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Looking For God Across the Universe

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By jcarter - Posted on 25 October 2006

by Jeff Carter
Like Paul on the Areopagus in Athens confronting the altar dedicated to the “unknown god” I have, in recent months, been finding God in the strangest of places. I find him in movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man and Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. He’s there peeking out at me from behind the pages of the pages of a Dean Koontz novel. And (most surprising, to me anyway…) in John Lennon’s song "Across the Universe".Like Paul on the Areopagus in Athens confronting the altar dedicated to the “unknown god” I have, in recent months, been finding God in the strangest of places. I find him in movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man and Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. He’s there peeking out at me from behind the pages of the pages of a Dean Koontz novel. And (most surprising, to me anyway…) in John Lennon’s song "Across the Universe".I know. I know. I know. There was that whole “more popular than Jesus” thing that really irked a lot of people and tended to set John (and the Beatles) against God and religion, but as John attempted to explain later, “I am not anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus, and Mohammed, and Buddha and all the rest said was right, it’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”



I don’t subscribe to his opinion that Jesus, Mohammed, and the Buddha all other religious teachers had equally true messages; I firmly believe that Jesus is as he said he was- the only way- but his thought that “what people call God is something in all of us” really began to register – in much the same way that Paul’s message on the Areopagus did:



“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown, I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17: 22-23)”



There’s something of the religious unknown, the numinous in John’s writing; that while he himself may not have been aware of what it was, we can see and know that he was connecting with the mystery of God.



Across The Universe

"Across The Universe" first appeared as a charity single release in December of 1969, and was later released in a slightly different version on the Beatles 1970 album "Let It Be". The song was written by John Lennon (though, as with all Beatles songs written by either Lennon or McCartney, it was formally credited to Lennon-McCartney).




The song began in 1967 as John’s relationship to his first wife, Cynthia Powell was falling apart. One night he was in bed listening to her talk and talk and talk and talk. Perhaps somewhat cruelly, the opening phrase of the song popped into his head, “Words are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup.” In a flash of inspiration he got up and rushed to find a pen and paper to finish writing the lyrics. When he finished he went to sleep and forgot them.



This flash of inspiration, I believe, was a God gift, a sacred thing. The 19th century poet Percy Shelley wrote “A man cannot say, ‘I will write poetry.’ Not even the greatest poet can say it , for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to a transitory brightness.” This ‘inconstant wind’ moving through John Lennon was the Holy Spirit, causing him to compose a hymn to an Unknown God (unknown to John, anyway).



Words are flying out like

endless rain into a paper cup

They slither while they pass

They slip away across the universe

Pools of sorrow waves of joy

are drifting thorough my open mind

Possessing and caressing me









The song begins with a self aware contemplation of life: Words, the interchange of ideas, the communication of thoughts – these things slip away leaving only the underlying experience. Words –as important and vital as they are – cannot contain or fully express the human experience. ‘Pools of sorrow’ and ‘waves of joy’ are aqueous primordial emotions. From the very beginnings of the universe when all was dark and formless water, sorrow and joy have washed over us.



Jai guru deva om

The chorus of Across The Universe begins with the Sanskrit phrase, “Jai guru deva om.” John and the other members of the Beatles were briefly interested in eastern philosophy and Transcendental Meditation. The use of the Hindi refrain reflects this interest. And here is where the “Unknown God” creeps in.




A breakdown of the etymology of the phrase is as follows:

Jai means “victory” or “success” or “glory” or “thank you”

A guru is a teacher or a master

A deva is a “God” or “heavenly one”






The phrase can thus be expressed: “Glory to the heavenly teacher” or “Victory to the Divine teacher” or “Thank you heavenly Lord.”



I think John, fanned to transitory brightness by the blowing of the Holy Spirit, was saying more than he knew. He may not have known Jesus as his personal “guru” but for those of us who do, “Jai guru deva” could be a phrase used in corporate worship right along with “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.



The phrase ends with the Hindi word, “om.” Om (also written Aum or Ohm) is considered the most sacred syllable in Hinduism, symbolizing the infinite and the entire universe; the primal sound. Phonetically and practically, “Om” is quite similar to the Christian “Amen.” It is used, like the “amen” to begin or conclude prayers. “Amen” or “let it be (another great Beatles song…)” can be considered an “om” – a word to connect the worshiper with the will of the infinite, the creator of the universe, the all in all. When we pray “amen” we are submitting our will and our desire; we are emptying ourselves of all egoism and selfish conceit and submitting to the will and plan of the infinite God of the universe.



Nothing's gonna change my world

In the beginning the world was only chaos- welter and waste- crashing waves and formless water. But the creator God imposed order on these turbulent waters and brought forth a marvelously complex and intricately beautiful world. For those living in Jesus, the “yes and amen” of God, the “om” of God, the world is not a frenzied welter and waste, but an unshakable kingdom. There is security and safety and rest in Christ. Nothing’s gonna change my world.




Jai guru deva om

Nothing's gonna change my world

Nothing's gonna change my world

Nothing's gonna change my world

Nothing's gonna change my world







On and on across the universe

The second verse begins a journey. We begin to leave behind the futile paper cup of words and begin to follow “images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes.” It’s a beautiful image of the shining effulgence of God’s glory dancing before us, calling us, leading us towards “limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns.” God is love. We follow the sounds of his laughter until we find ourselves in a place where tears are wiped away and we live in the glory of God, brighter than a million suns- a place where there is no night.




Images of broken light which

dance before me like a million eyes

That call me on and on across the universe

Thoughts meander like a

restless wind inside a letter box

they tumble blindly as

they make their way across the universe









Sounds of laughter shades of life

are ringing through my open ears

exciting and inviting me

Limitless undying love which

shines around me like a million suns

It calls me on and on across the universe









Jai guru deva om.

Virgil's picture

Jeff, I LOVE your articles! You really should write more often! :)

I wrote something along those same lines back when I wrote about my Bartok Moment. But this is not about me...it's about your journey, and it's exciting to see so many other folks finding God in the most unlikely places. It's nothing short of awesome and I believe it is the ultimate testimony of God's "hugeness" and sovereignty. It's humbling and empowering at the same time because it really gives us the confidence to know that our God is the God...and is unlike any other thing or being out there!

Absolutely awesome article! Thanks!

And by the way, anyone who loves Pale Rider is an OK guy in my book. That movie has to be one of the best movies of all times. :)

jcarter's picture

Thanks Virgil.

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

Paige's picture

Thanks Jeff,

That was very eye-opening. The Beatles were just a bit before my time (I was a toddler in 1969), so I don't know that much about them. I can really identify though, with your statement about finding God in the strangest of places.

I especially like the focus here that God is not limited to work in and through people that don't recognize Him as we do. I feel that is so important for us each to remember. I think it keeps us humbled and teachable also.

Paige

jcarter's picture

I wasn't born till '75 so, the beatles were already gone by time i came around. I vaugely remember hearing that John had been shot (1980) though i don't know why that would stick in my head, neither of my parents listened to the beatles.

as i was on my out (and didn't have time to check it out)I saw in Borders bookstore a book entitled The Gospel According to the Beatles. I was both curious and a little disgusted. I'm getting a little tired of The Gospel According to...(the Sopranos, Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Aslan, Jerry Sienfeld, etc... How about at least coming up with an original title?)

Has anyone else spotted that book? Know anything about it?

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

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