A.G. asked on March 30, 2009: Robert, during the most recent module of the Practicum you spoke about the I-Thou relationship to the divine, a.k.a. “God in the 2nd-person.” This is a subject that’s been on my mind for a while now, having also come up during a one-day event with Terry Patten in Sacramento several weeks ago. I’d love for you to expand on what you said at the Practicum.
Could you tell us about your own relationship to spirit in the 2nd-person, how that evolved, and where you’re at with it now? Why is it important to relate to Spirit in the 2nd person, as opposed to 1st- or 3rd-person? What blocks or limitations do people tend to have to relating to God or the Mystery in that way? What recommendations would you have for those wanting to cultivate such a relationship with the divine?
Robert Augustus Masters:
GOD AS THE ULTIMATE YOU
You are forever, forever here
This is how You must now appear
In You I rise and fall
Pulsing with Your Call
Ever dying into You am I
Like clouds into endless sky
O Guide me, guide me on, guide me free
Guide me, guide me on, guide me into Thee
O May all things awaken me
Until there is only Thee
With regard to how God (I’ll get to God a little later) is related to in contemporary culture, there often is more emphasis on first-person — God as the Ultimate “I” — and third-person — God as the Ultimate “It” — approaches than there is on second-person approaches — God as the Ultimate “You.”
And why? In part, because first-person and third-person approaches do not demand relationship; the former is a matter of radical subjectivity — God as “something” to identify with — the latter a matter of radical objectivity — God as “something” to witness. They both can certainly include heart, but for second-person approaches — God as the Ultimate “You” — there has to be heart, there has to be intimacy, there has to be a felt-to-the-marrow connection.
Just as in any truly intimate relationship, there more often than not needs to be a loss of face, a willingness to lay everything bare, which is far from easy for many of us. The I-Thou relationship is more vulnerable, more overtly human, more obviously personal, than are first-person and third-person approaches, which tend to be primarily transpersonal/impersonal.
There’s no substitute for having an I-Thou relationship with God. In its beginning stages, such a relationship is basically a spiritualized child-parent “interaction” — in which God is little more than Santa Claus in holy drag — but in its mature stages, such a relationship is profoundly intimate, unplagued by parent/child transference issues, fundamentalism, egoic agendas, and other souvenirs of unresolved wounds. We go from me-centered (what’s in it for me?) to we-centered codependent (overrelying on or addicting ourselves to our interactions with God) to we-centered coindependent (keeping ourselves overly intact in our interactions with God) to being-centered (thoroughly committed to deepening our intimacy with God, while simultaneously
deepening and honoring our individuality).
So we proceed from self-gratifying need to neediness to need-at-a-distance to pure need. Put another way, we go from narcissism to unhealthy connection to relatively-healthy-but-distant connection to intimacy.
And is it any surprise that our I-Thou relationship with God mirrors and is mirrored by our other relationships?
Intimacy with God strips us of our masks and layerings, eventually leaving us nakedly present with What-Really-Matters, at home with what we never really left but only dreamt that we did, both rooted and wholeheartedly participating in an embrace/Openness in which Love and Awareness are inseparable.
And what is God? More than we can imagine. And much, much more than that, in the felt presence of which we are brought to our knees in awe, gratitude, untranslatable reverence, and a self-illuminating nakedness of being that empties us of all that we took ourselves to be, leaving only what we truly are.
Many of us prefer not to use the word “God,” often because of what is commonly associated with it, or because it’s embarrassing to us to directly and unguardedly say it (it’s easier to talk about “Energy” or “Suchness” or “Spirit”). But I have grown to like it, because of what I have come to associate it with: Absolute Mystery in the ever-evolving, unsurpassably sentient raw, the Breath of the breath, the hyperbole-transcending Reality of Infinite, always-already present Being, simultaneously nothing and everything, forever making an appearance as all that is, in the face of which I bow in wonder and gratitude and speechless recognition, until there is only bowing, only Grace, without any dilution or diminishing of my me-ness.
This is God, the Eternal I-Thou-It, the One unimaginably beyond our human understanding, forever here on every scale and dimension possible, and with Which/Whom we can, miraculously and paradoxically, cultivate a relationship.
In first-person approaches to God, we relate AS God (through the filter of our individuality, however transparent that might be). In second-person approaches, we relate WITH God. In third-person approaches, we relate TO God.
As, with, too. I am, I love, I see. Identification, intimacy, recognition. The three faces of God, simultaneously separate and inseparable. Let us honor and embrace all three.
Let us make sure that our prayers — our Divine personals — touch, honor, and resonate with all three. May our prayers become so intimate with what they are reaching for that they become but articulations of gratitude, sanctuaries of sacred conversation that nourish us right to our core, regardless of our circumstances. May our prayers be dynamic vessels and launching pads for Grace. And in our prayers, may we hold nothing back from God, nothing!
When I was a young child, God simply was an all-pervading Radiance, felt mainly through my wide-eyed immersion in Nature, at least up until I began attending Sunday School; I simply could not swallow the dogma and buttoned-up piety being served there, eventually asking all kinds of questions (where did Cain’s wife come from?) that my beleaguered Sunday School teachers could not satisfactorily answer. By the time I was 11, I was an atheist, and proud of it. My first entheogenic experience (mescaline at 22), featuring ecstatic hours of gazing at springtime flowers, effortlessly obliterated my atheism; a few years later, I began meditating, entering into a first-person and third-person relationship with God, with a particular fascination with altered states. It took me quite a while to realize that God was not an alternative reality!
In the late 1970s and early 1980s I did a lot of Vipassana (Buddhist mindfulness meditation), which reinforced my orientation to God as the Ultimate It (and, to a lesser degree, as the Ultimate I); I also did some heart-centered/devotional practices then, but still mostly kept God at a distance, feeling more comfortable with a Supreme It or a Supreme I than with a Supreme You. My prayers were mostly along the lines of “May all beings be free from suffering” or “May I make as wise as possible use of all that
happens to me” — very helpful to me, but still not relating with God in any significantly personal sense. I did feel love for certain spiritual figures, through whom I felt the Divine quite strongly, and I did now and then feel a profound I-Thou link with God, but it had not taken root in me; I mostly preferred relating to “Suchness” or “Mystery” or “Being” than to “God.”
This changed in 1994. I had a horrendous near-death-experience early that year (chronicled in my book Darkness Shining Wild), at the end of which my very first words were: “God, I love You so, so much — I understand, I completely understand, why there has to be fear and doubt and pain and despair, for without them, without facing and passing through them, our love for You falls short of what it needs to be.” I said this without any self-consciousness, feeling utterly vulnerable.
After that, I still continued my Buddhist-like prayers (“May…”), but now began adding, however slightly, something more overtly second-person in my prayers, eventually recognizing and defining prayer as a Divine personal. Being with Diane has only deepened all this; the I-Thou dimensions of our intimacy naturally flow into and resonate with the Ultimate I-Thou communion. And this is reinforced all the more by the palpable Grace (I define Grace in part as a serendipitous infusion of not-by-us engineered guidance — for more, see my February 2009 Newsletter) we are together experiencing
more and more deeply, especially since I was diagnosed with prostate cancer last October.
The I-Thou relationship goes both ways, and needs to be voiced and felt as such. We need to speak to God, and we also need to let God speak to us (which doesn’t have to come through language!). In my poetry, I can say/sing, as “myself” speaking to God, things like:
“O Father of my soul,
O Breath of my breath
Taking me through death after death
O May I be a vessel for Your Light
As I sail through the night”
“O Mother of my soul,
O Cradle of my every birth
O Green, green heartbeat of my earth
O May I make room for Your Embrace
As I awaken to You in every place”
and I can also say/sing, as
“God” speaking to me, things like:
“Love me now, love me full
Love me bright, love me day and night
I cannot be found because I cannot be lost
Love me whatever the cost”
and I can also speak/sing as
“Look for me
where the land is wild with naked wonder
Look for me
where jagged shores moan with white thunder
Look for me
where the sea is ablaze with dawn
Look for me
where everything’s already gone
Look, look for me
where joy and pain disappear into sun and rain
Look for me
where we must dance and die
Look for me
where forehead is an infinity of sky
Look for me
where you awaken in the night
Look for me
where there’s nothing but unbroken light
Look, look for me
where joy and pain disappear into sun and rain”
Is all this just me speaking to myself? Yes and no — yes, because the me doing the speaking and hearing is much more than my everyday self, being expressive of and infused to whatever degree with what I truly am; and no, because as I speak thus, I make room for and am “occupied” by more than myself. Put another way, when I am emptied of my usual self (or when that self/selfing process is “relocated” to the periphery of my being), I truly have room for an intimate relationship with God, which paradoxically allows me to be even more myself.
Here, the personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal all seamlessly coexist, coevolve, cocreate. Here, Grace is not a concept, but an utterly tangible reality, too real to be denied. Just like God. And just like you and me, both in our uniqueness and our unity of Being. We’re all literally dying to be with God, to fully realize God, to be fully present as God-in-the-flesh…
May Thy Will and my will be as one; may my will and Thy Will be as one. Amen.