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Seeing God upside down

Many people, I am convinced, have a wrong idea of God. They speak of him as if he were the big Outsider. They fear him as if he were an opponent. They think of him as a force external to themselves. They do not realize that God is inside themselves, that they can find him or her within.

In 1973, when I was still lecturing at Hyderabad in India, I saw a Telegu film entitled Adiparãshakti, "the original divine energy". The film was not a great piece of art. It was a mythological production, pathetic, if not hilarious in some scenes. Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, the three principal gods, were having a row with their wives, the goddesses Parvathy, Lakshmi and Saraswathy. Tempers ran high. Abuse was hurled at all and sundry. Heaven shuddered at the mutual threats uttered by the male and female divinities. Then the goddesses walked out; and appealed to the origin of all divinity, to Adiparãshakti, the original divine energy - who turned out to be female herself! Predictably she took the side of her sex. Adi withdrew divine power from the male gods. It reduced them to a laughable state of helplessness. As usual, woman power won.

I recall this film because it occasioned in me a new way of thinking about God. I have never been greatly impressed by the Hindu pantheon of gods, and I found the petty divine quarrelling depicted in the film as ridiculous a spectacle as I have ever watched. Yet there was something deep that got hold of me. It struck me that divine energy can come from within as well as from without. I had been vaguely aware of it, of course, through previous reading, but the implications of this insight all of a sudden overwhelmed me. I realized that I was turning God inside out. It fascinated me and frightened me. Various lines of enquiry I had pursued seemed to meet in one point. Suspicions and vague ideas began to fall into place. In short, something was happening to me that would make a great difference to my way of experiencing God.

Many years have passed since then and I have had plenty of time to grow, mature and be confirmed in my new approach to God. In this book I will attempt to share my findings. I hope that others may be helped the way I was. My message will be simple: Try to find God within you. He is closer to you and deeper in you than your conscious self.

It may be good if from the beginning I declare some of my principles. I am a convinced Christian, in fact a Roman Catholic priest. But I do not for a moment on that account reject the validity of other religious traditions. On the contrary, I greatly esteem all the major contributions to religious human experience. From my early student days I collected and avidly read the great classics of all ages: the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, the Dammapada, the Koran; and the writings of innumerable thinkers and mystics. I have never considered them alien to myself. For me they constitute a spiritual ancestry for the whole of humankind. These ancient writings are all part of a wider "Old Testament". They are the precious foundation on which my present belief rests.

I am also firmly convinced that the scientific method has brought untold benefit to our world. I am full of admiration for the achievements of technology, medicine, nuclear physics and microbiology. I am spellbound when reading reports on astronomy, archaeology or any other science. I have no doubt at all regarding evolution; I cringe when I hear people defend creationism in the name of religion. Truth is more fundamental to me than any preconceived religious notion.

When I say that we have to find God within, I do not for a moment mean that we ourselves are God, in some kind of pantheistic sense. God is Infinite, Absolute; beyond the limits of space and time. He (or she) is also the profoundest mystery that exists; incomprehensible because his (or her) reality transcends human words and images. To put ourselves on a par with this Source of all reality (by claiming we are God) would constitute the height of folly. But I do maintain that we are closer to this Source than most people are aware of. And we reach him (or her) most easily when we travel inwards.

Historical research has shown that there are two distinct and contrary patterns of religious experience. In so-called prophetic religious experience the way to God comes through a word of revelation. God is encountered as a Person who speaks and acts. He is the Other, the Thou, the one who faces us as a caring Father. In centring religious experience God is discovered in oneself. The way to God leads through images and symbols to forms of mystical participation. God meets us as the principle of ultimate unity, as our deepest Self, as the Mother. In Christianity itself both patterns have been present. Through the course of the centuries either the one or the other has been predominant in people's spirituality. (1) I believe that for myself and, perhaps, many others like me, the inward approach is most helpful and liberating.

I am confirmed in this view by a recent study on God in Europe. (2) It shows that a majority believe in God (seventy five per cent) though many feel ill at ease with traditional terminology about God. Only half of those who believe in God see him as a Person. The other half prefer to call him a Supreme Being, a Spirit, a Life Force. This does not necessarily imply a watering down of belief in God as some commentators contend. Rather, says Dr J. Kerkhofs the author of the study, we may be witnessing in Europe a shift from a more transcendent concept of divinity (God above us) to a more immanent one (God within us). This I believe, is exactly what is happening, and through this book I want to validate and encourage this inward search.

It is not always a good idea to announce items on the menu before they are served up. Readers generally like to be kept in suspense as they turn from one chapter to the next — even if the book is not an adventure story or a who-dun-it. So I am not going to give away secrets or spoil surprises. I hope you will find it as exciting to read my ramblings as I found it to write them — which, I suppose, is a tall order.

I must warn you that not all sections of the book play the same role. In fact, they may be compared to different rooms in my house. Parts one and two (on God as Creator and Judge) are for every-day living; they represent my bedroom and my sitting room. Part three (on God's being trapped in human thought) is more academic. It finds its equivalent in my study, with its bookshelves and encyclopedias. Some readers may find the going tough here — and will skip the pleasure of sharing my skirmishes with learned philosophers. Part four (on God as Lover) corresponds to my prayer room. I realize that few people nowadays have prayer rooms in their homes. I have. I invite you to enter my sanctuary and exchange religious experiences as we sit crosslegged on the floor. I conclude every part with a "Way In" chapter with practical and down-to-earth suggestions. Look on them as windows that let in fresh air and afford views in various directions.

Talking about my way with God is very much like allowing strangers to invade my personal living space; an embarrassing thought when I look around me: crumbs on my carpet, piles of unwashed dishes in my sink, files and papers littering every available tabletop. The last thing I would want to do is to present my house as a model for the Ideal Home Exhibition! Even less should I presume to offer my experience of God as exemplary or unique.

It is precisely the accessibility and simplicity of my discovery that makes my message cogent, I feel. If my living space, common to a fault, could be so transformed by my new awareness of God, the same expenence lies within reach of all.

John Wijngaards


1. J. Hessen, Platonismus und Prophetismus, Munich 1939; K.A.H. Hidding, De Evolutie van het godsdienstig Bewustzijn, Utrecht 1965.

2. J. Kerkhofs, God in Europe, Pro Mundi Vita, Brussels 1987.

Note that when referring to God as He, we do not wish to imply any gender to God, but for the sake of convenience we have used the masculing gender only.

Next? Go to:

Grandfather's Clock and Cosmic Alarm

The Way in to GOD

Creator in us

Inner Judge

Beyond thought



This course is based upon the book God Within Us by John Wijngaards and published by Collins, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1988..

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