This originally appeared as part of the Daily Sip, a website from the Rev Canon Charles LaFond offering daily meditations and reflections
As I get older, I have an increased compassion for God. No longer a “He” and no longer an “old man” on a throne with my file on his lap, cranky, disappointed, gassy and vaguely aware of me but having forgotten my name. God is no longer even “God” to me. I am obedient to a church which demands that we use established language in hierarchy and I flutter my eyelids and bat my eyes when authority demands anything of me these days. It’s just easier that way. But “God” is only a word helpful in speaking of God with others – like a sort of code, the way “WALK” and “EAT” mean something to Kai. It gets a job done.
But that entity we call “God” is, while decreasing in vocabulary, increasing exponentially in immanence and intimacy. IT wants to speak with me but IT has trouble communicating the way whales seem to want to speak to us and yet find it hard, given that our songs are different – so limited.
I recently saw a movie which, when it ended, caused me to be unable to move my body. I was shuddering with unexplainable tears and was weeping so profoundly that drawing breath was difficult. The movie is Arrival, and is about a scientist charged with trying to communicate with a massive, weird-looking alien being which speaks in circular ink blots. Slowly the language emerges, but it takes time and patience because the aliens exist without deference to linear time- they live and speak in circular time weaving future and past into present to make sense of things. Seeing this movie reminded me that what we have decided – rather arbitrarily – to call “God” – this being we are trying so hard to communicate with, and who seems bent on trying to communicate with us – this “God” is so similar to those aliens in that movie Arrival.
And I have compassion for a human story which has allowed the story of God to be confused with and interwoven with the human story of ego, power, structure, dominance and submission, control and order. Of course it has. Of course. It’s how men roll and have rolled for centuries. Executives, Bishops and military leaders are like Presidents; first-rate ones hire first-rate staffs. Third rate ones hire fifth-rate staff. And then structures and organizations begin to further erode the ability for Generation X and Millennials to be willing to engage – to take it seriously. So the problem is not just language and communications but also systems.
The systems we have always counted on are beginning to crack, exponentially increasing the anxiety in them. Foundations are beginning to crumble. Old language and old power structures are losing relevance as new generations get better at asking questions in a Church which is was professional about crafting answers. Answers about a mystery…
But here is the one thing I do know – even in the mystery of a divine entity which seems quiet, shy, vulnerable and desirous of relationship … the way an elephant might like a relationship with a seahorse …I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that although we do not have a good picture of God (even through artists and theologians have tried and clergy get paid to do this work) we do have a God which is trying by many different means and in many different cultures and in many different vocabularies – to communicate with us.
God sometimes seems evident in church but less like a book and more like a scavenger hunt. More often these days, God seems evident by the way things are being moved around about me – appearing and disappearing. Hints seem to appear the way we find warm spots in a mountain lake while swimming. Things shift. Images appear and disappear leaving a whiff of God they way my grandmother always left the fragrance of lavender when she had been in a room and a plate of cookies had appeared behind me…somehow.
Prayers are sometimes answered (though never early; and often weirdly) and they all seem to have the fragrance of a God which just “did that” and which just slipped behind those curtains over there, unaware that I can see divine toes sticking out beneath them. Silly, lovely, weird God. But present. A present God, no doubt!