God is in all things; not indeed, as part of their essence, nor as an accident; but as an agent is present to that upon which it works. -Matthew Fox
Every now and then a word comes along that revolutionises our understanding around long held traditions and customs that have dominated the beliefs and practices that we have deemed to be set in stone. The power and beauty of language offers our imagination and intellect the active resonance we need to move the conversation into new arenas of evolutionary elucidation.
Words that awaken new meaning in our lives are the whispers of an eternal muse that is committed to our growth and maturation. This inspiration is a reminder of the divine influence at work in us.
One word that has reshaped my understanding of "God”: or whatever word you choose to use to metaphor your concept of the divine mystery is PAN-EN-THEISM. The reason for the breaks in spelling are to alleviate the obvious misunderstanding that seems to surround its apparent link to ‘pan-theism'. In crude terms Pantheism says that everything is God whereas Panentheism suggests that everything is in God and God is in everything.
Matthew Fox uses the analogy of a fish swimming in water…the water surrounds the fish as a sustaining environment and the fish breathes IN that water in order to sustain its existence. Panentheism suggests that all life is infused with the mystery of God and that transcendence is immanently revealing itself to us in all of its many forms.
The suspicion around some words can be due to our fear of relinquishing control of the old ways of understanding that have ungirded society for generations. Panentheism suffers from the over bearing influence of dualism that posits God as a somewhat distanced deity who is committed to maintaining a holy stance of separation due to the infraction that has occurred in our behavioural conduct. Sin and holiness as the conservative dualist would say still have compatibility issues? In a strange kind of way we need them both if we are to understand our need for some kind of divine support and reliance. Panentheistic otherness helps us to see that when we think we are the centre of the universe so is everything else. It takes everything to make up the whole.
According to St Paul there is nothing that can seperate us for the love of God? Not life or death, any kind of power structure, our present predicaments or the future dilemmas, no feelings of elation or despair, even the attempts of other people to disturb our health and well-being. This suggestion is the heart of panentheism, the unavoidable inclusion in a greater purpose regardless of our behaviour or religious status in life. This changes everything about how we value our worth in God and alongside others, a subtle reminder that the life we have been given is a gift that needs to enjoyed and honoured.
If we can never be separated from the divine then what is the point of adherence to some kind of religious affiliation? Why go to church or even pray if providence has our best interests at heart?
Panentheism suggests that we are all in God and God is in all of us yet it is crucial that we take the time together to consider what that really means. Gathering with others in some way to discuss, reflect and contemplate this rich mystery suggests that true meaning and understanding in life is a meal best shared with another. What resides in the other could very well be the transformational balm I need. The result of this reciprocity could potentially help the human race to start caring and taking responsible for the world better while advancing good and confronting the systemic evil that we so often project on to some kind of d-evil.
Panentheism is a call to honour who you are and honour the wonder of God that resides in all otherness.