To me, one of the great losses of the last 30 years in our church is that we do not often ask people about their experience of God. Perhaps we are afraid of appearing wacko or irrational but it has often shut us up. We can go for years and not know whether the person down the row from us may have had their pickup truck surrounded by a shaft of light and they felt encompassed by an overwhelming sense of love and rightness or whether they have struggled an entire lifetime wondering why God seemed absent in an abusive household.
Part of this reticence is that many of us feel illiterate, shy about speaking because we don’t have the words.
Or perhaps we hesitate because we feel our experience may not match the signs of a “real” experience of God. We have a template in mind and ours doesn’t fit.
Life Before Star Wars
For those of us who grew up before Star Wars or Harry Potter, many of our images of God come from the mechanical or industrial age.
A few centuries ago, life was, by and large, relatively stable. Many, if not most, societies were hierarchical. It was clear who was in charge. When the industrial age transformed Europe and other parts of the world we became fascinated with mechanical achievement.
One of the finest examples of fine mechanical work was the watch. People began to talk of God as the divine watchmaker, the master planner. God became the One with The Plan. The Master Planner had an immense system of file drawers. Within each is a file that contains a particular plan for each person. Find it, follow it, you’ll be fine.
Experiences of God were also standardized as befit a well-run operation. So you either had an “off the rack” experience of God - a dominant model was the story of Saul/Paul - or what you had was something else, usually of an inferior variety.
God only intervened when something needed to be fixed or our lives were not keeping time.
A Different Time
We live in a different era. For over a century now changes in physics - like Einstein’s work and quantum theory - process philosophy and theology have exploded the industrial mindset. Now we, as a society, are immersed in what some have called a Mass Customization where almost everything is subject to a “My” - my playlist, my holiday, my Victoria, My Church. Online almost anything can be customized just for you!
Other ways of thinking about, talking about, our experience of God, of the sacred are now warranted and available.
A quantum universe comes with a multitude of parallel universes; each moment an interplay of energies. What if we imagine that God is present not with a one and only door or in trouble shooting (Plan repair) mode but is present/active in each moment, offering a multitude of possibilities. (There may be other forces who present more destructive options but, for sake of brevity, just say God is present offering possibilities.)
As a Christian, I dare to claim to know something about the nature and character of this God.
We are presented not only with a God who holds or infuses the space (like the Force) or who neutrally stands by offering a deck of cards from which to choose. But we are met with a God/Force/Presence/Mystery who coaxes us toward life, wholeness, healing, justice, or what, in other times, we might call salvation.
Part of the reason I write this blog is because I want to pay more attention to those times in my life that have the whiff of the sacred about them and which might otherwise just slide by.
One example why I believe so strongly in this understanding of God.
I have a brother has been diagnosed with autism and pretty extreme OCD. He lived with my parents for the first 53 years of his life in a basement room. Before my Dad died I would wake up at 4:15 am worrying how are we going to get him to move? And, once moved, what are we going to do with him? And what are we going to do with a house my parents stuffed things into for over 45 years. To make a long story short, at each stage unforeseen possibilities emerged. Someone emerged to help us deal with the family house; the daughter of a friend happened to be working with the local health authority; Gorge View Housing saved our life with respect to accommodation. All unforeseen.
I’m not talking magic. No wand has been waved to fix everything.
Could we explain it other ways?
Sure, and part of the story needs to include those events. But for me, any description would be incomplete without at least some reference to the Holy, the movement of God in the situation.
So what does this mean?
(1) I am immensely grateful.
(2) I need to pay attention.
Rev. Dr. Keith Howard is profoundly curious about the interface of the Christian gospel and the social context in which we live. This curiosity has drawn him into many roles, including 23 years of congregational ministry in the United Church; more than five years as executive director of the Emerging Spirit project; and most recently, team leader for LeaderShift in BC Conference. Keith blogs at keithhoward.ca. Sign up for his newsletter here.The next tour he and his wife, Gaye Sharpe, will lead to Egypt, Jordan and the Holy Land leaves April 26 and returns May 13, 2017. A detailed itinerary may be found here.