Wednesday, 6 November 2013

I Am Therefore What?

For Descartes, the very fact that I am thinking – or that I can doubt that I am thinking – is proof of my existence, and for Augustine, too, fallor, sum ("If I am mistaken, I am") (XI, 26). But the relationship between consciousness (thought) and being (existence) goes much deeper, as we read in the Book of Exodus, when Moses is told that God’s proper name is “I AM”. “This is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). This sacred name of God then echoes throughout the Old Testament (YHVH) and the New (ego eimi). In John 8:58, Jesus tells the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am.”

The Name is sacred and unpronounceable because it is a name that only God himself can utter, since he is the Self in question. Anyone who is not the “I” to which the Name refers is usurping the Name. And so the Name is not merely a label attached to one person by another, but an expression of who God is. It is the self-expression of God, the beginning of the revelation that becomes
complete in Jesus Christ, when the self of God is united with the soul and body of a human being, expressing itself not just in human language, but as a human being.

“The Name is purgatorial fire for those who are being purified. It is uncreated light to those who are being illumined. It is uncreated glory for those who are being glorified.” This is from p. 89 of Wisdom Songs by Priest-Monk Silouan, who writes about the secrets of the Name better than anyone else I know. “‘I AM’ is that centre in which all centres coincide” (p. 258). The Name is our eternal home, waiting for us; it is the city of light, the womb we seek, the peace we lost long ago.

“When God speaks, he is his Word. His Word names the Name, ‘I AM.’ The eternal, uncreated ‘I AM,’ when unconfused with me, is God. Wisdom knows ‘I AM’ through ‘I AM,’ not me” (p. 243). “God is ‘I AM,’ not me” (p. 253). As another writer puts it, "the Subject of subjectivity is God, the I AM of existence as such."

This Wisdom is the key to an enlightenment that transcends the “neo-pagan humanist renaissance,” the “new age,” and any reduction of Logos to Ratio (p. 240). It is the key to understanding insights that remain perennially valid within the Asian traditions, where Atman is identified with Brahman. It is not that the human self is the divine Self, but rather that the divine Self (I AM) is the only perfect being, and is reflected in all else that is. We are not God, but God is the centre of all, so when we turn to our own centre we find, not ourselves, but God. The centre of not-God is God. I exist because a centre exists in everything. Nothing exists without a centre.

Everything that exists does so by virtue of the Name (I AM) in which it participates, the act of Being in which it shares. “Everything above and below is saying I AM, glory loved and known. Everything is a divine name saying ‘I AM,’ and divine names are modes of love unfolding from God to give God glory, enfolding all in all. The beauty is the harmony, unfolding and enfolded” (p. 281).

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him (1 John 4:16). To love is to give, to share, to participate, to coinhere. The Name of God, “He who is,” is the same as “I AM,” because to BE is to be MYSELF, and the act of being is the act of affirming my own existence, which only God can do. I cannot affirm my own existence, because I am dependent on others. God can. 

Being is Light, because “Light” is a physical symbol of the giving of self so as to share it with others, to reveal it, to manifest its essence. There is no separation in God between “I” and “AM,” for both are one single shaft of light in the midst, in the centre of all. To be is to be “I.” It is to be who-one-is – and who is God but to-be, the perfect act of being, which is the act of giving, light from light, true God from true God. 

“We are graced with freedom in these flames. Radiant communion, unconsumed, consumes dark confusion. The flame of the Name reveals God in a burning bush” (p. 293). 


  1. How would you respond to those who say the Name simply means, like Buber and Sarna suggest, "I am with you"? I have seen arguments both ways.


  2. I would say that it means that, but not ONLY that. The Catechism (213) says, for example: 'The revelation of the ineffable name "I AM WHO AM" contains then the truth that God alone IS. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and following it the Church's Tradition, understood the divine name in this sense: God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from him; but he alone is his very being, and he is of himself everything that he is.'