to any doctrine; I don’t have to do any of those things in order to get inside the circle, because I am already there. Third, if I have a home inside that circle, so does everyone else. Consequently, my job in the world, in this broad and all-encompassing circle, is to do whatever is necessary to welcome others home, as well.

David B. Seaburn is a novelist. His latest novel, Parrot Talk, won second place in fiction for the TAZ Award (2017) and was shortlisted for the Somerset Award (2018). He has written six novels, all available on Amazon. He is also a retired marriage and family therapist, psychologist and minister.