It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. I believe that it stands to reason that a good story, a really good story has the power to reveal truth about the MYSTERY which we call God. So, let me tell you a good story. It is a story which I have told many times because like all good stories it is worth repeating. The first time I heard this story was from a seminary professor. Since then I’ve heard this story attributed to Marcus Borg he attributes it to Parker Palmer. Like many good truth revealing stories, its origins are somewhat elusive.
This story is about a little girl. She was four years old and her Mom is expecting a baby and Mom tells this little girl that the baby is coming to them as a gift from God and that this gift from God will be a new member of their little family. Sure enough, the baby arrives. A boy is born. The parents are a little bit worried because everyone knows that nobody knows how a 4-year-old will react, especially as an only child, to having a new baby in the house. So, they’re reading their parenting books and they’re trying to figure out ways to assimilate this new person into their family without having their little 4-year-old suddenly feel shunted to the side.
Well it turns out that this little 4-year-old has an unusual request; a request which her parents don’t know quite how to deal with. For some unknown reason the little girl keeps asking for some time alone with her new baby brother. The parents are a little worried because they’ve heard horror stories about what 4 year-olds can do to newborn babies. They don’t want to leave this child alone with their precious newborn. Then they remember the baby monitor and they figure they’ll set this baby monitor up so they can listen from a distance and know what’s happening.
Once everything is carefully set up, the little girl goes into the bedroom and her parents hear the footsteps of their daughter going over to the crib. The parents are very, very nervous. Then their little girl leans into the newborn’s crib and they hear her say to her new baby brother, “Tell me about God. I have almost forgotten. Tell me about God. I have almost forgotten.”
This coming Tuesday, churches all over the world will begin a monthlong celebration of the Season of Creation. From Sept. 1st, which is the Day of Creation until St. Francis Sunday on October 4th our awe and wonder at the beauty of Creation will be given voice in our worship celebrations.
The Season of Creation is a relatively new liturgical season, born out of our response to the concerns of so many of us about the plight of CREATION under the weight of human contempt and abuse of the Earth and her creatures. I know that many of you are concerned about the many and various ways in which our ravenous consumption of the bounty of the Earth threaten the wellbeing of CREATION. So, I won’t presume to preach to the choir. Instead, I’d like to look at the many and various ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God finds expression in, with, through, and beyond CREATION.
Tell us about God. We have almost forgotten. For far too long, traditional Christianity has emphasized theological responses to our desire to know about God. Lutherans, Anglicans, protestants in general, our traditions have for all intents and purposes divorced the DIVINE from CREATION. Yes, I know that images of a DIVINE “FATHER” are employed to portray the MYSTERY of the ONE who is the SOURCE of ALL REALITY as “THE CREATOR”, but, this image casts the CREATOR off into the distant heavens and relegates the DIVINE to the role of distant observer, occasional interferer, and constant judge. This divorce, like all divorces, has impacted the children in ways which have allowed us to run amuck, forgetting as we do so often to pay attention to the LOVE which gave us birth, continues to nurture us, and in which we continue to live and move and have our being.
Tell us about God. We have almost forgotten. Our ancestors’ story about Moses encounter with the DIVINE in which Moses recognizes the MYSTERY in a burning bush is another good story which reveals the truth of DIVINITY finding expression in CREATION; for in truth all bushes are burning and indeed all ground is holy ground. It is through this ancient story that the DIVINE MYSTERY is revealed in CREATION as BEING itself.
Tell us about God. We have almost forgotten. Or as Moses puts it: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “the God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is God’s name? What shall I say to them?” To which the essence of the burning bush responds: “YAHWEH!” YAHWEH which is the Hebrew verb “to be” and translates as I AM WHO I AM or I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE – the DIVINE MYSTERY finds expression in, with, and through the Burning Bush to reveal that the DIVINE SOURCE is the great I AM, or the expression of what it means TO BE.
Is it any wonder that this story insists that Moses “Hid his face, afraid to look at the HOLY ONE”? Who among us, in the presence of the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS would not bow in awe before the SOURCE of ALL BEING? This kind of response is described as the very first religious impulse. Religion comes from the Latin verb ligare “to connect” “to bond” “to join together”. “religare” is to reconnect, to re-bond, to re-join together. The first religious impulse, the first impulse born of reconnection, is awe.
Close your eyes for a moment. Conjure in your mind’s eye a vision of Creation. Perhaps it’s a flower, perhaps it’s the sky, perhaps it’s a newborn baby staring up at you. Can you see the DIVINE MYSTERY expressed in the wonder of CREATION? Congratulations, you have encountered your very own burning bush. You have been reconnected with the SOURCE OF ALL BEING, with which you are ONE. If you’re not overcome with awe at the sheer beauty and majesty of CREATION, then your religion is failing to reconnect you to the ONE that IS.
Perhaps we need more practice? We “religious types” have been preoccupied with shutting CREATION out of our practice of religion for far too long and the consequences have been catastrophic. Our attempts to put the MYSTERY in a neat little box of our own design, has left us bereft of awe. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time a creed, dogma, or a doctrine left me awestruck.
So, if awe is the first impulse what happens after we experience the DIVINE? I suspect that we children of DIVINITY, might just need to remember what our parents first taught us about gratitude. To respond with grace which flows so naturally out of awe and wonder is to practice religion which flows from the LOVE which is DIVINE.
Now I know that there may be some who might think that my being a Lutheran has me falling back onto the Doctrine of Grace. Please remember that I’m pointing beyond our doctrines here to a MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. Yes, I am grateful to my Lutheran heritage for the gifts of the Doctrine of Grace, but I have long since given up the formula which posits a god who requires the justification of sinners. I’m talking here about grace as a response to the awesome experience of the DIVINE MYSTERY as it finds expression in, with, through, and beyond CREATION. Imagine the tenderness with which we might walk upon the Earth if in the flowers, the trees, the creatures and even our sisters and brothers we learned to experience the DIVINE expression of BEING itself.
I believe that this is what Julian of Norwich saw when she exclaimed, “We are not just made by God. We are made of God!” Or when Sally McFague insisted that the “Earth is God’s body.” Awe which leads to grace is the power of reconnection! Now there’s a religious practice that just might heal CREATION as our grace-filled response to the awesome nature of the DIVINE expressed in, with, through, and beyond CREATION moves us to be LOVE in the world.
So, as we prepare to celebrate the Season of Creation, let me leave you with another story which is good precisely because if reveals truth. One of my favorite books is Alice Walker’s, “The Color Purple.”
The book takes its name from an encounter its principle characters Celie and Shug have while walking in the beauty of a purple field speculating on the nature of God.
Celie asks Shug if she thinks “God is vain?” to which Shug responds, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.’
‘What it do when it pissed off?’ Celie asks.
‘Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about.
But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.’
‘Yeah?’ Celie asks.
‘Yeah,’ Shug insists. ‘It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.’
As if she is beginning to understand, Celie asks, ‘You mean it want to be loved, just like the bible say.’
‘Yes, Celie,’ Shug assures Celie. ‘Everything want to be loved.”
Tell us about God. We have almost forgotten. Every bush is burning. All ground is HOLY. The DIVINE MYSTERY, which we long for, finds expression in, with, through, and beyond CREATION. How awesome!
May the ONE who IS BEING ITSELF surprise you when you least expect it. May you be awestruck. And may you have the wisdom to respond with grace, the kind of grace which flows from LOVE. Thanks BE to ALL that IS HOLY! Amen.