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Book Review: “How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere”

January 23, 2019

What an incredible book! It deserves an in-depth review to bring out some of its brilliance. Brilliance in the dual sense of light and insight, or enlightenment of mind and spirit.

I can’t think of another book as a parallel to the unique angle of this one, in its structure and in its content. “Anthology of Spiritual Memoirs”, in the subtitle, describes the style/content in general. What that phrase doesn’t capture is the beautiful interweaving of each contributor’s personal story and development over decades with their intellectual and professional perspectives… their experiences in their life events and their thought.

The unifying theme, if we can call it that, might be the discovery of a different kind of God than the contributors started out believing (or disbelieving) in. Professionally, some became theologians or religious leaders; others are educators, scientists or physicians. In broad terms, two key commonalities among the contributors are discovering a gracious and deeply “involved” Presence (of God) in life, and continuing to further seek the presence and meaning of this God. Many were not raised religiously.

Co-editor, Andrew Davis, begins the book with an introduction reflecting on spiritual journeying. Succeeding chapter authors give personal and intellectual autobiographies of their journeys — a rare and fascinating angle on noted people you may know. He also breaks out the often-perplexing word to be repeated frequently: “panentheism”, perhaps most simply defined as “God in all and all in God”.

Davis’ co-editor, Philip Clayton, gives background and definition on the term as well, while telling his personal story as an influential theologian. Both of them emphasize that viewpoints on God such as panentheism are not just intellectual abstractions. Rather, our conceptualization of God affects our spiritual experiences, often considered our “relationship with God” or something similar. And it goes the other direction also… our experiences influence our way of describing or imagining God.

This delightful collection of recollections (and interpretations), as one would expect from leading thinkers, goes beyond “God-and-me” to “God-world relationship”, reflecting the title phrase “in everyone and everywhere”.

With its depth of reflection, I expect the book may circulate and percolate most broadly among religious leaders, students and teachers. It’s a truly wonderful resource for them. But the authors make a point of being accessible to most lay readers or “regular folk” as well. You won’t find much technical language here, and what you will is, as I’ve implied, explained pretty plainly and shared within a “real life” context.

There are 13 contributors, counting Davis, who introduces and concludes the collection… too many to highlight individually. So I’ve selected five representing some, though not all of the range of religious affiliation, profession and gender. I’ll not attempt real summaries, just relate some interesting points.

Renowned biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, who’s explored the intersection of science and the spiritual realm, titles his chapter “Rediscovering God in Nature and Nature in God, via India”. The perspectives and practices of both Hinduism/Buddhism and Islam he encountered and participated in there actually led him back to his Christian roots. (He’d already rejected the strict materialism of most of his teachers and colleagues in the physical sciences but couldn’t embrace a religious affiliation either.) Eventually, Sheldrake melded experiences coming from “religious” practices (and a couple drug-induced states) with the worldview of A.N. Whitehead and later Process thinkers regarding matter-spirit relationship to develop a view of a relational (and panentheistic) God explained better as “process” than as “substance” (or unchangeable). For me, and I’d imagine for many with particular interest in science as well as spirit, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  

Ilia Delio, professor of theology at Villanova University, writes “The Entangled God of My Heart” for the anthology. She began her career as a neuroscientist studying nerve cell dynamics under an electron microscope. Raised Catholic, through higher education and work she’d “developed two brains: a science brain and a religious brain. Science meant serious study, thought, inquiry, and examination while religion evoked wonder, awe, mystery, and order.” It was encountering Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain” which led her abruptly into a Carmelite monastic life for four years. Then the Franciscan Order afforded her opportunity to study theology at Fordham University. She was surprised to soon learn that “theology was not a matter of feeling or devotion but a science in its own right with methods of inquiry, logical reasoning, structured arguments, and insightful conclusions.” This “… scientific nature of theology converted me from a bicameral mind of science or religion to an integrative mind of science and religion.”

More specific than Delio’s conversion to a science-religion integrative approach was her adoption of the God-concept of Catholic paleontologist and theologian, Teilhard de Chardin. “Indeed, the beauty of Teilhard’s God rests on the dynamism of love. The name ‘God’ reflects the incomprehensible wellspring of love at the heart of an expanding universe”. She says Teilhard described “… love not as a dissipating energy but as energy building up in the universe, manifested in increased consciousness…”. (Teilhard, deceased since 1955, is considered to have described God and reality in a “process” or panentheist way very akin to that of Whitehead and his succeeding developers such as John B. Cobb, Jr., next to be highlighted.) Again, whether one is Catholic, Protestant or neither, this chapter is a delight.

John Cobb just cannot be skipped over. If one has almost any awareness of Christian panentheism, Process theology… or just general theology of the last few decades, such a person has probably encountered the work and stellar reputation of Cobb, professor emeritus at Claremont School of Theology. (Full disclosure: I took a course partially taught by him at his “youthful” age of nearly 70, in the early 1990s, at Claremont…. He still does organizing and speaking. It’s great he was able to contribute to this volume. I loved the chapter, plus learned new, interesting facts about his life, the impact on him of Charles Hartshorne [process philosopher], etc.). However, due to length constraints I will leave my highlight of Cobb here with his chapter title: “God is Compassion and Agape” (Agape, for the unfamiliar, is Greek for the self-giving form of love.)

For me, the most startling chapter in the book was that by Loriliai Biernacki, “Panentheism and Technology: The Immanence of Rage”. Biernacki is professor in Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In her article, she’s touched on an interpretation of the divine in even the matter and emotions of our body-souls that I’d not thought through. Her main illustration is the phenomenon of rage, from road rage onward. Based on her idea of the divine becoming “immanent in matter” she says, “We might say that what is special about panentheism for our times is that it offers a grounded spirituality”. In a similar way to Sheldrake, she points out that only the term, not the concept of panentheism is relatively recent, citing Medieval Indian sources.

Having primed the pump by noting our problem of becoming more and more “embedded in technological alter-selves–in Twitter feeds and Facebook”, she shares an insight about the “rage of fundamentalist religion”. She suggests it may be “… a plea to call back a way of being that remembers embodiment in a greater scheme of life. And in this, religious ideas, even religious dogmas, call forth this older sense of what it means to be in a human body. There is a security, a stability in the old hierarchies that religion offered.” She notes that panentheism provides good balance of immanence (including embodiment, and practices of mystics, charismatics, etc.) and transcendence (emphasized about God in orthodox theism).

Wishing I could highlight every chapter, I’ll end with the one by Marjorie Suchocki. She spent the last phase of her employment at Claremont School of Theology in various roles and is the author of many articles and books. Like many in the general mode of process philosophy and theology, she began her spiritual journey in childhood to young adulthood in Evangelicalism. The issue of predestination and how the presence of God is handled were part of her migration to “process” and panentheism, where she found a comfortable “home base” without ever losing her sense of the intimate presence of God. Just a snippet of the many jewels in her piece: “I had so often experienced an unanticipated infusion of a sense of God’s presence, and always this presence was, at the same time, a sense of irreducible love. God was certain; my thinking about God was inadequate to that sense of presence. Theology is provisional; God is not. Searching for a more adequate way to understand my experience of God and the world, I encountered Whitehead…”.

Another quote from Suchocki brings out the prominence of relationship and of interconnection in the process perspective: After explaining how the influence of God toward one’s good is taken in as an “internal presence”, she states, “This presence of God, therefore is the basis of God’s knowledge: God knows all things relationally. It is also the source of divine power, and again, it is relational power, and empowering power.”

Beyond the theological musings, so core to her life and career (begun relatively late, incidentally, after re-locations and having children interrupted her education), you will read a fascinating and well-crafted spiritual life story that nearly everyone can relate to. Don’t miss it!

I will name the additional contributors, as most readers will recognize at least some of them. If you know about them, you will see the range of backgrounds and belief systems they represent, while all share some crucial perspectives on God and spiritual life. They are Deepak Chopra, Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, Cynthia Bourgeault, Keith Ward and Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson.

I really can’t “over-hype” this book. It’s one you can and should
work through in several sittings, and come back to, with reflection. If you’ve read it already or do so yet, please add your reactions in the comments section. I’d love to hear them, and I’m sure the co-editors (or contributors) would as well!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2019 1:31 pm

    Great review! I’ll have to get this, will check our library system.  Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

    • January 25, 2019 11:49 am

      Thanks. And please comment later if you read even parts of it (one valid way to approach it).

  2. hoju1959 permalink
    January 23, 2019 3:34 pm

    Howard, I will buy the book. I’ve been looking for a good primer on panentheism. You can tell it’s a new idea because spellcheck doesn’t recognize it!

    • January 25, 2019 11:47 am

      Great. I think you’ll enjoy it. I don’t think of it as a “primer” in the typical sense, but I guess it may serve as such, and in a real “human interest” way. (The personal story aspect keeps it from being dry or overly dense.) Maybe as much an interfaith book, in another sense. I hope you’ll return and comment again after reading it.

  3. January 23, 2019 8:42 pm

    I have recently heard about this, Process Theology/Thought and Panentheism. Initially I was not too familiar with it — thought they were trying to say pantheism 😛 — so puzzled when corrected 2-3 times, I apologized, kept silent and listened. Smart, huh? Since then, several months ago, I’ve looked in to it, read some about it, and will continue doing so as time permits. So far, I have these two thoughts:

    Pros —

    It accepts and embraces diversity/pluralism as modern microbiological and human Genetics/DNA on our planet continue to advance and demonstrate. I find this acceptance progressive, quite mature, open-minded, and courageous for any “God-believers” in this day and age of heightened (radicalized?) extremeism and intolerance. It certainly offers some positive common ground to work on/with for secularists, humanists (like myself), and atheists. I like that!

    Cons —

    I am having difficulty reconciling their need for an ultimate/final cause or Mover/Mediater for the operation of our organic-mineral-elemental world and its living inhabitants when an extensive Naturalistic understanding is adequate, and as Quantum Physics/Mechanics and Astrophysics/Cosmology continue to advance both are sufficient so far for basic understandings and theories.

    So Howard… I guess I’ll just keep being curious, keep reading, watching, and listening while keeping a patient open-mind about Process Theology/Thought and Panentheism. LOL 😄

    Hope you are well my friend. Warm regards!

    • January 25, 2019 11:11 am

      Thanks, Professor. If you’ve not read this book, I think you’ll find at least some of the chapters appealing and interesting. While the authors are not seeking to be persuasive, generally, you may find them making a case for another, untypical, approach to making sense of the “personal” or “mind/soul” that I don’t find via pure “naturalism” or “materialism”. That is “another” than traditional theism or “matter only” philosophy.

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