I Am, Therefore I Am

thinking1Cogito, ergo sum. These were the famous words uttered by Rene Descartes when he was contemplating the ontological question of how to know anything with certainty. I think, therefore I am. I think, therefore I exist. Descartes struggled with the nature of existence and truth and finally had the lightbulb moment when he realized that the only thing he could be certain of was the fact that he was thinking. To him, this became the only proof that he actually existed and that reality (including his own) was not somehow dreamed up.

Descartes’s logic held up for a long time from his 1637 realization, but instead of stopping at thinking as a proof for his existence, he went a bit further to posit that thinking was existence. That is, cognition is the root of all being. Theologians and philosophers alike have wrestled with existential questions since the beginning of time and Descartes was no exception. Neither was Jean Paul Sartre.

Almost 300 years after Descartes’s famous utterance, Sartre was struck with a new idea: The consciousness that says “I am” is not the consciousness that thinks. In other words, if we are aware of our thinking, then there is a higher level of consciousness at work to have the awareness of our thinking. If all we are is the sum of our thoughts, then we would not even be aware of our thinking because that is at the core of our being. Yes, this all sounds like a bunch of philosophical mumbo jumbo that comes only from too many pints in an Irish Pub (and who knows, Sartre may not have been far from the French version) but Sartre was on to something: We create “realities” through thoughts and perception, but these realities are not real. There is something much bigger and more mysterious at the core of being – something that is beyond our full comprehension.

When Moses came down from the mountain and saw that the people had made a golden calf to worship, he was fed up. He went to God and and essentially made God make a commitment. If Moses was going to go on with this business of leading the Israelites, he needed some reassurance that God would stay with them and make things go as smoothly as could be. He also requested something very gutsy – he said he wanted God to reveal God’s presence (glory). God agreed to all of these things, but warned Moses that he could not see God’s face because one could not see God’s face and live. So, God put Moses in a safe place and passed by showing Moses only God’s back. How could our human minds possibly contain all the answers of the universe? Every matter of quantum physics that is discoverable but as of yet unknown, how the human mind works, the intricacies of string theory, etc, etc. How could one mind contain all that there is to know? This is why we come to the table with our own areas of expertise to share with those who have other gifts and knowledge.

As we live our lives, we develop opinions and perceptions which tint the way we see the world. As events unfold around us and people speak and act, we look upon these things with a certain self-imposed worldview that informs us about whether these things are good or bad, fair or unfair, just or unjust. We make judgment calls based upon the reality that we have created for ourselves and then juxtapose what we view against or own version of reality. This creates experience and when added together is the summation of our lives. Put another way, not so much unlike Descartes, we live by the philosophy, “I think so, therefore it is.”

Our perceptions are not merely projected on the world, but also on God. When God passed by Moses, he could not comprehend what he was seeing. We like to think that there was a personage like some kind of giant walking past the mountain, but that’s not what it says. When God first “appeared” to Moses in a burning bush, God said “I am who I am.” When Elijah was running from Jezebel, God’s presence passed by (likely the same mountain Moses was on) and although there was a fire, and a whirlwind, and an earthquake, God was not in any of these. There was then a “sound of sheer silence” and that is where God was. We cannot comprehend what God is because we cannot be inside a thought and outside of it at the same time. We are created in the image of God and in many ways we are God and God is us.

This sounds terribly sacrilegious to many, I’m sure, but if we are one in God and God is one in us, then we are completely in God and God is in and beyond us. This is the ancient mystery of transcendence and immanence. God’s presence is everywhere, yet beyond. It appears to me that as humans, we are too focused on the transcendence of God and that’s why instead of the ever-present “I am,” humans made God into the Great and Powerful Oz, the Lord of Hosts and King of Kings who stands above and defeats our enemies. Moses struggled greatly with this because he couldn’t understand why God wasn’t always making life easy if the Egyptians could be defeated so easily. Moses was of course missing the point. God empowers us to do what is needed from within, but it is ultimately up to us to choose to exercise that power.

We do not create reality. We would like to, but our creation usually only leads to suffering because it’s not an accurate reflection of what really is. There is a God at the center of everything that is the essence of all reality. When we want power, understanding, patience, strength, whatever it is, we need only to reach as near as our own soul to find what we need. When we do so, however, we need to be prepared to see the world as it really is. This isn’t an easy thing. Just ask Moses. In the end God is who God will be and I am not much different. Ultimately it is not that “I think, therefore I am”, nor is it “I think so, therefore it is”, instead it is “I am, therefore I am.”

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One Response to “I Am, Therefore I Am”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    Fantastic. Too much to reply adequately off my phone, but this is wonderful. Descartes. Sartre. Borg God We Never Knew mixed in. But most importantly, a whole lot of Brandyn! Thanks for continuing to teach B. JL

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