X=? Rev Ted Hicks, Sept 19th



As we gather, we acknowledge with respect the history, spirituality, and culture of the K’omoks First Nation and the Coast Salish peoples on whose traditional and unceded territory we meet.  We also honour the heritage of all indigenous peoples as we recognize the need to seek a new relationship between the descendants of settlers and of those who were here before colonization.  As a congregation of The United Church of Canada, we take responsibility both for past injustices and the need for healing and reconciliation.  We love and honour this land upon which we meet and live and all whose footfall has trod and will tread upon it.




Psalm 1, Together

Verses selected and freely adapted from “Psalms Now”: Leslie F Brandt, Concordia Press, 1973

Those who choose to seek an authentic life

are sensitive to the Mystery that is the source of life.

Such ones will not be conformed to the crowd

or give vent to their prejudices

or dote on the failures of others.

Their ultimate concern is living into the flow of Mystery.

They seek to make their daily decisions from that perspective.

They can be compared to a sturdy tree

planted in rich and moist soil:

as the tree yields fruit,

so their lives nourish others.

Their lives are productive and make a difference.

Seeking after the One who is beyond naming,

they discover their own truest identity.

SONG: “Lord of the Starfields” – Bruce Cockburn 


Lord of the Starfields
Ancient of Days
Universe Maker
Here’s a song in your praise

Wings of the Storm Cloud
Beginning and End
You make my heart leap
Like a banner in the wind

Oh, love that fires the sun
Keep me burning (x2)

Lord of the Starfields
Sower of Life
Heaven and earth are
Full of your light

Voice of the Nova
Smile of the Dew
All of our yearning
Only comes home to you

Oh, love that fires the sun
Keep me burning (x3)


Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, the one who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is God served by human hands, as though God needed anything, since God alone gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and God allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for God and find God—though indeed God is not far from each one of us. For ‘In God we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are God’s offspring.’

Hear and consider what the Spirit is saying to the Church and to the whole created order:  

Thanks be to God.





As I wend my way through retirement during this last quarter of my life, I find myself trying to gather my thoughts into some semblance of order.  Consciously and intentionally, god-stuff has been the focus of most of the 2nd and 3rd quarters of my life so that, now, I feel some need to step back and describe what my life has made of such an exalted preoccupation.  Maybe I am engaging in such an exercise for myself; maybe for my children and grandchildren after me; maybe for you and anyone else who might have entrusted at least some of your nurturing to me.

For me, ‘god’ – or words like it in other languages and cultures – is a word that means everything and nothing.  It strikes me it is like an “x” in a mathematical formula, standing in for something unknown yet worthy of our effort to try to work out its actual significance and value.  As a word signifying everything, god is a word that stands for whatever is ultimate and significant beyond anything else we can imagine, unless it turns out to be a nonsense word created by human neediness and delusion. As a word that means nothing, if it does have meaning, it is a mere cypher until meaning is poured into it.  As I do my own pouring, I do so with some sense of the arrogance of such an effort, since I acknowledge that for any human to dare to think it can pose as an expert about something so ultimate is an act of conceit.  So, I do so with as much humility as I can muster, tossing my words into the well so many others have already tossed theirs. And I do so also with great respect for how each of you and others around the world and throughout history have poured their own meaning into this word.

As our scripture reading today suggests, I think it is pretty natural for humans to have created a word like god and to have tried to invest meaning into it.  Very blood and guts feelings like fear and loneliness and anxiety, I think, lead us to search for something in which to put our trust, to turn to for comfort, with which to take on the adventures and challenges and risks of living (and dying) with some sense that it is worth it and even safe to do so; that this mysterious universe we live in – or just our own neighbourhood – is on balance a caring rather than a hostile place.  And if our particular circumstances are momentarily or chronically hellish, that it is worth our effort to fight against the forces that make it so, to take care of each other as we do, or even to pull up stakes and flee to somewhere else if we can that promises to be better.  Other human capacities like intelligence and curiosity and imagination lead us to wonder if there is something beyond the tangible and obvious that gives it all meaning, that is the source and destiny and sustaining energy of the vast universe we live in and the particular life we lead. So, in common usage, god is just a neutral word that, like x, stands in for all of that while we try to decide if it is just a nonsense word after all or if it is a word that can hold meaning that is significant and authentic.

Now I know that the word god – whether it turns out to be a nonsense word or a profound word – is a word that has collected a lot of baggage along the way.  On the one hand, some people are so invested in the way they understand and relate to the word that they will fight like hell if someone tries to talk about that word in another way than theirs.  On the other hand, some of the uses of the word and the actions of the institutions and its people that have grown up around the word have led many to find the word god abhorrent.  Consequently, many of us in pews or behind pulpits have strained to avoid the word altogether and use other words instead; words like mystery, source, creator, divine, presence, love, and so on, usually with a capital letter when writing one of those words or imagining a capital in speaking one of those words out loud – anything to try to avoid people heading straight for all their stereotypes and gut reactions when they hear the basic word god, capitalized or not.  Such straining after new language is an attempt both to avoid the negative baggage the word has collected and to startle those with clichéd understandings into being open to any reality behind the word in a new and more inviting light.

What comes to my mind and heart when I think or speak the word in this, the 4th quarter of my life? (I wonder if there might be OT yet to come, sudden death or not!)  To my knowledge, my first awareness of the word ‘god’ was likely a swear word I heard here and there around me growing up, though my one grandmother used the word in a particularly reverent way.  Certainly when I was still young but old enough to read, I would swim on a beach where one end was defined by a large bluff called locally, “Gospel Rock”.  It had that name because some well-meaning person had once painted the words “God Is” on its rock face for passing boaters to think about on their way by to other places.  My sister, who was 9 years older than I am, remembered how it had originally said, “God is Love” but that the word love had faded away over the years.  Maybe so – and I probably agree with those three words at this stage of my life – but in a way that little two-word phrase, God Is, just may be the most profound sentence and complete thought our language can muster.

Whatever subconscious impact Gospel Rock was leaving on me, probably in those earlier quarters in my life – maybe even in the 1st quarter when I hardly ever thought of the word at all but was still absorbing its pervasive cultural  usage – I started with a more commonplace image and understanding of the word, characterizations like these:  

  • a superhuman or supernatural being of some sort; 
  • male likely; 
  • powerful, demanding, judgemental, needing to be pleased and placated; 
  • existing in another realm somewhere beyond time and space but looking in or down on this realm; 
  • loving maybe but pretty stern about it; 
  • my god the only real one and any others the fantasies of the unfortunately naïve or perversely misguided; 
  • still the one thing above all which is worthy of reverence and commitment…. 

That sort of thing (feel free to add your own words or phrases or images to my list). 

Now being one of the earliest baby boomers, coming of age in the 60’s, I was quite susceptible to what was blowing in the wind in those days, challenging the past and trying to invent a new future for society at large. Though I was born and bred in convention, I was adopted by rebellion and radicalism so that, as I ventured onto an intentional spiritual path and even felt called into the vocation of Christian ministry, I had one leg in each camp – and, boy, that was painful sometimes!  But it did mean that, as I tried to be responsible to those who had nurtured me and entrusted me with ordination, I also understood that part of my responsibility was to push the envelope and help the church as an institution and the people within it to sing a new song.  It took me a while to do that in a way that was more inviting than offensive, a balance I am still trying to find and maintain.  I am very grateful for those who hung in with me when I was more offensive than inviting.  And I am particularly grateful that, along the way, I found – or was found by – teachers and mentors and authors and communities that both broadened my outlook and taught me better communication skills.

(G)od?  Hmmm? Can you hear the splash as I toss my words into the artesian well surfacing in time from an underground stream flowing from and into forever?  For me, the word itself, despite its baggage, still remains usefully neutral, waiting to be invested with our attempts at meaning.

Somewhere in the transition from quarters 3 to 4 in my life, god ceased to be for me a being of some sort, existing separate from this world in a realm of its own but holding sway over this one – and certainly not a being imagined with various human characteristics writ however large.  For me, whatever god actually is or isn’t, god is more like a presence and energy inherent in all things – the very stuff out of which the wave that is this present universe is made and which gave it its initial impulse, remains its sustaining vitality, and will be its culminating destiny.  An energy, yes, but somehow still knowing and personal and responsive.  Not an impersonal energy, like gravity, for example; something, instead, more like consciousness, awareness, intention, sensitivity inhabiting all things and giving them each their own unique vitality and character.  Certain words resonate particularly for me when I try to name some of those energies; words like imagination and intelligence and creativity and harmony and pattern and coherence and patience and steadfastness and love – above all love, the one word which I am almost compelled to write with a capital letter.  I know some of those words sound a lot like human characteristics projected onto god but, as I use them, I see the lines moving in the other direction: that these are god-like characteristics that energize humans and likely other species as well, if we could just experience from the inside what it is like to be mother earth and brother sun and sister moon and cousins leaf and fur.  

Splash!  The messier the dive, the louder the splash.  Almost a whole life completed and that is the best I can do?  So few words for so exalted a subject!  So be it, I guess.  Please, take what you need and leave the rest.  Know that being ordained does not make my thoughts and my words any more important or trustworthy than yours or those from your own favored teachers; so, as they say, take my words with a grain of salt, smile fondly at my foolishness, and hold tightly to words that mean more to you.  If my words need some further expansion, maybe your questions will help but know in advance that I may not have very ready answers.

I know, too, there are other words that might need some retrospective attention, perhaps words like christ and evil and suffering and worship and redemption and justice and church and others you might wonder about.  And maybe I will get to those words someday before my days run out.  But, for me, the transition from quarters 1 to 2 was all about whether my life was to be  based on god or not and that one remains the foundational question upon which all the other questions, answers, explorations, and convictions have since arisen.  It is THE question for me.  Finally, capital letters in the middle of a sentence.

And know this: that  when I think of god and all the questions and struggles I have had along the way with the word, beyond the word itself, every thought of god still makes my heart swell with breathtaking longing and awe and gratitude and wonder and devotion.   Not just as an existential question but as an experienced reality, god is the foundation of my life.

For Further Reflection

  • What thoughts, feelings, ideas, reactions are triggered for you by the word ‘god’?
  • What have been some milestone moments in your life’s journey that have made god more – or less – real and attractive for you?
  • What words, names, images … are meaningful for you to evoke what is most elemental and ultimately significant in your life and in all life?


You are invited to use the quiet to reflect on the readings and ideas shared today, to light a candle or place a stone or shell as an expression of your intention or prayer, and/or to place an offering in the basket.  If you get up to move about, please maintain safe physical distancing.  And if you have a thought to share, please feel free to offer it aloud.



colour beyond any hue yet distinguished

music beyond any melody yet played

fragrance beyond any perfume yet inhaled

flavour beyond any delicacy yet savoured

touch beyond any ecstasy yet shared

reality beyond any name yet coined

god is


Hymn: VU#268 “Bring Many Names” 


Bring many names, beautiful and good;
celebrate in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God:
hail and hosanna, bring many names.

Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
hail and hosanna, strong mother God!

Warm father God, hugging ev’ry child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:
hail and hosanna, warm father God!

Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of new surprises, wiser than despair:
hail and hosanna, old, aching God!

Young, growing God, eager on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness;

crying out for justice, giving all you have,

hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
hail and hosanna, great, living God!

And, giving John Philip Newell the first and last words today

A Blessing from “Praying with the Earth”, Novalis Press, 2011

May the angels of light glisten for us this day.

May the sparks of God’s beauty dance in the eyes of those we love.

May the universe be on fire with Presence for us this day.

May the new sun’s rising grace us with gratitude.

Let earth’s greenness shine and its waters breathe with Spirit.

Let heaven’s winds stir the soil of our soul and fresh awakenings arise within us.

May the mighty angels of light glisten in all things this day.

May they summon us to reverence.

May they call us to life.


Peace to you. Amen


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