89 Names – Book Review

In my memoir, Hiking Naked , I write about how I turned to theologian Matthew Fox’s writings when I was in turmoil about the work I was meant to do. Fox’s book, The Reinvention of Work, spoke to me during some of my most uncertain times. “Work comes from inside out; work is the expression of our soul, our inner being. It is unique to the individual; it is creative. Work is an expression of the Spirit at work in the world through us.” I still intermittently refer to my worn, annotated copy of his book.

bookNow, I have another of his books, Naming the Unnameable—89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God. It’s already starting to show some of the telltale signs of a well-loved book.

Just released by Homebound Publications, Fox’s new book is one of the most recent by the independent press’s imprint, Little Bound Books . Fox drew on his expansive knowledge of sacred scriptures, the mystics, and science throughout history and from around the globe (such as Meister Eckhart, Aquinas, Deepak Chopra, the Bible, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Berry, and Hildegard of Bingen to name just a few) to identify “80 Names for God” and “9 Names for the God Without a Name.” At just under 150 pages (excluding the End Notes and Appendix), the 5-by-7 inch soft cover, with just one or two pages to define each name, is the perfect companion during my morning time of silence.

Undoubtedly, there are many readers who, like me, struggle to find the word or words that adequately describe our experiences of God. And I know I’m not alone in believing that the word “God” carries too much baggage­—it’s both too limiting and too varied to speak to everyone. In Fox’s introduction, “God Has a Trillion Faces,” he asks who he, or any of us, are, to choose only 89. “Well, first of all,” he writes, “this book is unfinished.” And that’s why he’s included blank pages at the end of each section so, “you may add our own most wonderful and useful names for God.”

Fox further invites readers to interact with the book with “practices” for each part. For example, for the 80 names described in the first part, he suggests that readers “pick out ten that are most meaningful and useful to you personally at this time in your journey” and then to reflect and journal about them. He also recommends, “pick out ten that you feel are most meaningful and useful to culture at large today” and to consider how culture would change if people were to experience God this way. Deepak Chopra succinctly summarized the book’s value this way: “Matthew Fox elegantly offers a contemplative practice that transforms the names of God to the experience of God.”

As a Quaker, I had no trouble relating to #33 God is Light. Fox claims, “it is one of the most universal names for God,” with references from science, the Bible, mystics, and many religions. Numerous other names were equally familiar to me including: Spirit, Breath, Joy, Wisdom, Beauty, and The Great Mystery. Others, though, open me to new understandings: Greening Power, the Artist of Artists, The Beyond, The Form Without Form, and The Newest and Youngest Thing in the Universe.

Fox_Feature-ImageIn a profile by Theodore Richards in The Wayfarer Magazine , Fox admits Naming the Unnameable, “…may be my most radical book I’ve written.” That’s quite a statement from this author of 35 books. His definitions and practices make the book reader-friendly, but its radicalness shines through. “I’m trying to set off fireworks in people’s minds about how wonderfully alive our language could be for divinity… I’m hoping that this book penetrates and opens up people’s hearts, minds, and consciousness to new meanings, which are based on experiences of the divine, not some kind of frozen dogmas about who God is and isn’t.”

Naming the Unnameable is available online here as well as everywhere books are sold. With those blank pages Fox leaves for us to add our own most wonderful and useful names, perhaps there will be a second volume in the future.


  1. Thank you for this, dear Iris. Now I have another book that I want to read, you have already given me much of its treasure. I’m having a lithotripsy procedure next Wednesday to pulver- ize a six week old kidney stone in my left kidney. More crumbling infrastructure. And, all is STILL well, …….all manner of thing is well. Good old Julian of Norwich, what a gal!! Still feeling the glow from your visit last month, precious memories. Much love, Mickey.

    Sent from my iPad


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