Giving Shape to the Mystery.

January 14, 2024

Giving Shape to the Mystery.

May 29, 2023

Chip’s Editorial Comment: Douglas Tsoi is one of my favorite spiritual thinkers and wise guides. I highly recommend him as a spiritual director for those of you looking for some non-denominational spiritual guidance. He’s helped me to see that often God is the blanket we use to give mystery some form.

In spiritual direction, people come to me to become present with whatever is happening in their spiritual lives, at that moment. The goal is not to change, fix, or improve anything. It’s a mindfulness practice where you give full attention to your own inner life, with someone else witnessing and welcoming.

In one session, a directee came in with a Bible verse she was struggling with. In her Christian tradition, every child is given a single Bible verse that is specially theirs for the rest of their lives. The one she was given was:

Proverbs 3:5-6

5   Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

    and do not lean on your own understanding.

6   In all your ways acknowledge the Lord,

    and the Lord will make straight your paths.

Five decades later, there was something that didn’t sit right with her about this verse she had been given. Too demanding? Too patriarchal? I suggested that many people have problems with the word “Lord” or “God,” why don’t we simply choose another word? AC/DC's road manager Barry Taylor once said that God is the name of the blanket we throw over mystery to give it shape. If that was true, how about trying another name for the blanket? Something like Universe, Source, or Spirit?

She chose the word “Love.” In reframing the verse as about Love, it read:

Proverbs 3:5-6

5   Trust in Love with all your heart,

    and do not lean on your own understanding.

6   In all your ways acknowledge Love,

    and Love will make straight your paths.


We both loved that. The exercise gave the verse enchantment and new meaning for my directee. Since then, I’ve discovered this idea has roots in Christian mysticism as well. In the Middle Ages, French mystic Marguerite Porete wrote: “I am God, says Love, for Love is God and God is Love, and this soul is God by the condition of Love.” In my own practice, I’ve started replacing the word “God” with the word “Love.” Here’s another revised Bible verse:

Psalms 37:4-5

4   Delight yourself in Love,

    and Love will give you the desires of your heart.

5   Commit your way to Love;

    trust in Love, and Love will act.


Replacing the word God with Love invites us into territory the mystics of all traditions roam. Here is a translation of MEA alumni and Franciscan Father Richard Rohr by replacing God with Love (something I don’t think he would not be adverse to):

On the inner journey of the soul we meet a Love who interacts with our deepest selves, who grows the person, allowing and forgiving mistakes.

Or contemporary American theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim.

We cannot see Love, but we can experience the work of Love. Love lives in us and inspires us when we are frightened, disheartened, and confused. 

Compare those to the work of the mystics (original translations using the word Love):

  • Love is the soul's light, the taste of morning, no me, no we, no claim of being. - Rumi
  • Love is not consolation, it is light. - Simone Weil
  • Since I began to love, love has never forsaken me. It has ever grown to its own fullness within my innermost heart. - St. Catherine of Genoa
  • However men try to reach me, I return their love with my love, whatever path they may travel, it leads to me in the end. - The Bhagavad Gita
  • The soul does not love, it is Love itself. -  Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras 


By giving different names to the blanket, we bypass the limitations of language and give shape to the mystery in different ways. If you like, try using different words, like "surrender" or "grace" to see if anything resonates. Joseph Campbell advised us that God is a thought that only references something that transcends all thinking. As one mystic put it, everything you say about God is not true. Or as in the Tao te Ching (try using love here too): 

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.

The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.

Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

These two spring from the same source but differ in name;

     this appears as darkness.

Darkness within darkness.

The gate to all mystery.


Out beyond our ideas of God, there is a field, a place that we’ve never seen and yet has always been home. Whatever name you give it, delight yourself in it, it will give you the desires of your heart. 

-Douglas

Douglas Tsoi is a spiritual director and writes the newsletter Money and Meaning. He is a three-time MEA alum and has taught a MEA online course: “Soul Narration: Telling the Story of the Second Half of Your Life.”

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