I have a bit of a confession. I have just started to read Grounded by Dianna Butler Bass. I know it came out last year, and yes it has been sitting on my shelf since my advanced ordered copy arrived, but I have just begun to read the book and I have to say, and I am only 26 pages in, I am blown away. As a way for me to wrap my head around what she is saying, I hope to write a series of reflections on each chapter. I cannot guarantee that these will come with any regularity since I cannot get past the introduction, but I am going to try.
In the introduction, Bass asks the question where is God? As one who works in fire chaplaincy as well as disaster ministry, I have heard this question asked on many occasions. In fact, I have asked this question on many occasions. However, what Bass is asking us to do is to think about the question of where God is in a horizontal rather than a vertical way. Let me try to explain.
In my Roman Catholic theology, which I call theology 1.0, and my Eastern Orthodox theology, which I call theology 2.0 I was taught that God was in heaven, which was above the clouds, and the evil one resided below the earth in the lake of fire. Humanity existed in-between here on earth, and the church was the mediator between humanity and either up into the clouds or down into the lake of fire. So this is vertical theology, it is a straight line if you will. We even have the image of the cross to illustrate this. The cross is pounded into the ground and stretches upward to heaven with Jesus in the middle. Even the way we think of the realms of good and evil there is the illustration. Heaven is up in the fluffy clouds and hell is below the dirt.
So in my now Reformed theology, which I will call theology 3.0, I am being asked to look at this relationship in a different way, horizontally. Bass is suggesting that God is not in some far off place but rather God is right here with us in our everyday lives of ups and downs. God is not some tyrant that gets his jollies over tormenting his creation but God is with us as we experience the ups and down of our lives and God shares these with us. Yes God was present in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. God was present in Connecticut after Sandy Hook; God was present in Charleston at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church. God was present with creation.
So this begs the question if God was there why didn’t God stop it? Well for the same reason God did not start it. This idea of why God did not stop it is where I still need some head wrapping and why for the past three days I have not been able to get past page 26. I have to divorce my thoughts from the vertical sense of things, this idea that God required the death of his Son exact payment for some eons old blood feud. So, for now, I am sticking with God is here, right here, with all of the creation. Not controlling things, but walking alongside and feeling what we feel. Yes, I said it, God has feelings!
I know the argument, and I understand that the more we try and explain God using our human terms the more we box God in and that is something we simply cannot do. But I like to think that God has the same experience that I do and that way can comfort me in those times.
There have been many times in my life that I have felt the presence of God in such a powerful way. This presence came in thought, or a song, perhaps even another person, but no matter what the medium I sensed the very powerful presence of God. There were also times when I felt the absence of God, the cold, sometimes scary feeling that I was alone. Perhaps the way Jesus felt hanging on the cross when asked why God had abandoned him. Well God did not abandon Jesus on the Cross nor did he abandon me in my dark times, I just could not feel God’s presence, not because of something God did or did not do, but because I was so mired down in my stuff I had shut God out. God was still very present I just refused to acknowledge God’s presence in my life.
I have often said that as much as the Reformation was necessary it throughout the baby with the bath water and there are some of the past that needs to be reclaimed; Mysticism is one of them. Bass quotes from John 10:30 here, “the father and I are one.” Sure we have used this passage to describe the Trinity, and it rightly does, but it also describes the mystical relationship of Jesus with God this “connection and intimacy” as Bass describes it of us, humanity, and our God. Again this is only possible if we understand that God is not located on some far off cloud but right here, sitting next to me as I write these words, as well as with me in the dark places of my life. What Bass is speaking of here is “Divine Nearness.”
“When the Bible is read from the perspective of divine nearness, it becomes clear that most prophets, poets, and preachers are particularly worried about religious institutions and practices that perpetuate the gap between God and humanity, making the divine unapproachable or cordoned off behind cadres of priestly mediators, whose interest is in exercising their power as brokers of salvation.” Grounded, Page 13
It is my belief that this is what the reformers had in mind. God does not just exist in the Holy of Holies, in fact, I think Jesus showed us that when he was born! God does not just exist in the walls of the church, and the priest or minister is not the only one to guide us towards salvation. However, we define that. We need to regain this sense of a divine closeness.
In my book, Listening to the Heartbeat of God, I use the image of the Apostle John, the one Jesus loved, leaning against the chest of Jesus at the last supper listening to his heartbeat. As John reclined against Jesus, ear pressed to his chest; he could hear the heartbeat of Jesus, the very heartbeat of God. There is an intimacy here, a closeness with the divine that we need to recapture is our world.
God is all around us and desires that we know him as much as well as he knows us.