What Barbara Brown Taylor thinks when she uses the word God

It was in April 2019 that I watched an interview with Barbara Brown Taylor about her new book, “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others”.
As a former Anglican I had been impressed by Barbara’s previous book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” with its emphasis on Lunar Spirituality.
Barbara had earlier written, “Leaving Church A Memoir of Faith”, and during an interview in 2006 she had been asked the question:
“What do you think when you use the word God?”

This was played back to Barbara in the recent interview:
When I use the word God, I am so aware I’m using a code word and that everyone who hears that word and probably everyone who uses it imagines something different, imagines a different posture in front of that being, that presence. I suppose my own image, my own idea of God, as imperfect and as evolving as it is, right now would be the glue that hooks everything together, the consciousness that moves between all living things.
When I use the word God, I do not envision a large person with two arms, two legs and nose and two eyes. I envision, instead, some presence so beyond my being, a presence that both knows the stars by name and knows me by name, as well, that is not here to be useful to me, that is not here to give me things as much as to ask me to give myself away for love. I, of course, get a great deal of what I mean by God from the tradition in which I stand – the Christian tradition, the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. But when I say I believe in God, I mean I trust. I trust in the goodness of life, of being. I trust that beyond all reason. I trust that with my life. And that’s what I mean by God.


When asked what she thought of that, her response was:
That wasn’t bad. What I like about hearing that 13-year-old answer is how hard it was for me to find language, and I would say that has only increased. I recently learned that Saint John of the Cross – one of his names for God was Nada – nothing – Nada. And by that, he didn’t mean null set, but he meant the place where language runs out, the place where concept runs out. So I suppose now, if I’ve changed at all, it’s in the tradition of the great mystics appreciating the ways in which language will never get there. I think it was Soren Kierkegaard who said, if you think you understand it, it is not God.

This just brought back some of what I already knew about Barbara’s thoughts of St John of the Cross, Nada, and Lunar Spirituality.

Interestingly the interviewer said: And I think that’s why in the Jewish tradition, you don’t spell out the word God because God is too vast and mysterious and unnameable to be embodied in language.

Both interviews can be found here.
Barbara’s talk at St Paul’s Cathedral can be found here.

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