The Names of God

In reading Henry Corbin’s book, Alone with the Alone, I am being introduced to Sufism in the writings of Ibn Arabi. I can feel its influence seeping into the layers of my being, radiating with joy for yet one more way to understand the nature of myself and the Cosmos. Tom Cheetham says in a lecture on Corbin, that his work is dense (and it is), but to just keep reading because even bit by bit an understanding of the work will appear. The book is probably too dense for me to write about, for the time being anyway, but…

I found a fairly brief, yet very concise article on Ibn Arabi and wanted to share a few quotes with you:

“What we experience of the One Being, which is Absolutely Real in Itself, are the various modalities of It’s expression. In other words, there is only One Presence throughout the Cosmos and that is God, The Absolute, but this Presence makes Itself known to us in different ways, which are called the Names of God.”

Can you see the world as God’s mirror and that God’s pathos (here meaning a sadness, or burning desire to be known) necessitates a creation into an infinite array of parts, the Names of God, whose purpose is for God to know God through the repetition of physical manifestation? I think I can.

File:Night Sky Stars Trees 03.jpg
Courtesy WikiCommons

Years ago, I experienced one of those magical moments that comes while staring out into the starry night. I wondered if it might be that God had created us to know Himself. Heresy to some, I suppose.

Ibn Arabi saw the cosmos as emanating from and filtering down from God through very distinct modes of being. From the indivisible Whole that God is, through intermediaries; the angelic beings can be experienced by us here in the physical manifestation through visionary states experienced through the practice of prayer.

It would take some time to delve deeper here, but this is not as some suggest, a simple pantheism, but is a way to understand, or perhaps as Sufis do, experience the modes of being emanating down from the Undivided Wholeness of God into the physical manifestation that we inhabit. The cosmos is expressed at four levels or modes of being, the highest level being God who is all levels at once; an undivided whole that we can never completely reach from the level of physical manifestation that we experience. Leveling up from the physical manifestation are angelic beings which are both our guides and a truer more purer form of ourselves whom we meet through the imagination and the heart. Our relationship to these angelic beings reveals to us deeper and deeper meanings of what we experience in the physical world always pointing us to modes of being beyond themselves, and ultimately to the ever mysterious beauty and love of the undivided wholeness of God.

For me, the different ways we humans have found to understand the world, speak to an intuition of mine that ultimately there is a unified whole that each of us not only participates in, but can directly experience for ourselves. The more directly we can experience this wholeness, for ourselves, in spite of seemingly irreconcilably conflicted religious and spiritual practices, or cultural differences, the more likely we are to move away from literalizing these differences into claims of unquestionable dogmas and truths, choosing instead to participate more fully in the embodied life we all share.

The article is really good and will do a much better job than I at presenting an amazing vision of the nature of the cosmos.

File:Ibn Arabi with students.jpg“For Ibn al-`Arabi, this fana and baqa, this death and resurrection, is endless. It never ends, because the Sufi must give himself up every single moment, which is the true meaning of Islam, surrender to God. It is state of perpetual bewilderment or perplexity, because the Sufi surrenders everything known about himself and the world, so to awaken to the reality as it reveals itself in this unique moment. It is a continual loss and re-discovery of identity. This parallels Ibn al-`Arabi’s view that the universe is annihilated and re-created every moment in time. Man does not become God, nor does God come into man, but man realizes God immanent, or God reveals His Immanence through man. There is no coming or going to, because there has never been a separation. This is why Ibn al-`Arabi speaks of the unveiling of God and the awakening of man.”

And he also wrote wonderful poems:

A garden among the flames

O Marvel,
a garden among the flames!

My heart can take on
any form:
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks,

For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka’ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the scrolls of the Qur’án.

I profess the religion of love;
wherever its caravan turns along the way,
that is the belief,
the faith I keep.

16 thoughts on “The Names of God

  1. Don

    Beautiful post Debra. I must say I also struggle with words like “levels” or coming “down” etc. For me they do convey a sense of separation, but that’s just me. I think the great sadness is the way the “names” of God have been literalized and dogmatized leading to a fragmentation which is the very antithesis to the nature of the Divine.


    1. Hi Don,
      Yes, I agree. What I find interesting in Sufism is the insistence that the experience of God comes through a relationship with one’s Angel, through a practice similar to Active Imagination.

      Corbin insists that the angel is an icon, with a dynamic aspect, rather than an idol as Christ has become through the dogma of Christianity.

      Corbin assumes that our means of knowing and experiencing is imaginal in nature. So, yes, the organization and structuring of religious practice takes it out one’s personal hands, giving it over to an authority other than one’s experience.

      Thanks you Don!


  2. I love the phrase “modes of being”, and I wish to join with you in your heresy. The phrase makes me think of shimmering ribbons of consciousness that flow in to, out of, and through one another. It is a beautiful image in my mind.

    Sometimes I think there is distortion of this intermingled reality concealed in the idea of Levels, resulting in the insistence that God is somehow separate from us, somewhere “out there”, or the “highest level”. I think if we admit the modes of being are all “of the essence of God”, or made of the same essential quality of God, not outside of, but in relationship with, not all of, but integral with and inseparable from, we start to glimpse the wonder of what it means to be human… This quote you gave summed it up beautifully:

    “Man does not become God, nor does God come into man, but man realizes God immanent, or God reveals His Immanence through man. There is no coming or going to, because there has never been a separation.”



    1. Yes, again Michael, you’re spot on!

      Corbin says, “The Godhead is in mankind as an image is in the mirror.” Quite lovely…

      It is quite fascinating that when an image or thought seems to work that not only does one feel the rightness of it, but that one is not alone with feeling. That speaks to some underlying truth, or at least a shared experience of what is beyond language.

      You may have a different take on how you know what you know, and a perspective that brings with it some scientific understanding. If you have any posts that you cold point me to on your blog, feel free to let me know.

      It fascinates me to find common understanding between us, not because I doubt my own experience and understanding, but because what we’re finding is the understanding as expressed in language, which is very difficult, yes?



      1. Hi Debra,

        Your thought about how we know what we know is timely, since I’ve been thinking lately about writing something describing how it took both my heart and my mind to make any real progress on this “path” we call Life. This post below is perhaps the closest:

        Your fascination is mutual. I think our ability to see past the clunky renditions of language is probably because there really is a common underlying experience, a reality in which we share, and because we are confident enough in our own perspective on this reality to entertain other vantage points. Rather than deny them, or push them away, we explore them for commonality, and find it… It is a rare thing. It is not based on a desire that another endorse your own view, but on the joy that comes from discovering new ways to see they already do.

        Thank you so much for the thoughts and dialogue. It nourishes me.



      2. Yes, again, I could not have said it better.

        And, there is some universal about the experience that at the same time is very personal, and must be.

        You’re welcome and I, too am nourished! Thank you for the link…going to read the post now.



  3. “The cosmos is expressed at four levels or modes of being, the highest level being God who is all levels at once; an undivided whole that we can never completely reach from the level of physical manifestation that we experience …”

    – a fascinating statement, being in tune with the Four Worlds … or veils, even! … of Kabbalah/the Tree of Life/Jacobs Ladder. The Sufis and the esoteric Jewish community were very much in tune in the Middle Ages, and still incline together. The Islamic philosophers cross fertilized their alchemy and sacred geometry with the Jewish mystics.

    The ‘four’ prevails everywhere in all traditions … in Egypt the four sides of the pyramid converge to their apex, the All seeing.


    1. Hi Jane,
      Yes, it’s amazing stuff and you’re so right, there are many correspondences between a variety of esoteric communities. That is what I find really exciting!


  4. The one thing I do know for certain is that I am the created and it is God alone who is the Creator—and that is something I marvel over each and every day— as it humbles me knowing that my very being is something He would desire–Now what it is that I do with this life I’ve been given is entirely up to me–which can leave Him joyful or sad–but the choice remains mine. . .


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