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Is God Inside or Outside of Us?

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How we see the question of whether God is inside or outside informs how we pray. Before addressing that directly, what do we mean by these relative terms: inside and outside? The line separating our inside from outside depends on the level from which we look, but the direction between them is always the same, inherent in the polarity of the two. At the simplest level, we draw the line at our skin: our body is inside and the world around us is outside. At that level we consider God as the Creator of this universe and thus outside of us, outside of our body. In praying, we address this external God, directing our prayer outward. This has much to recommend it, because awe and love, key elements of prayer, both arise in relation to the external Creator God.

As we move inward, we first come to our thoughts and emotions, which certainly seem to be closer to us than our body. But we can control our thoughts and emotions to some extent. So there must something more inward than our thoughts and emotions.

Looking behind our thoughts, for example through meditation, we come into pure awareness, the cognizant stillness of consciousness. This is big sky mind, through which drift the clouds of thought, emotion, and sensory perception. Some stop at this point, because it too has much to recommend it. Pure consciousness is peace and unbounded awareness. It does not belong to us individually, but is rather everywhere. We live in it. All these qualities we may ascribe to God. So some think of God as the universal consciousness and strive to live within that consciousness, which is more inward than our body, our thoughts, and our emotions. So we could say that in this view God is inside us. But we are surrounded by consciousness, making it also outside us. Here the distinction between inside and outside breaks down; the line has disappeared. We just are. The God of consciousness is. Inside and outside have lost their meaning, have been transcended.

Nevertheless, having noticed that we can direct or focus our conscious awareness, we look further. Again there must be something more inward than consciousness, namely our will, which we recognize most easily as our attention, which directs our awareness, and our ability to choose and decide. Our will is our I, whose place though is usually stolen by our self-centered egoism. When our ego gives way, our I can come to the foreground. We are then ourselves. We can truly say I am and mean it. Because our I is more inward than consciousness, the distinction between outside and inside has reappeared, with the line drawn just behind consciousness, consciousness being outside and I being inside.

But our I is not God, for our I is individual. Yet though our I is individual, it is not separate from other Iís: you do not feel yourself to be so separate from others when you are in your I. This connection of our I with others extends to our connection with God. God is will and some of that will comes to each of us as our I. So at this level, the work of prayer becomes the work of opening our I, opening a gap right here in our most inward core, to allow God to enter, to reconnect with us, through us, as us. In this level of prayer, there is an inside and an outside: but now we are outside and God is inside, and we look to unite the two. We reach through that gap, through that bottleneck in our center, across the chasm of separateness, toward that inwardness that transcends us, toward that universal, loving Will, of which we pray to be a particle.

Ultimately, the distinction between inside and outside again disappears in the unity of will, for there is only one will, a will that unifies the entire cosmos, from the vast to the microscopic. The deeper, more inside, we go, the greater our perspective, and the greater our appreciation for the more external. The chasm between spirit and matter is bridged by prayer, by the act of that gap-opening and gap-filling surrender. Our role and our hope is to be that bridge between inside and outside.


Books


The Radiant Mountain: Presence to Go Becoming You: Cultivating Spiritual Practice The Sacred Art of Soul Making: Balance and Depth in Spiritual Practice
Novel: Restoring Our Soul
Novel: Agents of Peace
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