For years now, a series of 3 lines, three voices as if spoken by three actors on a stage, have echoed in my ears:

-         What does it mean to believe in God?

-         What does it mean to mean?

-         What is the meaning of wanting to know what the meaning of meaning means?

 One of the founders of the Protestant Reformation, the great reformer John Calvin, makes it clear in his weighty Institutes of the Christian Religion, that no one really knows God, that, as he said, anything that anyone believes he or she believes about God is “an insipid fiction.”

 Too many people use the word carelessly, sincerely perhaps, but as if they actually knew what it meant, or what “meaning” means, or anything at all for that matter. We don’t. Ah, yes, we think we do. After all, even claiming that no one knows anything is itself a claim to believe.

 But follow any belief back to its origins in consciousness and ultimately you will enter a fog bank at the other end of which is a cliff. Or perhaps an island makes a better metaphor. You will come whichever way you walk to a beach and beyond it only the ocean. “Our cockle shell,” said the old Puritan minister Thomas Hooker, “can never comprehend God’s sea.”

 We are snails in a tidal pool. We think that what we know is what there is to know, and we are proud to know it.


 We do not even know what it means to “mean” something.

 Let us the begin there, that the word  stands for what is beyond our comprehension not for something we can claim to know. What is the ultimate reality of our existence? We do not know? What is our fate? We do not know. What is this consciousness that is aware?

 Wrote Emily Dickinson:

 This consciousness that is aware

Of neighbors and the Sun

Will be the one aware of death

And that itself alone


Is traversing the interval

Experience between

And most profound experiment

Appointed unto Men –


How adequate unto itself

Its properties shall be

Itself unto itself and none

Shall make discovery


Adventure most unto itself

The Soul condemned to be –

Attended by a single hound

Its own identity.


The snail in the tidal pool knows its own self and that is all , and the snail sees the world as but a larger reflection of its own reality, a bigger tidal pool. So each of us  have a single hound, our own identity, and when we think we see reality, it is ourselves reflected back upon ourselves we really see, but an insipid fiction.

 If we could escape from that damned dog perhaps we could see beyond our tidal pools.

But we cannot, and we delude ourselves when we claim we can. The Puritans spoke of Satan as “the old deluder.” As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”