God Who is Unexpected

It’s a week after Easter, and I haven’t posted since before Palm Sunday.

Mea culpa.

I chose not to give anything up for Lent this year, but focused instead on adding things to my life.  I started attending church (somewhat) regularly again.  I tried to be more faithful about prayer.  Somewhere along the line, I developed a weekly habit of sitting on my tiny balcony with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, a lit candle, and a journal, just to see if God has anything to share.

I’m finding that God is not what I expect.

I grew up in church.  I should know how this goes by now.  God is a well-educated white man with a temper, right?  Except that every time I go sit on my balcony, I realize something else that doesn’t quite fit.  One week, I wrote a journal entry about what it would be like to see God as Mother and wept the whole way through.  Another week, I pondered the beatitudes and wondered what it meant that all of these blessings were for those who had lost or were lacking.  The God I’ve always looked for is not the one I’m finding, and it’s strangely comforting.

This pattern is pretty obvious in the Bible.  We expect God to want a fancy house.  He prefers to live in a tent.  We expect God to appear in wind and earthquake and fire.  He shows up as a still, small voice.  We expect God to be born as a king.  He comes as the bastard son of a carpenter.  We expect to find God hanging out with the “holy” people of the day.  He parties with corrupt businessmen and hookers.  We expect that God loves the rich best because he has blessed them the most.  Instead, we find that it is almost impossible for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom.

In some ways, this is not the God I want to know.  I want God to be something that I can understand.  I want to be able to quantify what he expects of me, to make a list of rules I must follow and codes to which I must adhere.  Instead, I find a God who is smudged and fuzzy, who is so massive that he stretches away from one thing only to come back and encompass it.

As a high school senior, I took calculus.  I remember drawing a graph, its first and second derivatives, and its integral on top of each other and trying to see all of the relationships at once.  It was this big, complicated idea that I could understand in pieces but that I wanted to understand as a whole.  It felt like too much to wrap my head around sometimes, but in the moments when I could, it was absolutely gorgeous.

God is like that.  I can’t actually understand God.  I can only pick apart the facets and hold them up against each other and wonder what it all looks like together.  But in the moments when I glimpse something larger, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

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God Who is Still

These days, I am learning to live with I-don’t-know.

I don’t know where I am going to work this summer.  I don’t know who is going to chair my thesis committee.  I don’t know what I want to do after graduation, much less where I will be in five years.

I don’t know if I will ever get married.  I don’t know if I will have children.  I don’t know if I will live in this city or this region or this country long-term.

I don’t know who I am as a Christian.  I don’t know if I am “progressive.”  I don’t know if I can continue to pretend to be “conservative.”  I don’t know if I am a Methodist or a Pentecostal or a Doubting Thomas.

I don’t know what I think about abortion or war or guns.  I don’t know how to talk to my old friends about sexual identity in the context of faith, and I don’t know how to talk to my new friends about my honest doubts about same-sex relationships in the context of scripture.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to tell my mother any of this.

My life feels so chaotic most days.  I stumble through a never-ending whirl of classes and meetings and phone calls and projects and jobs, and I never quite feel like I catch my breath or find my balance.  I’m not sure if the grace of God is keeping it all from crashing down around my ears or if the chaos has simply become a self-sustaining system.

Sometimes, all of these doubts and worries and obligations get so loud inside my head that I can barely think.  The words on the pages in front of me blur together, and all I can think about is how much there is to do and how little time there is in which to do it.  I can’t think, but I can’t do anything but think.  It’s paralyzing.

In these moments when my world threatens to crush me, when chaos threatens to consume me, I find an anchor in the ancient words of long beloved prayers.  Today, it was Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace, which begins the midday prayers in Common Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  

Something about the ritual of this kind of prayer is incredibly soothing to me.  It is steady and stable in a world that threatens to overturn.  It settles me.  It orients me to a fixed point.  It reminds me that there is something larger than me, something that touches every nook and cranny of the universe, something that I can weave my life into and hold fast to when everything else is chaos and disorder.

Growing up in the Pentecostal tradition, God was noisy.  God was weeping and wailing and shouting and groaning and jumping and dancing and screaming and yelling and clapping.  God was busy.  He was healing and preaching and prophesying and working and serving and teaching and doing.  God was not particularly still.  He was not silent.

I am learning to find the God of ancient cathedrals, the God who is deep like tree roots and mountains.  I am learning to find the God who is quiet and still and solid.

When I was a little girl, there was a tree at the edge of the playground where I went to school.  It was ancient and massive to my child’s eyes, and I played beneath it every day, its gnarled, exposed roots forming the outline of imaginary houses or secret tunnels or ancient kingdoms.  It was home base in every game of tag and the safe place where I waited for my father to pick me up.  When he was so late that I feared he had forgotten me forever, I would imagine climbing into the tree and sleeping there, how safe and hidden I would be in its branches.  That tree was my protector, provider, and friend.

Lately, I am learning to love God as I loved that tree.  I am learning to appreciate the constant divine presence in my life.  I am learning to understand that it will always be there, solid and reassuring, no matter how fast or far I think I have run.  I am learning to trust God to provide for me, to keep me safe, to give me room to dream.  I am learning to love a God who is strong and quiet and allows me to be who I am.

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