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The changing meanings of “one with God”

I was reading yesterday’s lesson, “Let me remember I am one with God,” and thinking about how the meaning of oneness with God has changed for me over the years.

At first, the concept of oneness was a radical new idea, the main thing that set apart my new beliefs in spirituality from the Christianity I was brought up in. Initially, reading a book on Theosophy when I was 18, I found the concept disturbing and disorienting—all this talk of having this real identity that was one with the all. I felt like I was losing my moorings. I had to put the book down for weeks at a time because it depressed me.

Slowly, though, it became an exalted idea, signifying a state in which my identity had no limits and was in communication with everything. It became synonymous with a God-like state.

Over time, this exciting new notion of oneness became extremely tired and old-hat. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve only heard that one million times before. Can you tell me something I don’t know?”

In recent years, though, it has taken on a much more concrete meaning. I have been thinking of it along the lines of human relationships, where there is a continuum that runs from separateness, to togetherness, to closeness, to deep intimacy, and finally to oneness. When you are in love with someone, and that person is in love with you, separateness is painful and togetherness is joy. Rather than being kept at arm’s length, you feel that you have been let all the way in. No part of that person’s mind or heart has been held apart from you. All of it is yours. And all of yours is hers or his. And you want to keep going, until closeness and intimacy become oneness. You want your being fused with that person so completely that you can really speak of being one.

That is how I now think of oneness with God. Before, I think I had been leaving out the “with God” part and just thinking of it as “oneness.” Now I think of it along the lines of human love, only more intense, more loving, and more one. If it can feel like pure joy to be one with another person, what kind of supreme joy would it be to be one with God?

The idea, therefore, has lost for me the original sense of being disorienting and depressing. It’s also lost the impersonal connotations it had for so long, where it was just oneness, not “with God.” And it’s also lost that tired, old-hat feeling it had for so many years, where all it sparked was yawns. It’s back to being meaningful and energizing, but in a very new way.